It’s About the Trauma: How to Truly Address the Roots of Violence and Suffering in our Society


We are a deeply traumatized nation. It wasn’t enough that 20 children were massacred at a school in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. It seems we are confronted with a new and devastating mass killing tragedy every few months in America, the latest being the recent shooting at Fort Hood. More soldiers have now died by suicide than by combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, and suicide now kills more Americans than car accidents.

What has been our collective answer to this appalling state of affairs? We shun serious discussions of gun control, and instead scapegoat people with mental health issues for the complex issue of violence in our society. But my intention is not to write about gun control. Even if by some miracle we were enlightened enough to take all guns away from people tomorrow, the fact remains that we are a traumatized nation. And the question is: what are we going to do about it?

Representative Tim Murphy is a psychologist who proposes unsatisfactory solutions to our most pressing social problems. In a “shockingly regressive” piece of legislation known as the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2013” (H.R. 3717), he proposes to expand the highly controversial practice of Involuntary Outpatient Committment (IOC) for persons with serious mental illnesses. But that approach is not the answer, as documented in a fact sheet authored by the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery:

Proponents of IOC claim that it is effective in reducing violent behavior, incarcerations, and hospitalizations among individuals with serious mental health conditions. However, repeated studies have shown no evidence that mandating outpatient treatment through a court order is effective; to the limited extent that court-ordered outpatient treatment has shown improved outcomes, these outcomes appear to result from the intensive services that have been made available to participants in those clinical trials rather than from the existence of a court order mandating treatment. In addition, studies have shown that force and coercion drive people away from treatment. “By its very nature, outpatient commitment may undermine the treatment alliance and increase consumers’ aversion to voluntary involvement with services,” according to a study cited in “Opening Pandora’s Box: The Practical and Legal Dangers of Involuntary Outpatient Commitment,” published in Psychiatric Services.

So what is the answer? If we look across our systems, such as behavioral health (including mental health and substance use treatment), homeless services, veterans’ services, and criminal justice systems, what is the common denominator? Trauma. If we search the text of Representative Murphy’s bill, the word “trauma” only comes up four times. Conversely, “mental illness” is mentioned 83 times. This reflects a misguided lens through which we are looking at social problems. We need to flip that and look at our social problems through a trauma-informed lens.

We should be focusing on trauma, not mental illness.

Dr. Richard Mollica, of all people, should know about violence and human suffering. He is a psychiatrist who founded the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, and for decades he has successfully helped people who have experienced war and other kinds of severe human-to-human violence to heal. In his book Healing Invisible Wounds: Paths to Hope and Recovery in a Violent World, he points out the limits of a purely medical/individual approach:

When mass violence occurs, there is damage not only to individuals but to entire societies, indeed to the world. The victims of September 11 and their families suffered horrible losses, but even those of us who watched the television footage suffered, whether by experiencing depression, anxiety, a loss of faith in humanity, empathic overload, or emotional withdrawal. As a consequence, healing must occur not only within individuals but also within societies, with society as the healing agent…Personal and social healing are united in a reciprocal and mutually advantageous relationship.[i]

The average person does not have a clear understanding of what “trauma” really means. It doesn’t just mean that your family physically abused you as a kid or that you witnessed a violent act, or even that you have head trauma, such as a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Trauma should be understood as much more broadly occurring when:

An external threat overwhelms a person’s coping resources. It can result in specific signs of psychological or emotional distress, or it can affect many aspects of the person’s life over a period of time. Sometimes people aren’t even aware that the challenges they face are related to trauma that occurred earlier in life. Trauma is unique to each individual—the most violent events are not always the events that have the deepest impact. Trauma can happen to anyone, but some groups are particularly vulnerable due to their circumstances, including women and children, people with disabilities, and people who are homeless or living in institutions.[ii]

The prevalence of trauma

To understand how trauma is directly relevant to the current debates raging in America, consider the following facts and statistics:[iii]

  • Men and boys of color are disproportionately affected by violence, trauma, and high rates of poverty and incarceration.[iv]
  • 80% of people in psychiatric hospitals have experienced physical or sexual abuse.
  • 66% of people in substance abuse treatment report childhood abuse or neglect.
  • 90% of women with alcoholism were sexually abused or suffered severe violence from parents.
  • Exposure to childhood trauma (physical assault and bullying) is linked to psychotic experiences, such as hearing voices.[v]
  • 95% of women and 89% of men entering jail diversion programs have experienced physical or sexual abuse. [vi]
  • A study of women inmates at a maximum security prison found that they had experienced physical and sexual abuse throughout their youth and adulthood.[vii]
  • An individual can be “retraumatized by services, supervision, and management policies that ignore or dismiss the role of trauma.” [viii]

Take the complex problem of suicide. There is compelling research to show that early adverse childhood experiences [ACEs] dramatically increase the risk of suicidal behaviors. The ACE Study consists of a questionnaire asking people if they have experienced various ACEs, such as witnessing violence growing up, or having an alcoholic parent. ACEs have a strong, clear relationship to suicide attempts during childhood/adolescence and adulthood. Two-thirds (67%) of all suicide attempts, 64% of adult suicide attempts, and 80% of child/adolescent suicide attempts are attributable to ACEs.[ix] Dube et al. note that their estimates of population attributable fractions for ACEs and suicide are “of an order of magnitude that is rarely observed in epidemiology and public health data.”[x]

Or let’s look at the connections between homelessness and trauma. According to the Homelessness Resource Center:

Homelessness is traumatic. People experiencing homelessness are living with a multitude of losses. People who are homeless have lost the protection of home and community, and are marginalized, isolated, and stigmatized within the larger society. Additionally, people who are experiencing homelessness are highly vulnerable to violence and victimization.[xi]

The statistics don’t lie: we need to focus on supporting all people in healing trauma. Trauma is a huge risk factor for suicide as well as for every manner of behavioral health and physical health challenges, as well as increased risk of interpersonal violence.[xii] Yet trauma is rarely addressed in the context of legislation, community development, human service provision, jail diversion, or suicide prevention programs.

What does it mean to be “trauma-informed?”

Looking through the lens of trauma does not mean that we blame families for being in crisis. It means that we need to recognize the ways that individuals, families and communities are reeling from the effects of trauma, and to help them empower themselves to look at and address the root causes of the crises they face. As described in a 2010 report by the Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice and Department of Medicine, Drexel University:

Trauma theory represents a fundamental shift in thinking from the supposition that those who have experienced psychological trauma are either “sick” or deficient in moral character to the reframe that they are “injured” and in need of healing. Such shifts are made possible in the context of a supportive political movement. To a significant extent, “trauma theory” attained credibility because Vietnam Veterans refused to be silent about their experiences and because the antiwar movement had an air of legitimacy not previously known.[xiii]

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a federal agency that has done much to promote trauma-informed approaches:

A definition of trauma-informed approach incorporates three key elements: (1) realizing the prevalence of trauma; (2) recognizing how trauma affects all individuals involved with the program, organization, or system, including its own workforce; and (3) responding by putting this knowledge into practice.

A program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for healing; recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in staff, clients, and others involved with the system; and responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, practices, and settings.[xiv]

The little Gulf Coast city of Tarpon Springs, Fla., gets it. They have undertaken an effort to be a “trauma-informed community.” The community has made a commitment to engage people in all walks of life: education, juvenile justice, welfare, housing, medical practices, and business. This is exactly the direction our country needs to take. We should read about Tarpon Springs’ initiative to train all of its systems in understanding the prevalence of trauma, and how to be more trauma-informed in the way we approach every person who interfaces with educational and human service systems. Here is one example of what they are doing to help break cycles of trauma and violence in their community:

The Pinellas Ex-Offender Re-Entry Coalition used the CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experience questionnaire to discover that the overwhelming majority of people in its substance-abuse, batterers-intervention and sex-offender groups had suffered severe trauma. The coalition counselors changed their program, with the result that the ex-offenders feel more optimistic, and that they have more tools to turn their lives around.[xv]

The solutions proposed in Representative Murphy’s legislation will never fully address the serious crises facing our communities and our nation. At best, the expansion of IOC will be a band-aid covering a horribly festering wound. H.R. 3717 represents a policy response that is not only NOT trauma-informed, but will only serve to further perpetuate trauma in our communities. We need to address our community problems within our communities, as communities. That is where the hope lies to begin to address the problem of self-inflicted and interpersonal violence in our society, and to heal our traumatized nation.

* * * * *


[i] Mollica, Richard. Healing Invisible Wounds: Paths to Hope and Recovery in a Violent World (Vanderbilt University Press, 2006).

