Our Backs Are Against the Wall, so There’s no Way to Go But Forward

Ted Chabasinski, JD
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As Frederick Douglass said 150 years ago, “Power concedes nothing without a struggle.  It never did and it never will.”  As we look at our situation now and try to figure out how to respond to it, we should keep those words in mind.

People with psychiatric labels, like me, are now being systematically attacked as less than human, as “walking time bombs” who might kill someone at any moment, as not-quite-human creatures who should not be allowed the rights of all other citizens. This is the kind of campaign that the Nazis carried out against the Jews as preparation for the Holocaust.  Both Tina Minkowitz and I have written about this recently on Mad in America.

This became especially obvious a week ago when E. Fuller Torrey, one of the best-known advocates for stripping us of our rights, appeared on national television with his message of hate and a worshipful interviewer. There was no opposing view allowed.  In fact, it has been many years since our point of view has been treated with respect by the media, and our movement has pretty much become invisible outside the little bubble of the mental illness system and the “recovery movement” which is part of it.

Let’s not delude ourselves, people.  We are in a very dangerous situation.  A database is being set up, so that if you have ever been an inmate of a psychiatric ward, you can be easily identified.  This kind of database was used in some European countries to find the Jews and ship them to the camps.

I don’t think we will see death camps in America, for the drug companies, who are largely behind this effort, can’t make a profit from dead people. But the people pushing this have made clear that such a database will be used to locate and drug large numbers of people who now are safely anonymous.  This means us.

When I was younger and looking for jobs, applications routinely had questions like “Have you ever been treated for mental illness?”  Of course I said no, and there was no way for them to check.  Now it will be very easy to find out if you have ever been on a psych ward.  Do you think you will get the job?

The Nazis forbade Jews to practice medicine and law, or to teach in the universities.  More recently, some American states have passed laws (unconstitutional, to be sure) barring gay people from being schoolteachers.  With the stigma of the “schizophrenic” label, banning us from certain jobs is a probable result of the Torrey/Satel/drug company/NAMI campaign. I think being barred from teacher jobs is very likely, one logical result of the dangerous and subhuman image of us that is being promoted.

People like Satel, Torrey, and Jaffe are quite open about wanting to change the commitment laws back to the “need for treatment” standard. In other words, if a psychiatrist or two says you need treatment, you can be held without legal recourse.  This was generally the standard before the 1975 Donaldson case, where the U.S. Supreme Court held, unanimously, that if you were “a danger to no one and . . . (could) survive safely in freedom,” the government could not incarcerate you on a psych ward. But that was then, when our militant human rights movement was having an impact on public opinion.  This is now, with a different Supreme Court and a movement that doesn’t talk about human rights at all and calls itself the “recovery movement” or the “peer movement.” That’s because the mental illness system figured out that it would be easy to find people who would take their money and run an Astroturf “movement” that works for the system and not for us.  The system found them, and they have earned their keep.  One of the most shocking things they have done is support the creation of the database that will make it so easy to find us.  Tina Minkowitz has discussed this also in another article on Mad in America, “The NCMHR Does Not Speak for Me.”

How did this serious threat come about to our rights, our freedom, the respect we deserve as citizens?  The mental illness system has succeeded in buying a movement that literally says nothing about our rights.  If we don’t fight for our rights, we will lose them, and that is exactly what is happening.

Before 1985, when the first “Alternatives” conference was held, lavishly funded (by our standards), people like us had a militant movement just like all the other movements of oppressed people in America.  All of these groups of people were inspired by the civil rights movement, as we were.

I was a young college student when the first sit-ins began in the South.  Like millions of other young people, I was inspired by the bravery of those who faced beatings, police dogs, and fire hoses, and refused to accept that they were less than full human beings.

Other groups too showed great courage and used civil disobedience as a tactic to force the public to realize their causes were just.  And they had great success.  We have an African-American President, which no one would have believed possible fifty years ago.  It would be very difficult to find a young woman in America nowadays who accepts the idea that her role in society is to be subservient.  Disabled people got arrested, some in wheelchairs, and shamed the country into passing and enforcing the Americans With Disabilities Act.  And just recently, gay people have pretty much won the right to marry, with politicians falling all over themselves to support that right.

We were moving in the same direction.  We were frequently covered in the major media.  In some parts of the country, at least, our cause was seen as just as valid as all other groups fighting for respect and freedom.  In one city, we even succeeded in banning shock treatment.

And we can do it again.  Though our movement has been greatly weakened, it has never died out, and there have been people scattered around the country who have never lost sight of what we should be fighting for.  If we marshal our forces and think clearly about what we have to do, we can fight back and defeat the forces that want us to go back to the dark ages of psychiatry.

I have some thoughts about what we need to do.  I don’t present them as the last word or myself as some kind of great leader, but I hope people listen to this and start to strategize about what to do next.

I think the first thing we have to do is stop taking seriously the people that the mental illness system has chosen as our “leaders.”  When I talk with people, for example, about the “Alternatives” conference, even people who know better tell me things like, “Oh, my friends all go to it and it’s the only time of year I can hang out with them.”  Gimme a break.  People who know better should realize that they are setting an example.  People who are new think this is all there is, that it is legitimate for a conference that should be about our rights to be nothing more than a SAMHSA job fair.  Don’t be wasting your time.  If you spend your money (assuming you’re not one of the people that the system pays to go there) for the SAMHSA conference, you might not be able to go to some gathering that actually promotes our interests.

We need our own national conference.  We had one for fourteen years, but after “Alternatives” was set up, one of its organizers came to the last conference that we controlled and systematically disrupted as many workshops as he could.  Faced with this, and the show of power that NIMH/SAMHSA displayed, our people were too demoralized to continue.

