Letter to the Mother of a “Schizophrenic”: We Must Do Better Than Forced Treatment and Laura’s Law


A few months ago I met your son. He said he would be waiting for us in the Berkeley park near where he sleeps outside at night, but at the last minute he called and was in San Francisco. He said he was at “the Mrs. Doubtfire house” with a photograph of his best friend, and that the photo showed numbers and codes predicting Robin Williams’ suicide. He found the house where Williams made one of his films, and was trying to talk to the owner. It was all part of a complex plan, marked mathematically in signs and omens he was collecting.

We drove across the Bay, worried. Were we too late? Would he be arrested and end up in the hospital again, this time for trespassing and harassment, a psychotic man caught bothering someone at a private residence?

When the GPS showed we were getting near the address he gave, I started to see people milling around, a commotion, cars stopped. My first thought was that something had happened. Maybe we weren’t in time, maybe he was already in trouble with the police, arrested at the house he seemed obsessed with?

At Steiner and Broadway we found your son, sitting on the sidewalk — but he wasn’t alone. He wasn’t the only one interested in the Mrs. Doubtfire house. The sidewalk was strewn with flowers, and dozens of other people were also there. What first seemed crazy, now seemed normal: many people, like your son, were drawn to the private residence where a Robin Williams film was made, to commemorate the actor’s suicide with a pilgrimage.

I walked up to your son and greeted him, unsure how this young disheveled man would respond to me. I had been told he was considered “severely mentally ill,” the worst of the worse, so beyond reach in his delusions that clinicians were considering using force to bring him to the hospital for treatment. But as soon as we made eye contact I was surprised. There was a clear feeling of affinity and communication. He explained in rapid speech about the numbers and messages on the photo, Robin Williams’ middle name, and the sidewalk code. It was all part, he said, of an alphanumeric psyche that communicates to him through signs and coincidences.

It was exhilarating and exhausting keeping up with the math calculations, anagrams, and nimble associations that flowed when he spoke. But he also at times talked normally, planned a walk up the street to a coffeehouse, explained what had happened about our meeting. I lost the thread at different points in our discussion, but one thing was clear: your son is brilliant. I was not surprised when he told us he got a perfect score on the SAT. “It was easy,” he explained when I asked. “Anyone can get a perfect score if they take the practice tests.”

We were quickly engrossed in conversation, and when he suddenly wove the author Kurt Vonnegut into the pattern, my eyes widened. Just moments before our meeting I was talking with my colleague, telling my own story of meeting Vonnegut. And now here your son was mentioning the author. I was amazed by the coincidence. As your son’s talk became wilder and more complex, referencing the Earth Consciousness Coordinating Office, SEGA Dreamcast, and numerology, and as he did math equations instantly to prove his obscure points, I sensed an uncanny power and clairvoyance in the air. I was in the presence of someone in a different reality, but a reality with its own validity, its own strange truth. A different spiritual view.

Perhaps I am eager to emphasize your son’s talents because today he finds himself so fallen. I don’t romanticize the suffering that he, or anyone, endures. His unusual thoughts and behavior led to a diagnosis of schizophrenia, and seem to be part of deeper emotional distress he is struggling with. I don’t romanticize because I’ve been through psychosis and altered states myself. I’ve been diagnosed schizophrenic, many years and many life lessons ago, moving on with my life only after I found ways to embrace different realities and still live in this one.

So when we met your son I was completely surprised. The “severely mentally ill man” I was told needed to be forced into treatment was intelligent, creative, sensitive – and also making sense. Like someone distracted by something immensely important, he related to us in bits and pieces as he sat in conversation. Living on the street and pursuing an almost incomprehensible “calorie game” of coincidences on food wrappers isn’t much of a life, perhaps. And maybe it’s not really a choice – at least not a choice that most of us would make, concerned more with getting by than we are with art, spirit and creativity. What surprised me was the connection I had with your son. Because I took the time, and perhaps I also have the background and skill, I was quickly able to begin a friendship.

By taking interest in his wild visions, not dismissing them as delusional, and by telling him about my own mystical states, not acting like an expert to control him, we began to make a bond. I spoke with respect and interest in his world, rather than trying to convince him he “needs help.” What, after all, could be more insulting than telling someone their life’s creative and spiritual obsession is just the sign they need help? That it has no value? By setting aside the professional impulse to control and fix, I quickly discovered, standing on that cold sidewalk and then over hot tea in a cafe, that your son is able to have a conversation, can relate, communicate, even plan his day and discuss his options. Some topics were clearly pained, skipped over for something else, and he was often strangely distracted — but it was after all our first meeting, and I sensed some terrible and unspoken traumas present that were still not ready to be recognized. To me, clearly, he was not “unreachable.”

That we had a connection in just a short time made it very hard for me to understand why you or anyone would want to use force — to use violence — to get him into mental health treatment. A traumatic assault, instant mistrust, betrayal, restraint, then a complex web of threat, coercion, and numbing medications to impose compliance, possibly a revolving door of re-hospitalization, more medications, more threats and force and police… Surely creating a relationship, building trust, and interacting with compassion over time is a much better way to show concern and offer help?

When you think you know what is best for someone, it might seem faster to send a patrol car and force them off the streets and into a locked hospital cell. But would that really be safer? For who? Or would it push someone farther away, undermine the connection needed to find a real way out of crisis?

