The Mental Health Channel & Beyond: What Does it Really Mean to Present a Well-rounded Point of View?


On Tuesday, October 15th, 2013 I received an e-mail directed to the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community’s (RLC) [email protected] address from an ‘Outreach Specialist’ connected to Arcos Films. Arcos Films is a production and distribution company based in Austin, Texas. Their tagline suggests that their mission is to create “media to change the world”.

At least at a distance, Arcos’ aim and goals seem admirable. They want to look at empowering women and young girls in developing regions of the world. They want to build awareness and access to honest information about energy and how it impacts our environment, politics, food sources, and so on. And, in collaboration with Trinity Films, they also want to talk about the importance of ‘mental health’.

I’m not sure how their Outreach Specialist found her way to the RLC’s e-mail inbox, but there she was, requesting to schedule a phone consultation in regards to Arcos’ new project: developing the so-named ‘Mental Health Channel’ (MHC). In what I’m sure was a form letter sent out to several different groups and individuals, the initial contact read:

“MHC will be the world’s first channel for mental health programming, a revolutionary new network to engage, entertain, offer help and build awareness. The approach is honest, respectful and well-informed. I recently began the preliminary research and development of these web series and would like to gain a better understanding of the field… In an effort to structure the series in an accurate format, I am looking to speak to as many people in the field as possible.”

Indeed, I spoke with the Outreach Specialist, and even sent her a follow-up e-mail on October 29th, 2013 chock full of people and organizations with whom I suggested she and her colleagues connect as they moved forward. That list included:

I further suggested they get to know more people in the RLC community, check out the Mad in America website, and listen to some of the many Madness Radio podcasts available at (To make it all as easy and straight-forward as possible, I provided them with links and/or e-mail addresses for all my recommendations.) Additionally, they were set to come to at least some of the film screenings at the Alternatives Conference (where the RLC’s Beyond the Medical Model was to be shown) scheduled for December of that year in Arcos’ home city. (They may very well have done so, but I do not recall crossing paths with them there.)

Given their early efforts to reach out to not just individuals but whole communities of people who identify as being among the psychiatrically diagnosed, there seemed reason to have some hope about the shape this channel might take. That hope was, of course, quite naïve.

The website is – on the whole – more of the same old medicalized material available at every turn. Although there are a few faint rays of light (e.g., ‘Best Day Ever’  and ‘On my Way’, two episodes about young people that are almost entirely devoid of medicalized assumptions), they are buried underneath the unbearable weight of all the most stereotypically disease-model content you could ever imagine.

There’s repeated mention of all phenomena associated with emotional or mental distress as falling underneath the ever present umbrella of ‘brain disease’, and efficacy of psychiatric drugs is grossly exaggerated on more than one occasion. For example, ‘Big Thinker’, Patricia Deldin suggests flatly that research on depression demonstrates best treatment practices are those that include medication combined with therapy, and Brandon Staglin refers to the four psychotropic medications he’s taking to treat his Schizophrenia diagnosis when exclaiming, “Actually, antipsychotic medications are very effective at stopping psychosis.”

Perhaps most painfully, young person after young person tells their story of devastating trauma only to have it plunked down within a mental illness frame. For example, in Arifa’s story (called ‘B Positive’), she talks about the pain and sorrow that comes with trying to persevere through kidney failure, while the Mental Health Channel characterizes her story as follows:

“Arifa’s life hangs in the balance. She’s on a 5 year transplant wait list, and may not have 5 years to wait. She prioritizes her mental health to counter depression.” (Emphasis added)

Meanwhile, there’s Selvaughn who was abandoned abruptly by his mother at the age of 17, and then was homeless and living on the streets until entering into a residential mental health facility on his 18th birthday apparently because he’d been diagnosed with ‘depression’.

And then there’s the film festival. Oh, the film festival. Several of the themes mentioned above are repeated here, but the Channel reaches a new height of dangerousness in its choice to promote ‘The Mermaid’ directed by Sara Werner, selecting it for the fest’s Jury Award. Check it out. It’s only 13(ish) minutes long.

This short film follows a young woman (played by writer/producer, Italome Ohikhuare) who is pulled between her obnoxious boyfriend (Jay) who wants to “spend more time with her” (which seems to be not-so-subtle code for ‘let’s have more sex’) and her troubled brother (Deji) who has been diagnosed with Schizophrenia. On the film’s promotional website, the piece is touted as a “gift” to Ohikihuare’s brother, who is reportedly also diagnosed with Schizophrenia. Some gift.

Although, right at the start, Ohikihuare’s character (Sirah) tells her boyfriend that her brother would never bite him (see the film to understand why!), Deji shows up and has his hands around Jay’s neck three times within the first five minutes of the film. In fairness, I guess it’s true that biting is not the same as strangling! (By the way, Jay is white and Deji is a young black man.)

The film rambles on with Sirah screeching about Deji just “needing his pills”, while Jay yells that Deji needs to be “Baker Act”ed and warns that he’s going to “kill someone”. By the end, Deji appears to be at risk for drowning after jumping in the ocean, and Jay (who’d previously run off to get said pills) returns and comes to his rescue while sister Sirah screams for help like a fairytale princess cornered by a dragon. Shortly thereafter, Sirah turns things around and pins Deji on the ground with her hands around his neck, yelling at Jay to call the cops. The whole film ends with Jay reassuring a tearful Sirah that she did the right thing, and Sirah asking him to spend the night. (Perhaps he’ll get his sex after all.)

