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David Oaks says: SPEAK UP! FIGHT INJUSTICE! 06/10/2013

Posted by ALT in Activism, Quotes, Survivor Voices.
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1 comment so far

Damn, I’m inspired.

David Oaks, co-founder and former executive director of MindFreedom International, is a leader and a visionary. After experiencing forced drugging and solitary confinement in the mental health system as a young man, he’s devoted his life to fighting against stigmatizing psychiatric labels, forced drugging, and human rights abuses. He led the 2003 MindFreedom Hunger Strike/Fast For Freedom where 6 psychiatric survivors fasted for weeks, challenging the American Psychiatric Association to provide solid evidence for the biological basis of mental/emotional distress. Despite an unbelievably COLD initial response from the APA, the strikers did not give up, and the APA was ultimately forced to admit that it had no scientific evidence that mental distress was a “neurobiological illness.”

He’s spearheaded numerous MindFreedom Shield campaigns to stop the forced drugging/electroshock of human beings who had NOT given their consent. This includes an extremely public campaign on behalf of Ray Sanford, which significantly increased public awareness of the unfortunately very real phenomenon of forced electroshock.

David Oaks: Psychiatric survivor, activist, and HUMAN BEING!

David Oaks: Psychiatric survivor, activist, and HUMAN BEING!

David has never held back – he’s told his story of psychiatric survival, activism, and EMPOWERMENT on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, on YouTube, and in numerous articles and publications (I especially recommend this one). I know I’m not alone in looking to him as an INSPIRATION, and a leader in the struggle for human rights in mental health care.

Which is why I was so saddened to hear of David’s terrible accident back in December of 2012 – a break of the C7 bone in his neck. He’s now paralyzed, a quadriplegic.

But as Saturday’s MindFreedom Radio broadcast shows, he’s still the same David. Still an activist, still a SPIRTUAL GIANT!

Here are some of the amazing things he had to say…

On being a quadriplegic:

We all have a disaster or catastrophe in our lives; we all die. So, how do you prepare for that? For many decades, I have been in this movement, a social change movement, lead by survivors of the psychiatric system. So I have been preparing a long time…

When this happened, I heard from people all over the world who were very supportive. So, I feel those values of empowerment and support and activism have helped me. How do we react? How do we react? My way of reacting – I tried, from the start, to put a positive light on the resistance. Martin Luther King talked about creative maladjustment. So obviously it’s no fun to be paralyzed. But, how do we be creative about that?

—David Oaks, in this interview

On the importance of activism and living in the moment:

You watch DVDs for adventure. LIVE your adventure! Get in front of these monstrosities. Be peaceful – IT’S HARD – and speak up! There’s nothing like it. Live. LIVE.

Like when I swam in a mountain lake. Ice cold. I was ALIVE, right? So, you can be alive; speak up! Speak up! Write your letter to the editor. Now. Speak up to Congress. Protest….

Hey, guess what, everybody? 100 years from now we are ALL very disabled. Because, guess what? We’re MORTAL. We will all die. So, get your body geared NOW to speak up. Tell people you love that you love them! Speak up about injustice. NOW. TODAY.

—David Oaks

Watch the full interview here:

AND, let’s get busy people. Let’s do exactly what he said – speak up. Now; TODAY!

[Also – I understand that David and his family are currently in need of support as they try to establish the means for David to live independently. Learn more about how you can help at: www.supportdavidoaks.org]

STIGMA: When your lived reality in the mental health system clashes with their dreamworld 05/21/2013

Posted by ALT in Activism, Mental Health News, Patient Rights and Advocacy.
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In last year’s blog “How to INCREASE stigma in mental health — fight stigma the conventional way,” we covered a few key points:

1. The disease model/explanation for so-called “mental illness” actually INCREASES STIGMA, while a psychosocial model/explanation slightly DECREASES it (good, replicable science has demonstrated this repeatedly)

2. When Glenn Close dresses her sister up like so: Glenn-Close

and films her standing in Grand Central Station proclaiming her “brain disease” for all to see, Glenn is actually demonstrating how BAD she is at fighting stigma. (couldn’t be worse, really)

Nevertheless, Glenn Close and her foundation (BringChange2Mind) are the media’s poster children for anti-stigma campaigns in mental health.

They’re in the news again today, releasing another PSA and (as always) keeping their stigma-fighting a careful blend of the specific and the vague.

The specific: Accept your diagnosis-for-life and TAKE YOUR DRUGS.

Jessie Close started showing signs of bipolar disorder in her early 20s… “I was given my first treatment in my late 40s and finally, the correct diagnosis — and medication — when I was 51. I’ll be 60 in July and I grieved for those lost years. There were careers I couldn’t handle because of it. I wish I was able to get help earlier.”

–          Jessie Close, sister of Glenn Close, wearer of “bipolar” t-shirt

The vague: What, exactly, is stigma?

What are foundations like BringChange2Mind really fighting for? There’s a brief reference to “social inclusion,” and of course a non-specific call for “laws to protect the mentally ill” (I hope that’s not a veiled reference to forced outpatient commitment!) – but that sure doesn’t tell us much. BringChange2Mind’s greatest impact so far has been the release of a PSA whose main message appears to be “psychiatric labels are LEGITIMATE references to actual BRAIN DISEASE, and to PROVE IT TO YOU we’re having them printed on t-shirts.”

(Also, buy our t-shirts for only $20!)

(Also, buy our t-shirts for only $20!)

Later in the article we hear from stigma expert Bernice Pescosolido: ”There are two parts to mental literacy, one is knowledge and the other is what to do about it.” She keeps it nice and vague – what knowledge? The knowledge that a biological model/explanation for “mental illness” is, not only untrue, but also MORE likely to produce stigmatizing beliefs and behaviors?

Technically a sociologist, Pescosolido has been doing “research” on this important topic for years. I decided to consult her corpus of academic publications. Somewhere, anywhere, can ANYONE tell us exactly what they mean when they say “stigma?”

Stigma= when lived reality clashes with their theoretical dreamworld

In a study of adult stigma towards children who have received mental health treatment, Pesconsolido and co-authors devised a four-question instrument to measure what they refer to as “stigmatizing beliefs.” After hearing a vignette that described the “symptoms” of a child with either depression or ADHD, participants were asked if they agreed or disagreed with the following statements:

(1) a child receiving mental health treatment would be “an outsider at school,”

(2) a child receiving mental health treatment would “suffer as an adult if others learned he/she had received mental  health treatment when young,”

(3) that the parents of the child in the vignette “would feel like a failure” if their child received mental health treatment, and

(4) that “regardless of laws protecting confidentiality, most people in the community still know which children have had mental health treatment.”