[ii] Blanch, A., Filson, B., Penney, D. & Cave, C. (2012).  Engaging women in trauma-informed peer support: A guidebook.  SAMHSA’s National Center for Trauma-Informed Care. Available at:

[iii] Sharp, C. and Ligenza, L. Is Your Organization Trauma Informed?

[iv] Davis, L. (2009). Reparable Harm: Assessing and Addressing Disparities Faced by Boys and Men of Color in California. Santa Monica, CA, RAND Corporation.

[v] Ian Kelleher. Childhood Trauma and Psychosis in a Prospective Cohort Study: Cause, Effect, and Directionality. American Journal of Psychiatry, 2013; 170 (7): 734 DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2012.12091169

[vi] Policy Research Associates. (2011). Final report of the evaluation of CMHS Targeted Capacity Expansion for Jail Diversion Programs initiative. Delmar, NY: Author.

[vii] Browne, A., Miller, B., Maguin, E. (1999). Prevalence and severity of physical and sexual victimization among incarcerated women. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 22, 301-322.

[viii] Harris, M., & Fallot, R.D. (2001). Envisioning a trauma-informed service system: A vital paradigm shift. New Directions for Mental Health Services, 89, 3-22.                 


[x] Dube, et al. Childhood abuse, household dysfunction, and the risk of attempted suicide throughout the life span: findings from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. JAMA. 2001 Dec 26;286(24):3089-96.

[xi] Homelessness Resource Center.

[xii] Centers of Disease Prevention (CDC). Major Findings of the ACE Study.

[xiii] Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice and Department of Medicine, Drexel University. (June 2010). “Healing the Hurt: Trauma-Informed Approaches to the Health of Boys and Young Men of Color”

[xiv] Harris, M. & Fallot, R. (2001). Using trauma theory to design service systems.

[xv] “Tarpon Springs, Florida, May be the First Trauma-Informed City in the US.” (February 13, 2012).



  1. Hi Leah, I sure hope the people who could stop the Murphy Bill are listening and that we are reaching out to our legislators. Everyone in recovery are sharing the same thing this bill will do more harm than help. It is another form of bullying those who already suffered bullying and are feeling the pain and need a way to safely heal, find hope and be empowered to live our best lives, we are further being picked on even more. I feel disgust as I tackle this same experience in my work life. Continue writing and sharing.

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      • I just wanted stir in some controversy: isn’t it s that the emergence of this hideous legislation is a result of the bigger failure on the part of the psychiatry survivor movement? Here’s why I think that:

        The current system as it is now is unquestionably broken and the effects of that are felt by the society as a whole: homeless and imprisoned “mentally ill”, broken families, unemployment, poverty and homelessness, veterans’ suicide, mass shootings, … one could go on. Is it all that surprising that someone comes out and presents a bill which offers an illusion of an easy fix and everyone jumps on the wagon?

        I am not trying to say that we did nothing to improve the situation, that no good alternative programmes were started, that no progress was made. However, the scope of the efforts remained so limited that the following is obvious:

        – the larger population remains uninformed or misinformed about the real problems in mental health as well as solutions – we keep preaching to the choir but the people out there who are experiencing the first episode psychosis or the mental breakdown or their families have never heard of us, save maybe as “crazy Scientology people” (sorry but that’s how the whole surviour movement is being seen) and the first time they are likely to hear about us is after they will be already traumatised and damaged by the current system and start looking for answers themselves – that’s too late for many. Where are we in the mass media, calling and spamming them with our voice and our message, contacting the new internet media outlets, organising campaigns on the local level? One can’t wait that they will find us and ask for our opinion, we have to actively demand our voices to be heard.

        – the legislators are met with resistance from the movement when they’re trying to introduce the harmful legislation: that’s all good and fine but where are the alternatives? Why is the movement not working with lawyers and legislator’s on our own bills? Contacting the representatives to meet with the movements, representative to discuss the introduction of the new recovery-oriented programmes? To everyone outside it looks like we’re just great at criticising but offer no real answers to the status quo and the status quo is broken. Why don’t we come up with our own legislation proposal, which would establish and finance the much needed alternative programms? Sharing stories of trauma among ourselves is great but it won’t change the fact that everyday many people have to go through the same. It requires a lot of organisation but as soon as we can draft the proposals and get the representatives interested (first on the local level – they are most likely to listen) to work on them we have a chance.

        We need to be more proactive and engaging and need to work FOR change. Protesting AGAINST a broken system is not enough – that’s why the Occupy movement largely dissipated – they had real grievances and real idea but they failed to organise and present the alternatives. We should model our actions on the LGBT movement – they’ve managed to get their agenda on covers of the magazines and change the discourse and legislation. Let’s learn from them.

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  2. Dear Leah,

    Thank you for addressing the crucially important issue of VIOLENCE and TRAUMA in our society, both structural and infiltrating groups and families. Your insight, reflectivity and courage to address these essential problems in our mega-stress and conflict-burdened modern society are much needed and appreciated.

    I would like to honor the pioneer works of two american ladies at this occasion:
    Shery MEAD’s development of trauma-informed peer support (now Intentional Peer Support)
    Judith HERMAN”s clinical, feminist and research work on Trauma and Recovery
    Both ladies, their colleagues and clients/peers are my constant inspiration.

    Here in England, two lady trauma survivors have collected and developed amazing insight on ABUSE, TRAUMA, DISSOCIATION – Jacqui DILLON honoree researcher & Eleanor LONGDEN psychologist. They deliver 2-3 day workshops which are truly life changing.

    Inspiring TED talk 2013 video by trauma survivor & psychologist Eleanor Longden, research coordinator of INTERVOICE Hearing Voices Network International,

    For people interested in a comprehensive summary of recent academic research on trauma, neuro-development, post traumatic distress, an excellent lecture by one of the leading US experts Bessel VAN DER KOLK, MD, Boston University School of Medicine, Trauma Center Boston, May 2013, CHILDHOOD TRAUMA, AFFECT REGULATION, POST TRAUMATIC DISORDERS

    With gratitude for your fabulous work at the National Empowerment Center and with the consumer/survivor movement and with
    Kind regards

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  3. The list is valuable. Much trauma relates to home life for children. Why are American families so violent? I can verify from people I know that the list is very accurate. I have often said that the health of a nation can be measured by the health of man woman relationships. Marriages and families receive little help in the USA. Is marriage almost despised by the media and leading lights? Americans also as a whole do not seem to care much for children. I know these are generalizations but I keep getting these impressions
    from conversing with people.

    Now when a nation goes somewhere and destroys the infra structure, kills hundreds of thousands of people, contaminates the land, wastes vast sums of money, neglects the affected Vets and sends them home addicted to drugs . . . can we really say this has no effect on the social life in that nation? Certainly not. And America has been into one war or another almost since WWII. And not a single one can be characterized as defense. They were all without exception wars of aggression. Even WWII is suspect; and certainly WWI was something the USA ought to have stayed out of. So lots of war. A bellicose nation.

    Most Americans end up in families that have a Vet somewhere nearby–husband, wife, grandparent, uncle . . . This is one explanation. A society in which science is regarded as a religion such that religion is regarded as a fraud is also a problem source. We toss out the notion of soul and talk about love as chemical. I love you means that certain hormones, etc. are circulating in my brain. Nothing more. And when the chemicals stop–goodbye. And most scientist will lie to save their jobs, get a better one, or receive moneys from a corporation. As a result we have wonderful nuclear power; GMO’s; Ready
    Roundup; fluoridated water; food additives. It is as if no one cares about people because People (corporations) have all the money and want more.

    Guns are not the problem. When and where I grew up there were lots of guns and never anyone shot. No murders. No one wounded. I can only remember one accident and that was a kid pounding on a shell. But that was the society this society damned and threw away. It had religion and was decidedly more rural. Knowledge and power in the city; peace and decency in the country–Mason Cooley The Murphy’s of the world evidently can not read. The science behind psychiatric medications is what people used to consider that science behind witches’ brew. The modern psychiatrist is often the same dictionary’s definition of a witch doctor: “a magician in a savage tribe”. If Representatives and psychologists like Murphy are running things and they are, then we the people will need to avoid the gov as much as possible and go it alone. Most of these rascals are only good for bribing and blackmailing.

    We need more doctors like Jonathan Shay. But these are rare persons. His two great books are of incalculable value. I wonder if Murphy could handle reading something so inspired? Anyway, glad you are on this. Thanks.

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    • Agree, guns are not the problem, they are the only thing between us and tyranny. Think about how badly the “know whats best for us” crowd would behave if the population did not own guns.

      Don’t Drug my Child or I’ll Shoot!
      Aug. 30, 2011 – 4:00 – Detroit mother Maryanne Godbaldo is cleared of criminal charges related to her effort to prevent Child Services from physically taking her child from her.

