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“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.

Psychiatric Survivor featured on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” 04/03/2012

Posted by ALT in Mental Health News, Patient Rights and Advocacy, Survivor Voices.
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Have you heard the story of Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old homeless man diagnosed with “schizophrenia” who was beaten to death by 4 policemen last July in Orange County, California?  

Kelly Thomas

It’s reemerged as a topic of discussion recently because of an Op-Ed piece published in the Los Angeles Time by a psychiatric survivor named Carmelo Valone.  Entitled “My Kelly Thomas Moment,” the author makes no bones about it: this could have been him. 

I had my Kelly Thomas moment on a hot summer night in Boston in 1995…The Boston police officers who responded that night weren’t exactly boy scouts when they restrained me, but I did live to see another day. Because of that, I’ve had the chance to improve, something Thomas didn’t get….

It would be easy to conclude that Thomas was homeless by choice because he refused to take medication to treat a range of symptoms that had been diagnosed as schizophrenia. But things are more complex than that.  I myself have never been truly homeless, but I have refused mental healthcare on many occasions, often when I was at my most vulnerable… I am today a functional part of this dysfunctional world we call Los Angeles, and it has been quite a while since I needed any form of inpatient treatment. But there have been times — and this is not an easy thing to admit — when mental illness took over my life.

– Carmelo Valone, in “My Kelly Thomas Moment

Fact of the matter is— when it comes to alternative experiences of reality, or “mental health challenges” (if you’d like to call them that), psychosis, mania, extreme emotional states; fact of the matter is, it could be any of us.

As a society we long to place the mentally ill in some kind of category separate from the rest of human existence, so that we can chant blindly to ourselves “this would never happen to me, this would never happen to me.”  Folks, that’s dehumanization; and aside from being a terrible way to handle the blessing that is human difference! individuality!, it also leads to all sorts of behaviors that are absolutely unacceptable.  Like forced electroshock

Like beating a man to death in the street.

Back to the testimony of psychiatric survivor Carmelo Valone.

Valone was interviewed briefly by Neil Conan on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” yesterday.  I highly recommend you check it out.  He expressed himself admirably, even in the face of some very negative opposition (check out the caller – a psychiatrist – at 11 minutes in… YIKES!).  Through it all, he maintained a position that I applaud: namely, that the behavior of a person like Kelly Thomas or himself comes primarily from  not being heard, from being stigmatized and isolated by his label, from being made hopeless by the lack of compassion from his fellow men, from being dehumanized.

Some stand-out moments:

VALONE: […] I almost – I almost want to say that these police officers were the mentally ill ones, and Kelly Thomas was the sane one in the situation. I mean, they tasered him. They smashed him with the taser, buttons, the flashlights. They broke his throat. I mean, it’s horrifying. I mean, I had nightmares about it for months, and I feel very badly for his family.

CONAN: Of course, the police officers have something to say on their side, as well. They felt threatened by someone who is out of control.

VALONE: He had no weapons though, you know? He had no weapons. He wasn’t posing any sort of threat from what the witnesses say.

– From Valone’s interview on “Talk of the Nation”

VALONE: […] I didn’t become violent because I stopped taking my medication. I was violent because I was frustrated because no one was listening to me, OK? This is a problem I’d heard, time and time again, because I have friends that are in the psychiatry field – a number of them. And people seem to equate not taking the medication with violence.

– From “Talk of the Nation”

Who’s on Trial?

2 of the 4 officers involved in the death of Kelly Thomas will stand trial, one for second-degree murder and the other for involuntary manslaughter.  But let’s not pass it all off on them.  WE – as a society of humans – need to examine ourselves.  Why are the homeless so maligned?  Why are the mentally ill shunted off to the side, neither to be seen or heard as they struggle to speak about their experiences? 

Let’s all take a close look at the myriad ways dehumanization darkens our coexistence.  With warmth and a little loving kindness, perhaps we can shed some light on the reasons why, 15 years ago, Carmelo Valone wandered the streets of Boston, hopeless and without a voice; why Kelly Thomas walks the streets no more; and why so many of us can, heads held high, walk right past the suffering of our fellow human beings without a glance.

“He Was Square Inside and Brown” 01/22/2012

Posted by ALT in Children's Mental Health, Survivor Voices.
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This is a poem written by an anonymous high school senior in Alton, IL two weeks before he committed suicide:

He Was Square Inside and Brown

He drew… the things inside that needed saying.
Beautiful pictures he kept under his pillow.
When he started school he brought them…
To have along like a friend.
It was funny about school, he sat at a square brown desk
Like all the other square brown desks… and his room
Was a square brown room like all the other rooms, tight
And close and stiff.