You’ve become an outspoken legislative advocate of empowering clinicians to intervene drastically in the life of your son and others like him. In pushing for so-called “Laura’s Law” the idea is to pressure, through force, compliance with medication and hospital care. Your son is today held up as a perfect example of why force is needed. I share your desire to help people in need; that’s why I went to meet your son in the first place. And I agree that our broken mental health system needs fixing, including by legislation and new services. I do want your son to get support. I want there to be more resources, more access to services, more connection, more caring, more healing. But I do not see your son, or people like him, as so “unreachable” that they cannot form a relationship with someone genuinely interested. That just wasn’t the man I met that day. I don’t see him as so less than human that his own voice and perspective should be ignored, rather than understood. I don’t see strange beliefs and outsider lifestyle on the street in any way justifying the violence of forced treatment. I don’t see him as any different than any other human being, a human who would be terribly damaged by the violence of force, confinement, and assault, regardless of it being perpetrated in the name of “help.”

That day I met a man possessed by a mysterious artistic and spiritual quest that others around him can’t understand. He is homeless and perhaps very afraid deep down, but he is a person with feelings, vulnerabilities, emotions. Alongside the rapid fire associations that I couldn’t keep up with, he was also capable of connecting. His pilgrimage to Robin William’s Mrs. Doubtfire house wasn’t some lone obsessive symptom, the sign of schizophrenia and a broken brain, but understandable when put in context. His ranting was not a meaningless mutter but a creative and encyclopedic stream of enormous intellect. Yes he seemed to be in touch with some other reality, an altered state that demanded most of his attention. Yes I would love to see him living indoors, less afraid, more cared for and more caring for himself. I’d like to see many homeless people in the Bay Area have the same. But no, this is not a man I would want to force into restraints, injections, and confinement. I would not want anyone to be subjected to such violence — and it is violence, as people who have endured it will tell you. I would not want to destroy my emerging friendship with him with such an attack, because I know it is friendship — long, slow, developing connection and understanding — that can truly heal people who are tumbling in the abyss of madness.

Concerned and wanting to help, wouldn’t it be better for us to find the resources to gently befriend your son, to learn more about him, create trust, and meet him in his life and world? Even if this took patience, skill, and effort? Isn’t this how we want others to approach us if we seem, in their opinion, to be in need of help? Don’t we want our voice respected if we disagree with someone about what is best for us? How can friendship and trust possibly come out of violence?

Again and again I am told the ‘severely mentally ill’ are impaired and incapable, not quite human. I am told they are like dementia patients wandering in the snow, with no capacity and no cure, not to be listened to or related to. I am told they must be controlled by our interventions regardless of their own preferences, regardless of the trauma that forced treatment can inflict, regardless of the simple duty we have to regard others with caring, compassion, and respect, regardless of the guarantees of dignity we afford others in our constitution and legal system. I am told the “high utilizers” and “frequent flyers” burden services because they are different than the rest of us. I am told the human need for patience doesn’t apply to these somehow less-than-human people.

And when I finally do meet the people carrying that terrible, stigmatizing label of schizophrenia, what do I find? I find – a human being. A human who responds to the same listening and curiosity that I, or anyone, responds to. I find a human who is above all terrified, absolutely terrified, by some horrible trauma we may not see or understand. A human being who shows all the signs of flight and mistrust that go along with trauma. A person who may seem completely bizarre but who still responds to kindness and interest – and recoils, as we all would, from the rough handling and cold dismissal so often practiced by mental health professionals. Listening and curiosity might take skill and affinity, to be sure, when someone is in an alternate reality. But that just makes it our responsibility to provide that skill and affinity. Do we really want to add more force and more violence to a traumatized person’s life, just because we were not interested in finding a different way?

Your son may be frightened, may be in a different reality, may spend most of his time very far away from human connection. But his life, like everyone’s, makes sense when you take time to understand it. He deserves hope for change, and he deserves careful, skilled efforts to reach him and to connect – not the quick fix falsely promised by the use of force.

Even under the best of circumstances mothers and sons sometimes have a hard time communicating. Many young people refuse help – just because the hand that offers it is the hand of a parent they are in conflict with. Perhaps the need for independence is stronger than the need to find refuge in the arms of a parent. Perhaps children flee their parents in spite of themselves, because of some complex reality they are seeking to overcome. So maybe the help that is needed is not just for the sick individual but for repairing a broken relationship. I say this because after my own recovery from what was called ‘schizophrenia’ I became a counselor with families. I see again and again — and the colleagues I work with also see again and again — that by rebuilding relationships, not tearing them down with force, healing can occur. A young person whose promising life and career were interrupted by psychosis can regain hope for that possible future.

A simple look at the research literature over the past 50 years shows that recovery from what is diagnosed schizophrenia is well documented and a real possibility – for everyone. Not a guarantee, but a possibility worth striving for. It is only in the past few decades that we forget this basic clinical truth about the prognosis of schizophrenia and psychosis, and instead predict chronic, long term illness for everyone. Such a prediction threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as we lower our expectations, give up hope, and relegate people to a lifetime of being controlled and warehoused in the identity of “severely mentally ill.”

I do believe help is needed, help not just for your son, but help for everyone in the family affected by the strange and overwhelming experience of psychosis. But when parents, who are alone and desperate to change their children, resort to pleas for force and coercion, they risk sacrificing the very connection and bond that can be the pathway towards getting better.

I hear the claim that Yes, we should respect the right to refuse help, but when people are suffering so greatly and everything else has been tried, we have no choice but to infringe on freedom. This is false. We haven’t already tried everything we can. We have not tried everything we can with your son, or with you. There is a huge wellspring of creative possibilities, skill, and resources possible if we just direct our mental health system to try harder and do better for you and your son — and the many people like you. It takes money, vision, and political willpower, but people struggling with mental illness deserve the dignity of true help, not false promises.