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          • I believe you are mistaken. Most of the data I have seen shows just the opposite to be the case. But it is what many would like to believe. If guns are made illegal, it will create a very lucrative black market just as illegal drugs have. By the way Mexico is an example of a state with extremely strict gun law making it almost impossible for the citizen to own a gun. Almost one hundred thousand deaths in the last few years. Another thing to consider is the several studies done by university professors showing that guns prevent crime more than they cause it.

            In any case we have Ft. Hood a gun free zone with now two massacres and still the Pentagon is against arming the soldiers. Additionally if the Fed gov were really genuinely serious about violence in America they could begin by taking a lot more care of veterans; they could stop drugging these guys when they are in combat; they might even want to consider having a better foreign policy and try diplomacy rather than violence. In actual fact the murder rate in the USA has been declining for years. The violence problem is really not a gun problem. That is just a diversion.

            Consider that right now the BLM has 200 armed men, some of whom are snipers, surrounding an older ranching couple in Nevada over their cows, some of which the BLM is now slaughtering and burying in the desert. The couple has 48 grandchildren. If they are killed by sniper bullets how will that effect those children? And for what? So some arrogant bureaucracy can prove how tough it is? We have had at least four presidents in a row who have been war criminals by even the strictest standards. It is now coming out that Clinton was a major factor in the Rwanda genocide. It was not just that he was busy and did not notice. And on and on.

            There is nothing like good jobs to make for good families. But the corporation People do not want that; and since they are the important People, they get their way.

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        • This is a real master piece movie – it questions all the popular explanations and clearly shows that any of them alone is just not going to be enough to account for the problem. Mr. has actually recently spoken against the drugging of America is an interview and he is a very thoughtful and intelligent person, more than many would give him credit for:

          Personally, I believe in some form of gun control if only just to reduce the damage done. But that can’t and will not be a full answer.

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  4. Lets look at the glass as half full , this “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act of 2013” may help the public to start recognizing psychiatry is something to avoid.

    Good luck fixxing societies problems by feeding people pills, thats totally absurd.

    America is screwed up ! First the worlds largest prison system , now “chemical prison” for mental health offenders, OMG ! WTF ???

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    • I agree, Copy_cat. When I consider the ruin towards which this nation is headed I have a good idea of where most of the mental illness is coming from. Here is an excerpt from a good article by Paul Craig Roberts:

      “As I write I cannot think of one thing in the entire areas of foreign and domestic policy that the US government has told the truth about in the 21st century. Just as Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, Iran has no nukes, Assad did not use chemical weapons, and Putin did not invade and annex Crimea, the jobs numbers are fraudulent, the unemployment rate is deceptive, the inflation measures are understated, and the GDP growth rate is overstated. Americans live in a matrix of total lies.

      What can Americans do? Elections are pointless. Presidents, Senators, and US Representatives represent the interest groups that provide their campaign funds, not the voters. In two decisions, the Republican Supreme Court has made it legal for corporations to purchase the government. Those who own the government will decide what it does, not those who vote.

      All Americans can do is to accept the serfdom imposed on them or take to the streets and stay in the streets despite being clubbed, tasered, arrested, and shot by the police, who protect the power structure, not the public.

      In America, nothing is done for the public. But everything is done to the public.”

      Now imagine for a moment an average American family. The parents have many things to be distressed about. Maybe the eight year old used his finger as a gun and was arrested by the police. Or maybe the thirteen year old daughter was watching porn at a friends house. Maybe neither has the job they had ten years ago and are doing part time. The food is bad or not so good as they once could buy. They love their kids but their emotional control is thin. There is screaming now. They all feel traumatized. They can not afford an evening out without feeling guilt. They are not sleeping so well either. Fortunately they may have a reluctance to get drugs–but for how long? The Affordable Health Care is costing them more than they were formerly paying. Thank God they have good health still.

      All this is a mighty contributor to the mental heath situation. Murphy will get his campaign contributions and this family or that will bear the burden of his gross stupidity and avarice. I wonder who raised this man of no integrity? And what university gave him a degree in psychology? He learned nothing because it probably taught nothing.

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      • Here is a group that’s trying to do something about this part:
        “Elections are pointless. Presidents, Senators, and US Representatives represent the interest groups that provide their campaign funds, not the voters.”
        Please, support these guys anyway you can – they’re trying to add an amendment to the US constitution making it illegal to bribe politicians on a mess scale as it is done now. they already had some victories on state level. At the very least you can sign the petition.

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  5. Thank you for this very thorough review of the different ways in which we become traumatized and the wonderful resources you shared. You’re opening line about America being a “traumatized nation” is a perspective I share. (I open a thesis I wrote with a chapter titled “Trauma Nation.”) When we look at the history of trauma as a subject within the field of mental health, the topic tends to come up during war time (e.g, WW II and the Vietnam War) and then has a way of falling off the radar during peacetime. Yet traumatic stress has become such a prevalent aspect of living in the twenty-first century, and as you note, adverse childhood experiences are so prevalent, I think we have reached a point when the denial of trauma shocks us as much as the occurrence of traumatic events.

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  6. Isn’t everyone traumatized at some level? Because I’m surmising that your point is that violence is caused by trauma so we should address the causes not the results, or something like that?

    I have an alternative hypothesis: That violence is the go-to solution for the rulers of this system, and is consciously programmed into our cultural lives, our value systems, and our notions of “common sense”; and that those who engage in “senseless” violence are actually emulating the values and role models presented to them by their leaders and “educators” via school, TV, Xbox, etc. (not to mention Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya etc.).

    When mass murder for America is no longer officially “cool” and Dylan Kliebold is officially considered a loser even by other losers I suspect that these high profile cases will subside.

    I guess my main problem, Leah, is not anything that I think is inaccurate with the article or its emphasis, but I simply don’t think that Murphy & Co. really care whether or not you’re right or wrong about this. I think they’ve got their ducks lined up and their only concern is intimidating or placating any significant dissent in order to get what they want, and that’s it. Plus of course putting on a nice show hearing or two.

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  7. oldhead, thanks as always for giving me some terrific stuff to think about. I think we can very elegantly juxtapose state sponsored violence with the violence we see mirrored in the society. The reaction is to drug and diagnose it all away, but that as we all know is a convenient pointing of the finger away from the real oppressors.

    As for whether Torrey, Murphy et al will bite, I didn’t write this essay for them. I wrote this to everyday people like myself who feel overwhelmed at how scary and ultimately unsatisfying it can feel to be an American today. I conceive of trauma as a principle and a focus for communities to organize around, and to potentially enact some real social change without needing to take government money.

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  8. Hi, Leah,
    Thank you for being such an articulate and fierce advocate for human freedoms . I don’t necessarily disagree with your focus on trauma as a causative agent in psychosis, because, it is becoming a useful and logical counterforce to the current obsessive focus on flawed brain chemistry and meds. But, I have my reservations, mainly is the pendulum swinging too far the other way in favor of one opinion and one opinion only? Is trauma the latest North American obsession that will last twenty or thirty years, until the excesses committed by people who promoted it will cause another major and polar opposite intervention? Is the trauma emphasis too Western-centric? Here in the West we like to see obvious solutions for obvious problems. What would other societies think of this? I’m certainly not an anthropologist, and I recently put this question to Phil Borges, who is one, and even he wasn’t sure about how to answer. My limited reading of the shamanic approach to treating psychosis shows at least two possible ways tribal cultures handle it. They have healing ceremonies/exorcisms or they recognize that the person is someone especially gifted and they train to person to be a healer. One of first books I read when I was trying to find a hopeful way out of the situation our family was in, featured a section on Malidoma Patrice Some, who described his African belief that what we call schizophrenia his tribe looked upon as a “gift front the heavens.” (I’m going from memory, here.) All this to say, there is no healing without a hurt, granted, but there is also the spiritual and unknowable side of what we Westerners can’t seem to come to grips with, preferring to “logically” apply drugs or “logically” say that trauma must be at the base of all psychosis, when everybody has trauma in their lives. There is a danger of not getting the public onboard by overemphasizing trauma as a certainty. But, I do agree, that the way to treat psychosis is through being sensitive to what the person with lived experience says, and that approach has been sadly absent for decades.

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    • Hi Rossa, I suppose that is always a possibility. I don’t tend to trust authority. And I don’t support a “medicalization” of trauma in any way. I would never suggest that everyone needs to “accept that they are traumatized so they can heal” or some ridiculous nonsense like that.

      Trauma informed approaches are hopeful to me because they are necessarily flexible to accommodate many understandings of what it means to be human – and they are inherently non coercive. It is understood that not everyone identifies as being a “trauma survivor,” and that’s OK. You won’t be forced to accept your trauma (like they force people to accept their mental disorders).