He hated to hold the pencil and chalk, his arms stiff
His feet flat on the floor, stiff, the teacher watching
And watching. She told him to wear a tie like
All the other boys, he said he didn’t like them.
She said it didn’t matter what he liked. After that the class drew.
He drew all yellow. It was the way he felt about
The Teacher came and smiled, “What’s this?
Why don’t you draw something like Ken’s drawing?”
After that his mother bought him a tie, and he always
Drew airplanes and rocketships like everyone else.
He was square inside and brown and his hands were stiff.
The things inside that needed saying didn’t need it
Anymore, they had stopped pushing… crushed, stiff
Like everything else.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month? All right; let’s do this FOR REAL! 05/04/2011

Posted by ALT in Mental Health Policy and Inititatives, Patient Rights and Advocacy, Philosophy/Spirituality.
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So, it’s “Mental Health Awareness Month.”

But that’s not all!

Sheesh! It's going to be a busy month.

Better get to work on “neurofibromatosis” right way… and I must admit I’m very much looking forward to celebrating “Better Sleep Month” in style (once I’ve become sufficiently aware of everything else, of course).


Ever wonder where all these medical awareness months come from?

News is something somebody doesn’t want printed; all else is advertising.

(William Randolph Hearst)

It should come as no surprise that they are often just one component of a complete public relations package pharmaceutical and medical device companies purchase from firms like DWJ Television, Schwartz PR, and others specializing in health industry promotions.  The awareness month’s main function is not really to promote awareness of a condition or issue – but to promote certain (expensive and patented) treatments for that condition.

They are also used to propel what are called “Video News Reports [VNR]” into the forefront of the media.  A VNR is essentially the multimedia evolution of a press release – a ready-made story that broadcasters can air as their own “reporting” with only minimal doctoring.

Here’s an example of one from the dental industry:

As you can see, a VNR looks exactly like a news short, and may even come with a script that the station’s reporter can read over the pre-manufactured footage [that’s the voiceover you heard in the above video; it’s a separate audio track that can be removed and replaced with the station’s customized one].  Stations have something to fill dead airtime that costs them almost nothing to produce, and PR firms get to hawk their wares in a subtle and really quite insidious way; most viewers have no idea that they’re essentially watching a commercial – they think it’s objective, fact-based reporting (news).

The pharmaceutical industry was one of the first to use VNRs to promote drugs.  And as early as 1990, critics were calling attention to the practice, decrying the “covert” nature of VNRs and their ability to “reach the unguarded mind.”

Now, in order for the VNR to air, it has to be newsworthy, connected in some way to current events.  But what if there is no related current event?  Why, then you must invent one, of course!

Production companies often build VNRs around events that are manufactured or exaggerated for dramatic purposes… But sometimes, a production company has to get creative.  “If there is no hard news, we will generally do it in terms of a disease, and get a real person suffering from the condition who has had it improved by taking this medication,” Friedman [PR executive at the aforementioned firm DWJ Television] says.  “So we may see him or her with a physician; we may see him or her doing things in everyday life; and we’ll also interview on-screen, and interview the physician on-screen.”  Many production companies build VNRs around disease-awareness events.  The national Sleep Foundation, an organization funded by manufacturers of sleep drugs and other sleep aids, often uses National Sleep Awareness Week as a hook, usually coupled with a survey about how much trouble Americans have sleeping.  “To me, that’s the last possibility,” says Friedman.  “There’s always a day, there’s always a week, there’s always a month.”

(from Carl Elliott’s White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the dark side of medicine; emphasis added)

Why do I bring this up?  Believe it or not, it’s not so that we can all joyously engage in another round of pharma-bashing [I’ve had enough of that].

It was fun while it lasted... cathartic, even. But it's time to move on.

I believe that there is a desperate need for a Mental Health Awareness Month.  Speaking as someone who – just 2 short years ago – knew NOTHING about the mental health world except the so-called “common knowledge” the general population shares, I am well aware how much was missing.  But, given the origins of these “awareness months,” is this May going to fill the gap?


The Mental Health Awareness Month we’re likely going to have is one envisioned, carefully outlined, and “generously” funded by pharmaceutical companies and their friends, one that efficiently conveys only the dominant, pharmaceutical companies’ profit-enhancing message.

In this pharmaceutical-funded framework, there’ll be no room for alternatives.

No unauthorized survivor voices.   No stories of [un-medicated] recovery, resilience, survivance.  Of alternative healing, balance, and perhaps even acceptance of some of these pathologized “extreme states of consciousness.”

Unless… we step outside the framework.


We humans, we who aspire to join the ranks of soul healers, we who have either experienced “extreme states of consciousness” or support those who do – we have to claim Mental Health Awareness Month as our own!  As our rightful platform to speak, in the first person voice, about what these experiences might mean, to individuals, and to society!

If we raise our voices, we could be the start of a true awakening, a renaissance, a new and much truer awareness of so-called “mental health,” and the integral role that it plays in individual and collective health (wellness/balance).

