Book Review:  Tales From The Madhouse, by Gary Sidley

Earlier this year the British publisher PCCS Books published Tales From The Madhouse: An insider critique of psychiatric services, by Gary Sidley.  Gary worked for thirty-three years in the British NHS mental health service.  He has held positions as a psychiatric nurse, a manager, and a clinical psychologist.  He is currently a freelance writer and trainer.  His present focus is the promotion of alternatives to biological psychiatry in the alleviation of human suffering.

Here are some quotes from the book.

“Psychiatry is a fundamentally flawed discipline routinely delivering a form of institutionalized discrimination that detrimentally impacts on the lives of many people already blighted by distress and misery.  The engine room for its deleterious practices is psychiatry’s stubborn, fallacious and self-serving insistence that the range of human suffering construed as ‘mental illness’ primarily represents the manifestation of some form of biological aberration.  The pervasiveness of this government-sponsored malpractice across the Western world, maintained by the powerful vested interests of professional psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry, amounts to a modern-day scandal.” (p xi)

“So Mark had spent 20 years of his life believing himself to be the carrier of a brain deficit, a biological incendiary device in his head that would be detonated by a powerful emotional experience.  Little wonder that he constantly felt on the cusp of something disastrous, and thereby lived a restricted, mundane existence.” (p 38)

“In practice, the person struggling with unusual experiences is forced to choose between either accepting the dominant psychiatric view that they have a biochemical imbalance in their brains, or rejecting this conclusion and risking the subsequent coercion into treatment or loss of support.  Inevitably, feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable, many service users will passively accept the explanations being offered by psychiatric experts.” (p 67)

“Two prerequisites for success in therapy, therefore, are a belief that one can influence one’s own future wellbeing and a readiness to put effort into doing so.  If a person has already been sold the idea that mental health problems are primarily caused by defects in brain biochemistry it is improbable that either of these imperatives will be evident.” (p 87)

“The unholy alliance of drug companies and biological psychiatrists has spawned malpractices of a more blatant kind that range from the highly selective and self-serving sharing of information, to bribery and stark criminality.” (p 149)

“Clearly, vested interests inherent to biological psychiatry are not about to willingly capitulate their privileged positions.” (p 191)

“As part of their desperate mission to promote psychiatry as a legitimate medical speciality, the psychiatric profession persists with their fallacious claims that their drug treatments achieve disease-centred effects, restoring harmony to the brain’s biochemistry.” (p 201)

“The views expressed in this book are the product of my experiences associated with 33 years of continuous employment within psychiatric services.  A lifetime of working as part of a system whose remit is to help people suffering misery and distress has led me (and many others) to the stark conclusion that Western psychiatric services are not fit for purpose.” (p 207)

Gary’s criticisms of psychiatry are cogent and convincing.  But in addition, he has drawn on his extensive experience working in the system, to describe in close detail psychiatry’s devastating effects in the lives and hopes of real people.  Through Gary’s sensitively written anecdotes, psychiatry’s “treatments” are exposed as the disempowering, hope-destroying tactics that they are.  In Gary’s stories, the individuals come “alive”, and the descriptions of the “treatments” and manipulations to which they are subjected are credible, compelling, and at times heart-rending.

Gary also addresses the far-reaching issues of psychiatric coercion, hegemony and arrogance, and the barriers that they pose to real progress.  In a readable style, Gary outlines for us the tactics used by psychiatrists to maintain their control, and to pressurize clients and non-psychiatric staff to conform.  Several examples are provided of psychiatry’s failure to address the issues that are raised on this side of the debate, or indeed to take any steps away from a medically-dominated model.

While Tales From The Madhouse is based on Gary Sidley’s experiences within the British system, the material will have strong resonance for readers from other countries.  Pharma-psychiatry is a multinational behemoth whose tentacles span the globe.

Tales From The Madhouse is readable and outspoken.  Its 211 pages constitute an unrefutable critique of psychiatry, and an insistence that fundamental change is long overdue.

I strongly recommend this book.  Please read it and tell others about it.

