An Open Letter to Colin Powell


Dear Colin Powell,

You don’t know me. I was the one bolting for the microphones when you gave your talk at the National Council for Behavioral Health conference (affectionately referred to as ‘NatCon15’ by its organizers), after you offered to take a few questions. Unfortunately, I didn’t locate the mics until – sensing the drifting energy of the overall crowd – you instead sent everyone off on their coffee break. I don’t imagine you could have seen me in such a sea of faces, in spite of my somewhat frenzied effort to make my way forward.

I want to start out by saying that you’re a very good speaker. It wasn’t clear to me if you were using a teleprompter (I know they’re available at the conference as I’ve heard others talk about using them), or if you’re just that good. Either way, suffice to say I was impressed with your polished ease on that big stage in front of (quite literally) thousands of people.

That said, I want to share some concerns with you about your talk, and particularly in consideration of the presence of those aforementioned thousands.

You have a powerful voice, and not just because of your skillful presentation. No, it is also because of your political and military career, the number of times most of us have heard your name on the news, and the highly influential roles you’ve held. This is why I was most concerned when you chose to promote forced treatment, employment discrimination and the chemical imbalance theory all within your less-than-one-hour talk.

Please allow me to expound. You told a story of a man who was saying frightening things about not ‘wanting to go on’ to his employees. He had purchased guns, and was saying and doing other things that his friends and co-workers couldn’t understand. You then explained how you ordered him into treatment at a location you self-professed to have chosen and paid for in the complete absence of his consultation.

When you told this story, I could appreciate your intent. It’s true that sometimes people reach out for help in ways that others find frightening or inexplicable. I’m not suggesting he should have been ignored. And, if I trust the implied outcomes of the version you shared (accepting that it was only you sharing and not the individual who had been so forced), it sounds like your efforts worked out okay.

I can’t take that story away from you, but I do wonder if you are aware that risk of actual suicide is highest directly after someone leaves the hospital. I also wonder if you’re aware of the hundreds of thousands of people who have been hurt or felt traumatized by forced hospitalization. (I, for the record, am one.) Have you ever sat and spoken with someone who has been so harmed?

So many people play the game of hiding any signs of their internal suffering for fear someone will come at them once again with force. What if this person had been one? What if, after your efforts, he simply learned to stop sending out those signs and instead took even more care to keep his plans to end his life a secret? What if you’d just talked to him and offered some understanding and show of concern instead?

Forgive me if I’m missing something, but your story left me with the impression that you didn’t even ask him a direct question before informing him he was to be hospitalized “for a few days, maybe longer.” In truth, your response was quite a normal one so I really don’t care to vilify you for it.

Yet, the fact that you offered this example of forced treatment as a triumph to the thousands in this audience is a problem. While people back on my own homefront are tirelessly working to demonstrate to the world that there are alternatives (such as the Alternatives to Suicide support groups we offer in our area), your much louder voice with its much farther reach is saying just the opposite. While those of us who have ‘been there’ advocate against force and speak to its myriad harms, you made light of it and even solicited laughter from the audience.

I realize you’ve had to be in charge of a lot over the years. Responsibility has been heaped on you in ways I can’t even begin to imagine. That was likely inescapable through much of your professional life. However, I can’t help but point out that it’s that ‘sense of responsibility’ for (aka., ‘over’) people that has driven much of the worst, most harmful aspects of the mental health system.

That brings me to my second point of contention: Employment discrimination. No, you didn’t say those words, but you did tell stories about two men who had killed themselves after promotions in the military. You followed that by lamenting that you and others hadn’t been able to “sense” something about them or their “makeup” that would have led you to realize those promotions were “too much for them to handle.”

Perhaps you don’t fully comprehend the implications of what you suggested in those few moments. I’m not sure all your listeners did either, so I’m going to spell it out here more fully. Your stories suggested you should have had the responsibility of identifying individuals who had something ‘wrong’ with their ‘makeup,’ and thusly weeded them out of the potential promotion pool.

That is terrifying to me. If we were to play this idea out, we would have to constantly be assessing and guessing our way through who deserves what job. People’s entire careers would be in the hands of our own biases, perceptions and imaginations. I recall a certain ‘risk expert’ who proudly purported to be able to assess who was at real risk for committing violence with an accuracy rate of 50%. Yes, he had the same apparent skill as a flipped quarter. Would our accuracy rate be so good? What are the consequences if not (or if so)?

Life is hard and messy, and these are complex and multilayered issues. I’m sure, if we had time to sit down and talk, we’d both find that there are no simple answers to any of this. However, that brings me to my final point: The chemical imbalance myth.