We can, and must, do better. We must think outside of the false choice between coercive help or no help. We might start by asking people who have recovered from psychosis – and there are many – what they needed to get better, and give them a leading role in shaping our mental health policies. We might start by respecting people’s decision to avoid treatment, and seek to understand the decision rather than overpower the person making it. When you have been traumatized by those offering help, avoiding treatment might even be a sign of health, not madness.

Maybe some of us, when we are terrified, discover different realities to hide in. And maybe some of us, when we are terrified about people we love, reach for desperate measures – like forced treatment policies and Laura’s Law – to help. I believe that people who are afraid, perhaps such as your son and yourself, need caring, kindness, patience and listening. Trying to force you, or him, to change may only drive us all farther apart.

I believe it is often the most brilliant, sensitive, artistic, and yes sometimes even visionary, telepathic, and prophetic people who get overwhelmed by madness. We need to discover who they are, and meet them as we would ourselves want to be met, rather than giving up hope for human connection.

At the cafe where we talked, the waiter was polite, but kept his eye on your son, seeing only a dirty and homeless schizophrenic, not the human being I was getting to know, not the son you love dearly. When we said goodbye I tried to imagine what it would be like, living rough on the street, facing suspicion or worse from everyone I passed. I imagine it would be lonely, that I might fall asleep at night missing my childhood home, missing my mother.

* * * * *

Thanks to Dina Tyler of the Bay Area Mandala Project for her collaboration on this essay.

AB1421 (“Laura’s Law”) is a forced outpatient treatment scheme currently under consideration in Alameda County CA, despite lack of research showing any effectiveness and despite broad opposition from people who have themselves been patients in mental health care. If you would like to share your opposition of Laura’s Law, please call or email the Board of Supervisors in Alameda County:

Telephone Numbers:

District 1: Supervisor Scott Haggerty:
[email protected] and [email protected]
(510) 272-6691

District 2: Supervisor Richard Valle:
[email protected] and [email protected]
(510) 272-6692

District 3: Supervisor Wilma Chan:
[email protected] and [email protected]
(510) 272-6693

District 4: Supervisor Nate Miley:
[email protected] and [email protected]
(510) 272-6694

District 5: Supervisor Keith Carson:
[email protected] and [email protected]
(510) 272-6695

The Pool of Consumer Champions (POCC) is a grassroots community of over 800 people who have personally used mental health services and outspoken in their opposition to AB1421. Through their united efforts and collective strength of these individual voices, they are active in advocating for recovery-oriented services focused on wellness and peer support. To learn more about the POCC, contact Khatera Aslami: [email protected] or Mary Hogden: [email protected]


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


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  1. Dear Will,

    As a mother, I want to say the most grateful and heartfelt thank you for this article. If my child is ever in that kind of a situation, I pray he can have a connection with someone like you.

    We desperately need people like you to ‘direct our mental health system to try harder and do better for (us) and (our children) ‘.

    I truly believe once more families see and understand the hope you see, they will be jumping on board for a new treatment paradigm. (and it wouldn’t be more expensive then the current one). I think why most families act in the way you describe, is because they too feel hopeless, fearful and terrorized about ‘untreated’ illness, and they truly believe they are doing the best for their children.

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  2. I read this article elsewhere this morning, and I think it is a beautiful and moving essay that goes right to the heart of what is wrong with the psychiatric system. Psychiatry claims to help people, yet before anything else, it tries to reduce them to the status of subhumans, even in their own minds. Shock treatment, drugging people into oblivion and an early death, restraints, solitary confinement — how can anyone do this to another human being? But we psychiatric “patients” are not seen as human beings by those who claim to help us.

    I have struggled for many years to overcome the self-hatred that psychiatrists forced on me as a child. And almost all of the psych survivors I know have had to struggle with this.

    Thank you for this beautiful and true article.

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    • My last stop on the involuntary commitment line was a place called a crisis unit. For some reason, unknown to me, I was sent there from the private hospital, where I had been kept for two weeks. For once, I had my own bedroom, as a result my sleep was not disrupted by snoring roommates. Three of the ancillary staff were pretty non-judge mental, and we had pretty good intellectual conversations. The house manager was a little older than me, and had a pretty good historical take and understood current events, a female staff member brought me a copy of the Jungle, which I never got around to reading-though she was definitely understanding me as a person from our conversation by her choice of the book. I have since read a bit about Upton Sinclair and his campaign for Governor of California as well as his stance on the fair treatment of women. The younger guy who was assigned to monitor me and I got along like champs. It was a bit of a role reversal in that I took him under my wing by talking about my activist experiencing, and by providing a counter narrative to Reagan’s New Day in America-especially the dirty wars in Central America. He later thanked me personal by calling me on the phone out of the blue to thank me for giving him a different perspective. Unfortunately when he called, I was in the midst of a Haldol hangover, and I was not in the proper frame of mind to return the thanks. I was basically in a bit of a holding pattern at the time, watching Miami Vice twice a day and riding my bicycle fifty miles a day and going to Nautilus. I had no job or family I was desperately trying to get back to, and the staff allowed me to run the hill behind the unit to get some exercise. So basically being it was no sweet off my back. Several friends came by to see me while I was there, and when I came out, I was not experiencing the crushing stigma that had beset me a year earlier from having been incarcerated at the two state hospitals, that were far from my home, my family, and friends. In a long round about way, I am concurring with Will here, that it is the relationships with the people around you that I think are the determining factor for your mental well being. If not for the kindness of strangers, I am not sure how things would have turned out. I.e. It was not the magical combination of psychiatric potions that did the trick.
      However, A particularly disturbing thing happened soon after my release. The news paper and television carried news of a double murder at the agency’s transition apartments in the community. The accused, Bill, not his real name, was a fellow resident of mine at the crisis unit. When I first got to the unit he and the fellow “residents” spent much of the day slumped over. I thought I was pretty successful in helping them to become more active and by helping to form a community of staff and residents alike. As far as the five psychiatrists who rotated at the unit, I don’t really ever remember ever giving them an once of deference. One day, I noticed one of them talking to Bill, in a whispered and condescending way. I definitely took a mental note of this. As far as my interaction with Bill, he was genuinely happy for me when I received visitors. I don’t know the story behind the fire bombing, but this does not seem like something Bill would do in the time and place that I knew Him. I assume the authorities just washed their hands of Bill and sent him to the forensic unit, without even as much as considering the role of the negativity of psychiatry in contributing to the tragedy. As for the relationships that “mental,patients” form in these situations, I believe that psychiatrists place no value on them. When I was discharged into the “community”I was hustled out without much of an opportunity to say good bye to anyone. I am sure that the staff member was putting his job at risk for calling me, or as likely, he had finished his sojourn there, and had moved onto his career.

