To the Colorado House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee
I ask you to vote against HB1386. I write with a moral obligation to inform you of research findings which were recently defended through the PhD Program in Environmental Psychology at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Over seventy people were involved with this qualitative research, which used video as a research tool, is an Environmental Community-Based Participatory Action Research project. The final title of the written dissertation is (de)VOICED: Human Rights Now (Volumes I, II, and III, 645 pages). People who participated in this study were from the United States, worked in ‘peer’ roles, and had psychiatric histories. Some of these people were Coloradans.
Throughout this research process, I repeatedly gave examples of people who participated who were silenced and retaliated against for expressing their expert perspectives about the public psychiatric service delivery system. The statement of the problem that the research focused on, in fact, was how people who are users or survivors of psychiatry are silenced in their attempts at making psychiatric systems change. Having worked inside of the New York State Office of Mental Health (1999 – 2003) I was acutely aware of these practices and wanted to see if this problem extended beyond New York. This study showed that this silencing of dissenting voices is a national epidemic that all citizens ought to be concerned with because if our public servants are unable to speak freely while creating and carrying out policies, regulations, and laws, as a society we are in extreme jeopardy. Of grave concern is that this silencing extended to people who were reporting abuse of people who were involved with the public psychiatric service delivery system.
It is my understanding that the Colorado House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee has been informed that there is stakeholder support for this bill. Based on the findings of my research and my general knowledge concerning psychiatric systems change, I must say that either people who would contest HB1386 were not invited to be part of a selective group of stakeholders, or their voices were not recorded. I can say with complete confidence that there are stakeholders who do not support HB1386 and many of them were involved with stopping HB1253 from going forward.
I have devoted the last ten years of my study to problems posed by psychiatric environments that utilize force, court-order, and uninformed consent. Prior to pursuing a PhD, I spent twelve years working in psychiatric systems change. I can say with convincing evidence, beyond my own research, that institutional environments are deleterious to people. The use of institutions must be abandoned, not broadened. The iatrogenic effects of psychiatric drugs are routinely discussed in the literature. (de)VOICED, however, also shows iatrogenic effects of being involuntarily subjected to psychiatric places.
Today, we see the treatments of the nineteenth century as barbaric. Historical trends for ending forceful and coercive psychiatric treatment date back at least to the nineteenth century in the United States, and the seventeenth century in Europe. In fact, in the last hundred and fifty years, the discipline of psychiatry has persisted, continually re-cloaking itself when public attention is focused on its actions: the poor and alms house non-system to the asylum system to the hospital system to the mental hygiene system to the psychiatric system to the mental illness system to the mental health system, and in many place now, to the behavioral health system.
(de)VOICED shows evidence, dating back to the nineteenth century, of how people who had been subjected to the asylum system fought back against it and were silenced. A few people though, had their personal accounts published, and these publications caused asylum system change. (de)VOICED also shows evidence for how this persists to this day, in the United States and specifically in Colorado.
The findings of (de)VOICED also confirms earlier research. Specifically, this study confirms what Erving Goffman (1961) showed in Asylums is still occurring. Asylums, of course, was a catalyst for psychiatric systems change in the 1960s, to move toward voluntary, community-based services. However, we extend Goffman’s findings which focused solely on people who were involuntarily institutionalized. (de)VOICED extends these experiences to people who were involved with psychiatry on a voluntary basis.
Eliminating the word ‘imminent’ from ‘imminent danger’ and changing the civil commitment criteria to make it easier to commit people will indeed be a setback for Colorado and the people of your State. This is a surprising move for such a progressive and forward-thinking State. Involuntary psychiatric treatment is tantamount to torture. I am sure you are aware that many of the practices of psychiatry, when used with force, such as electroconvulsive treatment, psychopharmacology, restraint, seclusion, and aversives have been said to constitute torture or ill treatment by the Special Rapporteur on Torture in the report on the Convention Against Torture (2013, 2008).
I am happy to supply references for anything I mentioned in this letter. I am available to discuss this matter further. Please protect and promote human rights of people in Colorado and vote no on HB1386.Sincerely,Dr. Lauren Tenney
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.