You shared that your wife was diagnosed by a psychiatrist as having a ‘chemical imbalance.’ You said she was, as a result, put on psychotropics and found success after doing so. I’m not going to attempt to take that away from her, but whereas so many issues encompass shades of gray, the chemical imbalance theory does not.

The chemical imbalance theory is not just unproven; It is debunked. But you need not take my word for it. Ronald Pies is a psychiatrist author, professor, and Editor in Chief Emeritus of Psychiatric Times. Though Pies and I have debated about other issues in the past, it seems most important and relevant to offer you the following quote from his 2011 article, “Psychiatry’s New Brain-Mind and the Legend of the ‘Chemical Imbalance.”:

“In truth, the ‘chemical imbalance’ notion was always a kind of urban legend- – never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.”

Pies is not alone. In fact, many psychiatrists have stepped up and acknowledged that there is no identifiable chemical imbalance to which they can point, and researchers have concurred. On the other hand, many doctors (and pharmaceutical companies) still refer to the chemical imbalance theory as truth. Why? Because it helps convince the people to whom they are prescribing pills to be compliant. (Yes, psychiatrists have actually said this on the record, too.)

So, when you also referred to the chemical imbalance theory as truth to the thousands who were so eagerly listening to your every word, you became complicit in perpetuating a myth. And make no mistake: This is a myth that has harmed thousands, because for every person who feels that these drugs have helped them, there are at least as many who say they and others have been harmed in serious ways including early death.

Now, I’m not trying to tell you or your wife that she is wrong for believing the pills she takes so faithfully have helped her. I couldn’t possibly presume to know that. However, it simply does not follow that someone is treating a targeted chemical deficiency solely because they like the effects of ingesting a particular chemical. For example, just because a person appreciates the effects of caffeine, it hardly means that they have discovered within themselves a coffee deficiency.

Yet, if we perpetuate this idea, we are not just furthering a myth, but taking away choice. After all, if you believe you have an indisputable chemical imbalance, then how can you not find yourself trapped in the assumption that you must ingest chemicals to correct it?

If I’m honest, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by all this. It feels fairly impossible to keep up. We’re trying to undo and undo and undo the ideas that you and others are able to put out much faster and wider than us. Today, you got a standing ovation from thousands. Tomorrow, I can only hope that a couple dozen will choose to take the time to come and hear me out at my workshop, in spite of having so many other options pulling at their time.

I suppose I can only hope you’ll reconsider your message (especially given the privilege of your reach), or that someday, as a part of such a process, you might give us the same time you gave that ‘NatCon’ audience. We won’t be able to offer rock star concert openers with light shows and drones flying about as the National Council managed, but we’ve got a ton to offer in experience and heart. We hope you’ll take the time to hear our voice.


Sera Davidow

Western Mass Recovery Learning Community

CC: The World


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. Very well said, Sera. Your articulate words speak for so many of us. I think the persistence of this “chemical imbalance” belief system is bringing out the bipolar in me! Just when I’m becoming more hopeful that this destructive myth is crumbling, I see depressing evidence that it just seems to keep chugging along!

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    • Russerford,

      Thanks as always for reading and commenting. 🙂 I’m sorry to say that I heard the ‘chemical imbalance’ myth offered up as truth not just by Colin Powell but also in a subsequent presentation on suicide… I got to question the person who brought it up in the latter instance, but when I said ‘Why are you continuing to speak about a chemical imbalance myth that has been debunked,’ all they heard was ‘why are you taking meds,’ and I wasn’t given time to clarify and so all they said (and all the audience heard) was how (essentially) everyone deserves a choice, including meds. (Annoying, given I believe that it’s the perpetuation of the chemical imbalance myth that takes AWAY from the ability to make that choice!) -Sera

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  2. They diagnose people in their (ascendent – winning) School (version, group) of Psychiatry non-Medically because the diagnoses are non-Medical “diagnoses” of syndrome names for defined categories of deviance from normalcy that licensed officials can judge people as according to their Professional Opinion.

    They treat people Medically in that these psychological or psychiatry “diagnoses” are billable quote “illnesses” or quote “disorders” (used interchangeably in most written statements. And further these disorder/illness/abnormalitities are “treated” (or the people and their behaviors and abnormality are controlled by…) prescription pharmaceutical pills or multiple (a “course” of…) electrical-shocks-across-the-head.

    No Medical tests are employed – not because they could never find and validate but rater because these are excluded by the nature of these being Psychiatric diagnoses and not being Medical ones.
    Medical causes are (supposedly) adequately, responsibly… ruled out.

