Brentwood — Protesters opposed to psychiatric drugs gathered along Route 125 Tuesday near the home where a 21-year-old allegedly stabbed his mother to death last week.
The five protesters, men and women who belong to the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, think senseless acts of violence such as the school shootings at Columbine, Colo., and Red Lake, Minn., and the stabbing death of Nickoletta Stasziewski in Brentwood are related to the prescribing of psychiatric drugs.
Richard Stasziewski, accused of killing his mother on April 21, was taking anti-depressants, his sister said in court documents.
About noon Tuesday at the intersection of Route 111A, commission members unfurled a banner suggesting psychiatry invents illness for profit and held placards linking psychiatry and anti-depressants to murder and suicide.
Protester Kathie Carnegie, an Exeter grandmother, said people don’t realize how psychiatric drugs can change people’s personalities.
“I think it’s treacherous,” she said.
Another protester, Lisa Hunt, 46, an X-ray technician from Derry, said she joined the commission based on what she has seen in emergency rooms, patients on anti-depressants talking about killing themselves. She also knows of people who were on psychiatric medications who killed themselves, she said.
Fellow protester Chris Garrison, 58, the commission’s director in Massachusetts, is convinced a link exists between anti-depressants and suicide and murder. He said he has read of too many cases where a person whose dosage was recently increased went on a spree of violence, including that of Michael McDermott, who was convicted of killing coworkers in Wakefield, Mass., in 2000.
The Citizens Commission on Human Rights was founded in 1969 by the Church of Scientology and philosopher and psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, said Kevin Hall, 47, the New England director of the commission.
Hall and the other protesters are scientologists; they believe in working to increase human potential, he said, as cars zipped past the intersection.
Hall said he is particularly concerned with the number of children, eight million, who are taking psychiatric drugs. New Hampshire leads the nation in the percentage of children prescribed ritalin and similar drugs, he said.
Doctors are too quick to prescribe the drugs for children with poor reading skills or observed behavior, Hall said.
“Be real doctors, be real teachers, don’t just label the kids,” said Hall.
The role of psychology in society has long been controversial, said University of New Hampshire professor Ben Harris, in an interview. His area of expertise is the history of psychology and psychiatry.
Whether psychologists or psychiatrists are agents of good or of social control has been debated in the 20th century and now into the 21st century, he said.
Harris said the ideas of Szasz, popular in the 1960s, assert that difficult questions such as legalized abortion or whether someone who committed a crime was insane are moral issues and have nothing to do with mental health concepts.
Another UNH professor of psychology, Peter Yarensky, said in an interview that the Church of Scientology is a religion, not a science.
While Yarensky said he has great skepticism about Scientology, he believes there is also reason to be skeptical about the widespread prescribing of psychiatric drugs. He thinks they tend to be overused, prescribed for some who would be better served by other means such as cognitive behavior therapy or counseling.
Back at the intersection earlier Tuesday, passing motorists honked horns, waived, and took photographs, showing solidarity with the protesters, said group members.
Protesters Hall and Garrison said their position has been gaining traction in recent years — since the mid-1990s — and they get a positive response from about 90 percent of those with whom they talk.
Garrison said he saw a bump in interest in October after an order by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requiring a black box warning on packages of some anti-depressants indicating that they can increase suicidal thinking and behavior in young people.
Carnegie said she is 100 percent against people being on psychiatric drugs.
“See this poor guy who did that horrible thing,” she said, referring to Richard Staszewski.