Obama Administration Launches Mental Health Dialogue


“We need to talk as a society about mental illness” says Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sibelius, calling for a national campaign to encourage discussion of mental health issues. “There is no question that the recent tragedy in Newtown broke the hearts of the nation,” said Sebelius at a medical conference, “But it also gives us an opportunity to address some important issues that have gone unaddressed for too long.”

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Kermit Cole
Kermit Cole, MFT, founding editor of Mad in America, works in Santa Fe, New Mexico as a couples and family therapist. Inspired by Open Dialogue, he works as part of a team and consults with couples and families that have members identified as patients. His work in residential treatment — largely with severely traumatized and/or "psychotic" clients — led to an appreciation of the power and beauty of systemic philosophy and practice, as the alternative to the prevailing focus on individual pathology. A former film-maker, he has undergraduate and master's degrees in psychology from Harvard University, as well as an MFT degree from the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. He is a doctoral candidate with the Taos Institute and the Free University of Brussels. You can reach him at [email protected].


  1. Per Sibelius, “We can also agree that we need to talk as a society about mental illness.”

    Are you kidding me?
    All we’ve done for the past few decades is talk about “mental illness.” We need to *begin* to have a discussion on recovery.

    And more importantly, we need to do more than “discuss” recovery. We need to begin to encourage it, promote it!


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  2. And society will be talking about it on the topic of violence. That’s just great, now the two will be synonymous.

    This cant be good one way or another. Polls I had seen in the recent past showed that most people were believers in psychiatry’s lies, most people believed that mental illnesses we real diseases and that the drugs were essential to treating them. A national discussion on “mental illness” at this point is going to lead to a national chatter about what society should due to make sure “they” take their “medications”

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  3. “We need to talk as a society about mental illness.”

    I hardly think there’ll be any real progress on this issue if we leave the solution to whatever the problem is to the demotic horde. No wonder our age is characterized by the supercession of the rule of law by the rule of man, because statesman like Obama are too busy doing what is politic and not what is right, and in mobocratic society it is politic, even obligatory, for the modern statesman to pander to the prejudices of the herd, as part of the quid pro quo demanded by society of its leaders, which can be summed up as, “we give you power, and you give us power”.

    It is contradicted by reason and the experience of our species that the discussion of this issue should fall within the sphere of influence and authority of the herd, it would be like committing moral suicide, leaving to the discretion of the oppressor what to do with their victims. The institution of forced psychiatry is a corollary of the intolerance of society, and intolerance knows no national, cultural and temporal boundaries, being as much a feature of modern society as it is of others, ergo I think this is one debate where the will of the herd must not prevail.

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  4. Jeffrey is right the conversation will be chatter about how they need to take their meds. We must go sensational this time. We have the stats of the other school shooters–all were on SSRIs or stimulants. There are 2 theories–the akathisia(restlesnesss like chalk on a blackboard) theory, which does not explain premeditated violence. And Ann Blake Tracy’s theory–actually it’s not her’s but she’s been propagating it. The SSRIs undermine the inhibition of motor activity that usually takes place during REM sleep.
    Now Kermit says, “I know, from the conversations I’ve been privy to, that she is not asking for mainstream views of recovery…”
    Is this part of a joke, Kermit? Or do you really believe THAT about her?

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    • Just facts. The request was for stories of recovery, specifically not limited to a medical model. Any story of recovery. This could include, if taken literally, recovery from the medical model; recovery from diagnoses that shouldn’t have been given and prognoses proven to be wrong. Of course, there will be people who respond to the invitation with stories of how their diagnosis and their treatment helped them, but the invitation as I heard it was specifically directed toward people with other views as well. The message that telling people that they are fated to an identity and treatments they find abhorrent is dehumanizing and counterproductive was heard, if I am interpreting what I heard correctly.

      While I understand and complete support that skepticism is justified, I also think that if the view that medications played a deleterious role in this event is true, then it is absolutely essential that the views of people who rejected the medicalized view of their natural human struggles speak up as effectively as possible.

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      • Good point Kermit. I do hope that optimism is justified regarding stories of recovery.

        My own experience of sharing a recovery story on a Scottish website initially back in 2005, then updating in 2008, was that it brought me to where I am now. An activist and campaigner. Which is interesting, being that I started off full of hope about the recovery message. For I had recovered completely from mental ill health and the psychiatric system.

        However my story wasn’t the same as many of the other stories, in that I had to resist psychiatry to recover, not take the psychiatrist’s advice that I had “lifelong mental illness”. I did it by telling them I was tapering the psych drugs while I did it. They weren’t happy but I managed it successfully.

        I do hope that survivor stories of recovery will be welcome. The stories that speak of resistance and overcoming stigma, labels and negative prognoses.

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    • I had bad, violent reactions to SSRI’s as a kid and it was neither of those two. It just changed the way I thought and viewed the world. I was almost completely unaware of it until I eventually got off the drug and as I started getting back to myself was able to realize how I had been different.