The more strongly you agree with the statements above, the more “stigmatizing” your beliefs about children’s mental health are – strongly agree with them all and you’ve got “high stigma.”

The authors assure us that “the reliability of this scale is .69”

Maybe they should have THAT printed on a t-shirt!

Oh yeah? PROVE IT: have it printed on a t-shirt!

So here’s what I’ve learned about stigma from Pesconsolido’s work:

Stigma is when you and your lived reality in the mental health system clash with the so-called anti-stigma activists’ dreamworld.

Because the truth is YES – to be falsely labeled as “brain diseased,” to be set apart from the rest of humanity for a unique program of dehumanization, the literal commercialization of your mental and emotional suffering, to have fundamental rights to bodily integrity, due process, freedom of association, etc. taken away – YES, this will make you an outsider.

To be so marked as a child WILL have serious consequences, even into adulthood, as many psychiatric survivors will testify.*

And NO, your confidentiality will NOT be maintained, not when the buying and selling of data about prescription medications is “commercial free speech,” not when there are EVER-SO-MANY dollars to be made from your compliance with a system that demands you accept your diagnosis-for-life and take your pills.

If recognizing these and other harsh realities means I have “stigmatizing beliefs” – so be it.

What kind of world are we fighting for?

Anti-stigma activists like Glenn Close & Co. seem to be fighting for a world extremely similar to our own, with only one key difference: nobody has to recognize the truths listed above, everyone has the literacy, the “awareness” to pretend, fully and convincingly, that the Emperor is indeed wearing the finest suit ever made.

If we all say it’s so, then it’s so… right?


There’s also the option of fighting for a different world entirely. A world where mental and emotional suffering still exist (part of the human experience, you see), but where the response to them is grounded in a fundamental respect for the humanity and free will of the individual so suffering. (more on that HERE)

Dreamworlds — and their naked emperors — be damned.

* Here’s how Laura Delano’s lived experience of the mental health system clashed with the “anti-stigma” dreamworld:

When Psychiatry had first attempted to indoctrinate me as a young teenager, I was not yet vulnerable or hopeless enough.  When I eventually reached such a state, I surrendered myself immediately to a psychiatrist at America’s most prestigious private psychiatric institution, and became a full-blooded patient, passive and dependent and convinced of her brokenness, in a matter of weeks.  I believed him when he said I’d need “meds” for the rest of my life, and would have to learn how to “manage my symptoms” and “set realistic expectations” for myself.  I was sure that the “Bipolar” diagnosis was the explanation for all my problems, and that the prescribed “treatment” would be my solution.  I needed to be “Bipolar”, and I needed to want the antipsychotic, antidepressant, and sleeping pill prescriptions that were written for me at the end of that first session, because they gave me hope that something could, and would, change.  For, that’s what I wanted so desperately: a shift, some sort of momentum forward and out of the mire I was in.  With his MD and PhD from Harvard, my psychiatrist emanated this powerful promise for change.

Just what does it mean to say that I was indoctrinated into Psychiatry?

-It meant letting Psychiatry tell me who I was, and forgetting how to define myself.

-It meant surrendering my humanness and replacing it with the narrative of a “chemical imbalance”, of an abnormal “condition” that made me different from everyone around me.

-It meant that I never questioned anything I was told by a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker, because I believed that “mental health professionals” had science on their side, and expertise about me that I could never have.  After all, who would ever be so presumptuous as to question a doctor?!

-It meant sacrificing my agency, my sense of self, and my sense of responsibility and accountability to the DSM, to any proclamation made by a “mental health professional”, and to my “meds”.

-It meant that I stopped trusting my gut, following my instincts, or having faith in myself and my ability to feel big feelings or think intense thoughts, and that my psychiatrist was always on speed dial in case I needed an upped dosage or an extra therapy session when I sensed another “episode” coming on.

-It meant that I was fragile, “couldn’t handle” too much stress, was emotionally unpredictable (“labile” was a favorite word of mine), was “hypersensitive”, and was at the whim of my “disease”; indeed “being Bipolar” became my justifiable excuse for impulsive behaviors, fights with family or friends, and shirked responsibilities.

-It meant that most of my decisions began with, “My psychiatrist says that…”.

-It meant that I was Bipolar.

-It meant that I forgot how to stand up for myself and for my rightful place in the world.

-It meant that I no longer believed I should have full rights, as my “disease” made me less than human.

-It meant that I lowered my eyes in subservience before the shiny, gray-silver DSM-IV-TR, the Psychiatric Bible, my life’s definer.

-It meant that I worshiped at the altars of worn leather armchairs, praying to the Gods of DSM, Harvard Medical School, and Lexapro.

-It meant that I became convinced only Psychiatry could save my life and any scrap of sanity I may have had left; that if left to myself, I would surely perish.

(from Laura Delano’s brilliant essay: “Reflections on a Psychiatric Indoctrination, or, How I Began to Free Myself from the Cult of Psychiatry“)

In the mental health system, 1984 is the NOW 04/30/2013

Posted by ALT in Activism, Patient Rights and Advocacy.
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Too many Orwellian concepts have made the leap from fiction to disturbing reality in recent years.

The NEWSPEAK employed by pharmaceutical companies intent on selling ANY chemical they manage to patent to the largest population possible, in the process crafting a language where fundamental questions such as “Does this chemical have any therapeutic value whatsoever?” are impossible to ask. How does one question the effectiveness of a so-called “antipsychotic” medication’s ability to suppress psychotic symptoms?* The very word forbids such an impertinence. And when that same medication is later referred to as an “antidepressant,” doesn’t it seem as though it is an antidepressant, and it has ALWAYS been an antidepressant?

The DOUBLETHINK that proclaims we must fight stigma in mental health by promoting stigmatizing beliefs. Anti-stigma “activists” like Glen Close would have us preach the biological disease model (though it lacks credible scientific proof) far and wide, despite consistent research showing the disease model actually increases stigma, while a psychosocial model explanation slightly decreases it (and — incidentally — has quite a bit more scientific credibility).

The slogan emblazoned on the Ministry of Truth (IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH) in Orwell’s 1984 might as well be carved into the hearts of the many mental health professionals who maintain a death grip on their ignorance of the very unhelpful nature of their so-called “helping profession.” Unhelpful in the sense that:

1. The technical and impressive-sounding names of “diseases” passed down to them in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual [DSM] — which are then applied cavalierly to any distressed individual that crosses their threshold — were literally voted into existence by committees of “experts,” a majority of whom receive large amounts of cash from pharmaceutical companies set to profit from the invention of new mental pathology. A far cry from the discrete, physical pathologies they’re proclaimed to be (“just like diabetes!” they say).
2. The pronouncements the helping profession often makes about the hopeless nature of so-called “mental illness” and the impossibility of recovery after assigning a diagnosis for life (once diagnosed, never undiagnosed) are USUALLY untrue.