At all of our conferences, we used to schedule a demonstration against some oppressive local psychiatric institution.  Of course, there is never any shortage of places like that.  I want to suggest to those who insist on continuing to attend (and by your attendance, support) the SAMHSA conference, that you try to organize a demonstration against the local center for psychiatric abuse.  Insist on handing out leaflets inside the conference.  Do your best to get some of the hundreds of people there to stand up for their rights in public.

Chances are you will be asked to stop or leave, and if you refuse, you will be threatened with arrest.  If you really believe in this cause, don’t back down.  Imagine how SAMHSA could explain it if they had a bunch of our people arrested.  What would the local media make of this?  Such an action would do a lot to clarify what “Alternatives” really represents.

And in general, given our small forces right now, non-violent civil disobedience is a tactic we should use as much as we can.  No, sitting in jail for a while is not pleasant.  I did not enjoy it.  But if we really want things to change, we have to take risks and make sacrifices.  Clicking on the “like” button on the Facebook page isn’t going to hack it.  Martin Luther King didn’t just make speeches, he led by example.  And if we set such an example, we can inspire people to support our cause just as the civil rights movement inspired America.

One important fact that our movement has never taken advantage of is that there are literally tens of millions of Americans who have spent some time in psychiatric institutions.  We need to reach out to them.  No, they are not inspired by the chance to get jobs in the system ordering around other “peers.”  “Recovery” isn’t on their mind either.  But when we do something worthwhile, we have a chance to recruit many, many people whose existence we barely know about.

In 1972 (yes, over forty years ago)  Judi Chamberlin and I appeared on a national TV talk show with David Suskind, a well-regarded host.  We were treated respectfully, and we made very clear to the audience what we thought about the abuses of the system.  At that time, I was teaching in a small college in Brooklyn, and the morning after the show, I got a phone call from my department head.  He gave me some info about turning in my midterm grades, and then he said, ”Oh, I saw you and that woman on television last night.”  I thought, oh God, here it comes.  But what he said was, ”Yeah, I agree with you one hundred per cent.  When I was a patient on the psych ward in the army, you wouldn’t believe what I saw.”  Wow, I thought.

For many years, Judi and I and others continued to appear fairly frequently in the national media, and almost always we were contacted afterward by many people with first hand experience of the system.

In 1982, I was one of the main organizers of the successful ballot measure in Berkeley to ban shock treatment here.  Dozens and dozens of new people showed up to give money and circulate petitions to put it on the ballot.  Most of them were psych survivors.  One local public official took me aside and told me she really supported us, because when she was a young woman in her twenties, she was locked up on a psych ward for several months.  She had further political ambitions too, and so she said, “If you tell anyone about this, I’ll deny I ever said it.”  Our mayor told the story about how, when his brother was locked up, he went to the “hospital” and confronted the psychiatrists there.  He said he barely escaped being locked up himself.

So again, we need to reach out to our constituency, which is huge.  We can go way beyond the little bubble we are trapped in now.

A few more suggestions, which, as I have said, are ideas that I am sure can be improved upon.

One thing we tend not to do is strategize.  We need to talk about possible actions and recognize when a situation is the right kind where our small forces can be concentrated and make a difference.  For example, about five years ago the case of Rebecca Riley, a four-year-old in the Boston area who was killed by psychiatric drugs, was getting a lot of attention.  There were pictures of the little girl on the web.  She looked like an angel. I had an enlarged picture of her on the wall next to my computer.  There was even a story about her on national television.

But our government-appointed “leaders” in Boston had nothing to say.  And on the other side of the country, I was developing some literature to promote our demonstration against the 2009 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.  I wanted to make one of the main themes of the demo about Rebecca,  but I was told more or less that my obsession with her wasn’t valid because I had also been abused by psychiatry as a child.  WHAT? Was it supposed to be a symptom of my mental illness?

As most of you know, Rebecca was only one of many thousands of people who have died from psychiatric drugs.  But she was a small child.  The average person is much more troubled by the abuse of children than they are by the same abuse of adults.  When I was the public face of the Berkeley shock ban campaign, the fact that I was shocked as a child had a much greater effect on the voters than if I had been an adult shock victim.

Our movement could have used what happened to that little girl to make the public realize what psychiatry is really about. There could have been demonstrations and sit-ins at Harvard Medical School, where the infamous Doctor Biederman is a full professor in the Psychiatry Department. (And according to him, this makes him the next thing to God, as he said under oath in a lawsuit.) The doctor who drugged Rebecca to death was one of Biederman’s acolytes.  We could have made Biederman, truly an evil man, the poster boy for the APA at our demonstration in San Francisco, a city that gets a lot of media attention.  Biederman is worth an article by himself. But take my word for it, if you are not familiar with him, bringing what he has done and said to public attention would not be good PR for the American mental illness system

I mention this lost opportunity here because it shows, not only that the government-appointed “leaders” do not work for us, but also that because of our lack of strategizing we missed a really important opportunity to advance our cause.

There are many, many things we can do, and it is impossible for one person and one article to talk about all of them.  I know that those who read this wlll have more and better ideas.  But I hope that what I’ve written will make people realize that our backs are against the wall, and we must look clearly at our situation and think carefully and hard about what we have to do to change this situation.