That being said, here are a few things about the mental health world I wish I’d known, I wish everyone knew as part of that cultural package of “common knowledge” every member of the general population has.

If it were up to me to envision the central message of a “Mental Health Awareness” Campaign, it would include these key points:

Those mental health labels that people have attached to them – labels like “schizophrenic” or “bipolar” – somebody, somewhere, at some time, subjectively made that shit up.

Despite the mantra (“Mental illness is just like diabetes; mental illness is just like diabetes…”), mental illness is fundamentally NOT like diabetes.  Diabetes is a physical illness, a grouping of bodily pathologies (the body fails to produce sufficient insulin) that produce certain recognizable symptoms (low blood sugar, susceptibility to infections, constant urination).  There is a physical test for diabetes (blood test), known treatments that are proven to directly address the underlying disease mechanism/pathology.

These “mental illnesses” are something else entirely.  Take schizophrenia, for example.  The inventor of the term, an Austrian doctor by the name of Emil Kraeplin, was trying to describe a common set of symptoms he saw in many asylum patients.  But it later turned out that these patients were suffering from a [rare, now, but somewhat common, at the time] disease called encephalitis lethargica, which produced Parkinsonian-type problems in its victims (shuffling gait, drooling, vacant expression, uncontrollable, jerky motions, psychosis).  When psychiatrists subtracted all the patients who had the physical, virus-caused encephalitis lethargica from the schizophrenia roll call, there were almost no patients remaining!  So the term “schizophrenia” began a long process of evolution and shape-shifting, its parameters changing with every new edition of the DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual] to match the cultural prejudices of the time.  The term was so amorphous for so long, in fact, that the writers of the 2nd edition of the DSM-II freely admitted:

Even if it had tried, the [APA] Committee could not establish agreement about what this disorder is; it could only agree on what to call it.

(from the 2nd edition of the DSM)

They [the committee of psychiatric experts, literally “sworn to secrecy,” that develops the diagnostic criteria] are at it again, set to release a new edition of the DSM in 2013.  You can rest assured that it will contain quite a few more “diseases” with neat little acronyms and pre-approved drug therapies included.

Back to diabetes: there’s a huge difference between Doctor A who tells his patient “You have diabetes,” and Doctor B who tells his patient “You’re schizophrenic.”  Doctor A knows his patient has diabetes – he did a blood test.  Meanwhile, Doctor B only thinks he knows his patient is schizophrenic, and that is based mainly on the patient’s willingness to self-report symptoms and the doctor’s interpretation of those symptoms.  Keep in mind that Doctor B might have made this decision in 15 minutes or less, and that his subjective decision is likely going to stick with the patient for life (regardless of the patient’s later “return to sanity” it’s “once diagnosed, never undiagnosed”).

You’re getting the picture: these labels don’t [objectively] mean much.

The so-called “mentally ill” person’s experiences and interpretations of those experiences are where true meaning lies – but it is up to that person (with the help of his supporters) to assign meaning to the experiences, in his own way, his own time.

I like to refer to this person as “our hero” — because that’s really who he/she is.  Here’s a quote from one such hero:

Just as there are many forms of “cancer” so too there are many forms of “psychotic experience.” Just as with any other illness, we don’t get to choose what kind we get. It is however, up to us to determine how we are going to interpret our experience and find purpose and meaning in it. I would not have made it through that experience of mine were it not for a few critical factors[:]… my ability to accept that my experience was uniquely individual and mine alone… my willingness to accept whatever came up and deal with it, not necessarily in graceful fashion… [and] the very vital support of people who cared about me: my husband, some exceptionally good friends, and some very kind strangers. Love alone was my saving grace.

(from an inspirational psychiatric survival story which you can read in full here)

I also talked a little more about the right to experience reality for oneself once here.

So-called “mental illness” does not have to be a chronic, lifelong experience.

Objective, scientific data describing the psychotic experiences of people in underdeveloped countries (where mental illness is treated, not with drugs, but with increased social support and engagement in community) show that for many, a psychotic episode is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Outcomes there are much better than in the US, where it can indeed turn into a chronic problem – because of the “treatment” applied to it.  Please see this entry for more info.  And, if you like, read the study (a controversial duplication of a previous study; both produced the same results: outcomes for “schizophrenics” in countries where drug therapy is uncommon are consistently better than in so-called developed countries where drug therapy is the first line treatment).

The very best medicine or “treatment” for a psychotic episode/spiritual crisis/extreme state of consciousness (or whatever you want to call it!) is LOVE.

Love, compassion, empathy, support.  The willingness to listen calmly, to avoid at all costs doing anything which might threaten, dehumanize, or traumatize an individual that is already going through so much.  These are all things which you definitely don’t have to be a professional to provide (or, rather – give).   In fact, it’s been shown that it usually works better if you’re not (in America, once, here; and in the present day, here!).