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    • Totally agree, Ted. This article gets right to the heart of what is wrong with the system. As parents, we expect instant results, often aren’t willing to navigate the hard job of trying to understand someone who has become so unusually estranged. As parents, we are tempted to turn the job completely over to psychiatry or to throw up our hands and say we are helplesss. There are no instant results but learning how to communicate and not condemn reaps some wonderful rewards.

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  3. Will,

    thank you for this beautiful piece – its truth and sensitivity moved me deeply, speaking directly to my personal experience of the fears and realities of my psychosis.

    I think we do well to contemplate the relationship between love and control in families who seek forced treatment for their troubled children, not only at the point where psychosis manifests, but also throughout the developmental process of childhood that leads up to it.

    As you so rightly point out, there is a context that needs to be engaged with, realtionships that need to be reworked and/or healed, and a deep understanding and respect…genuine connection….that needs to be established.

    Forced treatment actively mitigates against any of this occurring, and your calls for and efforts to establish humane approaches that seek connection rather than further alienation resonate deeply.

    Thank you again for your work in this sphere.

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  4. Wonderful essay Will and a sad indictment of modern society, in many ways.

    Our Paradox of Modernity that sees an era of unprecedented material wealth, combined with rising rates of physical and mental ill health. An age when we have an economy masquerading as a society, it seems.

    And where to now? From the perspective of history, will this century see R.D Laing’s prophecy come true?

    “If the human race survives, future men will, I suspect, look back on our enlightened epoch as a veritable age of Darkness. They will presumably be able to savor the irony of the situation with more amusement than we can extract from it. The laugh’s on us. They will see that what we call ‘schizophrenia’ was one of the forms in which, often through quite ordinary people, the light began to break through the cracks in our all-too-closed minds.” -R.D. Laing.

    From my own experiences of altered states of reality, which in hindsight have become understood as, Ultimate Reality breaking through natural survival defences. I have the feeling that this century will see a breakthrough, as “developmental” science continues to chart a middle path between psychology & psychiatry, and a “disease” model of human behaviour, continues to fail the causation question:

    “If madness is not what psychiatry says it is, then what is it” -M. Cornwall

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  5. Something I see over and over in parents and relatives who are vocal forced treatment advocates is a blatant disregard of basic human respect for their diagnosed family members. They will go to any length to violate their privacy, publicly humiliate them, or blow their behavior totally out of context if they think it will advance the cause. Ie., they couldn’t care less if they rip both their family member and their relationship to shreds. I can think of a few great examples I could post links to right now, right off the top of my head, but I guess I’ll refrain in the interest of civility. Treating someone like that is unnecessary and it is not love; it is the worst sort of hatred.

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  6. Incredible piece. Thank you so much for it. It is possible to grapple with psychosis. Not to get rid of it, but to get on with it.

    Simple but powerful methods are best. The most powerful thing that will help someone floundering in psychosis is to learn that their thoughts don’t run the show. They are just thoughts. No matter how true, important, numinous, celestial, demonic or compelling, they are not physical objects. Not a raven or a writing desk. They are under your control and cannot harm you if you do not allow them to. What they can and will do is drown you if you don’t learn to swim. This is hard to learn. So is everything worthwhile. He could learn it if given half a chance. He could also be of tremendous use to a sick world if he could help others do the same. A world full of folks dying slowly, like Robin Williams.

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      • Thank you! I really hope it helps. I think our biggest problem is not a lack of treatment methods. I think there are a wealth of effective treatments for mental illness. I think we also have a rich legacy of traditions that gave it both context and value. Before our technology outpaced our good sense. Our problem now is not a lack of answers but a lack of will and faith. Our society firmly believes that psychosis is both evil and valueless. Ipso facto so are those of us who experience it. Will does a great job of addressing that here I think.

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    • Nice piece, Will, thank you. I particularly agree, “What, after all, could be more insulting than telling someone their life’s creative and spiritual obsession is just the sign they need help? That it has no value?” Since, unbeknownst to me at the time but according to my psychiatrist’s medical records, my psychiatrist assumed, prior to my even meeting him, that I was “w/o work, content, and talent” and “irrelevant to reality.”

      But he did eventually look at my art portfolio and claim it to be “work of smart female.” And in as much as this Jewish psychiatrist never did apologize for claiming belief in the Holy Spirit and God to be a delusion, he did oddly later record in his medical records that he thought “voices of God talk through her to other people.” (He was getting all his odd information from a therapist friend of an ex-pastor of mine, according his medical records. He never did explain to me what “voices of God” meant, however.)