      I remember a time on Prozac when I was about 9 years old that I broke several classroom windows while running down the hallway that lead to me attacking a cop in the parking lot as he tried to stop me from leaving. Leading up to that was weeks of obsessive thoughts about how people were plotting against me, how everybody was looking at me and laughing at me, and so forth. None of that existed before I took that drug, and it has never since I’ve been off it. My point being, it was neither akathisia or being in a dream-like state that did it. It was psychotic paranoia followed by what was probably a stress-induced freakout as a result of the paranoia.

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      • Oh and then when I was 12 years old, a couple weeks after being put on anafranil, I became absolutely obsessed with stealing a car. No idea why, had never been interested in such a thing prior to then. And, once again, when I got off the drug the obsessive thoughts went away… Although that one ended quite badly. Yet another incident that the professionals chalked up to my “mental illness” instead of the drug.

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  5. “We know there is no single solution to the problem of gun violence,” Sebelius said. “But physicians should be able to talk to their patients about guns and gun safety.”

    Talk to their patients about guns and gun safety? I’m sorry, I’m not being cynical, just trying really hard to interpret that phrase in a way that makes some sense but I just can’t do it. Is it taken out of context? I honestly don’t get it.

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    • It’s the medicalization of daily life, as Thomas Szasz had written of. Where science replaces religion and doctors of our time become the equivalent of priests in medieval times. No longer is your doctor just somebody to help you with your body but all aspects of your life will be turned over to them when this process is complete and medicine becomes the authority that it aspires to be.

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  6. I’m still not sure what Sebelius means. What are these ‘physicians’ supposed to tell their patients about guns and gun safety? That guns are dangerous? Not to shoot people with them? I don’t think lack of awareness is the problem here. ‘Gun safety’? I’d have thought people who carry out mass shootings are in general very well informed as to how to handle a gun safely – I don’t remember any of then shooting themselves or anyone else accidentally.

    I could understand if she was saying that physicians should be able to talk to (or even with) their patients about the patients’ feelings of anger, homicidal ideation, etc. Or even is she was saying that physicians should talk to law enforcement officers about their patients’ record (I might disagree with that, but at least I would understand what she means). But physicians talking to their patients about guns and gun safety? I really don’t know what she could possibly meant by that. It is the strangest mishmash of gun control and mental health I have ever heard from the mouth of a politician – and that is saying something.

    It isn’t a very encouraging beginning and I don’t think it bodes well for this ‘Mental Health Dialogue’. Having said that, I agree with Kermit that if Sebelius and the Obama administration have opened a door for alternative viewpoints and recovery stories, that offer should be taken up and made the most of. Even if there are good reasons to believe that this will have little impact right now, I think it is important to take the long-term view. I am sorry to say but it is almost certain this is not the last mass shooting we’ll see, and eventually politicians will have to question their expert advice and look elsewhere – be sure you are there waiting and ready when they do.

    Every story of recovery out there is a small grain of sand adding up to the plate until the balance finally tips. Personally, I’m afraid things will have to get worse before they begin to get better, but I have no doubt they will get better eventually. How does the quote go? You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. It’s really not a question of if but rather of when and of how much suffering and broken lives it’s going to cost.

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    • I agree with a lot of what you write here Morias. Let me give you a real and current situation in Ohio. The governor has proposed increasing Medicaid coverage to 138% of poverty. This is not a position embraced by most members of his party. Many of the governors public statements about why it’s a good idea to expand the coverage is to include people with “mental illness” who would otherwise be a threat to society. I’m afraid that some go the “mentally ill people are violent and dangerous” whenever they’re looking for cover for risky decisions.

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  7. That’s the greatest fear, isn’t it David? That bad science gives politicians free rein to justify almost anything in the name of the common good. And once scientists get used to lying there’s nothing they will not put their name to for some funding and a paid holiday.
    My pet fear at the moment is ‘early detection’. I’m just reminded of Philip K. Dick’s ‘Minority Report’ -the novella, not the awful film adaptation. The very efforts to prevent the crime before it happens actually cause the crime in the first place. The situation right now has all the makings of a Greek tragedy’s self-fulfilling prophecy on a nationwide scale.

    Still, I remain pessimistically optimistic.

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    • I’m so glad you mentioned so-called early detection Morias. That concept is indeed gaining more and more traction here in the States. The new DSM V will certainly provide “support” for this damaging idea, thru its introduction of “pre-psychosis, pre-depression, and pre-dementia” This shift will effectively get us all and get us while we are young. I have to admit, some days I’m less hopeful than others. I do appreciate Bob, MIA and all the participants here. Still, I have to wonder if we’re going to make a difference in the face of massive forces arrayed against the changes we’re advocating for. Pessimistically optimistic? That just might be right!

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  8. Yes, there’s no use pretending the situation is not dire. But hopeless though the situation seems at times (most of the time, in fact) I genuinely think no effort is ever useless, however small, however seemingly wasted. The seeds of change are really taking root even if nothing is poking out above the surface yet, but change is a very slow-growing plant and it needs constant attention.

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