JUST IMAGINE: what if, this month, May of 2011, the general public learned these four basic ideas, became aware and self-aware on a societal level, of them.  What would the future hold?

Would we see changes in the way the so-called mentally ill (the outliers, the exceptions) are treated?  Would life in this modern, corporate, industrialized society be a little bit less traumatic for both those who experiences things differently, and those who have learned to empathize with them?  Would there be more love, more compassion, more sense (as opposed to senseless waste and hurt)?


It’s a mad, mad, MAD world! A countdown of this week’s top headlines 04/08/2011

Posted by ALT in Mental Health News.
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3.  Artificial Dye Safe to Eat, Panel Says

(New York Times; 3/31/2011)

This is a little confusing.  You see the lead to this article says:

There is no proof that foods with artificial colorings cause hyperactivity in most children and there is no need for these foods to carry special warning labels, a government advisory panel [FDA] voted Thursday.

(NYT article “Artificial Dye Safe to Eat;” emphasis added)

But the article goes on to explain that the agency convened this hearing in the first place because of a report issued by FDA staff scientists concluding that children with behavioral disorders might have their conditions “exacerbated by exposure to a number of substances in food, including, but not limited to, synthetic color additives.”

(The FDA report also concludes, however, that “the effects on their [hyperactive children’s] behavior appear to be due to a unique intolerance to these substances and not to any inherent neurotoxic properties.”  Ok… but what about this study?  And this literature review?  Not exactly stellar work on the part of the FDA staff scientists.)

So let me get this straight: artificial dyes are totally safe to eat.  Oh, yes — they may “exacerbate” (not cause; heavens, no!) symptoms of hyperactivity in some children, but this is not the fault of the dyes and chemicals.  It’s the kids’ fault, for being “uniquely intolerant” to these substances.  Since it’s the kids’ own genetic fault, no warning labels or other restrictions are needed. 

"Sit in the corner, you!"

And as NYT columnist Gardiner Harris points out, without artificial dyes many foods – like Cheetos – just wouldn’t be that appealing to people anymore.

Without the artificial coloring FD&C Yellow No. 6, Cheetos Crunchy Cheese Flavored Snacks would look like the shriveled larvae of a large insect. Not surprisingly, in taste tests, people derived little pleasure from eating them.

Their fingers did not turn orange. And their brains did not register much cheese flavor, even though the Cheetos tasted just as they did with food coloring.

“People ranked the taste as bland and said that they weren’t much fun to eat,” said Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell University and director of the university’s Food and Brand Lab.

Naked Cheetos would not seem to have much commercial future.

(from NYT column “Colorless Food? We Blanch”)

She's right. They look delightfully... larvae-esque!

The world would be a “duller place.”  People would end up eating a lot more whole foods, whose naturally-occurring colors are nature’s advertisement for nutritional value.

Yeah.  That would be bad.


2.  Second Grade Boy Pepper Sprayed by Colorado Police in Class

(ABC news; 4/6/2011)

8-year-old Aidan Eliot became distraught at school, spit at teachers, ripped a piece of wooden trim off the wall and threatened to hurt his teachers with it.  Asked later if he intended to hit them with his weapon, he said “kind of.”  Police called to the scene pepper-sprayed the boy. 

A few interesting things to note:

– This incident occurred in the Lakewood School District, home of Columbine High School.  That’s right, the very same high school where troubled youth taking anti-depressants opened fire on their fellow students 12 years ago.

– Aidan’s mother mentions that she has tried numerous medications for Aidan but “none of them have worked.”  The multiple news stories don’t mention whether he is currently taking medications, or recently/abruptly withdrawn from them – but it seems rather pertinent, don’t you think?

– Aidan’s mother also mentions that Aidan only seems to have behavioral problems like this at school.

I think there is a problem, but it’s with school and Aidan.  It [serious behavioral problems] only happens at school.  It doesn’t happen at soccer.  It doesn’t happen at swimming.  It doesn’t happen with babysitters, family members.

(Mandy Elliot, mother of Aidan Elliot)

What is it about industrialized school that causes children to become so very upset?  As always, I’ll recommend John Taylor Gatto’s answer to that question

Dehumanization weighs heavy on a young one’s soul.


1.  Masturbation May Help to Relieve Restless Legs Syndrome

(AOL news; 4/7/2011)

With yesterday’s FDA approval for a “new” Restless Legs Syndrome [RLS] drug (really just another recycling of gabapentin), RLS is suddenly all over the news.  What is it – a real disease or marketing ploy?  If it is real, how many people actually suffer from it?  [Translating this into the market analysts’ language, how many potential consumers of Horizant™ are there?]