   More on that HERE.

3. The chemicals they peddle — often as the first and ONLY possible treatment — are significantly more dangerous and addictive than advertised and much less effective (that’s putting it mildly). Examine the long-term outcomes and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single psychotropic drug that does not induce chronicity and worsen global functioning when compared to no medication.**

Yes, a willfully-maintained ignorance is key for many of the folks working in a mental health system who find strength in the sheer numbers of “professional” people who are willing to go on marching in lockstep to the beat of the drum of corporate, pharmaceutical profits — trampling many a distressed human being underfoot as they solider on. I saw it myself, in sickening detail, during my 2 years of employment with the Research Scientists who didn’t give a damn about data or truth, so bent were they on being mental health “experts,” winning more lucrative contracts to conduct research with predetermined outcomes, and (most important of all) curating the twin museum pieces of their innocence and self-respect.

Fragile artifacts from younger days, best kept under glass.

In the end…

In the grand, tragic finale of Orwell’s 1984, we witness the complete erasure of the final vestige of our protagonist’s personhood. Resistance was always futile, we learn; one way or another, the State would own him — body, mind, soul, and (above all) obedience.

This is the final domino, the last of the Orwellian metaphors in the process of being realized. Can you see it?

A passage through the mental health system is an assault on the fundamental personhood of an individual. With the advent of forced outpatient commitment, we’ve made it even more difficult for such travelers to resist the State’s attempt to fundamentally alter the ways they navigate their mental and emotional distress.

Our fellow citizens are exposed to the possibility of forced psychiatric drugging in their homes for what essentially amounts to thoughtcrime, and no place is a safe space to experience extreme thoughts and emotions (however dark they may be). 1984 is the NOW.

More still, when we as a society accept this possibility as just and right for those who “deserve” it (the homeless? the marginalized? the so-called “mentally ill”?), we demonstrate a love for Big Brother hitherto unknown in our society. We say, “yes, take it, own it, all of me – body, mind, soul, and obedience!”

1984 is the NOW, until the day that we say “ENOUGH!”

Not my body.

Not my mind.

Not my soul.

And certainly NOT my obedience.

* Or the universal desirability of such an effect, for that matter?

** See also: Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic

GUEST POST by Nelson Borelli, MD: Steve Jobs, the Unpious-In-Chief 02/22/2013

Posted by ALT in Guest Post, Philosophy/Spirituality.
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Steve Jobs, RIP.


Steve Jobs transferred the natural piety for his body to his idol, the computer.

(For the thinker: just the above; for the curious: my two bits, below.)

Natural Piety

Piety is a disposition and behavior that is based on the recognition and respect of nature. Nature is what is outside of me (that is the metaphysical me, or “I”, — as in “I am”).

A person’s physical body is part of nature. My body is not me. “God gave me my body in stewardship, and God will take it away when God should so decide” is a helpful metaphor to understand that my body is not me, that it is part of nature. My body is outside me, separate from me.

The same metaphor suggests that I have to take good care of my body (maintenance and repairs) to best profit from its capabilities. Think of this: I own my body as I own my horse (or automobile); the care of either is very important to my living. Yet the care of my body is more important than the care of my horse, because if my body dies I cannot replace it.

My body is, by far, my most important possession. It is a most respectable tool because it allows me to live. There is no tool in the world that could serve me better than my body, not even the most sophisticated computer or robots could do it (they cannot tell the love in a woman’s eyes or the perfect doneness of a paella).


Steve Jobs, the super technocrat, ignored the scientifically based medical technology when his body started to have trouble. The scientific method (widely recognized as the best predictor of outcome) demands objective observation of nature, a pious posture, and many other things. Unpiously, Steve Jobs went into the world of mystical treatments for his illness until it was too late for formal medicine to help him.

Steve Jobs’ (pseudo) piety was to the machine. He venerated the machine as a religious fanatic would. At the cost of his life.

Yes, Steve Jobs was the Unpious-in-Chief of modern time.

His enormous, superb, technical skills and charisma greatly enhanced the contemporary idolatry of material things. Material objects — machines, computers — can be very useful in pursuit of human projects, provided we do not ignore nature, piously.

Steve Jobs’ tragic end may stand as a metaphor for the way we seem to be going on this planet. Let us think about that metaphor, for what it represents may be Steve’s best legacy to us.

Nelson Borelli, MD

(Mailed to Apple Corporate Headquarters 2/22/2013)

Obama’s Mental Health Policy Recommendations: Expect a little Good and lots of Bad and Ugly 01/22/2013

Posted by ALT in Children's Mental Health, Mental Health Policy and Inititatives, Patient Rights and Advocacy.
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A life lesson: Whenever someone says they’re “doing it for the kids,” you can expect very little Good and LOTS of Bad and Ugly.

Doing it for the kids

A week ago Wednesday, surrounded by adoring children, President Obama presented his plan to protect our children and communities by reducing gun violence.

Part 4 of that four-part plan was entitled “Increasing Access to Mental Health Services,” which says:

If even one child’s life can be saved, then we need to act. Now is the time to do the right thing for our children, our communities, and the country we love.

That’s right, folks: this time we’re doing it for the kids.

do it for the kids

Spare no expense when you’re doing it for the kids!

Obama’s proposals come with a big price tag: $55 million!

And they seem geared towards one basic thing: get more children into professional  mental health treatment (he even sets a specific goal of 750,000 children — pretty nice for Johnson&Johnson, Eli Lilly, et al to have advance notice of the number of new potential lifelong customers, eh? ).

What’s wrong with encouraging young people to seek treatment?

My parents did what millions of American parents have been taught to do: they saw how much emotional pain I was in, and they sought “help” for me in the “mental health” system. They had no idea that my entrance into a psychiatrist’s office as a young teenager would end up stripping me of my health, my hope, and my sense of Self. Today, we are able to come together as a family with forgiveness, acceptance, love, and gratitude, to talk about how counterintuitive my journey into a system of proclaimed “healing” ended up being; indeed, as the result of being “shielded from harm” by the “mental health” system, I experienced more harm than I could have ever imagined for myself.

—Laura Delano, in her essay “Free from Harm? Reflecting on the Dangers of the White House’s Proposed ‘Now is the Time’ Gun Control Plan” (you should read it… it’s good)

In other words, Obama’s placing the spirit of America’s youth on the altar.

Do it for the kids.

Mental Health First Aid: The Good?

So what exactly is the government buying with $55 million of my —and my fellow Americans’— hard-earned cash?

