Taking down the Giant: A Call for Increased Community Outreach

Paris Williams, PhD
22
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I think it’s helpful to see the psychiatric/pharmaceutical complex as being somewhat analogous to one of those large inflatable giants that you sometimes see hovering over car lot sales. Sure, it looks big and powerful, and it really is so long as “we the people” buy its propaganda and its drugs and continue feeding it billions of dollars and continue “bowing down” to its “almighty wisdom.” But its entire foundation consists of a model that simply doesn’t fit the research evidence at all, and quite frankly is propped up by many outright lies (see my other articles on MIA and my book, Rethinking Madness, for some of my deeper discussions on this).

So what this means, then, is that this inflatable giant has one particularly sensitive vulnerability—what we could call the “needle of truth.” If the mainstream population really knew and understood and were able to integrate the many truths and research studies that so many of us who are active here on the MIA forum are familiar with, I can’t imagine it would take very long at all before the “giant” succumbs to this sharp needle of truth.  Pop!

So how do we pick up this needle of truth, and how do we jab the giant with it? Well, to begin with, this forum itself (Mad in America) has naturally evolved as a hub of truly inspirational people who have been working hard at sharpening and polishing this needle. I’m enormously grateful to Robert Whitaker, Kermit Cole, and others involved in establishing this forum. It’s been meeting many of my needs in a big way, including shared reality, open-minded exploration, mutual support, and hope. It’s also strengthened my own sense of hope and inspiration, especially during those difficult times when strong waves of hopelessness and futility move through me.

To give an example of such a wave (just one example of many), just last week, a new client who came to see me in my practice as a clinical psychologist informed me that he had recently gone to a doctor to discuss his difficulty with sleeping. What kind of support did he receive? Prescriptions for Lorazepam (a benzodiazapene), a nonbenzodiazapene hypnotic (sleeping pills), and Seroquel (an antipsychotic). Upon hearing this, I was struck by yet another wave of hopelessness. Wow, has it really gotten this bad? But then I recalled the many people who are active here (on MIA) and in other similar groups I’m connected with — people who really get the absurdity and tremendous harm of all of this —and some sense of hope returned.

One particular avenue of inspiration that has developed in me is a desire to devote some of my time and energy to community outreach, and it strikes me that we — the members of this forum — are in a unique position to create some real waves in the field by supporting each other in developing new community outreach projects and strengthening already existing ones. Of course, I recognize that much of this type of work is already being done here, and yet I also recognize that there is so much more that we need to do if we really want to take down this giant. So I’d like to share some of what I’m doing and invite others so inclined to chip in and/or share their own ideas and projects that they’d like some support with (please feel free to use the COMMENT section below for this).

So far, my own personal outreach has consisted of attempts to reach out to the mainstream population at large and to other professionals and academics in the mental health care field (which was the motivation behind the publication of my book, Rethinking Madness, and my continued writing and speaking in other forums and venues). For some time now, my time and energy have been stretched a little thin, as I’m sure are many of the other members here, so my own activities in this regard have taken something of a back burner. But lately, I’ve begun exploring ways of trying to get more involved again, and in particular, ways to hone in on the groups who I believe are the most instrumental in keeping the biopsychiatric paradigm so entrenched within the mainstream culture —groups such as mental health care workers, members of the pharmaceutical industry, and family support groups such as NAMI.

In my explorations of possible outreach projects, it’s occurred to me that internet discussion forums have grown exponentially in the past few years and many of them offer really good opportunities to target some of these groups more directly. For example, I’ve discovered that NAMI has quite an active group on LinkedIn (with over 10,000 active members), and last week I decided to use my recent blog posted here on MIA as an opportunity to present an alternative paradigm to this group and invite discussion. As many members of MIA must know, NAMI members tend to be among the most impassioned “bible thumping” advocates of biopsychiatry out there, and yet there are signs that some serious doubts may be creeping into their “faith,” especially when we consider the fact that Robert Whitaker has been invited to speak at their annual conference next month.

For those of you who don’t know, the way that these discussions on LinkedIn work is that for each comment a particular discussion receives, a mention of the article is made in the “Latest Updates” column at the top of the page, and a given commenter will also be listed in the “top influencer” column (also  at the top of the main page) upon making a relatively high number of comments (I became listed here for the NAMI group after making only about 4 comments over the week). Also, each new discussion is posted at the top of the page and also emailed out to each member. In other words, it’s really not that difficult to create some significant waves and draw some attention, even within a group as large as the NAMI group. So I’d like to encourage anyone who is so inspired and who has a little time on their hands to take advantage of these ever increasing opportunities and consider jumping in on my existing discussion with the NAMI group, start new discussions in this and other similar groups, and/or share similar groups, discussions or other similar projects with the rest of us (again, feel free to use the COMMENTS section below for this).