For those who are ready to do this, I plan to start a discussion group to really concentrate on developing the strategy we need to make the most of our forces and work out the actions we need to take back our movement.  I am also thinking that it might be a good thing to revive the Network Against Psychiatric Assault, one of the most effective groups in the Seventies, that even as late as 1997 had a leading role in shutting down one of the  most brutal “hospitals” in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I will NOT try to set up yet another full-fledged national organization, which will just lead to lots of posturing and power struggles, and which we are not ready for anyway. Rather, the Network would be just that, a network of activists who communicate with one another, who keep up with what others are doing around the country, who inspire one another. And because there would be no formal structure (yet) it could not be taken over by a small group of people who want it to fail.  I hope some of you will want to join the  discussion group and/or the Network.

One more thing.  I’m not young any more, and I think it’s a miracle, given the abuse I suffered as a child, that I’ve lived this long.  But I am willing to make the sacrifices and take the risks that I know are necessary and that I ask others to make.  I will participate in non-violent actions that may lead to going to jail if that’s what it takes.  I didn’t spend all those years trying to develop and nurture this movement only to walk away from it now.  I know this will sound too dramatic, but I’m willing to die for this movement if my death will make a difference.  Only I refuse to leave until I can see us going in the right direction again.

I hope those who read this will take to heart what I have written.  Our path will not be easy, but I know there are still people with idealism and conscience who are willing to do what needs to be done.   If we support one another and make this commitment, we will not be rewarded with money or power or a pat on the head from E. Fuller Torrey.  But we will know that what we have done has made life better for millions of our brothers and sisters.

66 COMMENTS

  1. Ted,

    I am an admirer of your work and I subscribe 99% of what you say. The 1% that I do not subscribe is the idea of being arrested and going to jail :D. We need to be smarter than that because we have the tools in place to fight psychiatric oppression. Although I am personally opposed to gay marriage, I think the way its supporters won their legal battles is the way to go. As you mention, we have the 1975 Donaldson case, which is newer than Roe v Wade, and which, unlike RvW, was unanimous. So that is still the law of the land. We need to build on that to give a final legal -and peaceful- assault to organized psychiatry.

    In that regard, a milestone of gay marriage supporters was to divide the opposition and to win converts from the other side. Many times here, the battle against psychiatric oppression has been presented as a left wing movement. And that is a great mistake. For those of you who don’t watch Fox News, the majority I suppose, I have this gift for you that happened a few days ago (some of it is disgusting to watch but keep it to the end),

    http://video.foxnews.com/v/2680571197001/should-the-media-change-the-way-mass-shootings-are-covered/?playlist_id=1040983441001

    Dana Perino clearly supports our point of view as it is evident to his assertive response to Bolling. Now, Dana Perino is not just your average Fox News personality: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dana_Perino . She was George W Bush’s Press Secretary towards the end of the Bush presidency. I don’t really know why she holds those views (I can only hypothesize that she’s seen the evil of psychiatry first hand), but it goes to show that the struggle against psychiatry is strongly bipartisan. We need to leverage that.

    If you create that group, I will sure to join.

  2. Of course economics would be the evil. It’s the evil behind all of this. It’s why the doctors were so eager to embrace drugs even though the science was showing them to be brain damaging, neurological disease producing chemical straight jackets. But, after all, medicaid and insurance companies were not going to pay them 6 figures a year to talk to people about their childhoods or otherwise provide non-medical treatment.

    And then economics is the reason why drug companies were so eager to begin distorting that science and construct a false image of the brain damaging drugs not only as helpful medicine, but as NEUROPROTECTIVE medicine.

    And then ultimately the few people who were willing enough to oppose this system got caught up in economics as well — taking jobs within the psychiatry-drug company owned “mental health” system.

    Rule #1 of economics: money is power. Why have to face the facts on an issue when you can just hire an army to oppose it?

  3. Our efforts must be bipartisan, race blind, gender blind, diagnosis blind, medication blind, etc. We cannot even leave out the ‘Leaders’ who run ‘Alternatives’, even if we don’t want them to be out leaders. We must not denigrate those that prefer to take medication, as long as it is their informed choice. Our challenge will be to ignore our differences and to unite over our common mistreatment by the mental health system. No doubt, our opponents are quite pleased when we become divided, and they can dismiss our civil rights complaints as extreme.

    We need ways for everyone sympathetic with us to contribute. For those with high-profile jobs that could be lost, perhaps they can contribute anonymous donations. For those who have time but no money, we need local actions that they can participate in: peer communities, protests, etc.

    Actually, this ridiculous database of people with mental illness might very well push some of our peers towards our movement. Have you seen what bloggers are saying about it on PsychCentral? Some of them are rabidly against any such database. Also, we can view this database as an opportunity for privacy litigation, if we could find enough support to fund lawsuit(s).

    We also need to be very clear with the public that these are issues of civil rights and that anyone can wind up committed to an institution. We should loudly advertize instances where mental illness was clearly manufactured to control the behavior of someone:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adrian_Schoolcraft

    We could take advantage of the recent cuts in mental health spending for (state sanctioned) peer groups. We could be very noisy about our views, in the hope that SAMHSA and NCMHR groups do not have the cash or will to compete with us. For instance we could launch a campaign to advertize to the public that many people recover completely after being diagnosed with a mental illness. Imagine if we survivors ‘raided’ the local peer groups and spread the word about our own personal recoveries. Perhaps we should explain how expensive involuntary commitment is for our society. We could picket institutions with signs reminding new arrivals of how much their ‘care’ costs. Perhaps we should launch a campaign about the existence of psych drug withdrawal. We could put up leaflets at local hospitals and community centers, and we could start psychotropahollic anonymous (PA) withdrawal groups.