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Disclosure:  I have no financial links to this book or to any books/materials that I endorse on this website

  • Anonymous

    I think the review needs an adjustment, it should read ‘ He has held positions as a psychiatric nurse, a manager, and a clinical psychologist, and the position of violently overpowering hundreds of innocent detainees’ flailing limbs as they tried to struggle away, ignoring their screams of visceral nonconsent and stabbing them with a syringe filled with neuroleptics, the position of holding his victims in the prone position while they undergo the most unimaginable degrading horrific assaults, after spending quite some time forcibly pulling the pants down of detainees both male and female and raping their brains, Gary now holds the position of thinking he has the moral authority to write a book championing the humanity of those he spent years dehumanizing’, as for reading this early retiree’s book, I say the same thing I’d say to Gary if he were coming toward me with a glistening syringe, NO.

    Of course, there’s always a danger when you try and say no to a psychiatric ‘nurse’ that they will decide you’re not human enough to deserve to have that ‘no’ respected, so I’ll just give him a wide berth lest he lock me up and force me to read his book, because apparently forcing things into peoples brains has been a good way to pay the mortgage and feed his own mouth. Enjoy your retirement Gary, I hope paying for your mortgage with the blood money earned torturing us was fruitful. Must be nice feeling safe in your home, safe in your body, safe in your society, something you took away from the people you violated with forced drugging. Maybe when you’re very old, infirm and helpless someone will slam you to the floor and stab you with a needle. I’m sure all the people you mercilessly did it to will cry you a river.

    Only when human rights abusing ‘nurses’ renounce, eschew, and apologize for their violence, and forced drugging is always senseless unjustified violence, condemned by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, only when they stop cynically calling the violently dominated detainee a ‘service user’, can they be taken seriously.

    I try to imagine how I’d feel if I opened up this blog and saw a review, say, hypothetically, where one of the brain rapists / psychiatric ‘nurses’ who decimated so much of my life decided to keep working in the system a couple more decades, take early retirement and write a book filled with platitudes, how I’d feel. I’d be outraged. My heart goes out to the people Sidley forcibly drugged.

    Next up, a review of a book on privacy in the digital age by a lifelong NSA official, a review of a book on Just War by George W Bush, a review of a book on rape culture by Bill Cosby, a review of a book on nutrition by the guy who works force feeding people at Gitmo, a book on the sanctity of life by a Texas executioner, and a heartfelt plea for reform of the war on drugs from someone who spent 30 years bashing in doors and doing raids for the DEA.

    Yeah, no.

  • Anonymous

    This is how Gary Sidley writes of the detainees at the
    facility he chose to work in:

    The following quotes are from here:


    And here is a permanent, undeletable archived copy I made in
    case Sidley to delete it


    “The middle-aged lady with ‘schizophrenia’ and
    a piercing stare who spent much of each day sitting alone in the corner of a
    quiet room, her incoherent mumblings punctuated only by shouts of ‘piss off’,
    directed at anyone who ventured into the three-yard virtual exclusion zone that
    she had erected around herself. The 60-year-old ‘manic depressive’ with
    constant dribbles of spittle seeping out of the corners of his mouth”

    The middle-aged lady probably had good reason to shout ‘piss
    off’ at Sidley, as we shall shortly see. The casual stereotyping of the
    ‘dribbles of spittle out of the corner of’ a forcibly drugged man’s mouth
    without even providing any humanizing reminder that the drooling was no doubt
    caused by the drugs Sidley was forcing on the person, is indicative that a
    great deal of the dehumanizing view of the ‘mental patient’ is alive and well
    in Sidley’s worldview, and why I won’t be rushing out to buy his book.

    Most disappointing is Gary Sidley’s degrading,
    dehumanizing, sickening, disgusting turn of phrase when broaching the issue of
    his own involvement in carrying out forced drugging:

    “During the first six weeks of training I
    learnt essential nursing tasks, like how to read a medication prescription card
    as well as practising my injection technique on oranges (as a prelude
    to being let loose on human buttocks).”

    I know I needed to take some deep breaths after reading that
    sickening passage. Let’s just take a breather, and process this. This man
    refers to “being let loose on human buttocks” (with a syringe). Now,
    anybody with even a modicum of understanding of the profound indignities and
    lifelong trauma that survivors of forced drugging assaults are saddled with,
    should at this point realize this man’s cavalier language when referring to
    some of the most profound bodily invasions nation states carry out against
    their citizens, practices that two successive UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture
    have condemned as cruel, inhuman and degrading, anybody with even a modicum of
    understanding of this issue at all, should really see, that sort of talk is
    really and truly an example of a revolting insensitivity.

