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Psychiatry is the medical specialty devoted to the study and treatment of mental disorders. These mental disorders include various affective, behavioural, cognitive and perceptual abnormalities. The term was first coined by the German physician Johann Christian Reil in 1808, and literally means the 'medical treatment of the mind' (psych-: mind; from Ancient Greek psykhē: soul; -iatry: medical treatment; from Greek iātrikos: medical, iāsthai: to heal). A medical doctor specializing in psychiatry is a psychiatrist. Please see our medical disclaimer for cautions about Wikipedia's limitations.

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1956 Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act.JPG
The Alaska Mental Health Enabling Act of 1956 (Public Law 84-830) was an Act of Congress passed to improve mental health care in the United States territory of Alaska. It became the focus of a major political controversy[1] after opponents nicknamed it the "Siberia Bill" and denounced it as being part of a communist plot to hospitalize and brainwash Americans. Campaigners asserted that it was part of an international Jewish, Roman Catholic or psychiatric conspiracy intended to establish United Nations-run concentration camps in the United States.

The legislation in its original form was sponsored by the Democratic Party, but after it ran into opposition, it was rescued by the conservative Republican Senator Barry Goldwater. Under Goldwater's sponsorship, a version of the legislation without the commitment provisions that were the target of intense opposition from a variety of far-right, anti-Communist and fringe religious groups was passed by the United States Senate.[2] The controversy still plays a prominent role in the Church of Scientology's account of its campaign against psychiatry.

The Act succeeded in its initial aim of establishing a mental health care system for Alaska, funded by income from lands allocated to a mental health trust. However, during the 1970s and early 1980s, Alaskan politicians systematically stripped the trust of its lands, transferring the most valuable land to private individuals and state agencies. The resulting drop in funding led to a severe effect on the provision of mental health care in Alaska. The asset-stripping was eventually ruled to be illegal following several years of litigation, and a reconstituted mental health trust was established in the mid-1980s.

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David William Oaks
David W. Oaks is the founder and executive director of MindFreedom International, based in Eugene, Oregon. The organization includes psychiatric survivors and dissident psychiatrists who reject what they say is the "domination" by the biomedical model that defines contemporary psychiatry. Oaks says that the psychiatric drugs that patients take are debilitating and have harmful side effects, and people can often recover without them. He has protested against drug companies and participated in hunger strikes to "demand proof that drugs can manage chemical imbalances in the brain".

David Oaks himself was institutionalized and forcibly medicated in the 1970s, while studying at Harvard University, for what was diagnosed as schizophrenia. He recovered, he says, by rejecting drugs and getting support from family and friends. Oaks says he "maintains his mental health with exercise, diet, peer counseling and wilderness trips — strategies that are well outside the mainstream thinking of psychiatrists and many patients". Oaks is on the board of directors for the United States International Council on Disability.

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Adolf Wölfli General view of the island Neveranger, 1911.jpg
Credit: Wiccan Quagga

General view of the island Neveranger, 1911 by Adolf Wölfli. Wölfli was abused both physically and sexually as a child, and was orphaned at the age of 10. He thereafter grew up in a series of state-run foster homes. He worked as a farm labourer and briefly joined the army, but was later convicted of attempted child molestation, for which he served prison time. Sometime after being freed, he was arrested for a similar offense and was admitted in 1895 to the Waldau Clinic in Bern, Switzerland, a psychiatric hospital where he spent the rest of his adult life. He was very disturbed and sometimes violent on admission, leading to him being kept in isolation for his early time at hospital. He suffered from psychosis, which led to intense hallucinations.

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Did you know?

......that folie à deux s a delusional disorder shared by two or more people who are closely related emotionally?
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......that ablative brain surgery, which involves destroying brain tissue by heat or freezing, was used until recently in the People's Republic of China to treat people with schizophrenia?
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......that there was a widespread belief in 19th-century German psychiatry that all forms of mental illness were simple variations of a single unitary psychosis?
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  1. ^ "One of the most controversial pieces of legislation tackled by Congress in 1956" - Congressional Quarterly Almanac, 1957; quoted in Felicetti, Daniel A., Mental health and retardation politics: the mind lobbies in Congress, p. 27. Praeger, 1975. ISBN 0-275-09930-X.
  2. ^ Nickerson, Michelle M. "The Lunatic Fringe Strikes Back: Conservative Opposition to the Alaska Mental Health Bill of 1956", in The Politics of Healing: histories of alternative medicine in twentieth-century North America, ed. Robert D. Johnston, pp. 117-152. Routledge, 2004. ISBN 0-415-93338-2.