      And I do think there is a very large problem with the psychiatric community targeting the highly intelligent, possibly because they are unable to comprehend what intelligent minds contemplate? I only got in the top 99.95% on my math SATs, but the first thing I got after my son got 100% on his state standardize tests was a call from the school social worker. Not congratulating me, but accusing me of pushing my child too hard and keeping him up nights studying. I told the lady my son never had homework, was constantly playing world of warcraft, and I was a mean mother who had her children in bed at 9pm. I’m quite certain it is not in societies best interest for the psychiatrists and social workers to drug all the highly intelligent, creative, and spiritual people. But this does seem to be a goal of theirs.

      Schizoeffective, I agree with you. My psychosis was actually caused by neuroleptic induced anticholinergic intoxication syndrome, (“neuroleptics … may have additive effects when used in combination. Excessive parasympatholytic effects may result in … anticholinergic intoxication syndrome … Central symptoms may include memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, hallucinations, psychosis, delirium, hyperactivity, twitching or jerking movements, stereotypy, and seizures. Please note, this is medical proof that antipsychotics do, in fact, cause the symptoms of schizophrenia.) But I did suffer from a psychosis, nonetheless. And I agree, knowing the “voices” aren’t real is important. Personally, I ignored the psychotomimetic “voices” as best as I could. In my case, the “voices” were rude, insulting, and stupid, so I knew not the listen to them.

      And after a hospitalization where I was snowed (drugged until only the whites of my eyes showed) by a doctor whose now been arrested by the FBI for doing this to lots of patients for profit. I ended up with a drug withdrawal induced super sensitivity psychosis again, where I got “millions of voices,” oddly the idiot psychiatrist who’d snowed me thought this would occur prior to my being let out of the hospital, but it happened a couple days later. But I just told the “voices” that I could not function that way and they were only allowed to speak if all agreed to say the exact same thing at the exact same time. I haven’t heard from them since, unless you consider an inner voice of reason,”voices.” I personally do not, I call it common sense.

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      • Forgive me, in regards to my comment, there one difference between neuroleptic induced anticholinergic intoxication and schizophrenia – inactivity is common according to the schizophrenia definition, and hyperactivity is supposedly common in anticholinergic intoxication. However, the neuroleptics are tranquilizers that make all people very tired. It’s likely just easier for a person suffering from anticholinergic intoxication to maintain their regular busy schedule, despite having to sleep more.

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  7. If my family have tried to force me into “treatment” or allowed the psychiatrists get their abusive hands on me I’d never want to see them or to speak to them again. After the torture I endured from the so-called “doctors” I informed my family that no matter how insane I may become in the future they are not permitted to call these abusers on me lest they want to end any relationship with me going forward. You don’t send your own kid to a concentration camp and you don’t send it to a mental hospital. I’d rather kill myself or become homeless than end up in psychiatric hell.

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    • Ya, the resentments against my family for believing in psychiatry were hard to let go until I got better without it, despite of it and showed them. I believed in it too at first, my serotonin was low and those other lies.

      I remember the people in the hospital on the phones begging for help to get out of that hell hole only to be told by family they needed to stay in the hell hole to get “help”.

      One guy in particular was not doing well with all the random violence going on and just pleading “get me out of here” to his family please please please I can’t stay here please please … NO, you have to stay and get “help”, they believed in psychiatry. Never forget that one it was awful.

      UHS hell hole, you come in with what ever you come in with and leave with PTSD.

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    • B: Broaching this subject with my own mother, family members, and friends has not been very easy. I have not had in depth conversations with each and everyone involved, so I don’t want to generalize about everyone’s beliefs about their views on psychiatry. It seems that my mother feels very victimized by the behavior when one of my housemates notified her, and subsequently my mother and sister arrived in DC, to apprise and take care of the situation. Their plan was to get me into the car and take me take back to WVa. To see a psychiatrist. I ended up flying the coup and was arrested on an Alice Restaurant level charge of disturbing the peace just across the line in Maryland-so I ended up at the lesser known Springfield Hospital, rather than the infamous St. Elizabeth’s. I was de-loused and subsequently tortured for trying to escape. When I mention this to some people, I get the pithy phrase, ” they don’t know what you are capable of. Sort of like using A crystal ball to punish you for what you might do. (I really can’t see this from the psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse’s perspective-perhaps this party explains the axis II diagnosis for Narcicism.”(Sic). Anyway trying to broach this with my Hard of hearing mother, who has many issue of her own which she doesn’t address is a lost cause. I try to be civil and let it go for the sake of the relationship between her and my son. Also the response of my uncle who is Gay and his partner is a bit puzzling. My uncle has some kind of notion that an Asylum is some kind of unicorns and gum drops respite from the difficulties of the real world. And when I suggested to his partner, that the status of Gays and the so-called mentally Ill, represents a similar experience in our society, he took great exception to this-I was not suggesting that Gay people were mentally ill, only that both groups experienced a similar pariah status this conversation happened about 15 years ago, and of course the status of Gays has made a rather abrupt transformation, and good for them. However, distancing oneself from the mentally I’ll seems like a case of hogging the life boats.-It is perplexing to me that Gay people would hang onto the legitimacy of psychiatry given the horrible treatment they receive at its hands. This also seems to put the lie to psychiatric diagnosis being a chemical imbalance akin to diabetes. If this analogy actually contained a truth, Gay people wouldn’t be running so fast and furiously from a mental health diagnosis. After all, comparing similar problems experienced by people with different “physical illnesses shouldn’t raise any eyebrows. Despite all the protestations of psychiatrists and the deluded nature of how they see their role in society, the scarlet letter nature of psychiatric diagnosis is what happens in the real world, and chemical imbalances and diabetes analogies remain firmly planted in the world of the deluded.
      When asked to fill out info at Springfield, I put down that the famed defense attorney William Knunstler was my attorney. Of course I had never met the man, but he was one degree in separation removed, in that Knunstler had dinner a few weeks removed at a friend’s house. During a conversation with a housemate, I asked if he could not get in touch with Knunstler through our common friend. He remarked that “Knunstler was really busy.”
      Giving friends and family a pass on this type of behavior is not easy. I have been gainfully employed or in school full-time for the last 24 years, and I feel like I was earned an opinion on the nature of psychiatry, but I find people are skittish when I broach the topic of psychiatry. In some ways we have travelled backwards from the time when Thomas Eagleton’s was shamed out of the nomination as McGovern’s VP choice in 1972.