One of the proposed interventions, “Mental Health First Aid,” is a 12-year-old evidence-based practice (that’s on the verge of a lucrative adolescence, it seems). Developed and initially implemented in Australia, it’s a 12-hour course for the layperson that teaches people to:

  • know the signs of mental health problems
  • provide first aid for mental health crises (like suicidal behaviors, panic attacks, etc.)
  • promote and enhance recovery.

These don’t sound like bad goals at all. And, really, much of the documentation on Mental Health First Aid is helpful, non-stigmatizing, very human (as opposed to institutional) stuff. For example, the Mental Health First Aid sheet on “psychosis” says:

How can I be supportive?

Treat the person with respect. You should try to empathize with how the person feels about their beliefs and experiences, without stating any judgments about the content of those beliefs and experiences…

Should I encourage the person to seek professional help?

You should ask the person if they have felt this way before and if so, what they have done in the past that has been helpful. Try to find out what type of assistance they believe will help them. Also, try to determine whether the person has a supportive social network and if they do, encourage them to utilize these supports.

Mental Health First Aid sheet on “psychosis”

Respect, dignity, being non-judgmental, activating a social support network of peers, friends, family, and asking the individual what sort of assistance he or she would prefer — quite frankly, that sounds fantastic!

That sounds like self-advocacy! That sounds empowering!

Actually, it sounds a lot like the principles of WRAP [Wellness Recovery Action Plan] – a wellness tool developed in part by Mary Ellen Copeland that has helped so many individuals reclaim their right to define wellness, and to find the resources they need for achieving it inside themselves…

Unfortunately, the emphasis on self-advocacy/determination and peer support is spotty at best when you examine the entire body of Mental Health First Aid literature. The truth is these folks are just as intent as Obama on directing people towards the “necessary professional help,” with self-care and self-help an optional second.

The Bad and the Ugly

Things go from bad to worse when you take a look at the Manual for Mental Health First Aid. In here, we learn that:

The symptoms of depression are thought to be due to changes in natural brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These chemicals send messages from one nerve cell to another in the brain. When a person becomes depressed, the brain can have less of certain of these chemical messengers. One of these is serotonin, a mood-regulating brain chemical.

Manual for Mental Health First Aid, 2009

Eeek! That’s just one more branch on the eugenics tree…

And a few pages further in the manual, we find these ugly sentiments:

A team of Australian mental health researchers has reviewed the scientific evidence for the effectiveness of a wide range of treatments for depression. The following rating system was developed to show the treatments whose effectiveness was best supported by the evidence:

☺☺☺ These treatments are very useful. They are strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.

☺☺ These treatments are useful and are supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.

☺These treatments may be useful and have some evidence to support them. More evidence is needed that they work.

smiley rating system

Since when is a therapy that’s been shown to be no more effective than placebo [antidepressants] rightfully classified as ”very useful,” and “strongly supported…by scientific evidence”?

And they’re giving three smiley faces for electroconvulsive therapy, too?!

Electroshock devices still have not been thoroughly reviewed for safety by the FDA (if they were, they’d have to nail down that nasty little statistic of how many deaths by ECT per 100,000?), and many studies counter the “three smiley faces” rating, including this large literature review, whose authors state:

The cost-benefit analysis for ECT is so poor that its use cannot be scientifically justified.

—John Read and Richard Bentall in “The effectiveness of electroconvulsive therapy: A literature review

Moreover, firsthand accounts of electroshock are often anything but “smiley.” In the words of Ernest Hemingway, a shock survivor:

Well, what is the sense of ruining my head and erasing my memory, which is my capital, and putting me out of business? It was a brilliant cure but we lost the patient….

Electroshock? Don't worry about it! ☺☺☺  Instead, look at this cute koala bear (official Mental Health First Aid mascot)!!

Electroshock? Don’t worry about it! ☺☺☺ Instead, look at this cute koala bear (official Mental Health First Aid mascot)!!

[More electroshock survivor voices here; also check out this article about a forced electroshock experience from writer Chris Dubey]

Imagine an alternative

Imagine an alternative. Imagine that the President recommended a course of action that emphasized self-reliance, empowerment, and advocacy, an “evidence based practice” that was steeped in the philosophy of respect and dignity for all (rather than just a semblance of it). One that emphasized treatments that were cost-effective or even free (rather than relying on very expensive, “appropriate professional help”), and one that pointed people towards achieving their visions for their lives, their wellness.

In other words, what if the president had set aside $55 million for the teaching of WRAP [Wellness Recovery Action Plans], or something like it, to anyone who so desired?

Those might be the last few dollars ever spent on so-called “mental health care”— with a population empowered to embrace its own humanity and resilience, there’d be no more need for it.

“A Radical Revolution of Values”: Martin Luther King, Jr. calls for a person-centered approach 01/15/2013

Posted by ALT in Activism.
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from LIFE Magazine: March 19, 1965. The caption read "FACE OF PURPOSE. Nobel laureate King stands before a sheriff's deputy as a U.S. marshal reads the order banning the demonstration. King's immediate response: "I have no alternative but to lead the march."

from LIFE Magazine: March 19, 1965. The caption read “FACE OF PURPOSE. Nobel laureate King stands before a sheriff’s deputy as a U.S. marshal reads the order banning the demonstration. King’s immediate response: “I have no alternative but to lead the march.”

On April 4, 1967 Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his first public anti-war speech, Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence, at the Riverside Church in New York City before a meeting of the Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. It was exactly a year to the day before his murder.

Despite harsh criticism (for example, this LIFE magazine article calling his speech “demagogic slander”), King continued to link the struggle for civil rights to broader struggles against injustice, war, poverty, and greed for what remained of his life.

A radical revolution of values

King said:

We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

So many of the institutions of daily life in our society demand that human beings behave like machines. Prisons, schools, the mental health system: all reduce human diversity down to mere labels, which are plugged into formulae, which then produce numbers.

For example:


[more on the above here]

Even worse, participation in these institutions (particularly compulsory public schooling – get ‘em while they’re young) instills the worst of these machine-oriented values in us: we, the human beings, are taught to treat others like machines. We are taught to bow to bureaucracy, to the insensitivity of forms and formulae, we are taught to look beyond the humanity of people in dire need of assistance and say, “I’m sorry, sir, I know you need help; but you’re just going to have to fill out this form and wait your turn.”

And can these machine-oriented values be compartmentalized? NO.

We turn them on ourselves. We treat others like machines; we treat ourselves as machines.

Do you accept statistical prophesies and prescriptions for your life that carry with them the weight of SCIENCE, against your better judgment, against your lived experience of the world? Do you set aside your basic human compassion and bow to a system that demands machine-like behavior because that’s your job, or because that’s what society demands, or because you believe there is no alternative?