      It’s more a community-based approach to equip everyone with the knowledge that trauma is very common (though not *everyone* is a trauma survivor) and we must design all our systems so as not to re-traumatize people.

      Whether or not you are a trauma survivor, we can likely agree that not being re-traumatized (or not being traumatized in the first place) is probably a good thing.

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    • I don’t think it’s all trauma. How about mental illness as defined today has multiple causes? For some people it’s going to be past trauma, for other current life problems and stresses either social and economical or personal. Some people can have underlying physical illness that causes them to “malfunction”. Others will have these experiences no matter what because their brains are just more susceptible of spontaneously generating them and yes it can be partly genetic. The real issue is how to find an approach that will be efficient in recognising the individual causes and offering every person the best answer for their articular problems. I don’t think there is one cause and there certainly is no one answer.
      To be honest, I don’t find a conflict between the approaches that tackle trauma and those which treat psychotic experiences as the “primitive” cultures do. They are in fact linked in one significant way: they recognise that the experiences themselves are important and have a meaning and the way to handle them is by finding it and teaching people (not only the person him/herself but also the society) how to best solve the problem or use them creatively.

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  9. My first thought on reading your blog post Leah was “preaching to the converted”. Therefore the challenge surely is to reach the unconverted, the people resistant to the “truth” about trauma, mental illness, the patriarchy and infantilisation that’s endemic in psychiatry.

    Where women are blamed and men are treated like women, forcibly if “necessary”. (Bonnie Burstow, ECT “a gentleman’s way of battering a woman”:

    So how do we resist or challenge the violence, the overpowering, subduing of the person who is feeling the pain of trauma or the person who is speaking out about it? I think there are many ways to do this and it will depend on the resources we have as to how we respond.

    For example, I’m an activist in nature who likes to do something as well as talking about it. I was a community worker in the “real” world since 1980, setting up projects, making a difference, empowering people. In the mental health world I can’t be any different. So what form of action can I take, to challenge an abusive system that has targeted every one of my close family members, through 3 generations? I can’t just lie down and let them walk all over me. It’s not going to happen as long as I have breath in my body.

    But I’m also a mother and grandmother, have responsibilities to my offspring, and that is something I have to consider and factor in, when planning a course of action. I am mindful of those I love. At the same time I must act and do what I can to influence change, speak out about human rights abuse and expect/demand justice. Here is the tension. And there will always be tension in taking back the power.

    Those in power won’t give it up without a fight. They will resist just as we who are psychiatric survivors are resistant to the labels and the drugging, to lifelong naming, shaming and blaming. Unbelief is my shield. I will not accept their religion or belief system. No matter if they force me to accept their drugs, for a while. Inside I will always reject the mantra of mental illness.

    The fight doesn’t have to physical, is how I see it. We can resist in our minds and in our speaking out, in our writing and in the way we live. We can stand in solidarity with others who are resisting. (peer support and advocacy) It means we’re going to be under attack. That is the reality. Shifts in powers and paradigms are not achieved in calm waters and by not rocking the boat. Although some might choose a more peaceful form of resistance. That’s their choice. Each to their own.

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    • Chrys, that’s why I gave the example of what one community is doing in Florida. I want people to be inspired to take back their own communities. It’s all about empowerment and no one needs to ask permission to start organizing for social change.

      As for preaching to the converted, perhaps I am. But I’ve already gotten responses from people who are not part of our movement, have no idea about medical models, recovery models, etc. and they get it and like the idea of looking through a trauma-informed lens. So that gives me hope.

      I am a single mother of an eight year old son, so I think I understand what you’re saying. There is a role for everyone to play. Some people have more time than money, some people would rather give money than time, some people have neither, but regardless, everyone has something they can do to advance causes they believe in.

      I’m definitely not thinking that these changes I’m proposing would be easy or painless. But if enough people see that simplistic “medical” solutions to complex and frightening social problems are unacceptable, and demand real answers, I hope things will change.

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      • Leah thanks for responding (it’s Chrys with a “y” by the way)

        For me it’s more than empowerment, it’s taking back the power. Empowerment was OK in normal, everyday settings where people are civilised, where human rights exist and are recognised, where reasonable behaviour is expected and guarded.

        Psychiatry is a different ball game and kettle of fish. Normal rules don’t apply. I can testify to this after supporting 3 sons in and out of psychiatric settings where they were forcibly injected with neuroleptic drugs, just as I, my mother and my two sisters were.

        I have to say this and hope you will take it in the spirit in which it’s given. When you have had 3 sons survive the psychiatric system then please do come back and tell me what it feels like. Then I will know that you have some understanding of what it’s like to be in my shoes.

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        • Chrys, Well, I am so sorry for misspelling your name what horrors your family has gone through.

          Yet I don’t feel it’s right to get into a one-upmanship of who has been more injured by psychiatry. I don’t ever assume to know what it feels like to walk in your shoes and also ask for the same respect.

          Perhaps you don’t know my story – my parents are both dead because of it. Glad your sons survived. Wishing you and your family well.

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          • Leah apology accepted, thanks for getting it right this time.

            Yes I have watched your video. Perhaps you don’t know my story? Both my parents also died before their time because of psychiatry. My mother was on a depixol depot for over 25yrs of her life. My father would not got to a doctor the rest of his life because of what was done to my mother, in the name of psychiatry, the many forced ECT treatments against her will in the 50’s and 60’s. It broke his heart to have her go through this. It broke our family up. I have done my best since then to keep our family together. My two younger sisters also had to go in and through the psychiatric system because of our mother’s label of schizophrenia.

            But let’s not try any one-upmanship Leah, I agree, it’s not good form. Rather let’s be thankful that we have survived to tell the tale when others haven’t and are still dying needlessly because of being forcibly injected with psychiatric drugs, their lives shortened by the side effects and chronicity.

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    • Well, the psychiatry as a whole can be seen as inherently sexist – not only in being against woman but rather in selectively pathologising certain aspects of gender related behaviours: more women are BPD, more boys have ADHD and so on. Family violence, in which women are more likely to be victims is tightly linked to the “mental illness” in the victim. A “gentleman’s way” (that’s an awesome way to put it) to blame the victim and let the perpetrator walk free.

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  10. Leah-Thank you for a truly excellent perspective and support for trauma-healing approaches. It’s one thing to support healing from trauma, and another to point at specific programs or instances that show potential, a way forward outside of the pills-oriented, diagnosis-dependent status quo. I’m glad you’ve pointed out just how much Rep. Murphy’s bill looks at “mental illness” rather than the trauma and life experiences that contribute to what we might call mental illness in the first place.

    I wanted to add that Rep. Murphy’s bill does not just simply endorse IOC as the one way to solve our mental or emotional health issues. In fact, it does much worse when it cuts PAIMI advocacy funding by about 95% I believe, and also severely limits the ability for those abused in hospitals and by other mental health providers. In short, it’s not simply a case of IOC bad, it’s a matter of silencing dissent and removing accountability/creating impunity. This to me stands out as a far more disturbing sign of where Rep. Murphy’s pro-force, pro-pharama, don’t-question-me agenda lies.

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    • You are so right. I have sat on a PAIMI council and the rights and privacy protections that would be eliminated by HR3717 are truly scary. There are so many more points I want to go into, like how a trauma approach honors rights as central. It’s all so interconnected.

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  11. We live in a world of outrageous pain. This generation is the first to be digitally intimate every moment of every day with outrageous pain. One response to global outrageous pain is to close down. Close the heart. Don’t feel. Don’t think. Numb out. Any surprise that 1 in 4 have an encounter with the psychiatric system?

    The only response to a world of outrageous pain is outrageous love. We need to become outrageous lovers. What does that mean? It means to see with Love’s eyes, and to let Love see through your eyes. To be enlightened means to move from your perspective to Love’s perspective.
    Bill Clinton said that only a shift in consciousness will allow us to take the necessary steps to heal our future. The mystical and political are coming together because that is the invitation and demand of this evolutionary moment.
    Marc Gafni said that the shift in consciousness that we are invited to is no less then the awakening of the outrageous lover that lives in us. The outrageous lover shatters her mistaken identity as a skin-encapsulated ego, loving only what serves her superficial survival and prosperity. The outrageous lover expands beyond the contractions of ego, into larger and larger fields of felt caring and concern. The purpose and trajectory of her life is the evolution of love.
    Mysticism is a technology of daily practices and injunctions that result in the evolution of consciousness. An altered state of consciousness can be practiced and sustained as an altered stage of consciousness. Every generation is responsible for its own evolution of consciousness. This generation has the potential to transcend to the kosmocentric stage of consciousness. Every village must support this generation’s evolution. It is our covenant with them. Nothing less will do.