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      • Chrisreed: Great metaphor on hogging the life boats. Great insights. Thank you for sharing. Per the conversation with the gay uncle and his partner…..I too, have experienced the great disappointment of discovering how people whose historical marginalization in our society–people who I would consider natural allies– can’ seem to run fast enough in distancing themselves from my daughter’s experience of psychiatric harm and abuse. Lack of solidarity among those whose lives are impacted by the deep failures of the mental health system is deeply saddening to me.

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  8. Will, warmest thank you for taking you time to share this important and valuable story which you call essay, but which I also would like to call a scientific paper. It is built on yours and several others experience . and thereby it is just as scientific as any other. I am together with people at my work place in the middle of what you describe very often. In daily work, but also by trying in different ways to make necessary changes and finding alternatives to forced “treatment” and exclusion by labelling people with Words no one know what it means.I love the way you decrice yourself, the young man and the meeting. I also respect the way you dare to describe the complexity in relationships, also sometimes parents towards their children. Some days ago I met my mentor Barbro Sandin who started a kind of “revolution” in Swedish psychiatry 30 years ago by claiming the things you do in this post. The importance of trying to make sense. To be there with the other one. To stand up for human rights and to never ever give up the idea that also the most unexplainable is possible to make sense of. If someone is willing to make a try. Thank You so much Will!!!

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  9. What I love about this piece is in its practicality in that it can actually be used in the fight against the advance of Laura’s Law, coercive psychiatry, in the state of California. Coercion in psychiatry is assault, drugging is torture, and “outpatient commitment” is blackmail. Calling forced treatment “assisted” treatment is lying, but given a devious paternalism, dishonesty is at the root of the mental health/mental illness industry.

    There are many people engaged in trying to spread coercive psychiatric practices across the length and breadth of the continental United States. The thing nobody can afford to do is to resign themselves to bending under pressure from the forces of torture, enslavement, and harm. They are in the wrong, they can be challenged, and they can be beaten.

    If you live in California, or even if you don’t, there are those numbers and email addresses at the bottom of the post, and you should seriously consider giving them a good work out. Use them, and maybe we can help keep forced drugging, and the damage that ensues from it, out of Alameda County. Furthermore, maybe we can keep forced drugging out of other states in the USA as Well.

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  10. I hate to so often go somewhat off topic, but as I read this… as usual, it’s in the context relevant to my own past.

    I think… wow, people make such a big deal about force drugging adults (not really, but relatively) and yet when it comes to children… it’s almost for nothing at all. I remember getting injected in the psych ward after I was taken from my parents just because I wouldn’t stop crying. I suffered a bad dystonic reaction where the roof of my mouth felt like it was being squeezed by a rope. My speech was impaired and I couldn’t close my mouth or stop drooling. It was painfully pulled open, not just hanging open… I was terrified, but like a stone. Nobody took it seriously, I was told it’s just a “side effect” and was given some something else that turned out to be cogentin and didn’t do a damn thing. I’ve suffered anxiety problems ever since, especially relating to sensory experience. I remember being forced on haldol in 1996 for 4 and a half months at a state mental hospital when I was 13 (hawthorn center in livonia, a horrible place deserving of nothing but shame), a torturous 4 and a half months, the drug-induced damage of which still torments me today in the form of neurological and movement disorders. I was sent there because I had quit going to school. I had quit going to school because I was going through psych drug withdrawals, as I often refused to keep taking the drugs because of how they kept screwing me up. My original diagnosis was ADD when I was 6, but escalated with adverse reactions to drugs that were subsequently blamed on “underlying illness”, but were obvious even to a child to be drug-induced. And ultimately, it was forced on me for no justifiable reason. Not even part of a bullshit “treatment plan”, just a sedative to keep the kids quiet on the ward. It was prescribed before I even got there, waiting for me the moment I arrived, and every kid there was on it, regardless of what they were there for. From what I’ve gathered, it’s even worse today. Yet, I’ve still yet to come across any sort of social activist group or political movement or anything that is really trying to do something about it like the ones regarding adult drugging. No doubt because children have no rights in this country, no constitution or bill of rights, legislation or courts to turn to… property of whoever is deemed to have custody of them.

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    • Until the mainstream consciousness is raised to the point where the term “medication” is immediately the object of suspicion and derision when it is used to justify drugging, we are in for an enormous collective nightmare which will dwarf Orwell’s premonitions.

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    • I am really surprised too that you haven’t come across parent groups angry about the kind of treatment you describe….certainly in every other area parents are often the loudest groups when it comes to potential harm of their kids. I wonder why this is? I am imagining it is both because the discrimination against families of those dx with a mental illness is so strong that they feel powerless to argue against the accepted paradigm of treatment (e.g. they feel that no-one will listen to them); and also because of the lack of informed consent for psychiatric treatments.