We are NOT machines! We are humans – flesh and blood, soul and spirit. Intuitive agents with a connection, not only to this physical earth, but to a spiritual world, imbued with meaning. And a connection to each other.

How do we stop the spread of toxic dehumanization?

We truly need a “radical revolution of values,” moving us towards a person-centered perspective. I am thinking of the values and ethics articulated by Mary Ellen Copeland to describe her approach to mental health recovery outside of the system. Because all of us are human beings in recovery from dehumanization, I’ve taken them as a starting point for this list of 3 simple steps for reclaiming our human-ness:

  1. Self-determination, personal responsibility, empowerment, and self-advocacy are essential parts of recognizing ourselves as human beings, and the human beings around us.
  2. We make no prophecies about other human beings. We simply don’t have the expertise; each human being is the ultimate expert on him or herself. Therefore, if a person says “I can do this, ” or “I dream of doing this” — then they will do it. And we will support them.
  3. We human beings hold each other in unconditional high regard. We focus on strengths and positives and not on deficits (no matter how these deficits were determined and who determined them). The use of clinical, medical, and diagnostic language, of labels, scientifically-derived statistics, is avoided.

If we approached both ourselves and all other human beings with these values in mind, every day, despite the immense institutional pressure to do otherwise, what would be the result?

One result that King points to is the actual dismantling of dehumanizing institutions. They simply cannot be supported by true person-centered thinking and actions:

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring…

In other words, to be truly trauma-informed (dehumanization-informed), we must look not only at the products of dehumanizing institutions, but the institutions themselves!

An incredibly daunting task. Is it possible; can it even be done? Here is how Martin Luther King, Jr. answered that question:

Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter — but beautiful — struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.

Poison Spreads — Creative Maladjustment is the Antidote! 01/14/2013

Posted by ALT in Activism, Patient Rights and Advocacy, Philosophy/Spirituality.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Martin_Luther_King_Jr_NYWTSOn September 1, 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. was invited to give a Distinguished Address to the American Psychological Association. The speech was in proofs for publication in the Journal of Social Issues when King was assassinated less than a year later.

[Read full speech here.]

“Our struggle for human freedom and dignity”

This was how Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to his work.

That struggle hasn’t ended!

Human dignity is trampled with every instance of dehumanization. Institutions (like public schools and the mental health system) are inherently dehumanizing, because they expect humans to behave like machines.

Human intelligence and thought are reduced down to standardized test scores. Human behavior is reduced down to the physical interplay between neurotransmitters (and perhaps a few “bad genes” as well), and subsequently blasted into oblivion with harsh chemical interventions.

What does it mean to be human? Humans are flesh and blood, soul and spirit – not machines. Humans have emotions and feelings. They have agency. Unlike a computer program, which has no choice but to follow each and every command given – even a command to self destruct – a human has free will, and can exercise it in his own interest (whatever that may be).

Beware anyone who tells you that a human – or any part contained therein – is a machine.

Poisoned to its soul

“White America needs to understand that it is poisoned to its soul by racism,” says King. “All too many white Americans are horrified not with conditions of Negro life but with the product of these conditions – the Negro himself.”

Transpose these words to the current state of mental health care in our society, and see the astounding insight here. Psychiatry is poisoned to its very soul – most of the self-proclaimed “soul healers” have abandoned their connection to the soul entirely, opting instead for the biochemical model of mental and emotional distress. And most of the treatments they offer are – literally – brain disabling, poisonous.

How many more stories do we need to hear of triumph over psychiatric adversity – of painstaking years spent withdrawing from medications that, in the long term, made distress chronic, and can bring with them a host of adverse effects far worse than the original distress ­– before we’ve heard enough? As inspiring as it is to hear about resilience and recovery, I anxiously await the day when there are no more stories like this to tell. When trauma is not a necessary part of each and every individual’s initiation into this society.

It gets worse. You see, poison spreads.

Did you think it could be compartmentalized? It cannot.

American society needs to understand that it is poisoned to its very soul – toxins in our environment, in our food, our water. Toxic consumerism, greed, and waste.  Glamorized violence and a worship of death permeating every aspect of our culture.

Most of all, the poison of dehumanization – everywhere.

Nearly every human being, for the first 18 years of his life, is sentenced to serve time in a dehumanizing institution that is practically indistinguishable from a prison.

What do we teach in our schools today? How to read uncritically, how to ask only the questions written in the discussion section at the end of the chapter, how to assign only the meanings we are supposed to assign. In general, how to be remarkably incurious about many topics in history, science, economics, mathematics, etc.

But these are really secondary. Here are the primary lessons:

How to rank by numbers. How to judge, badger, and bully your fellow man.

How it feels to be constantly surveilled, subjected to random drug tests and unwarranted searches, how to grovel before police dogs and armed guards.

The Seven-Lesson School Teacher, by John Taylor Gatto.

This is only the beginning. It goes on, through adult life. Especially for the unfortunates who live out their adult lives with institutions like the mental health system, the justice system, the social services system, etc. watching their every move.

And we as a society are horrified, not by the conditions of institutionalized life, but by its products: dehumanized, distressed individuals who are angry, and rightfully so!

Creative Maladjustment

Here is how King’s speech ended:

There are some things in our society, some things in our world, to which we should never be adjusted. There are some things concerning which we must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good will. We must never adjust ourselves to racial discrimination and racial segregation. We must never adjust ourselves to religious bigotry. We must never adjust ourselves to economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. We must never adjust ourselves to the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence… And through such creative maladjustment, we may be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man, into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.

“Maladjustment” may not be a popular word these days. It is said that Adam Lanza was “maladjusted.”

But society has also judged as “maladjusted” people like Sandy Loranger, a Santa Cruz woman who went to jail for feeding soup to homeless people. When the judge offered her counseling instead of jail Sandy Loranger replied, “If feeding my fellow man is a crime, I am beyond rehabilitation.”

People like David Oaks and Mary Ellen Copeland, who started talking about real, long-lasting, stable, unmedicated recoveries from so-called schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, long before it was even considered scientifically possible.

People like Martin Luther King, Jr. himself, who knew that poison spreads and that injustice cannot be compartmentalized.

As I looked at what this war [Vietnam] was doing to our nation I found it necessary to speak vigorously out against it. There are those who tell me that I should stick with civil rights, and stay in my place. I can only respond that I have fought too hard and long to end segregated public accommodations to segregate my own moral concerns. It is my deep conviction that justice is indivisible, that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere

On some positions cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?!’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But conscience must ask the question, ‘Is it right?!’ And there comes a time when one must take a stand that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular. But one must take it because it is right. And that is where I find myself today.

