I get a lot of ideas from other advocates from online forums like the Alternatives Facebook discussion group, where we have a gathering of about 750 psychiatric survivors who want to find non-mainstream ways to approach emotional distress. We started a thread about what to do about mental health advocates who refuse to hear about alternatives to meds, or Robert Whitaker’s message. His ideas can be summarized as, “Medications help some people, but not everyone, and they may be increasing the amount of disability in our country.” I sometimes call this approach the distress model, because I think one element many of us have in common is that we see emotional distress as temporary and transformative.
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However, quite a few advocates in our country don’t know about this information, and their message can be summarized as, “Medications and labels are good, and if your life is messed up, get yourself a label and medication, and all will be well.” I call these advocates disease marketers, because they seem to sell disease and medications and be unwilling tools of pharma.
When these advocates give out information about the benefits of pyschiatric medications and diagnoses, they don’t ever present evidence about alternatives to meds, or of people harmed by those labels and medications. I get mad because I feel like their message is killing my brothers and sisters. So I asked my friends how to handle those kind of people. All people quoted have given me permission to quote them.
Can You Talk to People Who Refuse to Talk?
Hannah Cohen: (one of our Wellness Wordworks bloggers) I don’t know if you can engage with such a person until they come around to a different way of thinking. Usually it’s based on enough life experience. I have a friend who used to be very pro-med and stuck in his life, while I was very anti-med. Then when I got sucked into the system and the “meds,” he went the opposite way – finally got off them. His life is great now. My friend wasn’t a disease marketer, though. Those people seem to have even more invested in spreading the “disease gospel.” I suspect they have a deep-seated emotional reason for doing so.
Pamela de Rossette: Hey – can’t win em all —
Yvonne Z Smith: Good luck. I dont fight those battles anymore. You should spread the truth. That is the best you can do.
Debbie S Andersen: It seems like the thing you both share is a desire to educate your peers. Maybe suggesting a conversation between the two of you as advocates, about where you agree and how each of you came to opposing conclusions about illness/label/meds, would be a way to begin. I experienced a sense of empowerment in hearing that what I was experiencing had a name and a treatment, and it was hard to let go of that until I saw how the name and treatment were actually harmful and disabling. Good luck – working with folks who I fear are doing harm through mis-education is a huge challenge for me, too.
Make the Different message as Public as Possible:
Chris Foulke: I have held three very positive panel discussions: two at our local library, one at a church where public meetings such as this are held. The topics were ‘Nutritional Medicine and Psychiatry: What, Why, and How?”; “Nutrients Nourish the Brain: Alternative Mental Health” and another on sugar addiction, which has some profound implications for the brain. You could hold a public forum on Alternatives in Mental Health. Don’t even invite a drug company rep. I always give a warning not to suddenly, extemporaneously go off of one’s meds. That it is a serious thing that should be approached carefully, with planning, guidance, and support. It is easy to be brainwashed by the atmosphere, propaganda, social net, and the drug itself, whether it’s cocaine, meth, or a psych drug with all the backup provided for those antagonistic or pain-reducing chemicals. Guys in particular fall for the science trap.
SD: People have to learn for themselves what is good for them. Why do you think there are people still smoking cigarettes despite all the evidence that says it’s terrible for them. You can’t force people to stop smoking, or stop taking medication. Free will, and right of choice to do what we want as long as it isn’t illegal, exist in our society. So all you can do is educate, as often as possible, with a smile, the benefits of eating healthy, exercise, and taking vitamins. There is so much behavior in our society that’s detrimental to our health, but change is a slow process in a society that is stuck in old ways of thinking. Have patience and keep speaking. That’s the best you can do.
Yvonne Z Smith: All we can do is sometimes get the messege out about recovery and positive things that can help. Otherwise, you will become a target of the dark forces who truly believe the only path to recovery is medication compliance. I speak painfully from personal experience. If you can be part of a forum, that might be helpful. People do get “temporary relief from some symptoms with medications”. It’s the lack of informed consent and access to other strategies like WRAP, intentional peer support, and trauma informed care, that is dangerous. Don’t attack people personally! Be positive; give alternatives!
Corinna West: For me, I think the number one reason this guy gets my goat is that I’ve made multiple attempts to share the research on medications, giving him a copy of Whitaker’s book, sending emails with articles attached, sending explanatory emails, etc, but he just refuses to engage with any of it.
Maybe I’m enough of a scientist that I don’t understand someone who refuses to look at a science problem that means he is harming people, and not helping them. But also I’ve given this same info to mental health providers and feel OK giving up on them ever getting the message, but this guy is a peer. Maybe science just scares people without that background, but enough of this stuff has been presented in basic terms that it should still be accessible. I think the main problem is that the Whitaker message is too complex and challenging to be delivered in social media-sized bites.
Hannah: I know that many times I just haven’t had the concentration span or ability to think through materials. When you’re really drugged up, it makes it harder. Maybe he just can’t think through these ideas at all? Or doesn’t want to?
Choice and Forced Treatment Are the Key Tests
Frank Blankenship: If he doesn’t support choice, that is a very serious matter. I know some advocates promote forced treatment. Doing so is a bad thing as far as I’m concerned. Some people neither want, nor do well, on psych drugs, and if he can’t see their side of the matter, he can’t be much of an advocate. I’m saying you’ve got people you reason with, but at a certain point, with a certain individual, you might realize that reasoning won’t work. Should he realisze that mistakes can be made in the mental health system, just as they are made in the criminal justice system, then you’ve got someone you might be able to work with.
Susan Schechter: I think some people just have to find their own way in their own time. It took me a long time, and I’m suffering from it. My family still thinks the meds caused no damage, even though they’ve left me unable to walk pretty much unaided and kidney failure. (And let’s not talk about brain damage from ECT). I do know from personal experience that the friends I had who were like your friend are now going over to our side. I think most people will get there on their own, just need to take time for them to have the “aha” moment. Don’t give up on him.
Corinna West: This guy keep saying he doesn’t inform people of what to do, just lets them make their own decisions. I tell him that people only get one side of the story, so they’re not able to make truly informed decisions, but he doesn’t see this. Maybe the reason it bothers me so much is that I’m insecure in how I see my career going, and this guy is making more money than me at the moment.
Debbie S Andersen: Nice job on the conversation edit. I think getting to “why it bothers me” is necessary self reflection, and that is part of the answer to “how do I engage someone who doesn’t hear me?” Feel free to repost my comment.
Roe Royal: Today is a hopeful day because of this question and the responses. As in any avocation, field or work.. We encounter meaningful situations which challenge us and those around us. Yes .. What do we do?
Many people who have been before us, many who are presently with us, and those who will lead the future have.. shall .. And will ask themselves this same question. Perhaps, if you asked this person directly to tell you their belief or how they define the word or actions of an ‘ Advocate. ‘ if you haven’t covered that yet, you may discover there within their own worldview the whys and wherefores of their actions. Advocates of any movement during any time in history held differing views.
Your passion, efforts, concern and willingly to share is a glowing testament for all who have struggled with sharing free choice and diverse approaches. Know that you have contributed to this guy. Whether they engage with an open mind ~ Time will tell.
Corinna: And of course, please help us fund our Indiegogo campaign which only has 20 days left: Connect Power crowdfunding on Indiegogo.
What have you found to work when people won’t engage with the research we know?
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.