    I think the most important thing for our movement is to have a grass-roots community. This is what made the gay movement so powerful; there are coming out support groups in churches, schools, colleges, and many allies. This distributed structure provides support at the local level for new members, provides a strong identity, and a revenue stream for the state-level and national organizations. A similar statement can be made about the racial civil rights movement, however, they were fortunate to have their community already built in. We will have to organize our own communities, because they do not exist in too many places, yet.

    • “We must not denigrate those that prefer to take medication, as long as it is their informed choice.”

      While I agree that we shouldn’t attempt to exclude people who are on our side when it comes to human rights, the reality is that the majority of people who are O.K. with taking these drugs are also O.K. with being forced to take them sometimes, and are most definitely O.K. with other people being forced to take them.

      • I chose my words carefully. How many people taking psych drugs are really informed about all their actual efficacy, their side-effects, and their withdrawal effects? I would guess only about 1-5% are informed, maybe less. I believe there are ways to inform people without alienating them from our cause.

        I’m not sure what the reality is in terms of whether people who are O.K. with taking psych drugs are also O.K. with forcing other people to take them. Have you taken a poll? Do you want to create divisions among us that may not actually exist?

        All that I know is my own story. I am a part of this movement (whether you want me or not). Although I have not yet been forced to take drugs, I was coerced into taking drugs even while I thought my consent was informed. I have always been against coerced or forced treatment of any kind, as one of my relatives was destroyed by a lobotomy.

        The coercion I have experience differs from forced treatment only in degree not in kind. Information was systematically withheld from me and bald-face lies were told to me about drug withdrawal. So much information was withheld or distorted, that I was even deluded into thinking that I was consenting. For all that I have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness, the only delusion that I have ever had is to believe that I was consenting to take drugs.

        We should fight coercion in all its forms, rather be fooled by our opponents into fighting people like us–fighting just because some have been deluded by the coercion. Our movement needs to be open to people taking psych drugs. How else will we teach people about issues of consent and coercion? How else will we include the people who cannot withdraw safely from certain drugs? How else will we create a society that we want to recover in?

      • “The majority of people who are O.K. with taking these drugs are also O.K. with being forced to take them sometimes, and are most definitely O.K. with other people being forced to take them.”

        I profoundly disagree. We must avoid the slippery slope of assuming things like this.

        Using the logic of the above saying, people who take medication – for ANY reason, choice or not – we basically shouldn’t (and couldn’t) engage new people and ideas to our movement. Most of the people blogging on this site have, at one time, taken psych meds, and/or believed they were the ‘way to go.’ That doesn’t automatically mean they approve of force.

        If this movement is to be successful, that can only happen unless people change their minds. Some won’t, but otherwise, it’s not a movement at all – just preaching to the choir.

        • “people who are O.K. with taking these drugs are also O.K. with being forced to take them sometimes”

          I don’t mean to speak for Jeffrey but I think he’s referring to people for whom it is true, by their own admissions. I’ve seen it myself – people who said that being forced “saved their life”.

          • Yes, I hear what you’re saying – but even they can’t be left out of the conversation. It concerns me when we speak of the (large) group of people who are taking medication and come to false conclusions about them. In my opinion, that kind of sentiment can discourage the kind of productive discussion, because it leaves out most of the intended audience.

  4. Yes, Ted, reviving the Network Against Psychiatric Abuse makes incredible sense. I so feel a part of this movement to being recognition to the egregious violations people, like my then 24 y/o son suffered in a CA ” for profit” locked facility in 2011. To have finally read thru my son’s medical chart, only after the attorneys for this psych hospital chain refused to release the records until after my son’s statue of limitations passed, it’s outrageous that society is not aware such injustices done to my son still exist today. No human being should be kept locked up against his/ her will though the chart says my son” volunteered” but daily subjective comments written by the staff support my son begging to be released, all the while lying to myself and his father, night after night he would be be be moved back the open unit for drug rehab, the ONLY reason we begged our son to enter. The massive amounts of drugs, especially multiple neuroleptics, put my son in this horrific drug stupor which correlates with the two voice messages he left on our landline. I wish I could play them for the world- no denying the psychiatric trauma and abuse he was subjected to. Never did I believe in America, such inhumane treatment for such a young person who was so accomplished, so loved and admired, with such a gregarious personality but whose substance use, cannabis, spun his brain into psychosis could not be compassionately helped but instead warehoused and drugged until he didn’t recognize his parents at the night visitations. His mind turns suicidal and then homicidal the longer he is kept warehoused, and massively drugged but not a word of warning to us, night after night despite his HIPAA waiver was signed upon admission. Only now I have the records, do I understand the abuses and believe this hospital has hlood on its hands. Of course there should be a network to unite our outrage! We will raise our fists, resurrect sit-ins and tell our stories.

  5. http://madinvt.wordpress.com/2012/06/14/protest-at-central-vt-medical-center/
    This is what I do. I make anti-advertisements about behavior-control chemicals with colored markers on the blank sides of juice cartons and vandalize public areas by taping them up. Disposable grafitti. Rebecca Riley and Gabriel Myers(FL foster child who committed suicide on the chemicals.He was a rape victim) are a big reason why I resort to criminal mischief.

  6. Ted – About 13 years ago, when I first started to really inform myself on the adverse effects of psych drugs and psychiatry, I was a full-time undergrad finally finishing up my bachelor’s degree at an east coast university, and I had the idea to post flyers all over campus warning of the dangers of SSRIs. I spent some time being quite obsessed with the idea, designing the flyers, planning where I’d put them, etc., but ultimately I did not have the courage to do it. I’m now living in Boston and while I don’t have a great deal of free time, perhaps I could start flyering on weekends. Perhaps I could work with a couple of others. I am curious what you think about this idea. (I’ll follow this up with a message via facebook so you will know who I am!)