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      • There are very much two forces at work when it comes to parents… well, maybe three.

        1) There are the parents who are bamboozled by the psychiatrists and wind up thinking their kid is really sick… I don’t really believe these parents exist, at least not for long… nobody could be that blind and stupid for more than a year or two. After that, something else must be going on. My parents began as this sort.

        2) There are parents who are coerced, who are very much like adults with SMI who are forced drugged, except their kids are drugged instead. They may or may not be dependent on government services which they might lose if their kid(s) are taken by the state (wasn’t my case), or the kids may be taken now and then by CPS and put through so much trauma and misery that loving parents would do whatever it takes to keep them from being taken again, even if it means hurting to keep them from getting hurt worse.

        3) There are bad parents who just don’t want to be bothered by their kids. We hear about them in the news, we know they exist, the sort of parents who would kill their child for a toilet training accident or give them fist fulls of benadryl to knock them out so they can go play video games. We all know psychiatry caters to these degenerates, probably more so than anybody else.

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        • “even if it means hurting to keep them from getting hurt worse.”

          Even if it means hurting them to keep them from getting hurt worse.*

          “They may or may not be dependent on government services which they might lose if their kid(s) are taken by the state (wasn’t my case),”

          The government services part wasn’t my case, the being taken away now and then was. My parents began as #1, wound up #2. After I began having adverse reactions to the drugs, my parents took me off them and I got better. When the psychiatrist found out, he threatened my parents that they would be charged with “child abuse by medical neglect” and that they’d never see me again. In a rage I remember my father cussing him out and then storming out the door with me. By the time we got home, the police were already there. My father reluctantly agreed to let the ambulance take me to the hospital. No actual custody would be lost at this time, not for a few more years, but this is when my nightmare began.

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          • Jeffrey you hit on an important point here: our society’s contradictory, inconsistent, and down right mistreatment of our children. As a substitute teacher Job Corps and a relief worker at a foster home, I pick up bits and pieces of the story. I have become familiar with the juvenile lock ups, reform schools, and psychiatric facilities for youth around the state. I first try to do no harm, but I often sense this is not enough. Many youth reify their psychiatric diagnoses, most commonly ADHD and then bipolar, and less commonly borderline. Many children have been convinced that they can’t cope without ADHD drugs. A fellow relief worker remarked to a youth one day, that maybe they have more control over yourself than you give yourself credit for-referring, to ADHD. I took the opportunity to concur, saying that I have read a good deal on the subject which doubts the existence of the diagnosis.
            At Job Corps, I often end up in remedial math class. Using my access to the center’s statistics, I have concluded that this is a sysphian effort, a waste of time and resources. I would like to know more about the Freedom Schools in Mississippi in the 1960s. It seems that we should be able to do better by the students, than bringing them 500 just to try to spoon feed them fractions, decimals, and percents to increase test scores, only to have all this forgotten a few weeks later. The ideologues in our WVa. state legislature are trying to play catch up with the charterization of the public schools. High turn over of staff, a fetish for entrepreuneurism, an over reliance on test scores-value added test scoring is used to hold the threat of losing their job over the heads of the teachers. They are also used in order to develop toadyism among the staff with bonuses for the “good teachers.” This scuttling of a public good “public schools,” for the mythical benefits of charters, as we further retreat from the common good, can’t but lead to a degradation of schooling and culture for our young. Henry Giroux at Truthout, most eloquently links this trend to the larger trends in society.

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  11. This is a beautiful essay. It reminds me of R.D. Laing’s The Divided Self which is one of the best books I have ever written about trying to understand others who might appear different from ourselves. Thank you for this.

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  12. Well, as someone who dated a schizophrenic and was his victim, watching him go off and on his meds since 1996 has been a horror movie. Having said that, I was diagnosed bipolar at 12 and am on five meds. Without them I’m homicidal and suicidal. For all you anti-medication people, that’s all well and good, but, believe me, you don’t want to see me off my meds.

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    • I am glad the meds are working for you. Research continually reaffirms that you are in the minority.

      For my son psychiatric drugs for very mild depression and OCD turned into a nightmare that has lasted for eight years and shows no sign of abating. I don’t think anyone should be given these drugs without being told that they are ALL EXPERIMENTAL. None of these drugs have ever been shown to be safe or more effective than placebos.

      I am so glad to have found Robert Whitaker’s books and this on-line community. Learning that other people understand the nightmare that our family continues to live in, and that some people are looking for treatments that really work is the only thing that keeps me going.

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    • wordtrix,

      On what basis were you diagnosed bipolar?

      Also, not saying this is true in your case but many people who go off their meds too quickly or cold turkey them suffer withdrawal symptoms that look like a return of the illness but aren’t. As a result, they wrongly think that they need their meds when tapering them very slowly stands a good chance (not always) of preventing the withdrawal symptoms.

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    • Wordtrix: If you represent an organization that promotes involuntary drugging, please declare your affiliation. Even though you didn’t suggest that your experience is universal, you used the following inflammatory words, ‘all you anti-medication people.’ As the parent of someone who is forcibly drugged, I think I speak for the majority of us consumers, survivors, family members, and clinicians who engage in this site that nearly everyone is pro choice! If you want to voluntarily take your meds, go for it! But to force someone else? No way!

      If you are sincere, I honor your desire to remain on five medications and I hope that they don’t damage your physically in the long run. I must admit though that I am saddened that you feel you need chemical restraints to keep you from being violent. Did you ever consider that the violent tendencies you feel could be related to the side effects of a too abrupt withdrawal?