    And so here Mr. Sidley is, casually talking about being ‘let
    loose’ on the buttocks of human beings. Psychiatric survivors frequently
    testify that the act of forced drugging is experienced as a biological rape, a
    profound bodily violation resulting in untold, manifold emotional trauma and alienation,
    an indelible sense of terror and betrayal, including feelings of profound
    betrayal from even the entire society that sanctions these assaults. So many
    people are truly never the same after these attacks. We are talking extreme
    state-sanctioned violence here. And this, is the manner in which Sidley chooses
    to speak about it. Remember after he was a psychiatric ‘nurse’ he went on to be
    a psychologist, he says “During the 1990s I developed the skills to
    deliver talking therapies”… I’m sorry,… a man that speaks of being
    ‘let loose on the buttocks’ of some of the most disempowered people in society
    during their weakest moments of life, doesn’t sound like somebody with the
    skills to deliver ‘talking therapies’ to me. This is the way he speaks in 2015.
    He’s now describing himself as a freelance writer, so… nurse, psychologist,
    writer, and the kind of ‘writing’ he produces is the kind of things like this.

    Sidley goes on, confessing:

    “During my six years in nursing I poured out
    copious quantities of chlorpromazine syrup, (at the time referred to as a major
    tranquilliser but later regarded, somewhat misleadingly, as an ‘antipsychotic’
    drug), routinely syringed oily liquids known as depots into the rumps
    of the inmates
    , and assisted with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
    involving electrocution of the brain to produce a seizure”

    “Let loose on human buttocks, routinely syringed oily
    liquids into the rumps of the inmates”…

    All this is supposed to be wiped away by this short caveat,
    where he says:

    “I’m not proud of my behaviour during this
    phase of complicity with biological psychiatry. I did, however, learn a lot
    about human suffering and misery.”

    I don’t think Mr. Sidley learned anything about human
    suffering and misery. If he had, he’d show a little tact, and a little respect,
    for people the UN now acknowledges are torture survivors. If he was a decent
    psychologist, who really did, as he claimed, possess the skills to help people
    by talking, he certainly wouldn’t talk like that. If he had the slightest
    insight into the humanity and suffering of those who have had to bear the
    lifetime burden of having psychiatry’s so-called ‘nurses’ such as himself, ‘let
    loose on our buttocks’, if he had an ounce of concern for those who live with
    the nightmares of people like him ‘syringing oily liquids into their rumps’, he
    wouldn’t publish obscene crap like that.

    OK, so he decided to ride it out until retirement age, before speaking out against some aspects of psychiatry,

    “Thirty-three years continuous service, and a
    favourable pension scheme, provided the opportunity for me to opt out by taking
    early retirement, aged 55, and escape from the fundamentally flawed and
    pernicious psychiatric arena.”

    What many of your readers Phil want to know from a review of a book written by a man with a history of human rights abuses, is does the guy still defend and support these human rights abuses, is he for forced drugging remaining legal? Is he now opposed, with or without exception, to the violent practices he is guilty of carrying out with his own hands in the past against the detainees? Your review mentions vaguely that Sidley complains about ‘coercion’ in the book. When the author has such a lightning rod personal history, as having been very much the bad guy, and no doubt damaging a lot of people for the rest of their lives, readers of a book review want to know these things. It is just too important not to address how much personal responsibility this guy takes or doesn’t take, given his shocking past of personally carrying out forced drugging assaults.

