Dear John Kastner: Medicine Is Not Media and Therapy Is Not Theater

(http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/forensic-psychiatric-patients-are-ill-not-evil—and-we-should-stop-hiding-them/article18205568/?utm_source=Shared+Article+Sent+to+User&utm_medium=E-mail:+Newsletters+/+E-Blasts+/+etc.&utm_campaign=Shared+Web+Article+Links)

Re: Forensic psychiatric patients are ill, not evil – and we should stop hiding them.

According to the great documentarian John Kastner, “it’s time for forensic psychiatric patients to stop hiding; stop the apologizing; stop begging for understanding and start demanding that people recognize they are called patients…”

I’m not sure whether to weep or wail at John Kastner’s ignorance. As a past forensic patient I have had a well followed blog for near three years. I have been nominated and chosen as a Champion of Mental Health at a regional and national level. I speak publicly at universities, hospitals and conferences. I have been on TV and radio as a past forensic patient. I’m not exactly famous but for a documentarian I’m basically hiding behind a toothpick. I can only guess Mr. Kastner’s blindness is a direct result of his myopic movies.

It seems incongruent that a national note to empower forensic patients included not a word from one. Thanks for the disrespect and disempowerment.

Even the title of Mr. Kastner’s “new documentary about “THEM”: Out of Mind, Out of Sight: inside the Brockville Psych.” Is an affront to forensic psychiatry and mental health care in general. Anyone with the internet can discover that it is not “Brockville Psych” but it is in fact called and known as The Brockville Mental Health Centre. I know nothing about documentary films but shouldn’t the title be the actual name of the facility? Leave the name out if you have no constructive way of wording it. Further, a truthful title would add to Mr. Kastner’s insistence that his craft is other than sensational like the media he accuses of the same.

As an individual who has lived as a forensic psychiatric patient and was found to be Not Criminally Responsible on Account of a Mental Disorder I take great offence at Mr. Kastner’s so called defence of individuals similar to me. Mr. Kastner’s article doesn’t even make it out of the first sentence without draping readers with the derogatory. Mr. Kastner mentions that these individuals were once referred to as “criminally insane” which is as offensive as reminding readers of how we used to refer to African-Americans.To further the insult it is not even correct. Criminally insane connotates psychopathy which is excluded from forensic interventions as these individuals are presently incurable. The insult is truly ignorant when we consider that in the past these individuals were in fact referred to as Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity.

The second sentence of Mr. Kastner’s so called salve to stigma is not offensive but revealing of the underlying ambition of self promotion which he reiterates twice more in an article of eleven paragraphs. Do Canadians a favour and take out an advertisement which can’t be confused with information or objectivity.

Mr. Kastner faults mental health professionals in Canada for keeping forensic patients hidden from public view as though cancer patients can be found in the flyers on my doorstep. It must be inconceivable for someone who puts anything on film to consider that privacy and peace are integral to healing. Privacy and peace are therapeutic, progressive and necessary. My physician does not have a projectAtron in the waiting room but apparently my psychiatrist should. The public needs to better understand the instances and individuals affected but Mr. Kastner’s tone would have me next to the bearded lady in a carnival. Most forensic patients, me included would rather return to the regular and have jobs, friends and families. I forgo the camouflage of the ordinary so people like Mr. Kastner can become informed and leave those I know and understand to the lives they choose. Medicine is not media and therapy is not theater. Filmmakers should focus on their own art and leave the art of healing to clinicians.

Upon first reading Mr. Kastner’s words I figured he had only fouled his first two sentences but he followed with a third. “Here’s how the hiding works: a person suffering from mental illness commits a horrific act of violence.” There are instances of horrific acts of violence but many are involved in forensic mental health care for less serious situations. If Mr. Kastner wove a story about prison we would only be familiar with murderers. There are no headlines or horrors in many instances so Kastner does not cast them. They do not fit into his worldview or preconceived notions. Whether it is a documentary or a newscast we see only bloodshed because it is about blockbusters. Even a documentarian wants to have people watch his film. We would be barely curious to the reality, so it is formed and fashioned into film and footnotes for consumption. The myriad of avenues for coming into conflict with the law are overlooked in the name of ratings and reviews.

Mr. Kastner in his one man battle against stigma refers to me and all other forensic patients as “glassy-eyed people in jail jump suits. Scary as hell.” Less than a paragraph later he describes himself as “a filmmaker who has helped de-stigmatize many of his subjects…” I would add, at the expense of all others. It all becomes documentarian doublespeak. Mr. Kastner is doing no more for forensic patients than Sun Media themselves.