Taking a stand that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but RIGHT: this is the kind of positive creative maladjustment we’re talking about.

Taking a stand for human dignity. A stand for humanity.

From the MindFreedom website: David W. Oaks is a psychiatric survivor who has been given labels such as schizophrenic, bipolar, schizophreniform, clinical depression. He is holding a copy of the American Psychiatric Association's book of psychiatric labels. David directs MindFreedom International and is a human being!

 Are we ready enough – are we “crazy” enough – to take on, in a peaceful loving creative way – what is called “normal”?

David W. Oaks



TAKE HEART: Five Beautiful Things from 2012 12/24/2012

Posted by ALT in Activism.
Tags: , , , , ,

Have courage, my friends – take heart. Our non-violent revolution in mental health care is moving forward! Here are five beautiful signs of progress from the past year:

5. GlaxoSmithKline was held publicly accountable for fraudulent marketing practices, paying a $3 billion fine for illegal promotion of Paxil, Wellbutrin, and several other drugs.

(That’s the biggest fine yet for pharma, though there have been many others…)

Also in 2012, Abbot Pharmaceuticals paid out $1.6 billion for illegal promotion of Depakote, and Johnson found themselves in a bit of hot water, too, over their aggressive off-label marketing of Risperdal. CEO Alex Gorsky was forced to give a deposition – it’s rather enlightening.

The fine itself is not the point (it’s still just a drop in the bucket compared to the profits from these drugs — for all intents and purposes a fine is just another “cost of doing business.”) The important thing is that the pharmaceutical industry’s practices – including deliberately trying to create customers-for-life for psychotropic medications (see Gorsky’s testimony) by aggressively marketing to children – are officially going on the record, and they’re encroaching on the public awareness, too.

People are starting to think twice before they reach for the pill bottle, and that’s a good thing.

4. The 14th annual Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run/Walk took place: one fabulous example of a community healing project done RIGHT.

Spiritual healing walkers' and runners' triumphal entry into Denver last year. (photo by: Leah Millis, Denver Post)

Spiritual healing walkers’ and runners’ triumphal entry into Denver last year. (photo by: Leah Millis, Denver Post)

Cheyenne and Arapaho from the Boulder, CO area have been staging this Spiritual Healing event every year for well over a decade, using principles of Restorative Justice to address the hurt that exists both for their people, descendants of the perpetrators of the original Sand Creek Massacre (one of the most horrendous examples of the US Government’s devotion to exterminating native cultures in this land), and all others affected by this tragedy.

This is some seriously inspiring stuff. More information here.

3.The Mad In America bloggers produced some excellent content, getting downright feisty on occasion.

Yes, MIA has been around for awhile, but 2012 was the year that the place came alive. Here are some of the standout moments to me:

-Mary Ellen Copeland shared the story of her mother, Kate, in a piece called (simply) “Remembering Kate.” She tells us how someone diagnosed with “severe and incurable manic depression,” abandoned to the back wards of a hospital for 8 long years, came back and lived an extraordinary life. I can’t recall the last time I read something so inspirational.

– Michael Cornwall detailed at great length his own unmedicated process through madness, his experiences helping others make a similar, unmedicated journey, and then posted some advice (Responding to Madness With Loving Receptivity: a Practical Guide) on how anybody can help another human being in emotional distress.

Here’s what it all boils down to: showing love, support, and empathy to your fellow human.

– On several occasions, Robert Whitaker took the opportunity to teach E. Fuller Torrey a lesson or two. (Torrey is the leading proponent of forced outpatient commitment, where your friendly social worker/law enforcement official visits you in-home and provides you with an injection of antipsychotics, er… I mean “intramuscular medication.” By court order. It’s time released — so you have anywhere from 3-6 weeks to recuperate before your next visitation.

Torrey has been caught time and time again using junk science [ie, falsehoods] to promote more drastic implementations of these sorts of civil liberties violations.)

This particular schooling, delivered by Whitaker in response to a fanciful critique of Anatomy of an Epidemic by Torrey [I say “fanciful” because it was, in fact, filled with lies], was especially lovely.

I think Torrey still needs to do a few hundred more.

A few hundred more ought to do it, eh, Torrey?

There are so many more writers worth reading at MIA: Laura Delano, Corinna West, Alice Keys, Matt Samet… to name only a few. Go there, read, and GET INSPIRED!

2. The fact that antidepressants are no more effective at treating depression than placebo HIT THE MAINSTREAM.

It hit the mainstream HARD. Old news to us, I know – the study that demonstrates this came out in 2002, after all.

But this vital information was on NPR, it was on 60 Minutes, it was everywhere! And it just might have inserted itself into some small corner of the public’s consciousness.

(No reason we shouldn’t take the time to remind folks of this important fact whenever we have half a chance, however).

1. 200+ protestors OCCUPIED THE APA’s annual convention in Philadelphia.

They carried signs, and they raised their voices loud, calling for alternatives to drugging, forced treatment, and dehumanization. They staged a dramatic “label rip” at the doors of the convention center, ripping pieces of paper bearing the diagnoses and labels given them by the psychiatric profession.

Pretty damn inspiring.

The paradigm is shifting.

Minds are changing, ever-so-slowly. We are making progress.

Here’s what I say… don’t stop. Not for a moment.

Don’t stop spreading the word in whatever way you can. Because the time is now! People need to hear our very simple message: that we’re ALL humans, and we ALL have the right to experience the world in whatever way we please.

Merry Christmas, all you humans out there!



GUEST POST: Psychiatry and its Tragedy, by Nelson Borelli, M.D. 12/19/2012

Posted by ALT in Guest Post, Philosophy/Spirituality.
Tags: , , , , ,

I am honored to present another guest post from reform-minded (former) psychiatrist Dr. Nelson Borelli.  His website and manifesto are well worth reading, and the thoughts he puts forth here about moral agency and psychiatry come at a very important moment in the national dialogue about these topics.


By Nelson Borelli, M.D.

ALT_mentalities kindly invited me to write a critique on the practice of psychiatry.  I accepted it with reluctance for several reasons.

First: There is not much original thought I can add to the matter after the monumental contribution of many others, Thomas S. Szasz and Karl Menninger in particular.
Second:  Psychiatry,— and I will use that word to include psychiatry and other enterprises such as clinical psychology, social work and all “therapies,” and most respective practitioners — are faith-based organizations, not open to rational thinking and dialogue, let alone change.
Third: History seems to show that critiques to psychiatry are perceived as callous attacks to “science”, to psychiatry practitioners, and to the “mentally ill.” This is usually followed by the hardening of the faith and more closing of the thinking.

Yet I’ll try; the youthful vitality of ALT_mentalities inspires me.

