The Tragedy of Thomas Szasz

Thomas SzaszThe following is a mini-obituary for Thomas Szasz, M.D. from the National Reviewon October 15, 2012. He died at the age of 92 on September 8, 2012.  He was the author of a book called The Myth of Mental Illness in 1961, in which he argued that there is no such thing as schizophrenia or any other severe mental illness, and that all people mislabeled in this manner should be free to wander the streets, no matter how mentally impaired they may seem to be.He later undermined any credibility he might have had, which was precious little to begin with, by throwing in his lot with Scientology by serving as spokesman for their Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights.The obit expresses my sentiments exactly."Like most people whose writings do great harm, Thomas Szasz started with a plausible-sounding principle, but instead of using it to clarify his thoughts, he made it the center of his worldview, bending everything else to fit while he ratcheted up the overstatement. Szasz’s governing notion was that psychiatry is not just an inexact branch of medicine, not just a discipline subject to misuse, but nothing less than a gigantic fraud, useful only for keeping inconvenient people under control. “Mental illness did not exist. It was merely a myth, on par with witchcraft, exploited by those in power to control the masses. By denying the existence of what everyone could see with his own eyes, Szasz threw out the baby with the bathwater, and included the tub and plumbing fixtures for good measure. The 1960s spirit of “only the mad are sane” romanticism, and the 1970s post-civil-rights hangover, gave his pernicious doctrine a long shelf life. “With his sharp mind, Szasz could have helped curb psychiatry’s abuses and excesses; instead, his charismatic nihilism led to the usual overreaction (most notably the draconian policy of deinstitutionalization, unfortunately still very much with us) and ensuing counterreaction (nowadays he is widely and correctly considered a crank). Dead at 92. R.I.P."


The information provided on the is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational and educational purposes. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Neither the owners or employees of nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Please see our Legal Statement for further information.

PsyWeb Poll

Are you currently taking or have you ever been prescribed anti-depressants?
Total votes: 3979