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      • RSSN,

        I, too, am on a spiritual journey, one that is called life. And I seem to be trapped in a world controlled by those only cognizant of the left brain realities, and which denies the mysteries of the right. Being one who has college degrees in both the sciences and arts, I developed both sides of my brain, thus know both sides have value and insight into enlightenment. I hope more can see the light, and understand it is about unconditional love of humanity, or true grace, that will lead us towards a better world (not just commercialism and the bottom line).

        And I agree, it will take not just a village, but all the villages, to save our children. Thank you, Leah and others, for this thought provocing and informative post.

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  12. The problem is: people are traumatising other people without even being aware of it. Grownups are traumatising children in particular and think they are doing it for their own good, just like psychiatrists who use coercion. My daughter was traumatised by her teachers and turned into an elective mute; my niece was traumatised by her well-meaning, bossy mother who didn’t allow her a say and organised everything in her life without inquiring what her daughter wanted. When she became a teenager she started smoking cannabis, just to spite her mother, and became psychotic. She was diagnosed mentally ill. Her mother was shocked but the label suited her nicely. It cleared her of blame. She hasn’t got an inkling that she might be to blame at least a little bit. To make things worse, she sided with the psychiatrists and my bright, clever niece has been forcibly drugged now for 10 years. My heart bleeds.

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    • Alix, I am so sorry to hear of your family’s tragedy. If I believed the concept of “anosognosia” had any scientific validity, I would turn the argument of Sally Satel, et al on its head and argue that our country has the biggest case of anosognosia of all. We don’t even realize that WE have a problem with epidemics of violence and suicide. Violence is ALL of our problem – not just the so called “violent crazies” out there.

      If America were a person, it would have been “involuntarily committed” a long time ago.

      We have to find a way to speak about these issues without demonizing the families. I know there are a lot of control freaks that are happy to see their kids heavily medicated and compliant, but there are just as many who want their family members to truly live a good life. And are devastated that their kids are just sitting around all day, drugged to the gills and living in poverty, on disability, watching TV all day. Know what I mean?

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      • I want to clarify, Leah, that I loved your article and the following is in no way a critique of you or your approach. I always love what you write and appreciate your courage and creativity in working to end this misguided path we’re on.

        But your last comment made me think about something that has always bothered me. It is interesting how the idea of trauma causing mental injury seems to be resisted because of the idea that families are being demonized somehow. I don’t see it that way. I know I have not been perfect in raising my kids, and I welcome their feedback about how I might have done a better job, even if it may be painful for me to hear it. I had to go through quite a difficult time with my middle son, who went off the rails on drugs for a while and struggled with anxiety and suicidal depression. And of course, I felt responsible – because in part, I AM responsible! And I spent quite some time making myself available to him so he could let me know the many things that had been going on in his mind that I was not aware of at the time. I know this was healing for him, as it was for me. Part of being a parent is recognizing that our choices affect our children, and being willing to help ameliorate the consequences of our errors, even if those consequences were unintended.

        I am certainly not interested in going back to parent-blaming as a means of absolving society as a whole, either. I don’t want parents to feel that how their kids turn out is 100% within their control, because it clearly is not. In my case, elementary school was a daily compound trauma from day 1, and shaped a lot of how I deal with the world and who I became, and my mom and dad had no real control over that aspect of my life (homeschooling wasn’t a thing back then, and there were no alternative schools I could have attended). So it isn’t about BLAMING parents. It is about recognizing that the source of many of our bad feelings and unproductive behavior lies in how we adapted to our early life experiences. I don’t believe we should deny this just to help parents (or our school teachers or our psychologists) feel better. It’s become one of the main justifications for utilizing the medical model – it absolves parents of blame. Heck, it absolves EVERYONE of blame, including the kid! It’s not the parents’ fault, not the teachers’ fault, not our social system’s fault, not the kid’s fault – it’s your nasty brain that is not cooperating.

        But that is just plain not true! Sometimes mental health problems ARE caused by insensitive or thoughtless or downright abusive parenting. Sometimes they are caused or exacerbated by poor teachers or an overly rigid educational environment. Sometimes bullies or sexually abusive uncles or mean older sisters or domestically violent parents are a big part of it. Sometimes placement in foster care causes more harm than the abuse it was meant to prevent.

        I think we have to stop protecting the powerful and acknowledge that parental behavior, among many other things done by the adults in a child’s world, IS a causal factor in mental illness. That way, we can actually DO something about it, instead of pretending that we can manipulate brain chemicals and make everyone feel OK and act OK no matter how stupid, dangerous, or neglectful the environment may be.

        I know, I know – now I am preaching to the choir! But I had to say that. I really have a hard time with the idea that letting parents know that their behavior impacts their kids’ mental health is somehow the same as demonizing them. It isn’t. It’s just being honest and giving them a shot at fixing those things that might be in their control to fix.

        —- Steve

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        • I totally agree, Steve, people’s and societies’ problems are a mix of many concerns, not merely “chemical imbalances” in people’s brains (unless it was drugs that actually caused the issues). But the psychiatric industry’s goal in recent decades has been to deny all real life problems and ADRs, as “chemical imbalances” proving “life long incurable mental illnesses,” because this is what is easy and profitable for them.

          A desire to not deal with depressing problems of others all day long was why I chose not to go into psychiatry, despite my fascination with it in college. What a shame it ended up being only those not so insightful, who went into the field, who have now made a deplorable mockery of the field.

          And I agree, it is not about demonizing parents. It’s about pointing out the bigger societal problems that cause familial stresses, and lack of knowledge. For example, wars destroy people and families. Disrespecting the profession of properly raising children destroys families. It is decades of societal war and greed, and corporate America, that is the true evil. And how sad for me it is to realize this, since I love the country I grew up in. And I want the “American dream” back, corporate fascism is not American.

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        • And it is not that the parents are unable to comprehend that either. If you include people in the dialogue instead of talking at them they are sometimes extremely open to changing their mind and modifying their approaches. And sometimes the person who was supposed to teach them something learns something in return.
          That being said, one has to remember that there are some people who aren’t necessarily the nice empathic creatures who love their kids. It’s likely a small minority but such people exist…

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  13. I healed a lot of trauma from my life experience–from early childhood family dynamics to medication brain trauma to psychotherapy trauma to professional marginalization trauma to stigma and discrimination trauma to professional advocacy trauma. In early childhood, powerfully dysfunctional family dynamics were cleverly hidden, since my parents were pillars of the community.

    I have forgiven them over and over for having done everything in their power to control me, primarily by demeaning and humiliating me in front of others, for starters. While I have compassion that they both came from their own trauma, they were neither forgiving nor self-responsible. I had to learn forgiveness, self-responsibility, and also how to have healthy boundaries, from excellent teachers and guides, later in life.

    But before then, it all led to diagnoses and medication, which I accepted for 20 years. During that time, I worked, went to school, and began a partnership which is now in its 29th year. No trauma during that time, other than when I went to visit my family. By then, I was so accustomed to their ways (which I had not yet identified as traumatic, that came much later, when I WOKE UP), that I simply operated in my usual anxiety and denial, and kept taking my meds.

    Then I went to grad school to study integral counseling psychology, primarily to learn more about the DSM and ‘mental illness,’ since I had been living with it for a while by then. I experienced tremendous trauma there, from a very spiritually miserly professor (this was a psycho-spiritual integral counseling program, and he taught “Buddhist Principles of Counseling Psychology”), who told me I didn’t belong there, after I had revealed all of myself in a paper, which was exactly our assignment–to apply our issues to psychodynamic theory.

    I’ve always been an excellent student, and I did what he had requested from us all, and he whacked me hard for it. He even went to my advisor, for whom I put on a very humble song and dance because I wanted to stay in the program. I got him back in my evaluation (some of my classmates backed me up), but the damage to my psyche was done, as I felt very betrayed, unsafe, and I was already feeling extremely vulnerable as a student. His shaming voice raged in my mental ears for throughout my remaining years in graduate school.

    I persevered and completed my MA, as well as 1000 hours of clinical training. Upon graduating, I felt miserable about myself, regardless of my success as a student and intern, and I wound up applying for disability because I had become so riddled with anxiety, and my negative voices were in full force. As a result, I became dysfunctional and disabled for the first time in my life, after having functioned well, both, socially and professionally, for about 17 years on medication.

    I eventually forgave this professor for igniting my decade long dark night of the soul, because, after all, it was because of this dark night, that eventually I found my light and full integration, and I learned all sorts of fascinating and mystical things, that I’ve since assimilated into my being and awareness, thanks to this long and twisted journey of healing.

    Then came the mental health system, cruelly demeaning therapists, abusive psychiatrists, and hopelessly indoctrinated social service providers and vocational rehabilitation counselors, and finally, corrupt advocates–all of it, extremely traumatic, via betrayal and deceit.