  7. I am someone who was forced in to treatment, both in and outpatient for the good part of 15 years.

    I am now taking a low dose of medication at this time for fear of being locked up again. I still feel as if I am forced because of the potential repercussions of not taking the drugs. I would like to come off of them but fear stops me. I know it doesn’t make much sense to be taking medications and be against them at the same time but fear is a powerful thing.

    I can say that even in the private sector, there is no such thing as informed consent. I have informed myself.

    I am very much against force!

    I would like to fight, as peacefully as possible, for my rights and those of others who are still being forced in to treatment. And for full and true informed consent for all! (Sorry, but I don’t know if could be locked up in jail.)

    I would love to join a Network Against Psychiatric Assault!

    • We need to “take back” the definitions of so many words and terms. “Help” of course is one of them, as is “works” – as in “but the drug works for millions of people!” But also the term “forced treatment.”

      I was not subjected to forced treatment in exactly the same sense as others were, but I still consider myself to have been forced to take an SSRI against my will. I took it only out of desperation that was caused by years of ineffective — and thus catastrophically harmful — “talk therapy.”

      I wish people would understand that when a therapy or a treatment is ineffective, that makes it harmful, not simply neutral in its effects.

      There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is the financial cost of every treatment. People usually pay at least some portion of the cost of the “help” and thus are out some amount of their hard-earned money regardless of whether the help is actually helpful. Has anyone ever seen a psychiatrist offer a money-back guarantee? No, I haven’t, either.

      In my own experience, the money was a huge factor. The fact that my dad spent tens of thousands of dollars on ridiculously incompetent “treatment” for me was catastrophic for my mental state.

      But even if money is not the issue, there is time lost, and the failure itself. The person is seeking help because he or she is desperate and traumatized. An incompetent (sorry, “ineffective”) “treatment” is often traumatic in and of itself.

      I wish I never again had to read some psychiatrist’s blather about a treatment being “ineffective.” If it is found to be “ineffective” then that means, most likely, that it was HARMFUL.

      Perhaps in regular medicine this is not always the case but in the context of attempting to understand and alleviate a person’s emotional distress, I believe it is seldom true that a failed treatment is completely harmless to the person who sought the treatment out of desperation, extreme emotional pain, fear, anxiety, etc.

      • fluoxetinia,

        As one who feels I wasted 15 years of my life on psych meds, I completely agree with everything you said even though I too wasn’t subjected to forced treatment. But I still felt subtle coercion when it seems my psychiatrist was waiting for me to fail during the time I was withdrawing from meds. As a result, I knew I had to be very careful with my remarks so I wouldn’t give him any opening to lead me back in that failed direction.

        AA

        • Many psychs have been trained in something called “coaching” where what they say seems to be benign and supportive but when you sit down and analyze what was said and done you discover that they’ve tried to influence your thinking and decisions in very subtle ways. They smile and seem supportive but it’s just another form of very subtle coercion. It’s really very disgusting.

  8. Is the situation really so desperate? As I see, critics’ voice is being heard in the whole world – in SAMSHA and NIMH (USA), in British Psychological Society (UK), in Mental Health Europe (EU), even in the United Nations! Thanks to Robert Whitaker’s efforts, we speak on many high-level conferences. I don’t think our situation is sad; to the contrary, I think it’s improving.

    However, being a relative novice concerning this topic, I may be wrong… I only compare our current state of events to the one which was several years ago, not some decades ago.

    • I think it is desperate. It depends where you sit. My adult daughter is enduring forced treatment and medication at a state hospital even though she is not a danger to herself or others. Even those in the mental health system who are sympathetic with the right of the individual to choose his/own treatment or to reject any kind of treatment whatsoever, are forced to carry out unethical procedures against her will and use labels that she doesn’t identify with. If they don’t, they will lose their jobs. I fear for her life everyday. I fear her losing hope. Every day our movement loses ground, more lives are lost. Spend any time lately in a state mental health hospital where the casualties of long term ‘treatment’ cycle in and out of lately? The places they go to get a ‘break’ from being on the streets or when they run away from state run group homes? These patients are cognitively impaired, physically injured. They are blind, obese, missing limbs due to diabetes,tardive dyskenesia, etc. One person ground her teeth so bad, she has no teeth. The fools who put her on lifelong medications that cause her jaws to grind uncontrollably are not even paying for her to have dentures. It’s an outrage! and yes it is desperate, depending on where you sit and what you see everyday. Sorry for ranting, but there is no time for us to be disorganized and arguing over methods. We must go forward.

      • I think you have a lot to rant about. Anyone who has contact with the mental health system for any length of time and who has realised how the treatments are not based on science and are often, in most cases, dangerous has reason to be appalled at the organised abuse that the psychiatric system is.

        Ranting is part of political engagement. It’s part of getting your head clear before taking the next step.

        This is what Ted wrote: “For those who are ready to do this, I plan to start a discussion group to really concentrate on developing the strategy we need to make the most of our forces and work out the actions we need to take back our movement”

        I think this is a call to movement building and I think this is needed.

      • Madmom

        You point out something that I feel is very important but that most people don’t realize. In the state hopital where I work the majority of the so-called “patients” cycle in and out of the place through the revolving door in Admissions. We seldom get people who are experiencing a “first episode” of what is referred to as “psychosis” etc. And the people who are there on “break” from the streets or from crappy group homes have tremendous numbers of physical and emotional problems induced by the toxic drugs that theuy’ve been on for years. Many of them came into the system as young teens and are now in their 30’s and 40’s so they’ve been on the drugs for a while. Trying to empower these people with any sense of hope of things being different is a gigantic and almost impossible job. Take it from me, twice a week I have a group of so-called “patients” for Peer Recovery and they have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about when I mention things like “getting their lives back” and ideas along those lines. Talk about it being a challenge not for me to experience overwhelming sadness about it all.