    With the (crime against humanity) MOTHERS Act they continued this forward into the profitable subgroup of pregnant women, new mothers, infants and toddlers. Not-withstanding that, in our Medical Literature; researcher clinician doctors had, and have, excellent Medical ideas and information on Postpartum Depression ( items such as: copper excess, B-6 need for the pregnant women, DHA depletion of the mom in the third trimester and in nursing , chronic inflammation, magnesium need). These Doctors include such as: Joesph Hibbeln, David Horrobin, Malcolm Peet, Lloyd Horowitz.. Actual responsible non-fraudulent competent honest doctors – unlike those at the helm of the current ascendent (fake, propaganda school) of Psychiatry.

    This perversion of society and Medicine involved a number of moves. Menendez was there supportive USA Senator. Two woman named Stone did/do supposable, portrayed pro-bono social,lcharitabe work. (see Postpartum Progress (them) and see Amy Philo – now Amy James – and also John Breeding and also Evelyn Pringle (activist, advocates apposing these crimes by Psychiatry and the Legislative and Executive).

    They take Postpartum Depression from the real World of Western Medicine and Alternative Complementary Medicine and carry it into the murk, the fog of Ascendent Psychiatry which is founded on arrogance, obfuscation, abuse, fear, violence, politics, propaganda.

    Postpartum Depression becomes transmogrified into one of their “mystery diseases” — important research is underway!! Early detection and “treatment” are important. See a qualified labeler. Get you and your baby a neurolocally targeting Patent prescription item (ordered by a qualified licensed “doctor”) with Fluorine or Chlorine in the molecule – the current State-of-the-Art TODAY ! Your baby may be still born, or be born with organs outside their body – but at least YOU were SCEPTICAL and listened to Scientific AMERICAN, Skeptical Inquirer, Quackwatch, Michael Shermer, Tuft’s, Emory and Harvard and did not go to some Quack “Alternative” Doctor or Naturopath with their untested, unscientific, charlatan nostrums such as Magnesium chloride, magnesium glycinate, B-6, Vitamin C and DHA. Caveat emptor! Veritas! Booga-boo! Genes, genetics, scientific double blinded, MRI magnetic resonance brain scan images! Folder-all ! Brippety-brap! Bullshit talks and the winners take the money to the bank! (Some people ride the opportunity money wave. Pass the bunk. Thers money to be made in the Pharmacaust.)

    Michael Shermer skeptic, quackbuster editorial in Scientific American magazine USA (management has changed hands…)

    “What’s the Harm”
    In this Shermer states that logically “Alternative Medicine” cannot exist and must be instead the purvue of anti-social, selfish, charlatans who will say anything to get money and power, as, logically speaking, if the treatments were valid and scientific then they would be used as Modern Scientific Medicine, be accepted and promoted by the honest, self-less, altruistic, scientific and scholarly creme of the creme that leads Modern Scientic Evidence based Western Medicne. Altruistic, legitimate people such as Michael Shermer… and Cambridge’s Janet Wozniak, M.D. and Joseph Biederman, M.D. who want toddlers to be given Depakote and Seroquel (Evidence Based, Scientific items in modern Western Medicine’s pharmacopeia armenatum).

    DHA by Dr. David Permutter
    Mainstream media FAIL: Sleazebag doctors attacking Doctor Oz have histories of criminal fraud and ties to Monsanto’s “Discredit Bureau”

    Tim Bolen — The battle between Medicine and the Medical Syndicate

    Andrew Saul – “The hidden Wikipedia”

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    • Hey Dan,

      Thanks for taking the time to write such a long comment with so many sources! The postpartum/pregnancy issue is particularly close to my heart given I definitely experienced a lot of upheaval after my first baby (in response to which they started down the path of postpartum depression with me, though I refused to travel along with them) and I had such difficulty making it through my second pregnancy emotionally after two miscarriages (and again had a doctor try to boil that down to a ‘mental illness’/medication sort of issue…)…

      Off to see what Day 2 of this conference brings me! 🙂


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  3. Huh. Tell that to Ronald Pies. He claims that psychiatry never ever even told anyone anything about a so-called chemical imbalance. Maybe he should have a chat with Colin Powell and the presenter who misunderstood your question. Thank you, as always, for being incredibly clear and on point. I would not have it in me to be so nice in print to people spreading dangerous lies like this.