    When finally I came off 20 years of multiple medications, due to horribly debilitating side effects from what had become 9 meds, I discovered that my brain was totally messed up, and it took years to heal this.

    I healed it all through compassion, forgiveness, natural herbal remedies, Qi Gong, vibration and energy medicine, and a lot of faith. Also, on a whim, to help me heal anxiety, I took a singing class which miraculously led to an acting career, which did wonders for my ability to ground and be in present time. Music and the expressive arts, especially geared toward performing for an audience (scary, indeed!) is of tremendous healing value, imo. Really boosts confidence, and heals internalized invalidating voices.

    Ultimately, I feel that what healed the adverse effects from all this trauma was when I learned to perceive it all from a non-victim perspective–one of full life ownership–which is what I now teach in my healing and teaching practice. This informed my path, my spirit, me sense of Self, and my life purpose.

    I strongly believe that those of us who have experienced profound and chronic trauma are healers. We have true and authentic empathy. Once we heal the resentment which we carry in our hearts from such injurious betrayals, we can then find clarity and meaning in our lives. At least, this has been my experience, and I’ve witnessed this in others–my partner, for one.

    I think we are a violent nation because it was founded on duality–landowners vs. slaves, rich vs. poor, Europeans vs. Native Americans, and the list goes on and on. Generations of oppression, marginalization, abuse, and slaughter-both physically and emotionally–will, indeed, make a nation enraged with violence, and for sure, we’ve been carrying this forward. At what point do we say “Enough!” ??

    Betrayal leads to resentment leads to rage leads to violence. When we learn to forgive, release resentment, own our life experiences, and heal our hearts, perhaps this seemingly endless cycle will end, and then we can move on to creating a more peaceable world–one forgiving soul at a time.

    At least, that’s how I see it, fwiw.

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    • Alex, your story is heartbreaking and inspiring in equal measure. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      How many of us recovered our lives after the hopeless road of perpetual patienthood by accident, by a stroke of luck, by finding a random book on a library bookshelf? It is my dream that one day, no one need stumble on to the truth by pure random chance. We will emerge from the underground and be heard.

      Your post makes me think that America could benefit from having a Truth and Reconciliation Commission of our own to attempt to heal the ugliness that this country was founded on, and continues to perpetuate in different forms.

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      • Thank you for your beautiful and heartfelt response, Leah. I’ll tell you that now that I have reconciled all of this and have discovered meaning from it, I can truly feel grateful for all that I’ve experienced, and to where it has led me.

        After 14 years, I continue to live on SSDI, because every time I was in the process of transitioning, by working in the system (which was, after all, my field of study and training) or by producing a film for professional advocacy, I was literally sabotaged by these government contracted agencies. So ironic.

        In one of those instances, I ended up in legal mediation for discrimination, which was successful for me, but it was not enough to carry me too far in San Francisco. I was told that I could go further with this, but that they’d make my life hell. (Some world we live in, eh?).

        So after healing from what this had all caused me to feel, I got myself together and moved my practice from SF to a small rural town in Northern CA, where my partner and I now live in true bliss and abundance. I went from the heart of a frigid and heartless urban center to a lush Redwood forest, which neither of us had ever imagined would be a reality for us. So I’m a country healer and teacher now, and free as a bird. I run my practice as a donations-based community service, and most of my students/clients are rather limited, so it’s all very humble, which keeps things nice and simple, and which I have thankfully discovered is true freedom.

        I learned that freedom and abundance is not a matter of financial privilege or position in society, but more so, a matter of the being authentic in one’s heart and spirit. The universe responds quite well to truth and integrity.

        I teach conscious manifestation to a group of healers and teachers now, because I learned that energy is ever-present and eternal, by nature, and we really and truly are limitless beings. Indeed, we have been taught such the opposite in life, but I believe this is changing now, as these teachings are becoming more public and prevalent. It’s what we need to know in order to transform ourselves, as well as to shift our reality into something that produces joy in life, as opposed to grief and heartbreak.

        I would never had known this were it not for the many hard knocks which guided me along this path, so I am filled with gratitude each and every day now. Well, on occasion I may slip out of that state of being–after all, I am human–but I work on it daily, for sure. For me, and for my partner, it’s the most important thing imaginable to us, and it extends into each and every area of my life, and we feel our light and love growing more every day.

        I don’t really believe that anything is random, but the result of taking our emotional journey. Our feelings guide us to the next step, that’s how we’re set up, naturally. We’ve all done this at least unconsciously most of our lives, but when we awaken to our spirit guidance, the sky is the limit, and we can relax and create with ease, joyously. That’s the ticket!

        I LOVE your idea re TRC! I’d encourage you to run with that.

        A friend of mine sent me a video just today that feels perfect to share here. It’s only 3 minutes, and I believe it says it all.

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        • Alex, wow. Thanks for telling me more. Your story blows me away, and your life today sounds incredible. In many ways, I am envious, but in a happy way, if that makes sense.

          And who knew that a Thai insurance video could make me weep? Thanks for sharing that.

          When you have a moment, would you be so kind as to contact me via the contact form?

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        • Alix-Thank you so much for this…I live in a small town in NoCal and wish I knew you, as I am going thru much of what you have described here. I am in severe withdrawal from 10 years of Klonocide (Klonopin) and it’s 1 am and BenzoBuddies doesn’t get this deep.

          Thank you for your responses here, thank you, Leah for this article, and thank you thank you to Mad in America.

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  14. I must be one of those hysterical mom’s referred to in other post’s on this site. I would ask you to educate me, but trust me, I have had personal dealings with the mental health field from the age of 17 with major depression from the “trama” of childhood and faulty DNA. Older and wiser, on psychotropics and off, I have reverted to a formidable state of stability after 12 step “therapy” and SSRI’s et al. May I also mention that my psych nursing clinicals were done at the VA before deinstitutionalization came about. I’ve seen both sides. My 13 yr old son with Asperger’s, who has violent tendency’s, led me to read Peter Lanza’s (dare I mention this name) account of his son’s fate and “wishing he had never been born.” Tell me, when you speak of civil rights, did Adam’s mother also have no rights? Good luck with this hands-off approach. The field of psychiatry is fraught with misguided, ambiguities but there must be a middle ground somewhere. Tell me where I turn when my son comes at me weilding the end of a broom handle, or worse yet, the end of a knife. Riddle me this fellow Mad in America compadre’s. Objecting to Tim Murphy’s law person because one should never be mandated to go to OUTPATIENT treatment? Really?

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    • The purpose of the law appears to be to broaden the already ambiguous standards for enforced treatment. This raises two issues: one, the reason for the current regulations requiring an imminent threat to self or others is because back in the 60s, doctors were locking people up left and right for no genuine reason, and there was no kind of standard. It is extremely dangerous to entrust this kind of decision to any professional without checks and balances, because, as the saying goes, “power corrupts,” and even if most of the profession uses these powers appropriately (which history suggests will not be the case), there will always be those who consciously or unconsciously use this power to oppress those who are vulnerable.

      Second, it is not necessary to allow for civil rights of parents or adults to be violated in order to oppose this kind of enforced treatment. I very much doubt that anyone here would object to someone being taken into custody for threatening a person’s life. But detaining someone to protect someone else’s rights and safety does not translate into enforcing a “treatment” of questionable effectiveness for “diseases” of questionable validity.

      As you yourself can testify, “treatment” does not always help as it is supposed to, and can make things significantly worse in some cases. Once we take away a person’s right to decide for him/herself what is helpful, it again puts all the power in the hands of the professionals, who usually don’t know the person well enough to understand what is going to help, and are frequently so emotionally invested in being “right” about their own “treatments” that they don’t even recognize simple, common side effects from the medications they prescribe, and continue people on cocktails of 5 or more drugs when none of them have been effective in resolving the initial problem.

      Finally, mandating a person to go to outpatient treatment is not possible without the threat of being taken and locked in an inpatient ward. That is the reality of AOT – the “Assistance” is the threat of incarceration in a psych ward and enforced treatment against your will. Especially when you consider that most of the time, enforced drug treatment is not particularly effective, and even more, the increasing evidence that long-term use of psychotropic drugs can actually make it less likely that a person will recover, the idea that enforcing treatment will somehow decrease violence is a pipe dream. In fact, the vast majority of those going on these shooting sprees, most likely including Adam Lanza, have been receiving psychiatric treatment or are in withdrawal from psychiatric treatment at the time of the event. There is good evidence that SSRIs, in particular, can create or exacerbate violent tendencies in a small but significant proportion of those receiving them. Prozac was initially banned in Germany for just this reason. Not saying that all the killings were caused by psych drugs, but there are such a high number where psych drugs were involved that we can at a minimum say that forcing people to take them does NOT prevent or reduce violence in any way.

