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

Posted by ALT in Activism, Pharmaceuticals.
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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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1. Anonymous - 12/17/2012

I’d say apart from Szasz, nobody has done more to oppose forced psychiatry than David. And in terms of psychiatry survivors (note the use of not the adjective but the noun, very important), in terms of psychiatry survivors, nobody has done more. I hope he heals.

He’s so important to our movement. Our movement to oppose brain rape. And thank you so much for transcribing the juicy bits of that interview, so I didn’t have to listen to it. I usually suffer when I have to be subjected to people who are pro brain rape, as was no doubt to be heard in that audio coming from the other side.

If even Robert Whitaker bought psychiatry’s lies in 1998 before he started researching lie-chiatry, imagine how the man on the street thinks of us. This, is psychiatry’s legacy, dehumanization, hate, viewing us as complete zombies to be forcibly drugged, as mass murderers. This is psychiatry’s legacy of propaganda. How psychiatry could stitch us up and railroad us further, is hard to imagine. So many hundreds of thousands of callous human rights abusing brain rapists around the world, ready, willing and able to stick the needle in and rape our brain. We need to fight this, it is totally intolerable and unforgivable. May one day nobody have to live in fear of forced drugging or forced electroshock, and David shows us the way to do that. May he heal, and return to work as soon as possible.

2. Rossa Forbes - 12/18/2012

Well done! I’m swiping this for my blog, with all due credit, of course.

3. Cledwyn Bulbs "Enemy of the Pusheads" - 05/11/2013

Good article.

4. Cledwyn Bulbs "Enemy of the Pusheads" - 05/11/2013

There can be no mediate position between being for and against forced drugging and other violations of the sanctity and integrity of the human body, just like there can be no mediate position between being for freedom of expression and against it (another myth people need to be disabused of, especially in politically correct and psychiatrized societies, where such intolerance has a certain glamour).

Some might take issue with the binarism of my thinking on this issue, yet it really is that simple.

Whilst I don’t want to fall into the odious habit of boring you with my autobiographical experiences (although lots of people claim to be interested in the lives of others, this is a kind of expressive infidelity), I too know what it is like to incur these invasions. My example is important purely because they forced me to take way too much, so that in taking the drugs I incurred the risk of getting NMS, something I have experienced when taking stelazine voluntarily. Who will judge the competence of those whose duty it is to judge the competence of others?

Yet the people who should make the greatest claims on our sympathy are the ones who are forced to comply to a regimen that stretches over a period of years, even decades. Therein lies the purest concentration of psychiatric evil.

If only people understood the real character of involuntary psychiatry, if only people would stop focusing on the tyrannies of the past and redirect their gaze to those of the present, and understand that, just like in the past, true, enlightened understanding of the Inquisition and chattel slavery had been deferred to posterity, when it was too late to help the victims, we are now repeating the same mistakes, leaving ourselves open to the criticisms of posterity, who no doubt will continue the tradition of looking to the past for their beasties and demons, and the general example of human evil.

Involuntary “treatment” (I qualify the use of this term with inverted commas both to disclaim sympathy with such a usage and because, as Szasz once pointed out, the sine qua non for inclusion in the class of treatments is consent) is justified as I understand it broadly on two grounds. Firstly, on the grounds of there being being a moral imperative to treat the patient, and secondly according to the imperatives of the situation, which of course involves the invocation of the stereotype of the dangerous, out-of-control, poo-slinging loony, and just as offensively, the so-called “clinical reality” (a reality supposedly cut free from its usual moorings of human subjectivity and self-interest).

The perverse reasoning implied in the former is that it would be immoral not to treat them, and might imperil the patient’s life and health. Yet such so-called concern does not extend to the risks of the so-called treatment, the risk of great suffering being visited upon the patient because of the well-documented effects, of contracting brain disease etc. This inconsistency in attitudes, this selective disengagement of our solicitude elucidates the insincerity underpinning such vaguely felt sentiments. It is mostly cant, the empty talk of people a long way down the slippery slope of mendacity.

5. Cledwyn Bulbs "Enemy of the Pusheads" - 05/11/2013

As for the latter, the stereotype of the out of control, dangerous mental patient is mostly just victim blaming. Psychiatry treats people badly, ergo its members justify this treatment through the demonization of the victim. This is common amongst bullies, abusers and tyrants.

Sadly, as David rightly points out in his article, the demotic mind is prepossessed in favour of the oppressors, beguiled as ever by the superficial trappings of expertise, blinded by the hallucinatory halo of the experts, these super-rational beings with a monopoly on sanity, mediums through which reality, “the real world”, expresses itself. Unsurprisingly, these experts, and the “sane” psychiatrists and their accomplices in their crimes of lese-humanite abuse the trust reposed in them to gain leverage in the battle with the patient, the patient who almost without fail, even amongst many of his so-called allies, the “radical” critics of psychiatry, is prejudged as irrational, untrustworthy, their every verbal production issuing from their abstract illness.

This leads to the slightly absurd situation where even amongst the survivor community, you’ll find the same veneration of experts like Whitaker, because he is one of the “sane” people, who just so happens to accommodate coercers on his site and on whom he bestows his most bounteous, effusive praise and, in banning the more passionate and angry patients from his site, betrays his intellectual affinity with the oppressors, who like him have set themselves up as the arbiters of the limits of freedom of expression, excluding the heretic, which all inevitably entails the repression and circumscription of the human imagination and the spirit, something psychiatry has taken over from doing from the Inquisition, its historical counterpart.

Yet it is people like he, this man who also betrays his affinity with the Mental Health Movement through his uncritical framing of issues in the vulgar terminology and phraseology of this mass discriminatory movement, it is people like he whom even the survivors generally look to for wisdom, ignoring their own, beguiled by the outer, superficial trappings of reason and expertise, the authoritative beard, the fluidity and facility of his speech, the calm tonal resonances underpinning the words he utters.

Also, because the scope of psychiatry’s tyranny extends to the innermost imaginative realms of the patients themselves, the realm where the story we tell ourselves of ourselves is created, even many of the patients support this vile tyranny we call “forced treatment”. This is what makes oppression so difficult to overcome; the acquiescence to and embrace of the oppression by the oppressed themselves, whose inner understanding the oppressors manipulate through recourse to propaganda, coercion, torture, systematic degradation that sows the seeds of self-doubt, and exclusion, so that the oppressed victim makes an inner compromise that pits him against those whom he should support. Couple this with identification with the oppressor, with fear of reprisals and selfish self-interest, and it should surprise no-one that psychiatrists who coerce others are currently congratulating themselves on having extorted and elicited the gratitude of others.

6. David Oaks says: SPEAK UP! FIGHT INJUSTICE! | ALTmentalities - 06/10/2013

[…] 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 […]

7. David Oaks says: SPEAK UP! FIGHT INJUSTICE! – Beyond Meds - 06/10/2013

[…] 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 […]

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