The recent series of highly respected groups repudiating the DSM, the acknowledgment of a continued lack of evidence for the biopsychiatric model by the king drug pushers themselves (the APA), and now clumsy attempts at backpedaling all suggest that we may have some of the largest advocates and pushers of the biopsychiatric model “on the ropes.” Call me overly optimistic, but I’m pretty sure we’re seeing evidence that the “giant” is losing its balance. Right now may be one of those rare opportunities to go for the “knockout” blow. Sure, I know that it’s a David vs. Goliath battle, and I’d have a difficult time arguing with anyone who would accuse me of being naïve and even irrational in my belief that it’s possible to convert the biopsychiatric “believers.” But what have we got to lose? After all, David did take down the giant in the end.

22 COMMENTS

  1. “that he had recently gone to a doctor to discuss his difficulty with sleeping. What kind of support did he receive? Prescriptions for Lorazepam (a benzodiazapene), a nonbenzodiazapene hypnotic (sleeping pills), and Seroquel (an antipsychotic). Upon hearing this, I was struck by yet another wave of hopelessness. Wow, has it really gotten this bad?”

    Even worse. They prescribe drugs like that to kids all the time. It’s not even a new phenomena either. In the early 90’s when I was on ritalin, they prescribed me mellaril (an old neuroleptic) to help me sleep. Kids are getting drugs like seroquel all the time just to help put them to sleep, which is ironic considering how it’s considered wrong, and sometimes even criminal, for a parent to give a child OTC benadryl for the same reason.

  2. This is such a good idea but not for the faint of heart. I’ve tried jumping into discussions outside of MIA and quickly attract aggressive bio-med model responses and become disheartened. If we could organize into groups of 3-10 people with our different informed and critical viewpoints (ie, mine is “family member”) and jump into another media discussion together (within 1-24 hours), we might have a more convincing voice.

    Always enlightening to read what you are thinking, Paris.

    • Dianna, I think the “team” approach is a good one, Paris already used this idea, he recruited some people to comment on his post and join the discussion, that meant he was less isolated. It’s still hard work, but it can also help us refine our approach, see what makes the most sense out in the “trenches.”

      • I also like the idea of critical mass and tipping points. It is easy to bully or marginalize someone in isolation from their support networks (there does seem to be a parallel here to our system of care), but, en mass, it is harder to ignore humanity’s call.

        I’m thinking of that bridge in Selma, Alabama. Perhaps MIA and our alternative networks are similar to the churches in the South. A place to go, be reminded of human rights and our dignity, to become strong in our resolve. But, at some point, we have to walk out of those churches and engage in civil discourse, nonviolent protests, and the courageous heart-to-heart dialogues with those who hold different views.

        But we don’t have to do it alone. Thank you, Paris, for taking the first few steps on this particular bridge. See you there!

  3. I think a good chance is trying to get the feminist movement on side. If you can relate to them and the danger females patients face,especially the sexual abuse and exploitation, why they do as a result of the brain disabling medications (take the place of counseling and education) that leave patients vulnerable in the outside world and the atrocities inside psychiatric wards that it seems no one polices.

    • some exist already! For instance, this (zine, i.e. self-published booklet) exists:

      In fact there was a strong history of resistance to psychiatry in second wave feminism, so there is a rich history and tradition there if people are willing to tap into it. I think many radical feminists are open to this, it makes intuitive sense to them and is part of the tradition; liberal feminists are still a bit caught up in the biopsych model.

      Another thing is, we need to get more people in our movements that focus on resisting psychiatry to re-attune themselves to and align themselves with feminism! It goes both ways!

  4. I just want to take this opportunity to thanks those within the movement who have been doing outreach in the movement (but not excluded to only within the movement) — the teleconferences which educate people about getting off of drugs, teleconferences to repeal mental health law, and whatever ways people are coming up with to get together and not limit gatherings and education to only those who can afford travel and lodging expenses.

    Recent attempt had been made here to get some space at a local community project for a drop in center. Attitudes still very much this is and should be domain of the hospitals and mh professionals. Guess it depends on where you are and who you are dealing with and the personalities involved but never lose sight of when and where the movement’s bubble ends and the mainstream begins. With NAMI, always ask — what kind of recovery are they talking about? — Too much of the time, it’s been recovery contingent on a lifetime of medication management. Not something a lot of us are interested in confusing with recovery.

    Paris, I’ve never thought of it as busting a corporate propaganda and marketing balloon. Maybe what I think is too simplistic to apply to huge coporations and more myth out of an older America, but I still think there is some element of truth to it. I just figure the guy who can make it better, sell it cheaper, whose goods get a better reputation and are more in demand stands a chance of winning in the marketplace.

  5. I think we are very much a part of creating a new culture, and it’s going to happen irregardless of who is listening or paying attention. I’m no historian, but as far as I know we are in unchartered territory in that we don’t have a shared culture to retrieve, no common threads rooted in a long tradition to knit us all up together when we’ve been dispersed, and using the common language is in question when we need to communicate to each other. Nonetheless, I think something new, something better is going to happen anyway.

  6. Paris – Wow, the quintessential American steps forth in these lines. This is all very complex social criticism, and the spotlight you are shining creates targets well, and while the context you supply allows thoughts to wander, the partisan spirit–subdued, forthright–resumes in its appeal for cohesion in the development of goals, once you have walked us through the dimly lit spaces of the reality you describe. No kidding, pretty good.