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    • Hey Darby, Always happy to see you here on Mad in America. (Though, as mentioned earlier, would be even happier to see you at this conference helping to keep me grounded or at least feeling a little less alone!) As for being nice, well, if I let my initial reactions get the best of me right now, the clarity would suffer as a result 😉 But I assure you I’m not always feeling so nice!!! -Sera

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  4. so well-written, sera. agreed, agreed. i love the “undo, undo, undo” part. if only colin powell would actually see it!

    much luck with your presentation today. thanks for speaking the truth. you never know who might desperately need to hear your exact words at this exact moment.

    keep it up,


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  5. Thanks for writing this, Sera. I agree, it’s shameful for our government officials to be propagandizing the “chemical imbalance” theory still. Please stop spreading misinformation, Colin Powell. And advocating for forced treatment is deplorable as well, in my opinion. Especially since our government isn’t timely addressing the crimes associated with this absolute power, and it is being abused by the medical community.

    For example, I was medically unnecessarily shipped a long distance from my home, then force treated, by doctors who wanted to cover up a prior “bad fix” on a broken bone, and a medically confessed “Foul up” with a drug. It took seven years, since my complaints were ignored by many government offices, for the FBI to finally arrest V R Kuchipudi for having lots of patients medically unnecessarily shipped to him for profit. And God knows how many lives he took in that time, if I recall correctly, he killed seven in the two month FBI sting period alone.,d.cWc

    When a government gives absolute powers to a few, it’s only logical that absolute corruption will ensue. The right to force treat people is being abused by the medical community, and should be taken away.

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    • Someone Else, Thank you for sharing what sounds like a really painful experience! Indeed, that so few people have not only the power to make the decisions, but to shape public opinion is an inevitable path to some pretty awful things. I’m so frustrated at this conference that so few people are leaving any room for having any questions. No question for Colin Powell. No questions at this afternoon’s presentation with Ashley Judd, Patrick Kennedy, etc… No questions at so many of the workshops. Oy. The only thing more frustrating at this conference than what people are saying is that they get to say it unchallenged so much of the time… Which I know is simply a reflection on how it happens in so much of the world, too. Sera

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  6. Yes, Yes, YES! Best of luck with your presentation!

    I’m in the process of completing a research project focused on countering the “chemical imbalance” theory within a pop culture context (for example, today’s blog post aimed to translate the drug development backstory summarized in Anatomy of an Epidemic: ).

    It’s incredibly frustrating to be cut off (as you were) or to have louder voices try to distort your message (or bulldoze over it completely!).

    Thanks for all of your work!

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  7. Sera,

    That was brilliant. I am new to your site but couldn’t agree more. I suffered a massive brain injury through being exposed to neurotoxic chemicals. The subsequent suffering was unparalleled in anything I experienced in the past. I went to Dr. Amen’s Clinic in Bellevue Washington and received a SPECT scan and complete forensic psychiatric evaluation. The toxic injury was found and treatment suggested (to improve blood flow in certain areas of my brain and all appeared normal until I began a regime of detoxification. When these toxins began to come out of my fat and muscle tissues and enter my blood stream my emotional capacity was overwhelmed.

    I vacillated between every emotion I know in the extreme. This gave me a whole new appreciation for those who suffer and after five years of studying neuromolecular biochemistry in light of neurotoxic agents, I have learned that this myth of chemical imbalance is laughable.

    Indeed the emotional runaways may have been caused by chemicals entering into my blood stream thus into my brain like any other chemical it will affect emotions and thought. But the poison has caused serious malfunctions in the capacity for my brain to operate “balanced” … for example the cholinesterase inhibition causes histamine and glutamate over production both of which are neuroexcitotoxins. Over production of these reduce the capacity of neurotranmissions… which escalate into endocrine disruption and hormonal dysfunction cascading into what appears to be a host of neuro-psychological symptoms that are actually physical.

    I recommend SPECT so at least you can have a look at the dysfunctions, and Amen Clinics rarely prescribe psychotropics. I found them to be very compassionate to work toward healing.

    I am still not 100% well. The chemicals I inhaled demyelinated a ton of my central and peripheral nervous systems and I am still trying to regain control on my glutamatergic system in my brain… the cool thing about psychiatric medicine that few want to admit is the extremely limited knowledge we have of the phenomenal complexity of our brains… so ya Mr. Powell it isn’t a one size fits all, take a chemical to mask the issue. Oh and if my employer did screening? LOL they are the ones that poisoned me!