      The Murphy bill is misguided and will not create the effect it supposedly intends. And it will take money away from other initiatives that are much more promising. It is an emotional overreaction to a complex issue that no one in power cares to take the time to analyze. If it is passed, it will result in more and more civil rights violations over time. It is not something you want to support.

      I’m sorry you’re having a tough time with your 13 year old. It sounds VERY frustrating and downright scary. No one is suggesting that you don’t need or deserve support with helping him find a way to survive safely. It’s just that this bill won’t really help him or you, and may make it harder to get the kind of services that he might really benefit from.

      —- Steve

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    • litmurf,

      Given that the drugs you seem to be advocating are known to make all the conditions for which they are prescribed much worse in the long run per real experts with no conflicts of interest, I find it odd that you would think it helpful to force them on anyone, least of all your precious son. It appears that those on these drugs especially by force are all the more likely to be violent or be subjected to violence due to their dangerous effects.

      If your son is really being physically threatening, perhaps the police should be called since he is committing a crime of violence. But, that doesn’t mean that you should follow E. Fuller Torrey’s advice and turn over the furniture to make him appear violent when he isn’t to subject him to ill conceived psychiatric “treatment.”

      Though I feel bad for Adam Lanza’s mother, I think she was grossly irresponsible to allow Adam access to guns as his problems became more clear and to increasingly collude with his growing isolation per school officials who tried to help him in various ways per web articles and news releases.

      Finally, those advocating for Tim Murphy’s law like NAMI and other groups have much Big Pharma backing as usual, which makes this agenda highly dubious and suspicious as to its true motives indeed.

      As is true of most involved, either they are deceived or complicit.

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    • Dear litmurf, I am thankful to you for reading my blog post, sharing your personal story with us, and for engaging with Mad in America readers. I hear your love and your fear and your concern, and I know you would do anything to protect and help your child.

      I myself have an 8 year old son and I want nothing but the best for him. I think if we took the time to talk, mother to mother, beyond all the media and political hype, we would see that we want the same things for our children. Happiness, safety, health, and success in life. My heart breaks, as I am sure yours does, every time I hear of a new tragedy in our country. But the reality is that forcing unwanted treatments on people won’t prevent another tragedy like Sandy Hook. It will only cost the taxpayers a lot of money and won’t lead to the outcomes that everyone wants: safe, healthy, and empowered families and communities.

      Please hear me that NO one is saying that struggling families shouldn’t have access to a variety of services and supports in their communities. What we need are things like affordable housing, educational supports, family supports for parents to learn how they can help de-escalate distress in their children, among other things.

      Just because quality voluntary resources for people don’t exist due to lack of political will to create them, doesn’t justify a Draconian solution like expanding IOC/AOT.

      Sadly, this bill won’t fix our broken systems – it is just a bandaid. Believe me, I wish there was a quick fix that would suddenly make all the violence and suicide in our country go away. But there is not. It’s going to take the hard work of all of us rolling up our sleeves to reduce the bloodshed. We can’t just hand it over to the mental health system and expect that everything will be OK. We have to take our power back! That’s why I wrote this essay: trying to point to a new and hopeful way of approaching the most serious social problems in our nation.

      Instead of fighting one another over HR3717, all families should be uniting to demand and create access to real, trauma-informed, voluntary, on-the-ground supports in their communities.

      If you tell me what city you live in, I could investigate to see if I can find some additional resources for you and your son?

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    • litmurf , what is your answer then? What should be done with your son? Do you think that he should get locked up in an abusive institution or be forced to take drugs which do no more than make him a zombie? Because that is essentially the “solutions” that the Murphy’s law is proposing.

      You see, nobody here is happy with the current system which at best leaves people to deal with their issues on their own, at worst subjects them to all kinds of violence and abuse.
      What makes you think that the outpatient treatment would help you and/or your son? The drugs they give can’t fix anything that could possibly wrong with him, they can at the very best sedate him into the state of total oblivion. In the worst case they can cause him to become even more violent and unstable. As for now it is not known if Adam Lanza was on the drugs shortly before on during the shooting since the files were sealed. However, many other shooters were on psych drugs and it did not stop them. There is some evidence that suggests they may have made them do it.

      Here we are trying to have a constructive discussion about how best to address the need of people who live with mental illness diagnosis. Do you have any idea what your son wants? Why is he violent to you? Have you ever tried alternative approaches to dealing with him? Do you know what he likes, what fascinates him, what makes him happy? Do you think you could find out how to help him to develop his interests, to direct his energy to something positive?

      There may not be a good answer for each and every person out there, I just need to clarify that but „Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one”. The coercive system won’t be able to protect anyone any better than the current system does. In fact it may exacerbate the problem. I’ve read reports saying that a short time before the shooting Adam Lanza realised his mother wanted to commit him to an institution. A fear of being locked up like an angry animal can make people violent.

      No one here knows the specific problems you have with your son or the treatment he has gone through so far but we ourselves are a collective evidence that the system isn’t working. It ends up traumatising people and not helping them. We don’t want more of the same, we want an alternative.

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  15. Hi Leah;

    “We shun serious discussions of gun control, and instead scapegoat people with mental health issues for the complex issue of violence in our society. But my intention is not to write about gun control. Even if by some miracle we were enlightened enough to take all guns away from people tomorrow, ”

    I’d be happy to have a serious discussion of gun control with you, or anyone else in the mental health community/field.

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  16. I can’t imagine a single mother alone without at least a loving father to help by spending lots of quality time with his son within a situation that litmurf finds herself. She and her son need big time help daily .And how many others find themselves in this difficult dilemma.
    Maybe Alex has some ideas.

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    • Fred, each individual has their own path, as you know. Hard to respond to situations like this online, but for now, I’d suggest watching the video I just posted in my response to Leah, above. I think it’s inspired, and contains profound truth. At least, it’s a start. When all else fails, I send a lot of love through the collective. After all, we are one, and those vibes are, indeed felt powerfully, if we allow ourselves to feel them.

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      • Alex
        The video you posted is as heart warming as Leah’s is heart breaking, both fundamentally enlightening.
        In the last two years studying some Kabbala taught by Rav Michael Laitman Phd. online I learned that the real interpretation and meaning of the golden rule is Mutually Guaranteed Survival. He means Universally.
        He also says if it is not mutual within a group a person could become depleted or destitute. It has happened to me in the past. Until my mother told me “Fred this is the last time we are gona buy you silverware, dishes etc. Learn to hold on to a dollar. ” We can only do the best we can. Thank you

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        • “…if it is not mutual within a group a person could become depleted or destitute.”

          Boy howdy, ain’t that the truth! I’ve also had to address this within myself, as you describe. Discernment is something I’ve had to practice consciously.

          I also studied Kabbalah online, and also took a class in person just before I left SF, with Kabbalah Center. I learned a lot from them and really appreciate those teachings. I find them so relevant to the world situation today, in terms of shifting our internal programming. Great stuff!

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  17. The organization Generation Rescue is a for real resource regardless what the bogus pharma AMA APA quack watch says anyone with children with any kind of autism diagnosis should definitely check and study whats there and believe it because its real.

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  18. Trauma, violence, suffering . . . sounds like Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq or Ukraine now. What these places all have in common is the presence or recent presence of the USA which has greatly increased the levels of violence, suffering and trauma! So it should come as no surprise that when the Congress of the USA gets in proximity of mental health care the levels of coercion and force will be elevated. Today two old ranchers in Nevada with 48 grandchildren, a man and his wife, have snipers surrounding them over some land dispute that has been going on for 20 years. This is the way the USA behaves domestically and in foreign affairs–like a big bully. Living in the USA one is constantly subjected to a lack of respect. Just like when Uncle Joe Stalin was shaping up the Soviet Union in the 1930’s. All you need are some not very stupid tough guys with guns. With a scattering of psychopaths for managers.

    So in my opinion about half the mental health problem in the nation stems from a gov leading the nation to ruin. Almost the other half comes from a very bad eating regimen. Subtract these two groups and the remainder is not so large. Less than one percent I would think. It’s hard for parents to do a good job on part time employment with little money plus schools now that arrest primary school kids for failure to follow minor rules. And all the other dumb things that gov finds to harass people. Clearly this contributes to a mood of violence. Plus the vets coming home in terrible shape and receiving the minimal help now that they have served their purpose. All this added together is the recipe for bad homes. Hence, trauma. Drugs and alcohol. And now Murphy?

    And now Murphy. Where did he get all this wisdom?

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  19. AgniYoga you nailed it. It’s a global cycle of trauma and violence leading to more trauma and violence, that has no end. Our vets have been told to perpetrate violence against others, and they do. 500,000 Iraqi children die. Contrary to what Madeline Albright said all those years ago, it was not “worth it.”