        Yes, they are cognitively and physically impaired and I’m not sure whether gradually taking them off the toxic drugs would be of help to them at this point. Plus, they seem to believe the message that “they need their meds for life since they have broken brains.”

        And yes, the psychiatrists who are supposedly “treating” them only fill them with drug cocktails and then force them back out on the streets or back to the crappy group homes. It’s very saddening and very disgusting. They will never claim responsibility for the condition of the so-called “patients” that they are so-called “treating.”

  9. Here is a link to a protest by Mindfreedom in Eugene, Oregon (with TED!) in which worshipers proclaim their adoration for the mighty ‘PILL’ for helping them attain ‘normality’

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9wtQNNeyTA

    This video brought me and my daughter comfort and hope when my daughter was suffering from forced treatment.

    I needed spiritual nourishment during our darkest days and I received it from MindFreedom and the supportive, respective, non-violent community they created.

    Whatever tactics we use to inform people, we also need to use methods that model what is lacking in psychiatry. Acceptance, tolerance, and humor.

    I’m for street theater and even civil disobedience as long as we do it in a way that is spiritually nourishing, maybe not for those who are oppressive, but for those of us who are healing from oppression.

    Our entire family has felt threatened, traumatized and beaten down by psychiatry. We fear psychiatry. Anger and blaming and dreaming about restitution doesn’t make me feel better. I need humor and forgiveness to feel better. I would like justice but justice is as much about balance as it is restitution and mitigation of future harm.

    That is just me. Have a great weekend everyone. I’m going to spend some time in nature today and make some homemade soap with organically grown olive oil and home grown herbs!

  10. Ted

    Your call for more organized resistance is important and timely.

    I have said many times at MIA that we have enough beginning numbers of activists, fighting spirit, and solid science behind us to launch significant political actions and resistance. What we have lacked is the collective political will to make it happen.

    I believe we sometimes underestimate just how favorable the current objective conditions are for such resistance. Many people in this country and around the world sense (with a gut feeling or a very beginning consciousness) that there is something very wrong with the current paradigm of so-called mental health treatment. Organized resistance would sharpen the debate and open up thousands of people for more education – “A single spark can start a prairie fire.”

    Networks of activists in different areas might be be a good start. I would not give up on the idea of a more unified broad national/international organization in the future.

    Richard

  11. Beware. Psychiatrists and such authoritarian institutions such as the APA and Bad Pharma will not give up without a fight. They sense they are on the losing side which makes them even more dangerous. Expect them to try infiltate our organisation. Recognise them. Expose them.

    • Infiltrate? Oh, that’s too much effort for them and would require that they stoop to pretending to agree with us. It’s more likely that they would just subpena the names and addresses of MIA donators and then commit us all for being so deluded as to reject their moral superiority.

      • In the UK the National Service User Network has just accepted money from a drug company. That is one way drug companies fight back.

        Whittaker and others on this site are unlikely to take money from drug companies but I am sure they are having strategy meetings to work out how to neutralise threats to their income.

      • Actually, one of the wyas that they do infiltrate is by creating “peer specialist” programs that are nothing more than mouthpieces for the system itself. Many of these programs set “peers” loose on the so-called “patients” and they end up doing to people what was done to them. It’s pretty insidious. And then they have the “peers” chart on people so that whatever organization they work for can bill Medicare! So, they do infiltrate, believe me.

  12. Ted,

    You are aiming too low when you want to maintain the Donaldson standard. “Danger to self or others” is calumny and discrimination and has to be analyzed as an aspect of our oppression. It’s actually similar to the Plessy v Ferguson case and “separate but equal”. Separate is never equal.

    Donaldson, though it appeared to create a more progressive standard than the old “lock em up without any legal mumbo jumbo beyond the fact that they’re crazy,” helps the pro-force people in two ways. First, it doesn’t outlaw psychiatric force, and not only that it reinforces the legal justification for it. Secondly, because it makes it possible to lock someone for “dangerousness” if and only if the person is also labeled as mentally ill (then it opened the door for sex offenders, which is also dealt with as a mental disorder) it pushes psychiatrists, families and judges (and the media) in the direction of seeking to apply mental illness labels to people they deem dangerous, and seeking to apply a “dangerous” label to people they deem mentally ill and want to have locked up.

    In other words, the current spate of intense psychiatric profiling is fed by the Donaldson standard, it is its logical conclusion. The hate-speech campaigns to expand commitment laws amount in part to arguing that all mentally ill people are dangerous (“dangerousness” cannot be proven, it’s a defamation) so lock em all up to prevent any possibility of danger to your family, your child, etc. It has the same structure as lynching, or pogroms. You the presumptively good innocent people are in danger from these bogeymen. Let’s not look at the evil in the hearts and actions of those who are given a free pass as good and innocent. And let’s scrutinize those who are labeled as evil until we drive them to the point of reacting, which will create an excuse to get rid of them. If they don’t react we will label them as abnormal and get rid of them anyway. Same as witchburning also.

    Finally another good reason to aim higher than Donaldson, that everyone needs to know about. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has incorporated a standard that prohibits all psychiatric commitment. That this is the actual standard being applied under that treaty has now been proclaimed definitively by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which has authority to interpret the treaty. Although it has not been ratified by the U.S. (and see our petition https://www.change.org/petitions/u-s-senate-ratify-the-un-convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities-without-reservations-understandings-or-declarations-ruds), the standard is influencing international human rights law in general, and will reach us eventually. I wrote about this in a blog post (https://www.madinamerica.com/2013/09/un-ensure-one-detained-kind-mental-health-facility/) and will try to write more.

