When forced drugging was still debatable: David Oaks speaks after Virginia Tech 12/17/2012Posted by ALT in Activism, Pharmaceuticals.
Tags: David Oaks, E Fuller Torrey, forced commitment, forced drugging, mental health, Newtown, Treatment Advocacy Center, violence
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.
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.
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.]