    We wonder why many of these fine young women and women, many of whom joined the military not out of some conviction, but to escape violence and trauma in their OWN communities, come home and kill themselves, or kill their families or strangers. Or become hopelessly addicted to opiates (given by their docs) or illegal drugs and booze.

    We need to be smarter than Murphy, Torrey, et al and demand that they STOP calling this a medical issue. This is not a medical issue and doctor does NOT know best. The PEOPLE know best. Social justice now!

    FYI, Murphy is getting his education from the wrong people. Call me Polyanna or call me naive, but for all his nasty behavior at the hearing, I don’t even believe that HE is evil. Just very, very misguided. He thinks he is doing something good for America.

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    • “We need to be smarter than Murphy, Torrey, et al and demand that they STOP calling this a medical issue. This is not a medical issue and doctor does NOT know best. The PEOPLE know best. Social justice now!”

      Yes! Exactly. Thank you.

      As for the two losers you mention, it’s not a question of evil people but people doing evil things. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t bullying self-obsessed power trippers who pose a real danger to the vulnerable populations they are exploiting to advance their careers.

      So it doesn’t really matter what they think, the point is to expose their contradictions and hypocrisy and make it so they don’t have the power or influence to put their agenda into effect. One thing about that — it’s always useful to find out who people answer to (as Dylan said, gotta serve somebody ) and see if you can get their ear. Torrey is primarily responsive to other professionals, no doubt, but check Wikipedia and you see there’s lots of criticism of him even by NIMH. Without addressing the specific criticism, just emphasizing to the public, etc. that Torrey is not accepted universally by the psychiatric field, and that maybe Murphy is being sold a bill of goods., could be productive. Tho I personally doubt that he is simply “misguided.”

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      • Dear Oldhead
        I’ve noticed that some Psychiatric Experts could themselves be described as mentally unwell. They have difficulty telling the difference between their own imaginations and what’s real.

        In the UK most violence and homicide is carried out by normal people that are drunk. This points to a more general problem not to a problem with people with a ‘mental health’ diagnosis.

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    • I know from my family’s ordeal, and research into child abuse cover ups, that there is a major problem of covering up child abuse for the powerful “elite,” worldwide. And it is the “elite,” and psychiatrists working to maintain societal control for that “elite,” who are the problem.

      And think about how much easier and more profitable it is for the psychiatrists to defame, drug, and torture little sexually molested children, or their concerned mommies, than it is to actually deal with reporting child abuse by the wealthy or powerful. Shame on the psychiatric “professionals,” and all others, who are part of the problem, rather than the solution.

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  20. As far as our soldiers coming back committing suicide and killing their own families in such unusually high numbers.
    Just Google Russell BlaylockMD and soldier suicides . Blaylock is a retired Neuro-Surgeon he has much to say that would shed much added light on many facets of the issues discussed here at MIA and this Blog.
    I believe powerful people in the USA do not want healthy people with combat experience back home . They are afraid of them and don’t want expert fighters around analyzing the powerful most wealthy peoples crimes against much of the rest of the population.

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  21. For literature about what can be provided for vets the two books by Dr Jonathan Shay are wonderful: Achilles In Vietnam and Odysseus In America. But you know immediately that someone like Dr. Shay would never, never be seriously consulted and placed in a powerful position. It is clearly not about solving problems or doing good; that’s sissy stuff. It is about getting and getting and holding power. The Vets and most of us are Americans. But the last four or five administrations have been Globalists. For them America per se is not interesting. It is a failing nation and not worth saving. So they sow discord. At home and abroad and in the process make loads of money and gain more power. One nation down at a time. So it turns out that mental health is a political problem. James Hillman came to that conclusion. No point helping people get back into what made them sick to begin with. They need a new nation. I believe one poll found that 26% of the American public considered themselves mentally ill. That is impossible. They were thinking about something else. Feeling dis-empowered. Lacking community. Brain washed by TV and the nightly news. Assailed by ads designed to make them feel of little worth and without dignity. Worn down by their meager pay checks. Failing to look beautiful like the air brushed chicks. Lacking the erotic musculature of the right kind of man . . . If the Devil did not invent consumerism he must be so envious of the guy who did.

    My inspiration is the Grand Boycott. Americans become minimalists. Buy only the necessities. Get clothing at thrift shops. Use cell phones for emergencies. Write letters. Throw the TV away. Read. Refuse to borrow money to buy more junk. Go a bit ascetic. Walk. When a politician comes through avoid him or her. No point voting so avoid that as well. They are all the same. Be like the turtle and draw in your limbs. Avoid Facebook and Twitter. Don’t be seen with a lap top unless really necessary. Be care of the Internet. Meet people in person. If Gov believed in democracy they would not have friends like Saudi Arabia or Bahrain. Presently Russia is the good nation. They actually have a genuine leader. He actually cares about Russia unlike some people we know and their nation. Congress is largely soap opera. Etc.

    By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired. — Franz Kafka That could be our new Amerika.

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  22. Damn this discussion is GOOD. I was feeling like I just wanted to check out when I (again) couldn’t sleep, and you people here, and you, Alex, and you, AgniYogi, have mirrored my own thoughts and beliefs…I am considered a freak because I’ve never chased the dollar, I live simply and I am ridiculed! It’s so nice to know there are more of us out there, truly. Blessings to all of us.

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    • I agree, I feel like I’m living in the wrong world, because I already know money isn’t what makes one happy. It’s family, true friends, helping others, respecting oneself. But it seems the robber barrons want to rid the world of us decent and kind people. What has happened to my country? It’s heartbreaking.

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      • No, they don’t want to rid the world of us. They want and intend to enslave us. They need us to run and take care of everything for them and to fight their wars they create all over the world. They will never get rid of us but they sure as hell will bend us all, each and every one of us, to their will. I’ve often wondered if psychiatry and its toxic drugs aren’t the beginnings of the takeover that they plan. They’ve got politicians wrapped up already. Look what happened to the Occupy Movement. Police were sent in to beat people into submission. I used to dismiss these ideas as silly when I was younger and not as informed as I am now.

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  23. Well, they don’t need too many hungry consumers, just enough to provide the necessary labor and material wealth to keep the elite prospering. The inevitable progression of capitalism is the increasing concentration of wealth into fewer & fewer hands.

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  24. Leah, thank you for this thoughtful and informative post.

    As a suicide attempt survivor (my attempt was 20 yrs ago), I appreciate the need to better understand trauma. I was able to rebuild my life, but had to do it without the assistance of mental health professionals because at the time they were more interested in slapping a diagnosis on me, rather than giving me tools to deal with trauma. I had been raised in a violent home and did not know how to take care of myself. How could I? All I really needed was someone to understand my trauma and show me how to live. Pretty simple.

    After my suicide attempt, I realized I would have to figure it out myself, and I did. It was a long, hard road, but I’m happy to be here.

    Some good news re: suicide prevention: today the American Assoc. of Suicidology granted attempt survivors a division! This a huge victory. Due to the stigma and the taboos, our voices have been silenced for decades. All we want to do is help others. Finally, thanks to hard work from many people, like Cara Anna ( and Dese’Rae Stage ( and many others, our voices can be heard and, hopefully, save lives.

    Thanks again for speaking out about this.

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  25. If this discussion goes on much longer and provides many more useful links, I think one could be forgiven for suggesting that it be the first chapter in a book.
    There is more useful support and info in this series of comments than in a full year of “therapy” that I received from the VA, many years ago. Heck, you could accumulate a series of comments on a series of topics and have it more useful than the DSM5.
    Trauma survivors can really be the best resource for those engaged in starting their own recovery.
    Hugh Massengill

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  26. This was an excellent discussion. Trauma is rarely discussed in a public setting. You are right, if we don’t address the trauma we are not addressing the root causes to the problem of violence in our society. I like that you brought up, “An individual can be “retraumatized by services, supervision, and management policies that ignore or dismiss the role of trauma.” In order to for victims to grow into survivors and heal their trauma needs to be recognized. Too often than not I have seen survivors quit or be fired from jobs, because their work system was not offering services to deal with their trauma. We imprison children rather than deal with their trauma and violence and we try to do the same in the workplace by not dealing with the root issues. Violence will not go away until we pay attention to the effects trauma has not only on an individual, but society as a whole.

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    • I agree. It actually happened to me – I had to give up my job while a person who was responsible for the whole problem got a short speech from our boss and was allowed to stay because he was not the “crazy one”. Needless to say it didn’t help me to recover.
      I can understand though why people find it hard to make such choices (workplaces are not charities) but I think in the end punishing victims and affirming abusers brings every workplace down in the long term.

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