But then there’s this new theory, being posted all over the internet, that masturbation could be a “natural cure” for RLS.  Scientists [EXPERTS] say orgasm causes a dopamine release in the brain, just like most RLS drugs on the market which are dopamine agonists (they, too, facilitate dopamine release).  Sure, their methods are a little suspect – they’re basing this all off of one, singular case study.

The scientists also submitted this highly technical, very official-looking chart of their data.

But this is a mere “natural cure” they’re investigating.  No need to get all scientific with it, using multiple subjects and something even resembling a protocol!

This article is problematic because it fits into a dominant frame story about natural cures – the idea that they are pseudoscientific, marginal, and in some way connected with deviant behavior (ie, masturbation).  A comparison between this “natural cure” and the pharmaceutical/mainstream cure is going to make pharma look very good indeed. 

Fact of that matter is, there are lots of non-chemical ways to address sleep disturbance (whether you want to call that RLS or not is up to you) with excellent research to back them up.  By focusing on this ridiculous example instead, that body of work is side-stepped.  The only remaining option is a pharmaceutical one – and whether you pick the dopamine agonist or gabapentin, you’re going to be up against some nasty side effects and probably more medications to address them.

Will the real soul healers PLEASE STAND UP 02/23/2011

Posted by ALT in Philosophy/Spirituality.
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 “A word is a promise; a failure to deliver a kind of betrayal.  What does the language of mental health promise?”

I said that.  I said that because we’ve been promised something by psychiatry – namely, soul-healing – and we haven’t gotten it.  We’ve gotten pain, poison, suppression, denial, defamation, and death.

To live here, in this Eurocentric, industrialized, dehumanized society is to be traumatized.  The soul wounding is inflicted, as a matter of course, on just about everyone, all to the mantra of for your own good.  For your own good.  Trust me – it’s for your own good.

Yanked from the womb with forceps or a vacuum (when gravity will do much better) * fed on soy and synthetic “formulas” (when mother’s milk was what our very souls craved) * rudely awakened by a clanging alarm clock at 5:40am every weekday morning so that we can go sit in windowless jail cells [aka schools] and be fed useless, oversimplified bits of information (not knowledge)… having the creativity and individuality in us slowly squeezed out, to be replaced with a gray uselessness (when the truth – that the pursuit of knowledge is the greatest and most joyful quest imaginable – was right in front of us) * to negotiate, as green, trusting, innocent, teenagers,  a culture tremendously oversexed by the media, steeped in the ideas of abusive, vampire love, women as objects, men as mere accessories to their penises (when what we wanted was to be held, loved, respected) * to go to college, to get more “education,” but mainly to be told that we all are destined to become “productive members of society” – all the while accruing soul-crushing, lifelong debts of unimaginable sums (these debts making the “productive member of society” path the ONLY choice available) * then, to enter the “job market” only to find that there’s no use for whatever shreds of self-respect, intellect, and purpose remain after years of intellectual abuse.  To find that what’s expected is inactivity, lack of thought, unprofessionalism… (when what we wanted was TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE) * Violence – everywhere, even in beautiful suburbia – a seemingly unavoidable scream echoing down the corridors of your life, only to be silenced with willful ignorance, copious amounts of alcohol, or perhaps a bit of both * Evidence of “lives of quiet desperation” all around us; a trembling hand reaching for Coca-Cola ™ in aisle 15 at the grocery store (slogan- “Life begins here”), a crumpled and forlorn cigarette package in a tarred pothole, a solitary figure clutching an illuminated cell phone; a poor substitute for the presence of another human being, don’t you think?

Is it really all for our own good?

Purely anecdotal: I’ve noticed that a common trigger for mental unwellness in children is school—disbelief that such a place can exist, that children are condemned to spend a great deal of time there (for no easily understandable reason).  And in adults, it’s a growing recognition of how anti-human our mad society really is.

The self-proclaimed and professionally certified “soul healers” (again, I am referring to psychiatrists here…) aren’t helping; instead, I would argue that they are making things infinitely worse, by suggesting that their patients wish it all away with chemicals instead of addressing that which causes them so much pain.

But to be anti-psychiatry is to be “anti-soul healing.”  No good; because soul healing is clearly what we need.

So here is what I propose:

Each and every human being dedicated to SOUL HEALING needs to STAND UP.  Online, in “real life,” in their communities, in their homes… to their families, to their friends, to complete and total strangers.  To politicians, religious leaders, even mental health professionals.

Stand up and say (or sing, or shout, or write): I AM IN FAVOR OF HUMANITY.  I am in favor of the soul (soul power).


And then to live that; every day.  Demonstrating it in each moment of your life.

