The World Psychiatric Association XV11 World Congress of Psychiatry was held in Berlin from 8 - 12 October  2017.  Due to the good offices of German psychiatric survivor, author and publisher Peter Lehmann, we were invited to speak at the Congress in the Author’s Reading Section.  In his book ‘Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs’, Peter had featured Mary’s story of weaning herself off all drugs having been given a Bipolar diagnosis 18 years earlier in 1983.  She has now been drug free for a further 18 years. In addition to relating our story in our own book ‘Soul Survivor - A Personal Encounter with Psychiatry’, we were now to give living evidence and personal testimony as outlined in Peter’s book

We were under no illusions as to what we were undertaking.  We were aware we were entering the lion’s den and were warned about supping with the devil!  But two main reasons determined why we went.  Firstly for Mary herself to stand face to face with the profession of psychiatry who had visited so much harm on her and on our family for over 20 years and secondly to speak our truth and our learned experience from our association with medical bio-psychiatry.  Would anybody be willing to listen or was our invitation just a window dressing exercise?  We would see.


The Congress was held in the enormous Messe Berlin centre and was attended by 10,000 people from all over the world.  Security was extremely tight as we arrived on the morning of Tuesday October 10.  Unfortunately we had left out laptop and prepared documents in the taxi from the airport the night before but luckily had a backup which we now hurriedly had to photocopy and prepare again for our talk. Our gratitude is due to the helpful lady in the Business Centre which we eventually located after quite an exhausting search.


The conference began each day at 8am and went on until 7pm.  There were numerous keynote speakers addressing large audiences in large halls while simultaneously, numerous symposia were being held in smaller rooms throughout the complex. There were also poster exhibitions on Psychiatry in The Third Reich, photographic exhibitions on Psychiatry in West Africa, book stalls, various ‘service user/carer’ tables and of course a huge section for numerous pharmaceutical companies to display their latest products which included a drug that could be taken by inhalation.


We commenced our presentation at 12 noon at which point, we had 14 people in our audience, 10 women and 4 men.  Subsequently we only had the opportunity to speak to a few of the women who turned out to be psychologists and psychotherapists.  None of the men approached us or had anything to say about our presentation.  In fact, two of them walked out halfway through!  The women were very encouraging and receptive.


We had decided to simply dispense copies of the chapter from Peter Lehmann’s book to everybody and avail of the opportunity to put our specific points across as to what we challenged in psychiatry in relation to labelling, human rights violations and forced treatment while also relating our journey from blind participants who originally went along with the system to the active dissidents we are today.  We also dispensed free copies of our own book Soul Survivor.  Our allocated hour was to be shared with another presenter from America but we both felt we said all we wanted to in the 35 minutes we utilised.


Of course it was disappointing tp have had such a small audience but the following day when we attended a keynote lecture on ‘Human Rights in Psychiatry:challenge or opportunity’ by psychiatrist Stijn Jannes from Belgium, again there were only about 12 people present in a theatre with capacity for 500!  To us it was a measure of just how little interest there was in any message or presentation that challenged the all pervasive and dominant medical model of bio-psychiatry with its full panoply of repressive state backed laws, an impression reinforced when the Chair of the Human Rights presentation, Dr. Driss Moussaoui from Morocco vigorously and publicly criticised Dr. Jannes for his call for greater implementation of human rights.


Given the exhaustive nature of the enormous conference complex and the numerous array of presentations, we are not in a position to report on any of the other symposia.  We were happy to meet Peter Lehmann and many of his allies at his book table which was an oasis surrounded by a psycho-pharmaceutical desert.


All in all, the World Congress turned out much as we expected.  Yes, there was an acknowledgement of psychiatric atrocities in the days of National Socialism, yes there were a few symposia on human rights and drug withdrawal but the overall impression was of a mighty and powerful 21st century psychiatric establishment  convinced of the righteousness of its ways and of the excellent work it was achieving.  We were reminded of the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes and while to them our message of simplicity and truth was still not heard, we take heart from the fact that it was stated and will continue to be stated loudly and clearly by an ever growing body of people until eventually it will.


The theme of the conference was ‘Psychiatry of the 21st Century; Context, Controversies and Commitment’.  The major sponsor was Servier along with almost 70 other mostly pharmaceutical companies.  We would love to see what will be written when it comes to ‘Psychiatry of the 22nd Century’!


JIm Maddock