Szasz, Thomas: Reason Magazine, Curing the Therapeutic State
Born in Budapest in 1920, he immigrated to the United States in 1938 and attended the University of Cincinnati, where he majored in physics as an undergraduate and earned an M.D. in 1944. After a residency in psychiatry, he underwent psychoanalytic training at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, where he remained as a staff member for five years. In 1956 he took a position as a professor of psychiatry at the State University of New York in Syracuse, where he is now a professor emeritus. Shortly thereafter, he began to publish articles that questioned the basic premises of his profession, work that would lead to his classic The Myth of Mental Illness in 1961.
Reason: In recent years, we’re told, this country has been hit by an epidemic of “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.” What are the roots of this epidemic?
Szasz: I would first say that the epidemic doesn’t exist. No one explains where this disease came from, why it didn’t exist 50 years ago. No one is able to diagnose it with objective tests. It’s diagnosed by a teacher complaining or a parent complaining. People are referring to the fact that they don’t like misbehaving children, mainly boys, in the schools. The diagnosis helps tranquilize the parent, tranquilize the school system. It offers them the sense that they are doing something about the problem, that they are dealing with it in a rational, scientific way. It’s a kind of pharmacological magic.
Reason: What do you think the consequences of prescribing Ritalin for all of these kids will be?
Szasz: We may not know all of the medical consequences for another 20 or 30 years. In social terms, it gives the impression to people that behavioral problems are medical and should be handled with drugs; it imposes a certain stigma on the child, possibly on the family. It medicalizes educational and child- rearing problems, and it may cause biological problems in the person taking the drug. I don’t know if the average person on Main Street realizes that if a 30-year-old man has a pocketful of Ritalin, he can go to jail for years. This is called “speed.” And this is what they give as a treatment to schoolchildren when there’s absolutely no laboratory or medical evidence that they are sick.