Some technical considerations

You don’t need to be “certified” to be a soul healer.  It probably hurts more than it helps, actually, because certification is – in most cases – just another word for “industrial indoctrination.”  But here’s what you do need [taken mostly from Eduardo Duran’s excellent book Healing the Soul Wound]:

  • The soul healer must have a real and deep understanding of who he is; this means that he must know spiritually where he stands and where he comes from (who his ancestors are).  “The importance of spiritual identity starts to become clear as the soul healer begins to understand that a relationship with spiritual entities is an important part of the work of healing.”
  • “The soul healer must embody the healing energy in her life in all that she does.  Western healers have a way of compartmentalizing their role as a healer from what they do in ‘real life.’”  This does not work; soul healing is an all-or-nothing pursuit.

It’s time to take the very important business of soul healing back from the professionals; they’ve had their chance (and they blew it!).  Now let humanity take a new path – no longer “productive members of society,” let us be simply “human beings with SOUL.”


On the dehumanization of Sylvia Plath… 02/22/2011

Posted by ALT in Uncategorized.
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Sylvia Plath was a human being. She lived and breathed, she feared, she loved, she picked daffodils.

Skipping around in her unabridged journals this morning, I had that revelation. Why should it be a revelation? Because the mental health field has made her an ICON; something entirely separate from humanity. According to them, she IS clinical depression, suicide; she IS tortured genius. 

Even worse, she is entertainment. This poem was written by Ms. Plath’s daughter, Freida Plath, in response to the 2003 film Sylvia, starring Gwenyth Paltrow.

My Mother (by Freida Plath)

They are killing her again,
She said she did it
One Year in every ten,
But they do it annually, or weekly,
Some do it daily,
Carrying her death around in their heads,
And practicing it. She saves them
The trouble of their own;
They can die through her
Without ever making
The decision. My buried mother
Is dug up for repeat performances

Now they want to make a film
For anyone lacking the ability
To imagine the body, head in oven,
Orphaning children. Then
It can be rewound
So they can watch her die
Right from the beginning again.

The peanut eaters, entertained
At my mother’s death, will go home,
Each carrying their memory of her,
Lifeless — a souvenir.
Maybe they’ll buy the video
Watching someone on TV
Means all they have to do
Is press ‘pause’
If they want to boil a kettle,
While my mother holds her breath on screen
To finish dying after tea.

The filmmakers have collected
The body parts.
They want me to see.
But they require dressings to cover the joints
And disguise the prosthetics
In their remake of my mother.
They want to use her poetry
As stitching and sutures
To give it credibility.
They think I should love it-
Having her back again, they think
I should give them my mother’s words
to fill the mouth of their monster,
Their Sylvia Suicide Doll.
Who will walk and talk
And die at will,
And die, and die
And forever be dying.

They – mental health activists, feminists, moviemakers – leave little room for her to have been Sylvia. But she was! She was — vividly, starkly, truly.  

There’s a lesson here for each and every one of us that has been dehumanized in one way or another by this society that doesn’t leave much room for human beings to just be.  Don’t let them convince you that it is better to be the “action figure” version of yourself; that plastic is better than living flesh; that 144 characters are sufficient to say your peace; that a a sound byte represents the multitude of your thoughts.  Don’t let them turn you into a Doll, ever.


Sylvia Plath with children Freida and Nicholas:














Geriatric care from loved ones will clear the “fog of psychotropic drugs” 02/19/2011

Posted by ALT in Alternative Lifestyles, Mental Health of the Elderly.
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This recent piece from the NY Times shed a few rays of light on the issue of psychotropic drugging  in nursing homes (they call it the “fog of psychotropic drugs”). It’s a subject not often talked about—but the elderly make up a very significant (and growing) chunk of the market for psychotropics. In 2004 a national survey found that 25% of nursing home residents were taking psychotropic drugs, many of them on potent cocktails of 2-4.

A nursing home which made an attempt to step down the medication of its patients (and with excellent results) was the feature in the Times. This is encouraging, especially in light of some disturbing statistics about the harm over-medicating the elderly can cause:

  • 10-20% of adults over the age of 65 who go to the hospital do so because of prescription medicines that have been taken improperly.
  • 1 in 3 elderly hospital patients becomes sicker during hospitalization because of prescription drugs.
  • Up to 140,000 seniors die each year because of problems with medications—three times as many people as die from breast or prostate cancer, which are both considered public-health emergencies.
    (from the research of Dr. Andrew Duxbury)

Now, geriatric professionals claim that psychotropic medications are necessary because: 1. the all-too-common condition of clinical depression in the elderly is best addressed with SSRIs 2. the early stages of so-called “dementia” involve a lot of disruptive behavior that is not conducive to institutionalized “order” nursing home staff generally require.

In short, psychotropic medications are a way to suppress the feelings (quite legitimate, in my mind) of some “residents” that they don’t want to be there, they don’t like the way they’re being treated, and that something is very wrong with a world where the elders are left to finish out their days in an institution, cut off from the rest of society that is so desperately in need of their wisdom.