    I also question whether we are dealing with somebody who really knows what he is talking about. Here Sidley is elsewhere, in another article, claiming,

    “It was later demonstrated that, in addition to sedation, this class of
    “neuroleptic” drugs had a specific therapeutic effect on psychotic
    Thus the first effective treatment for schizophrenia was born”

    That’s from here:

    Contrast this with your chosen quote Phil,

    “As part of their desperate mission to promote psychiatry as a
    legitimate medical speciality, the psychiatric profession persists with
    their fallacious claims that their drug treatments achieve
    disease-centred effects
    , restoring harmony to the brain’s biochemistry.”
    (p 201)

    Sidley should make up his mind, claiming in one piece of writing that neuroleptics have ‘specific effects on symptoms’ and later claiming it is ‘fallacious that the drugs achieve disease-centered effects’, it all sounds very muddled to me. And that article, called ‘Psychiatric atrocities: 10 most shameful things doctors have done under the guise of treating mental illness’ that he wrote, I have to question his pinning the blame on ‘doctors’, the very title is called ‘things doctors have done’, atrocities ‘doctors have done’, nowhere in sight is an acknowledgment that psychiatry’s so-called ‘nurses’, Sidley was one, have been committing those atrocities at the behest of psychiatrists, with their own hands, for centuries. When I read something written by a man that has forcibly stabbed detainees with syringes numerous times, causing untold human suffering, I don’t want to get the impression he believes ‘doctors’ are the only ones doing shameful things.

    I’ve looked at the sample chapter and I have read a dozen of Sidley’s articles that he’s published on the internet. I don’t recommend any survivor of forced psychiatry expose themselves to Sidley’s work. It was traumatic for me to expose myself to it, throughout his work is a deflection of blame for the violence and terror of the psychiatric system to psychiatrists and governments, and very little acknowledgement that if men like him were not willing to work in that system and practice their ‘injection technique on oranges as a prelude to being let loose on human buttocks’, if psychiatry’s hired dispensers of official violence, psychiatry’s ‘nurses’, were unwilling to carry out these violent assaults, much of the system’s harm wouldn’t be possible.

    I won’t be rushing out to buy his book. While many people might think it a well-meaning gesture to wait until comfortable taxpayer funded retirement to write a book critical of psychiatry, I think writing such a book doesn’t go far enough to absolve Sidley of what he’s been personally involved in doing. With such a cavalier and insensitive turn of phrase when he writes about the most violent and scandalous actions of his professional career, and this book review failing to give a clear picture of just how much insight Sidley has into his actions, or even what his current ethical positions are, I’m giving this one a miss, and overall I deeply regret stumbling upon this review, a few hours in the rabbit hole of the murky world of psychiatric ‘nurses’ who claim to be our champions, was very distressing, very very distressing. I wish I’d not read a single bit of it.

    I know I speak for many when I say I will never be quite comfortable, with the people who made a living assaulting us with syringes, adopting the pose of published author aiming to improve our lives, after some late in life half-conversion, and I’m not convinced this guy is completely reformed if he throws around language like being ‘let loose on the human buttocks’. Such crass trivialization of the most profound, life-altering human rights violations, would seem to make him unfit for purpose in my mind. There are much better authors and books around, written by people who haven’t left a pile of victims in their wake.

  • The Right Hon. Cledwyn B’stard

    Very well said.

    His levity as concerns his victims ill-comports with that disclaimer. He is disclaiming too much perhaps.

    This is the problem with the perpetration of psychiatric violence, or indeed any violence. A life of harming others, be it in the discharge of one’s duties or on one’s own initiative, hardens the heart by dint of repetition and habit, and because by rationalizing violence instead of shouldering responsibility for it and seeking redemption through atonement, men end up either hating those they hurt or simply becoming indifferent, because one can only adapt psychologically to evil deeds through the dehumanization, degradation and/or demonization of the victim.

    This is something you won’t here from the MIA crowd, who pamper and fete people who perpetrate acts of violence and what’s worse, are treated like heroes, whose supposed heroism confers special dispensation from the moral obligation, binding for the rest of us, to treat others as we would like ourselves to be treated, transgression of which is more than compensated for by their heroism in other spheres of their work, supposedly.

    These people, that is, our supposed allies whose sympathies have been enlisted on the side of our enemies, put me in mind of something Leopardi said;

    “No one is so completely disillusioned with the world, or acquainted so thoroughly with it, or has such hatred for it, that if it regards him benignly for a while, he does not feel reconciled to it. Similarly, no one is known by us to be so wicked that if he greets us courteously he does not seem to us less wicked than he was. These observations serve to demonstrate the weakness of mankind, not to justify the wicked or the world.”