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  8. Dear Sera Thank you for your patience, clarity and long suffering. I admire your constant courageous response to the overwhelming proliferation of lies that are an assault to our bodies and minds . Lies that big pharma can pay top dollar to proliferate. Pity Collin Powell, set up once again with false information, like he was for his U.N. speech about so called weapons of mass destruction. A quick story about the legal fissures that may be opening because of the growing acknowledgement of the chemical imbalance lie: Because a legal right to be informed with correct information from staff is one of the few rights even involuntary psy patients in BC have, we wrote a formal complaint to the hospital regarding false information given to a family member. An attending nurse told him he was suffering from a chemical imbalance and needed the psychotropic drugs to correct his chemical imbalance. Surprisingly, there was an immediate response even though it changed nothing on the floor. But interesting that this formal loophole lead to a meeting with the attending physician, several nurses, an administrator and family members. No one dared claim the chemical imbalance theory was true, all said the patient did indeed have a right to the correct information and that the nurse would be corrected. This is interesting territory; what other than these lies do they have left to justify the forced treatment? That they have created drug addicts that now need their drugs to avoid withdrawal pains? That they have police powers whether they lie or not?
    Perhaps you might find encouragement in over 1,700 people, showing up for a free lecture by Norman Doidge in Salt Lake City. People all seeking alternatives to drugs, which, as a psychiatrist, Doidge confesses have terrible side effects and which don’t really bwork. Whatever people may think of his research into neuroplasticity, he is looking for “gentle” “nonintrusive” means of working with bodies and has only criticism for the military-like assault on the brain which is mistakenly seen through the metaphor of the machine. Thank you so much for the good and important work you do Sera.

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    • Diana, That’s awesome to hear! I love the idea of finding more legally oriented ways to challenge the false information going out. That deserves a blog all its own, if one hasn’t been written yet. Maybe you might write one about that initiative? Sera

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    • “Pity Collin Powell, set up once again with false information, like he was for his U.N. speech about so called weapons of mass destruction.”
      Exactly. Instead of being so “concerned” about mental health of all these people he wants to drug and lock up he should donate all his money to be Iraq and then get his a** there and help to rebuild the country he helped destroy. I hate that we have to listen to people like that, people who discredited themselves in horrific way and should have no place speaking in public as authority figures. The only way I wish to see Mr Powell speak in public is profoundly apologizing. The biggest problem is that people in power never face any responsibility for their actions.

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  9. Sera,
    You don’t get it. People Like Colin Powell and Congressman Dr. Tim Murphy have an agenda. They want to use mental health laws as a way to imprison people who disagree with them. If you don’t believe in global warming, if you do believe in God then you must have a cognitive dysfunction and are a danger to yourself and others. Then they can lock you safely away and drug you until you are “better”

    This is all about government control of every part of your life, which by the way is no longer YOURS!

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    • Doctor_X, I’m not entirely sure what to say! I guess I’m not convinced that Colin Powell has ever really, truly given ‘mental health’ and what he has to say about it all that much thought. I do think there are some people out there with pretty nefarious ideas and intent, and many more people who are using the system as a form of social control (although sometimes without great awareness or clarity)… and then tons more people who just never have really every thought to question the framework they’ve been given to think within … That’s my thought at the moment, anyway.

      Thanks for reading and writing!


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      • “Colin Powell has ever really, truly given ‘mental health’ and what he has to say about it all that much thought.”

        Yeah, he’s comfortable with lying on behalf of others with impunity to enable crimes against humanity, be in war in Iraq of victimization of psychiatric “patients”. The only real question is – is he somewhat “challenged” or is he willfully ignorant.

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  10. Sera – You got this reply and General Powell both just right. What a mix-up he is letting himself live with. And the idea that it’s all romantic enough to go along with what works for whatever reason (in this case, false ones), that so many regular people would just want to join in the fun of letting the experts handle the meanings of their lives and the facts about them–how strange it is. I am glad once again that it is you telling this kind of story, because the AP wire version would be too surreal.

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    • Travailler-vous, Yes, so endlessly frustrating and perplexing how quickly people are willing to turn over their lives to people who seem powerful or say things that sound good on the surface… Well, I guess that’s not exactly perplexing, given it seems to be such a human trend… but definitely frustrating! Endlessly hoping for the tables to turn… Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂 -Sera

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  11. People who have invested their education, career and entire lifetime building a mental framework are not likely going to change their mind. Somebody like Colin Powell does not have his own mind. His mind is a member of a much larger collective unit (hive mind). You’d need to change the mind of their entire particular group, most commonly known as “government”, and I’d say it really cannot be done because they have a very rigid mental structure.

    Remember: psychiatry is a branch of government more than it will ever be a branch of “medicine”. psychiatry IS a form of social control.

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    • 9, Interestingly (to me, anyway!), at ‘NatCon’ there was a ‘hive’ set up for all conference ‘newbees’ (intentionally misspelled) to hang out and get to know one another… In any case, yes, it’s a lot for many people to give up considering what they’ve built their lives around, and I would agree with you that it’s likely something to which Colin has not been inclined to give deep, critical thought. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to keep trying (even if all I really accomplish is to highlight and give words to my own resistance). -Sera

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