When there aren’t nursing homes

Not every country is quite as “advanced” as the United States when it comes to geriatric care; in a lot of places the elderly are cared for by their children (not professionals, and with no official “certification”), at home.

I had the privilege to witness this personally. In the summer of 2008 I spent about two months in Oaxaca, Mexico — one of the poorest states in the country; it also had the second highest indigenous population. Much of that time was spent in a small village, called “Totontepec,” high up in the mountains. The folks there were from an indigenous group called the “Mixe” (pronounced MEE-hay), and nearly everyone was bilingual, speaking both Mixe and Spanish.


The Gomez family – Vidal and Eusabian (husband and wife), Eusabian’s sister Maura, and their mother (we just called her “Mama”) – welcomed me with open arms. They showed me their life together, subsisting mostly off the food they grew in their milpa, working and laughing together most of the day. I will never forget their kindness…

Maura (left) and Eusabian (right)... sisters

Mama, happy at home.

Mama had Alzheimer’s, and it had progressed to the point where she didn’t always recognize everyone, had trouble bathing herself, was sometimes incontinent, and was telling the same jokes every 5 minutes or so (I gather she was quite the humorist in her younger years!). But she was cared for in house, not as a favor or duty, but as a matter of course.

At that point in my development, I didn’t question the necessity for nursing homes. Elderly people need to have somewhere to go, right? And their children are likely too busy with their careers to take care of them. So it makes sense that they should go to nursing homes!

But in Totontepec, the number one priority is taking care of family. That is your career. You walk the mountain road to the milpa in the morning for the family. You grind the corn into masa and cook tortillas on the metate for the family.

And you have a grand time doing it, laughing the day away with smiles and love and compassion, with the ones you love!

Through halting dialogue (my Spanish at the time was atrocious), I tried to express my admiration for them, for the care they gave their mother. They really couldn’t understand it, because they couldn’t conceive of another way. So I tried to explain about nursing homes. I’m not sure how much I conveyed, but I read expressions of dismay and perhaps horror on their faces. What a place! God, save us.

From my Oaxaca journal:

July 1, 2008
But the thing is, these people are letting their mother, who has Alzheimer’s, can’t remember a blessed thing, and hockers incessantly, live with them; they’re taking care of her, and not grudgingly, either. They love her, and she knows she’s loved. She can’t be left alone, so someone is always home to take care of her. She sleeps in Maura’s bed – sometimes (3 or 4 times since I’ve been here, I think) she wets the bed. They just laugh it off!

As it is with the young, so it is with the old – the best caregiver will always be the one who feels an unconditional love for you, the one who shares that bond. Love of this kind makes the caregiver infinitely sensitive, considerate, and compassionate. What Mama needed in order to be comfortable and cared for was, above all, unfettered/uninstitutionalized human contact, the hand of her daughter on her shoulder telling her that she’s loved.

What I learned that July: I will be that daughter someday. Happily, and with all my heart.

When it took a village to raise a child, we didn’t need institutions 02/18/2011

Posted by ALT in Alternative Lifestyles, Children's Mental Health, Historical Context.
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“It takes a village to raise a child” seems to be the official slogan of social workers and children’s mental health professionals everywhere.  They chant it from the podium at their national conferences and write it in bold, ALL CAPS on the tops of position papers and task force reports.

It’s an old African proverb, though it seems to apply to traditional cultures worldwide.  The idea was – and in a few places, still is – that the village is a combination playground/one-room schoolhouse, and each villager a potential mentor, teacher, or caregiver.  Everybody has a stake in providing support, love, and kindness to children, because, as the old cliché goes, the children are our future. 

[I always say that a cliché is someone else’s epiphany that you just haven’t had yet…]

But, again, we see that the language has been changed to suit the purposes of an industrialized society.  What the proverb seems to mean today is that it takes a cadre of certified professionals and a good amount of restrictive, institutionalized settings to get the job of raising children up to be “productive members of society” done.

A great way to insure job security – but is it a great way to raise a child?  I’ve seen the children with said “village” watching their every move… they don’t seem too happy about it. 

There was a time in this country when it did take a village to raise a child, in the traditional sense.  Back then, they didn’t have compulsory schooling, Child Protective Services, hospitalized birthing, child psychiatrists.  Below is a slideshow of some images from those days.  For me, these photographs evoke a wistfulness, a curious longing…

They make me wonder:  What have we done?

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In favor of a more honest discussion of ADHD stigma 02/16/2011

Posted by ALT in Children's Mental Health, Mental Health News.
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Another NY Times missive from the “Front Lines of Medicine.” 

I got my hopes up when I saw this subtitle: THE STIGMA OF ADHD.  Good, a discussion of stigma. 