Saving the Underdog

Psychiatry’s tragic course began in the sixteenth century when the political rulers lined up for execution of a woman because she was a “witch.” But a well-connected doctor saved her life by showing she was a sick woman, not a witch. The doctor was Johann Weyer. His deed was certainly good but the reason was bad. That saving-the-underdog became a tragedy of unlimited proportions. After half millennia the tragedy is still with us and it is growing.
The “witches’ law” was wrong then; many social intolerance laws are wrong now. Bad laws should be confronted morally, politically, because that is what they are. They are manmade laws.

Confronting them by “biological-disease” means results in tragedy. The heroic “biological”, medical shortcut is bad. It has built-in badness because it results in bad consequences for the hero (psychiatry) while the moral problems remain unresolved.

Visitors from another planet would be sympathetic to us in learning about our seemingly unsolvable moral problems: When does life begin in the unborn child? Is it permissible to unplug life-supporting equipment from the terminally ill? If so when? Is abortion permissible and if so when and in what circumstances? Should we abolish the death penalty in the USA? Do children have rights? If so what rights, at what age? Do we go for gun control or the Second Amendment? What are the boundaries between Personal and State rights? Et cetera.

Contemporary psychiatry is suffering the bad consequences of the heroic acts of “saving-the-underdog.” Psychiatry is discredited. Self paying patients are fewer and fewer. Third-party payers refuse to pay for “services.” The only thing that keeps the psychiatric industry alive is the state-sponsored/enforced “mental illness/mental treatment” dictum. Nor has the psychiatric industry’s “stigma” cry been working well either.

It is an unnecessary, self- inflicted tragedy, to put it mildly, (for the profit factor cannot be ignored). Psychiatry could be of help to the many folks who suffer from emotional problems. Psychiatry could have room in medicine as a (soft) branch of it. Although the causes and pathology of emotional problems remain obscure, they could continue to be investigated by scientists interested in the field. Emotional problems could be dealt with by professionals who are patient enough to deal (humbly) with diagnoses’ uncertainties by using trial-and-error techniques.

There are already some significant scientific contributions on the relationship between bodily physiology and the perception of emotional reactions. Psychoanalysis and related disciplines have also contributed to the understanding of human emotional conditions. Even the dreadful, drug-pushing, disease-manufacturing pharmaceutical industry has made some contributions. However limited the knowledge of psychiatry at present, there is room within medicine and related disciplines for a respectable Psychiatry specialty.

But that would require present day psychiatry to drop the “mental-illness” ideology.

Psychiatry & Moral Agency

At the core of the “mental illness” ideology is the notion that a person can lose moral agency, this is that the person is no longer able to know what he/she likes or dislikes, or is not able to form and execute (“correct”) personal opinions due to a “biological ill condition.” That is that the person has become “mentally ill.”

That is wrong.

The fact is that humans’ opinions cannot be (biologically) ill. This is a travesty with terrible consequences such as the deprivation of civil rights to citizens who have not committed any crimes.

A court of law may order involuntary psychiatric treatment, known as “Civil Commitment” for a “mentally ill” person. Although the large majority of the “mentally ill” persons are not subjected to involuntary treatment, all “mental Illness” diagnoses suggest possible Civil Commitment, that is, deprivation of personhood.

The fact is that psychiatry is not able to predict criminal behavior on a given person. No legally responsible psychiatrist would publicly state to what percentage of probability a person would act criminally because there is no publication of any scientifically conducted study that objectively demonstrates such a prediction.

Human opinions can be wrong, or right, with respect to a prevailing social code of ethics. A quick look at the history of humans’ opinions shows that even very “important” opinions, come and go. Examples: The learned ones used to sure the Earth was flat. Now the learned ones differ as to whether humans were created or evolved. These are human opinions; they may be errors. But they are not forms of “insanity” or “mental illnesses.” Incidentally, the utterance “sick opinion/belief” is only a pejorative metaphor, an unfortunate metaphor because it is often used literally.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) we humans were born without a God-given “user’s- book.”  If we were we might be angels of God like Adam and Eve were before they CHOSE to eat the apple.

Ever since, we are born with the ability to choose. We are born to be on our own stewardship.

One may or may not choose to use the Biblical story, but the fact is that each one of us is ultimately responsible for the management of our lives. We have to manage our lives by the use of science or inspiration and hope for the best. No guarantee of success.

Be aware of false “saviors” such as psychiatry that offer you the “the brain-made-you-do-it” way out as a means of angelic tranquility. If you go for it you become a robot; a Mental Patient Green Card carrier, with entitlements but deprived of personal moral agency.

Personal Moral Agency

Personal moral agency means that one is born with the ability to know, choose and act in accordance to what one thinks is right. Just in case: What you think is right may not be what others think is right.

Psychiatry did not get a “users’ book” from God either. Psychiatrists’ opinions on persons’ life management can be wrong, very wrong! Psychiatrist Egas Moniz won the 1949 Nobel Prize on the “benefits” of lobotomy on “psychotic patients.”

How to manage your life? Simple: Each of us gets information, input, from the world around us and from our own bodies. It’s up to each of us to look, examine, re-examine the information, look for more information and consult with others as needed. Then we reason. Then we act, execute. The more we work on the information, particularly information-that-I-do-not-want-to-know, and do the reasoning, the greater the chance that we would be pleased with our acts or execution at a later date. Of course there is no guarantee that we would be pleased with our acts at a later day. We humans are not perfect, period.

The more one practices on information gathering and reasoning, the greater the chances to be content with our acts at a future date. Unfortunately, just too often people choose to delegate to others the information gathering and reasoning. In so doing, they dull their minds; this is the ability-to-mind. Minding is an inborn ability. However, the quality of minding depends on how much we practice it.

The tragedy of psychiatry will eventually end in the same way other tragedies ended: the death of the hero. In this case, the “mental illness” heroic attempt to “solve” humans’ moral problems.

Good, serious psychiatry is badly needed. But even more needed is for us to get in touch with, to honor and respect our precious minds and humanness.

When forced drugging was still debatable: David Oaks speaks after Virginia Tech 12/17/2012

Posted by ALT in Activism, Pharmaceuticals.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

In 2007, after the Virginia Tech shootings, David Oaks (director of MindFreedom International and survivor of forced drugging) was invited onto NPR’s Talk of the Nation to debate the merits of forcibly drugging individuals experiencing extreme mental and emotional states.

Back then, forced drugging/commitment was still very debatable.

So was Pluto's status as a planet.

So was Pluto’s status as a planet.

In fact, the host of TOTN described forced drugging as “one of the most polarizing issues in mental health” – and openly acknowledged the serious challenge to civil rights that such a practice poses.