    Basically, be nice to another person and, irrespective of who you are or what you do, most people will warm to you, because ultimately, when all is said and done, the touchstone by which the average man adjudges the character of another is whether or not that person esteems him personally, how they treat others being of little consequence.

  • Phil_Hickey


    Thanks for coming in. Your points are cogent and pertinent. But for me, the overriding issue is that, if we hope to win the war against psychiatry (and I make no apologies for the term), we must avail ourselves of all the help we can get. This includes people who have worked in the so-called mental hospitals. We have to make it acceptable for people to “cross the aisle”.

    I’m not negating the validity of your feelings, or the feelings of countless others on this issue. Nor am I challenging your right to express these feelings. But Gary’s book is a powerful tool that I hope will bring new adherents to our side of the issue.

    Best wishes.

  • Ailleurs

    Hi Doctor Hickey, This looks like the story of the author’s remarkable conversion from views in support of psychiatry as he often knew it at its ugliest, to the authentic embrace of the kind of understanding that would fall under the rubrick of Antipsychiatry, as you see to conceive of it as the one-issue-many-voices version of good radical policy these days. I wanted to name two books that oppose this type of moral stance, one more distinctly and, therefore, as usual, less disturbingly and dangerously unclear and misleading than the other. The Voices of Robbie Wilde is truly the profane rendering of misdirected sympathies that support all the stereotypic prejudgments of mental patients, and is as well, in necessary conjunction to that theme, the highly selective reporting of deficiencies in treatments afforded and kept available to treat the victims of “mental illness”. The writer Elizabeth Kytle won the enthusiastic admiration of the otherwise insightful and realistic commentator of the human condition, Eudora Welty. I picked out the little pocketbook for a read because of Ms. Welty’s recommendation, and this forestalled my better adduced intentions to wade through A Beautiful Mind, which I was resolved to get through at the time, seeming to be a book with more apparent saving graces, especially after reading these two digs at the convivtions of survivors.The worse, more convoluted revelation of adhesion to the peculiar moral version of human suffering promoted by our psychiatric mainstream, as they have conceived of that condition, throughout their modern phases of so-called “revolutions” in treatment, was more of a Joanne Greenberg version of survivor capitulation to the pro-coercive and pseudoscientific biases of the mental disease model. In fact she happily endorsed Imaging Robert, the author Jay Neugenboren’s prideful effort. Not surprisingly, it stands to attract slightly, but perhaps only slightly less praise from alternative caregivers who show avid appreciation for the charming, restrained self-empowerment message of the mad pride themes as seen amply on MIA, were it ever more well-known. But this same run of advocating, very informed practitioners tend to speak with more personally diverse brands of commitment to the needs they see appropriate for the survivor movement to recognize of its various membership, these stronger opinions surfacing when the theme becomes provocatively more recognizable as Antipsychiatry. Neugeboren’s book would manage to suit such diversity of sentiment very well, in fat, unless someone like Bonnie Burstow presented the less than spectacular details of the usual pro-mainstream psychiatry biases that Jay Neugeboren converts himself to between the covers of his “YOU!-logy to his sorry and downtrodden big brother. His trick is to entreat sympathy for his understanding irrespective of the particular form and content of the various given psychiatric diagnoses.iagnosis. His book, unlike Rose Garden, however, has too little first person trauma retelling by the psychotic in tempore, to truly make it big and work for “us”. Suffice to say that the author over the time of composing this almost epic treatment of the facts, titled Imagining Robert, became thoroughly deceived of himself, the accounts of this process becoming embedded in the ostensible holding to account of the aggravating and arguably maleficent caregivers of his dear childhood companion “the schizophrenic”–at last wholly and unambiguously defined. On that note, I would like to share the link to one really fine paper I got to read on the involved patterns of choice and intention that make for plausible explanation of the seemingly paradoxical achievement of Self-Deception, without reverting to the unconscious as entity with its separate intentional powers and subjective plights. You would probably enjoy it, Dr. Hickey, and have things to add to its formulations from your training and experiences in clinical practice. To me it was just right and simple cause for reflection on further works in similar veins. I hope you have time.

    Thank you for the informative review and have a good day–