    A second point worth making is that the Americans with Disabilities Act is supposed to protect us too, but court interpretations have been infected with the same defamation that we are dangerous. It is not always applied consistently and I’m no expert, but it is something I wish that more of us (survivor lawyers) would look into.

    Lastly, regarding organizing. I like the idea of a network but would also like to make something more like the old movement that was a network of groups as well as individuals. There are organizations – some grassroots and some in principle national or trans-national – that are working in the direction you describe but not everyone knows about each other’s work. I would like to mention the Campaign to Repeal Mental Health Laws (http://repealmentalhealthlaws.org) – we have a huge challenge due to the large nature of our ambition, but we have started to work in ways that can have an impact. I see the work of RMHL as being strategic in the sense that you have argued for.

    Strategic may at times be in the eye of the beholder, and there will always be disagreements. In the campaigns for marriage equality there has been fierce disagreement about strategy and tactics, and there have also been disagreements in the LGBT community about whether marriage is something to fight for. It’s worth keeping that in mind. I am interested in joining any effort that will move us towards achieving freedom, which for me is inextricably linked with repeal of all the laws that make us an inferior caste in society, especially the commitment laws.

    Take care,

    Tina

    • I agree with Tina what we should aspire to something bigger than Donaldson but also with Ted that Donaldson is something we need to build upon, not to run away from.

      Donaldson is used by scaremongers like Torrey but also by many fair minded allies to refute Torrey. This USA Today editorial rejecting lowering the standard for civil commitment, http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2013/09/25/guns-mental-health-gun-control-mass-shooting-editorials-debates/2873387/ , uses TAC’s own data and the Donaldson rationale.

      On a more personal note, Donaldson is the prime reason I have peace of mind in the US. I was civilly committed under a “need for treatment” standard, which is prevalent in many European countries. I can tell you that our lives under such regime would not be pretty. We could even be officially censored for advocating against “medical treatment”. So yes, Donaldson is like Plessy v Ferguson but we should build on it, rather than reject it altogether.

      We could accept the “dangerousness” rationale but only if it is applied uniformly, regardless of DSM labels given that psychiatrists are notoriously bad at predicting who and when is likely to become violent.

      But once we accept the “dangerousness” rationale applied regardless of DSM labels, the whole notion of civil commitment becomes irrelevant because we already have the criminal justice system to take care of dangerous people with due process protections. I see highlighting psychiatry’s inability to predict violent behavior as the roadmap to go from Donaldson to the abolition of coercive psychiatry altogether.

      In any case Tina, great job!

  13. Hi Ted, Thanks for this article.
    I just watched the APA’s 6o Minutes infomercial online, and it is frightening. That’s old news, I realize. But I also haphazardly found this video. Apparently, this is what passes for local news in Washington DC. It starts with talk of “mass killings,” and I bet you can guess how it ends. (And it seems like this same psychiatrist is on every week!)

    http://www.nbcwashington.com/video/#!/news/health/What-Improvements-Could-Be-Made-to-the-Mental-Health-System-/228034331

    This is very, very bad news.

    • This is not only very bad news; it’s frightening and very disgusting, to say the least.

      Here this psych is, sitting there pontificating about all of this and says that we need to lower the standards about forcing people into the so-called “hospital” for so-called “treatment!” This is unbelievable and yet, there he sits, pontificating with no response from our community. The news media never seem to seek out anyone from our community to give us a chance to speak about all of this. Only one side of the issue is being presented and that’s how the system and the drug companies and the government want it to be. And here we sit, twiddling our thumbs and worrying about whether we’re offending the so-called “moderate” psychiatrists or whether anyone will be upset with us if we don’t want to circle the fire and hold hands and sing Kumbaya!

      If we don’t wake up and smell the coffee and start fighting back against this it will be exactly the same situation as that of the Jews in Germany, who sat and said that they wouldn’t be harmed and then they were rounded up at gunpoint, forced into concentration camps, and methodically exterminated in the gas chambers.

      I once taught school where there was a German woman on the faculty. She told me that, as a little girl when she and her family saw the black smoke rising from the huge chimneys of the ovens where the Jewish bodies were burned they knew that they would soon have fresh soap available in town. For you see, she said that they rendered the body fat from the bodies and made soap from it. I don’t know if this is true or not but it sure chilled my blood to hear it. And she said it so bluntly and matter of factly.

      The school we taught in was run by a religious order of brothers. She and one of the old brothers would get together and tell anti-Jewish stories, one after another. Some of us finally confronted them and neither of them could understand why we were upset. And she wasn’t a bad person. So what I’m saying is that we better not wait too much longer to form a counterattack against all this or it will soon be too late to save ourselves. They’re going to do this to us “for our own good” since we don’t really realize how sick we truly are and they need to “help” us!

  14. Hi Ted, I think it is important to stress, like you and cannotsay do, that the movement, though political, draws people from both ends of the spectrum, like all human rights causes should. I myself am “pretty far left” like you (except that I clarify to my foreign friends and relatives that it makes me center right in any other country.) I didn’t think I’d ever agree with the right wing of the US Supreme Court until I came across Indiana v. Edwards (2008). Edwards had been diagnosed schizophrenic and after being “treated” was found to be fit to stand trial but the court would not let him represent himself. On appeal Indiana Supreme Court determined Edwards had the right to forgo appointed counsel but the US Supreme Court didn’t agree. Scalia wrote the dissenting opinion and Thomas joined him. For me, the crux of Scalia’s argument is:

    “there is … little doubt that the loss of ‘dignity’ the right [of self-representation] is designed to prevent is not the defendant’s making a fool of himself by presenting an amateurish or even incoherent defense. Rather, the dignity at issue is the supreme human dignity of being master of one’s fate rather than a ward of the State—the dignity of individual choice.”