Not so much today. Folks like E. Fuller Torrey and his so-called “Treatment Advocacy Center” have done their work well; “more mental health treatment” (typically, with the added implication of “by force, if necessary”) is being presented as a self-evident solution to the problem of mass murder throughout media coverage of recent events. A few choice quotes from mainstream commentaries on Newtown:

With mass murders increasing in frequency, getting troubled people treatment is a national issue. Nevada and New York are among a few states that have some legal measures parents and relatives can take (with the recommendation of psychiatrists) so that people over the age of 18 get outpatient psychiatric care when warranted. But often, mothers and fathers are left with the all the worry and very little control. (Those laws, like Kendra’s Law and Laura’s Law, are named for people who have been killed by the mentally ill.)

– from TIME magazine

It’s important not to stigmatize the mentally ill. At the same time, there is a small subset of mentally ill people who are dangerous. They are responsible for an estimated 50 percent of rampage killings. In the name of personal autonomy, we have made it almost impossible to force them to get treatment. The horrifying consequences are all around us.

– from National Review Online; reprinted in the Washington Post

From the MindFreedom website: David W. Oaks is a psychiatric survivor who has been given labels such as schizophrenic, bipolar, schizophreniform, clinical depression. He is holding a copy of the American Psychiatric Association's book of psychiatric labels. David directs MindFreedom International and is a human being!

From the MindFreedom website: David W. Oaks is a psychiatric survivor who has been given labels such as schizophrenic, bipolar, schizophreniform, clinical depression. David directs MindFreedom International and is a human being!

In 2007, David Oaks made a well-articulated and compassionate case for pursuing alternatives to forced drugging.

We need more perspectives like David’s in the discourse that’s emerging now. Can we make room for the voice of actual psychiatric survivors, which – then and now – are the first to be excluded from the dialogue?

David describes his own experience with forced drugging

OAKS: [While in college in the 1970s] I entered into extreme and overwhelming mental and emotional problems that were labeled as schizophrenic and bipolar, in other words, psychotic. Things like thinking the CIA was after me, that a neighbor was with the CIA, the TV was talking to me personally, the radio was the voice of God, and all kinds of classic experiences like that during these times.

So Harvard referred me to McLean, which is voted one of the best institutions. I remember the drive to McLean thinking, “now I’ll get some help, some rest, some support.” And, instead, I found a very aggressive approach of forced drugging. I didn’t want to take the psychiatric drugs because I was concerned about the hazards, and they dragged me to a solitary confinement room, forcibly injected me. And I spent days in solitary confinement several times. And that’s actually where I got kind of recruited to this human rights work, because I remember in that solitary confinement cell very distinctly for several days, forcibly drugged, and I looked out that screen of that window and I said, there are better ways to help people with severe mental and emotional problems.

Challenging the “medication as first and ONLY treatment” paradigm

HOST: And have you voluntarily taken medication or sought other sorts of treatment since then?

OAKS: Not the traditional psychiatric care. When people talk about treatment a lot, we need to dive down deeper. They mean drugs. I’m pro-choice about people’s decision to take prescribed drugs, but that’s what it’s about. The current mental health system … it’s about drug, drug, drug, drug, drug, drug, drug…

If you talk to mental health consumer groups, psychiatric survivor groups, you’ll find a whole range of alternatives. Whether or not people are on psych drugs, they want peer support programs, advocacy programs, drop-in centers, peer-run programs such as advocacy and housing programs. There’s all kinds of approaches out there that we need to be talking about. But I think the pharmaceutical industry has kind of taken over the mental health system.

They were talking about the neuroleptic drugs. Back then it was things like Thorazine, Stelazine, Mellaril, Haldol that I was on. Now there’s Clozapine, Risperdal, Zyprexa, and drugs like that. These are the so-called antipsychotics or neuroleptics. And any discussion about forced treatment has to get into what these drugs do. I tell you, okay, with all of my heart, if thirty-some years ago I had stayed on these drugs for the rest of my life like they told me I had to, I would have dementia. And I respect folks that chose that direction, but these drugs can cause brain damage, and current medical evidence is in that long-term high-dosage use of these drugs can cause brain damage.

Is so-called “mental illness” JUST LIKE DIABETES?

HOST: We have an e-mail from Anne in Jackson, Michigan, who says: “I was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder after being treated for depression and anxiety for 11 years. I firmly support forced treatment for those with serious mental health programs. Free will and informed decisions require a certain level brain function. When the brain is not functioning properly, you can’t expect decision making to be working well.

You wouldn’t ask a diabetic to somehow make his pancreas work at a higher level than possible, but that’s sometimes exactly what you’re asking someone dealing with significant mental illness. You’re asking his brain to function at a level that allows him to make informed decisions.”

OAKS: Two quick replies. One is: there’s no force treatment for diabetics. Why is that? There’s a lot of folks diagnosed diabetic that are eating horrible foods, doing terrible things to their bodies. They’re not being forcibly treated with diabetes medication. But also, the best doctors in diabetes, when you talk to the cutting edge doctors, they’re finding that all kinds of non-tangible things help us, even for diabetes and heart conditions. Things like our community, our culture, our connections to each other, our relationships.

HOST: But what about the specific question of not necessarily being the best judge of the decisions about your own treatment when you are in the middle of a psychotic break?

OAKS: Okay, there I was, middle of the psychotic break. I thought the neuroleptics were poison for me, personally…I thought it felt like it was damaging my brain, that it was potentially harmful to me. I was right. The current medical evidence is that there’s a very high risk from these drugs, including frontal lobe shrinkage. Now that’s shown with CT and MRI scans. So I was right.

What happens if we respond to acts of violence with forced drugging, another kind of violence…

HOST: David Oaks, what do you think the impact will be of the Virginia Tech tragedy on your efforts to fight forced treatment?

Mr. OAKS: If we do nothing, if people who are diagnosed with psychiatric labels and our allies do nothing, horrible disaster. I would predict hundreds of thousands of more young people prescribed powerful drugs without adequate advocacy, information, alternatives…

So let’s hear from mental health consumer psychiatric survivors and perhaps something could somehow be taken from this horrible tragedy that we can hear from people who’ve been there. What has helped them recover? What is it like to be forcibly treated? A lot of us actually see that as violent. I still have traumatic dreams about being forcibly drugged 30 years later. It was a form of violence.

the missing voice again is often people who have been through the mental health system. They tend not to be listened to, almost – in fact, I’d say – I’d go out on a limb and say every mental health consumer group I’ve heard of opposes expanding forced drugging and commitment laws. Why is that? Because they have found other ways to help other than more forced treatment.


[Listen to the entire interview here.]

[And if you have a spare moment — meditate on a quick recovery for David, whose voice is so desperately needed now.]


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