Perhaps we could touch on mental health patients’ status as second class citizens, routine violations of their basic rights to informed consent and “do no harm” care, the continuous silencing of their voices and descriptions of their experiences of reality… Or maybe ADHD’s very specific role as an entryway for kids in to the mental health system, the growing recognition that Strattera, Adderall, Concerta, and especially Ritalin can lead to psychotic episodes and therefore subsequent diagnosis of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and years of routine medication, all before this human being’s brain is fully developed or he’s achieved the legal right to decide for himself how he’d like to experience reality…


What we get under such a promising subtitle is an expert redirection – instead of discussing any of the above, Dr. Meh [his real name] leads our favorite “expert” Dr. Barkley very nicely to a discussion of the stigma that ADHD itself has to put up with; ie, all those pesky critics out there who doubt its status as a “real” disease and suspect the APA/pharmaceutical company conglomerate of making it up!

The Stigma of A.D.H.D.


Is there any way to combat the pervasive view of A.D.H.D. as a made-up disorder that benefits not the child, but the pharmaceutical companies and doctors?
Dr. Meh, Boston


Dr. Barkley responds:

The pervasive view that A.D.H.D. is a fiction invented by drug companies has never had any basis in fact. The diagnosis of the disorder predates the widespread clinical use of medications to treat it and thousands of studies on the disorder have been done with no involvement of the drug industry. Those studies show that the disorder is legitimate, valid and widely impairing of an individual’s ability to effectively participate in major life activities like school, work, family, social relations, driving, money management and child-rearing.

Critics of A.D.H.D., including fringe religious groups, are part of the source for such propaganda against the disorder. Their claims have sometimes been uncritically perpetrated by journalists who fail to check out the source of the claim or the group asserting it. Getting accurate information into the media is one of the best ways to counteract this false assertion.

(read the entire post here…)

“Critics of ADHD, including fringe religious groups…”  That’s pretty rich. 

I think what Dr. Barkley is trying to say is that if you don't believe in ADHD, the islamo-fascist-muslim-freedom-hating-terrorists win!


Left to my own devices, I was able to find some significantly more credible voices of dissent.  There is, of course,  a body of research linking ADHD “symptoms” to unnatural and oppressive learning conditions in compulsory/industrialized schooling; preservatives, artificial chemicals, and excessive amounts of sugar in children’s food; and the onslaught of electronic media that today’s children must learn to navigate (many of it saturated with advertisements specifically designed to hit them at a subconscious level)…

But I thought, in the spirit of a real discussion on stigma, we might turn instead to some survivor voices of children diagnosed with ADHD:


On ADHD and school…

I was in trouble in school a lot before I took my medicine.  After I took my medicine, I wasn’t in trouble anymore…If someone told me I could stop taking my medicine, I would still keep taking it because when I take it I can study for my spelling tests on Fridays.

–Miles, age 7


I first was told about ADHD in the 5th grade I think.  My Uncle Dan (who is a child psychiatrist) told me about it and I said that I didn’t have it.  I tried to fight it all the way to 7th grade, I think, and then I gave in and finally started taking Concerta.  And with the medicine, my grades actually boosted from C’s and low B’s to A’s and B’s because I was doing my homework and concentrating more.

 –James, age 18


On the effects of ADHD medication…

Well, the advice that I give is don’t try too hard to be creative while you’re on medicine, because then you won’t be as creative as you would be off medicine.  Like, I like it when I’m doing schoolwork, but when I’m in my arts classes I don’t like it really because it’s- kind of shuts down my creative mind.  It’s easier to be focused, but it seems like my creative mind is off.

–Kendrick Royal, age 12 (New Orleans)


Before I took Ritalin, I used to be nervous and afraid all the time. That was natural me. Shy, depressed, nervous and anxious. Obviously I couldn’t concentrate in school, or do my homework. So then I tried Ritalin. The first time I tried Ritalin was when I was 15 years old. I thought it was great. It made me super-confident and took away all inhibitions. The comedowns from Ritalin were terrible, I had pretty bad downfalls. So i stopped taking Ritalin. Anyway, after a while I realized something different about myself.

 Even though in the long-run i felt confident and happy, I noticed that i had been stripped of all other emotions and feelings. I never got nervous, never got scared, never cried. That’s good, Right?

But there was something else. I had NO libido. NOTHING. It’s been two years now, and my libido hasn’t come back. Im not interested in anything at all. I used to be an artist and I can’t draw anymore. I used to be talented in music and I don’t play anymore. I have nothing left. I am like a robot. I don’t have any FEELINGS at all.

 And nobody can help me.

 Because the doctors tell me it’s all psychological.

 They tell me that it is not a true side effect of Ritalin.

 But what would they know ?

–Amy (Perth, Australia)

 I regret that I wasn’t able to find more directly related quotes from youngsters dealing with an ADHD diagnosis (or an attempt at labeling them so)… It seems this is a voice that is not often heard.  If anyone has something to share about this, it would be more than welcome…

If Calvin were diagnosed with ADHD...


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