    The fact that Mr Edwards was drugged – I presume forcibly – to get him to be “competent to stand trail” is not at issue here. I paraphrase Scalia by saying that society’s perception of being “incoherent” does not trump the fundamental human dignity of “being master of one’s fate”. It is no leap to maintain that no DSM diagnosis trumps the fundamental right to refuse treatment. This is what Tina wants. I’m not so sure what side Scalia would take if or when Donaldson is challenged. Or what the side the liberal wing would take…

  15. I am relatively new to all this information, so I am kind of in shock at having looked over the TAC website. This, for anyone who hasn’t seen it, is what E. Fuller Torrey, NAMI, et al. think of your rights:

    http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/

    You don’t have any! And if you think you do, to use the Nazi analogy, just wait until you get your star pinned on and your new tattoo. It doesn’t matter what your heritage is. The Witch Hunt analogy is great too, as there is a nonsensical book involved (DSM)and basically anyone who is disliked or envied can be accused and stripped of everything, including their humanity.

    “If she sinks and dies, then she was innocent and she will be with God; if she floats, then she’s a witch and she must burn!” Either way, she’s dead. This same reasoning is applied to “psych meds.”* If you’re a zombie and you can’t think straight and you can’t feel anything and you can’t move, well then obviously you needed the drugs; if you off yourself because the drugs made your life unbearable, then not only did you need the drugs, but they clearly should have given you a lot more!

    *(Psychological medications do not exist in real life, regardless of what the commercials say. Come on, it’s television: Everything is f*ing fake!)

    And both the Democrats and Republicans (each also fake) are inclined to side with the Torreys of this world, as it means they can address the public hysteria about mass shootings without saying a mumbling word about guns (or Gilded Age level economic inequality). I think that is what’s behind this media campaign. They recognize what an opportunity they have here, with the American public doing what they do best – being scared.

    The irony is that, in my not quite humble opinion, Congress would do better to look into prescription drugs as a major factor in these murders than to even discuss guns. I do not own one, but I would feel a hell of a lot more comfortable with a bunch of guns around my house than with a bunch of shrinks.

    • Gosh. This and the above post by me are clear as mud. There are way too many things that could be taken in a way I didn’t intend. Please disregard them. (Note to self: Try not to post while stunned.) And/or please see this as a cautionary tale of what can happen to someone’s communication skills when they are coming off of prescription drugs. Sorry.

      • I understood just fine, uprising.

        I know what you mean about communication skills. I was much better, years before now. I have deteriorated over the years. For me, psych drugs take a large portion of the blame but certainly, most definitely, not all. As usual, it is all too grand, too complex and too complicated.

      • Thanks, mjk and Stephen! 🙂
        I own everything I wrote; I was just feeling so overwhelmed at the time, because… I have seen the beast up close many times. I’ve been burned by its breath and scarred, day after day, year after year, and yet it somehow remained too big for me to see. There was something about seeing these men (Torrey and the other one I linked to above somewhere) speak, and knowing that millions of people have likely also seen them, and many have unquestioningly accepted what they said as fact just like these men’s fawning corporate interviewers did… When these men spoke, with their voices a model of calm, and their words ringing with “care and concern,” their eyes betrayed them. Their eyes smoldered with pure contempt and an obsession with domination. It was only when I saw this, I am embarrassed to say, that I finally began to comprehend the true size and power of this beast. The horror is breathtaking. I have met these men before. The beast has many heads. But I suppose I had never before seen it address the public. I don’t watch TV, so I wasn’t previously aware of the scope of this propaganda campaign. I had read all the excellent articles here about the bullshit 60 minutes segment. But, for whatever reason, I could not grasp the import of it until I had seen it myself… Psychiatry the Antichrist. And, if Black Elk were around today, he would likely be drugged against his will,”for his own good.”

  16. Ted,

    I’ve noticed in your comments a call to reach the public. I completely agree that we must do this if there is to be change. The biggest obstacle seems to be finding our public bus and our Rosa Parks or our public school to integrate and the few courageous students. There seem to be few public spaces where one or a few survivors can launch a visible protest about the civil rights of the mental health system. The public forums we already have are ignored, even some of the consumer groups that you disagree with do not seem able to reach the public.

    Suppose were were to focus on one mental hospital that forces treatment. If we tried to physically control access to the building by creating a human barrier, we might be able to accomplish two things: 1) draw media attention and 2) shut down the hospital for even a short time.

    It seems to me that one reason actions on the public buses and in schools were effective in the African-American civil rights movement is that they directly confronted the fears the public had about integration. By forcing a confrontation with that fear and essentially desensitizing the public, brought both media attention and progress.

    The fear of violence seems to be the greatest fear among the public regarding people diagnosed with mental illness. What if we could bring home the idea that the public is surrounded by non-violent people diagnosed with mental illness. Suppose a group of activists enter a busy setting (mall, movie theater, theme park, etc.) looking like everyone else. Then, they simultaneously put on a black t-shirt that says “(front) Being diagnosed MAD does not make me violent. (back) Forced drugging does not make you safe from terrorism.” Or some such.

    Perhaps other people also have ideas for slightly sensational non-violent demonstrations that might grab the public’s attention.