      Unfortunately, withdrawing from toxic neuroleptics is fraught with danger and risk. Until recently, there has been nearly zero interest in studying the relationship between violent aggressive behavior, withdrawal from psychiatric medication, and structural brain changes due to long term psychiatric drugging (such as the formation of extra D2 dopamine receptors in the brains of people who have been put on neuroleptics) Much of what we know is through the sharing of experiences and the internet has been invaluable. Our adult daughter experiences akathesia when attempting to withdraw too quickly from years of involuntary drugging: a cocktail of anti psychotics and mood stabilizers. Since the heavy drugging takes away some of her executive functioning and cognition, her withdrawal attempts have been rash and spontaneous; her ability to read and comprehend informed consent forms, conduct internet research, and deeply reflect on things before taking action, is itself hampered by the drugs. Sometimes, even doctors who should no better take their patients off one or more psychiatric medications too quickly. If I didn’t know better, I would guess that sometimes they want their patients to fail off their meds, if only to reinforce their paradigm of treatment. Most doctors are still holding out for technological improvements in the field of molecular medicine and are loathe to call the last fifty years an utter failure.

      Sometimes the symptoms of akathesia include restless, incessant movement and or talking, sometimes angry verbal rambles. Often, caregivers without training or who are not properly grounded can escalate the situation and get spooked into calling the police. It takes specialized training to help people safely titrate off harmful medications. They do create dependency and their is a point in the withdrawal phase that is worse than getting off of morphine or heroine but the big difference is that people withdrawing from street drugs can often go into treatment centers that are covered by insurance. Ironically, family members trying to help a loved one wean safely off psychiatric drugs have nearly noone to turn to, just each other.

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    • a) have you ever thought why this person wanted to go off his drugs? Apparently they were not doing wonders for him.
      b) you may want to look into withdrawal reactions – I know many people who took psych drugs and were going “insane” when they missed a dose or two but after they tappered off slowly it turned out they were better than ever

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  13. The belief that there is a hard-core group of persons for whom nothing works but coercion and chemical numbing is very prevalent. For example, in a recent article Sandra Steingard said that ‘there will still be individuals who decline every option or are too agitated to be in a community setting’. But as Will says we haven’t tried everything we can, by a long shot. Let’s get some decent alternatives in place and really give them a go before we continue to write people off and consign them to the social dustbin.

    Thank you for this wonderful contribution.

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    • Sally,
      Will writes,
      “I believe that people who are afraid, perhaps such as your son and yourself, need caring, kindness, patience and listening. Trying to force you, or him, to change may only drive us all farther apart.”
      I believe that too and I want more Will’s to articulate this from his position. He has a powerful voices.
      What I was trying to say in my recent post is that at the current time, with the current resources, there are people with whom we (I? – maybe I am the only one) can not make a connection or despite our current best efforts get into trouble with police or others in the community or still reject us. I respect Will’s work and his model for engagement and see this as a model. I also agree with Will and others that we desperately need resources to be directed into this direction.
      I was just trying to explain that if we could at the same time acknowledge that some of us may sometimes fail in our efforts, we may do better at moving forward as opposed to have people talking past each other from different sides of this difficult discussion.

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      • ‘Or still reject us’: your language continues to betray you. When all is said and done, people are not free to ‘reject’ you.

        It’s encouraging that you respect Will’s model of engagement. The real question, however, is this: Are you willing to abandon your profession’s appalling model of engagement with people in extreme states? That is the burning issue for people whose lives are damaged by involuntary ‘treatment’.

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  14. Thanks, Will Hall, for this wonderful account of being a human being in the presence of another human being. It is inspiring, and reminds me of what went on at Soteria House, and what I’ve read of Open Dialogue.

    The “mental health” industry needs a radical make over – one that is more than a change of institutions, training, and methods. It needs to stop being an industry altogether. It needs, instead, to become a logical extension of a humane, compassionate society in which “normal” people can face their own demons, show their true selves to others, and respond with calm compassion when others show extreme emotions and unusual thoughts.

    We live in a world where the very thing needed to handle strong emotion – showing tears with those who love us, showing real anger in a safe place, admitting to and showing terror – are assumed to be signs of “mental illness.” Those of us who escape the label of “mental illness” are often not free of overwhelming sadness, anger and fear – we have just managed to cover it up. But we do so at a cost to ourselves and our relationships with others. We perpetuate the distance and fear of showing ourselves that lets smaller emotional problems balloon into huge ones; and when a loved one becomes overwhelmed, our fear of intense emotion keeps us from relating to them – just when they need relationship the most.

    We’re often so terrified that we just want to “make it go away.” That’s when we turn to commitment, drugging and the rest of what the “mental health” industry eagerly offers – in exchange for a tidy profit.

    To be sure, a new “system” is needed, along with resources to support real human interaction with those who struggle. But we need to change what now passes for “normal.” Today’s “normal world” is a vast machine that divides us, oppresses us with our own shame, making inevitable that a certain number of us will become “psychotic” and will then be oppressed by the “normals” attempt to escape the “psychotic” person’s reminder of our own pain and shame.

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  15. Hi Will,

    Thank you so much for this complex, deeply humane portrait of a person in a “different” space.
    And thank you for insisting on human connection above all–and for speaking out against force.
    Force is devastating and, as you point out, will only drive people further away: “When you have been traumatized by those offering help, avoiding treatment might even be a sign of health, not madness.”
    I couldn’t agree more! Thank you for being committed to the empathic, honest and patient path. That is, of forging a connection with an extraordinary person who is deeply misunderstood. And thanks for standing up for this approach (forging a connection) as opposed to the current model of coercion. I couldn’t agree more! It is the only way through…. I know from experience…..

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