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Troll or Activist?

An article about ADHD treatment for adults attracted some negative comments today. Some Twitter friends described them as trolls, and when I nitpickingly said that they aren’t trolls, they’re antipsychiatry activists, I was asked to explain the difference.

A troll is a person who comments anonymously (or so they think) with statements that are meant to anger and inflame. Their remarks don’t have to, and often don’t, make any sense. They’re just out to get a strong reaction. An example of a troll comment: “You know your [sic] an idiot when, you write stuff like this.” Childish and pointless, it’s best ignored. Don’t feed the trolls.

A comment like this is another beast: “ADHD is a crock! Psychiatrists who claim that this so-called illness is affecting people are deceitful drug pushers who should be locked up,” said Karl Childers, in response to that Vancouver Sun article on adult ADHD.

The difference is that someone like Mr. Childers really, truly, passionately believes his statement and is not saying it just to randomly anger someone. There’s a decades-old political movement of people opposed to mental health treatment, and they’re prowling the web to leave comments in forums and blogs, etc., beyond their own web sites and books. Consider it outreach.

The Wikipedia entry on antipsychiatry doesn’t discuss commenters, so I wrote a looser definition for the Urban Dictionary. (It was accepted by the editors and will appear soon.)

antipsychiatry (noun)

A political movement against psychiatry, psychology, and mental health treatment. Stemming from a denial that mental illnesses exist, antipsychiatry activists have several core beliefs:

  • mental illness isn’t real, all problems are societal and don’t stem from the brain
  • people who treat mental illness are shills for “Big Pharma” which is only out to make money and poison people with drugs that don’t do anything but harm people
  • psychiatry is a form of societal control out to quash anyone who deviates from what they deem as normal, while psychiatric diagnoses (in the DSM) are made up on a whim and are just stigmatizing labels

Many antipsychiatry activists are consumer-survivors who’ve experienced abuse in the mental health system or believe they might be harmed if they were treated. They are frequently paranoid and are very, very rigid about their beliefs, and obnoxious about sharing them. Scientologists are another type, and antipsychs also exist among academics and even psychiatrists.

Antipsychiatry activists are commonly found online commenting in forums and on the blogs of people who write about mental health, admonishing people to throw out their pills and renounce treatment. Although their primary peeve is with psychiatrists and psych medications (and they’re especially opposed to ECT), some protest against talk therapy and psychological research too.

At the core, the argument is really about mind-body dualism.

Like any type of fundamentalist, they seek to save the world from the evils they perceive. Although some are more polite and less devout than others, they’re basically the Fred Phelps of the mental health world. (Think I’m exaggerating? Read the vicious comments by Lynette in this Furious Seasons blog post.) Some activists are also trollish about their comments, but even when they’re semi-coherent foul-mouthed rants they’re still recognizable by the subject matter.

What can you do if you’re a target? First, make sure you’re in an emotionally safe state before reading comments or visiting unmoderated forums. If you’re feeling fragile it’s not the best time to read insults. Second, know that you’re not going to change the mind of someone whose beliefs are devout no matter what you say. They’re cognitively inflexible and a flame war will only reinforce their views in defence. State your case without directly engaging anyone.

Finally, humor is always a fine strategy.

Troll or Activist?

Sandra Kiume

Sandra Kiume is a mental health advocate. Along with contributing to World of Psychology, she blogs at Channel N about brain and behaviour videos, and is the founder of @unsuicide and Online Suicide Help. She lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

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APA Reference
Kiume, S. (2019). Troll or Activist?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 24 May 2019 (Originally: 13 Apr 2009)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 24 May 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.