Mr. Kastner thinks “the secrecy is a terrible idea. You cannot de-stigmatize people by hiding them away.” It makes for easy filmmaking and spectacular shots but few who struggle with mental illness are helped by promotion and publicity. Do you want to see anyone when you have a headache? As a filmmaker I can forgive Mr. Kastner for being ignorant to mental health but he obviously needs reminding of that ignorance.

Many of the advances that were made with me took place behind closed doors. I went to the mall, I went to the library and I went to the park. I sat in a psychiatrist’s office, I sat with a psychologist, I sat with a social worker, I sat with a nurse and I sat with an occupational therapist. I worked through my mental health challenges in privacy, not secrecy. If I took Mr. Kastner’s recommendation I would be on the front steps of the hospital with well wishers honking as they drove past my pain and struggle.

Mr. Kastner’s logic seems to be that practitioners are unhelpful and hide patients. The message they are sending is that “these people are such freaks we dare not show them to you.” I have been around enough mental health practitioners that I have diagnoses for Mr. Kastner. He suffers from projection. As a filmmaker he will be familiar with one of its meanings but it has nothing to do with documentaries. Mr. Kastner concisely and conclusively attributes his own ideas, feelings and attitudes to other people. Here follow his own words; “criminally insane, glassy-eyed, scary as hell, Vincent Li’s, literally raving lunatics, spouting gibberish, often potentially violent, and the Jekyll and Hyde transformation.” I may be spouting gibberish but I can only wonder how Mr. Kastner’s words can be extrapolated from stigma itself into any semblance of a “filmmaker who has helped de-stigmatize many of his subjects.” Mr. Kastner is stigma in action and voice.

I can’t imagine someone so completely blind to the workings of forensic psychiatry or the feelings of those who live and work in it. According to Mr. Kastner he spent 3 and half years in the forensic psychiatric system. Showing up on Tuesday with a TV clearly doesn’t make you informed. I am reminded several times in Mr. Kastner’s article that he has made two documentaries on forensic psychiatry. Mr. Kastner will likely never know what it means to be confined for father’s day without a card or call, family day without family or Christmas without either. I suggest Mr. Kastner has little to no insight into the patient experience which enables him to cast his wounding words. He similarly has no insight into clinician care, knowledge or expertise. Mr. Kastner is a filmmaker. If Canadians need to know about cartoons or colour filters we can call him but when it comes to being a voice for forensic psychiatry or forensic patients he should do us the favour of keeping his mouth shut.

Mr. Kastner believes that hospital staff, who he admits desire to protect their patients are in a “large part responsible for the stigmatization of their patients.” Please Sir, take some credit yourself. Have any of those hospital staff used a national newspaper to call their patients Hyde or lunatics? Save us the sanctimony.

Mr. Kastner has become familiar with some extreme cases and rolled them up into a story he considers complete and most ashamedly now the public considers the same. His focus, language and footage have in no way illuminated anything but a figment of his imagination and a projection of his paltry and pathetic brush with the forensic system and sadder yet forensic patients.

Mr. Kastner calls forensic patients out to “start demanding that people recognize they are called patients…” In approximately 10 paragraphs he did not call me or my friends a patient. I was “criminally insane, hidden, a resident of a psych, someone who has committed a horrific act of violence, glassy eyed, scary as hell, Vincent Li’s, monsters, freaks, raving lunatics often potentially violent and someone who spouts gibberish. If ever he reads this, gibberish may not be the first descriptor he uses.

Mr. Kastner offers me and my friends hope and allays the public’s fears by explaining how “after just two or three injections of anti-psychotic ‘drugs’…many literally returned to their senses.” What he calls the Jekyll and Hyde transformation. I have been a consumer of mental health services for over 35 years and not once have I been injected with a “medication.” I was found Not Criminally Responsible but before, during or after I have been no more Jekyll than Hyde.

I can only hope Mr. Kastner’s documentaries and words do something for himself for they are of little use to those he claims to champion. If a person wants to find fame by filming the forensic please leave your delusions at the door.

I am and we are so much more than Mr. Kastner has ever stopped to imagine.

One thought on “Dear John Kastner: Medicine Is Not Media and Therapy Is Not Theater

  1. Congratulations on another excellent article, Brett. Why not send it in to The London Free Press. or The Globe and Mail? I so much wish your insights could be shared on a bigger scale. You have such a special way with words. Keep up the good work! Hugs, Vina

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