The whole thing could essentially serve as an ad for the Murphy Bill and Involuntary Outpatient Commitment (A.K.A ‘AOT’). Not only does it send strange messages about how psychiatric drugs work (instantaneously, if we are to believe Sirah’s screech), but it paints individuals with such diagnoses as inarguably dangerous, and force as unavoidable and unquestionably ‘the right thing’. Additionally, the race connotations leave me uneasy. Both the portrayal of a young black man (Schizophrenia diagnosis or not) as so uncontrollably violent and dangerous, and the otherwise arrogant and disrespectful white man as savior (to both the ‘out of her depth’ woman whom he wishes to bed and the violent black man who previously attacked him) seem particularly off given our current climate of racial injustice. (Though, I should note that I feel somewhat out-of-place as a white woman critiquing a young woman of color on this point.)

Looking back at Arcos’ website, I see that their ‘About’ page appears to offer a list of values and practices, including:

“We Work Around Politics because they’re increasingly divisive. We continually review our content to be sure it adheres to our nonpartisan mission, and is as much as possible, objective. We embrace ideas from any side, as long as they stand up to rigorous scrutiny, as practical and achievable solutions that are scientifically defensible.”

This strikes me as particularly interesting considering that so much of the status quo message about ‘mental health’ (that runs rampant around the virtual ‘Mental Health Channel’ space) is not particularly “scientifically defensible,” and certainly doesn’t stand up to “rigorous scrutiny.” Furthermore, the channel seems to completely fail at embracing “ideas from any side.” Perhaps they could more fairly claim ignorance if not for our correspondence back in 2013. But, given that exchange, I can only see their choice to represent such a limited and questionable version of reality as willful. And, it’s this willfulness that, at least in some ways, makes them worse in my eyes than so many other groups that simply have never even heard there’s another way.

Although the team behind the Mental Health Channel clearly ignored all of my input, they did graciously add me to their mailing list, and so I get their cheery, often self-congratulatory updates with a fair amount of regularity. I generally ignore them, but periodically do take a peek, and, in a moment of frustration on September 28th of this year, I finally read and replied to their update about a new series entitled “Big Thinkers on Mental Health” and expressed some of my disappointment. In that e-mail, I offered the following concerns:

  1. That their new ‘Big Thinker’ series seems to only identify doctors as the experts and fails to fairly recognize individuals who’ve ‘been there’ themselves in that way
  2. That they only offered four resources on their ‘support organizations’ page, and all of them are pharmaceutically funded (including the heavily pharma funded trio of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America, and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance)
  3. That they are failing to recognize non-medicalized perspectives on ‘mental health’ and appear to have completely dismissed ideas on how to represent alternative perspectives overall

To their credit, I received a reply from one of their senior producers. Here’s a bit of what she had to say:

“It’s not that your input has been dismissed, it’s just that we are a small group of people trying to do a tremendous amount of work. And we can’t do it all, at least not all at the same time. Our official public launch was just last May. As mentioned, we continue to grow, and we will continue to take feedback like this into consideration as we plan future stories and future iterations of our website. I assure you, you have been heard.”

(Note that she failed to address that such feedback was given far in advance of their launch.) In regards to their resources section, she offered:

“To address your concerns regarding our resources page, you are right, it is a narrow list. We do not have the bandwidth to maintain a comprehensive list of resources – this page is hopefully enough to provide a starting point if someone is in need. To maximize our efforts, we have included the organizations we know of that have a broad, national presence so that anyone going to that page is likely to find help in their area.”

(Note that she apparently ignored my commentary on the one-note, pharmaceutically funded nature of those resources.) Among other things, she also offered:

“We don’t align with one path of treatment or school of thought but hope to feature a variety of ways that people and organizations are having a positive impact,” and “Many of the interviews within this series don’t mention medication at all. Others do. Some people are with clinical organizations, others are not. We do aim to make it well-rounded.”

Sigh. This brings me to perhaps the most important point in all this: It’s impossible to make change or even have meaningful dialogue on these issues when those propagating mainstream ideas don’t even seem to fully understand what it is they’re doing, or what it would look like to do otherwise.

How are we going to get anywhere at all if people believe that speaking to alternatives just means occasionally putting something out there that isn’t about psychiatric drugs? Assuming that the Mental Health Channel folks genuinely believe they’re offering a product that’s ‘well-rounded,’ how do we even get to a point where they understand why it’s not, and can make a well-reasoned decision about where to go from there?

In reality, psychiatry and the medical model of mental illness are less defined by psychotropics themselves than they are by the concept that extreme emotions and altered mental states are based purely in biology. If we accept that as hard fact (as so many seem to, in spite of the lack of conclusive evidence or even evidence to the contrary), then it’s all the harder to convince anyone that the right response shouldn’t also be biologic in nature. If people buy wholeheartedly into the (thoroughly debunked) idea of ‘chemical imbalance’ as root cause, it makes at least some sense that they’d continue to be drawn most strongly down a path of chemical cure.

Mad in America focuses a great deal on psychiatric drugs themselves, as it rightly should. Yet, it must be pointed out that while, yes, harm was done to me by the medications a psychiatrist prescribed, the harm started when they essentially gave those who hurt, and hit, and raped, and devalued me a pass and said the problems all resided in my head. Harm is done to others when their different ways of relating to the world are defined rigidly as a disorder, rather than the result of how a particular individual and a particular environment intersect. Harm is done to our whole world when sensitivity is defined as weakness, and hardness and emotionlessness are promoted as strength.

Yes, it’s about the drugs. But, in some ways, no, it’s not at all about them. It’s about the damage we do by convincing people that there’s no other choice than to take the drugs because of a ‘chemical imbalance’ or ‘chronic brain disease’ that, just like cancer, will only get worse if it goes untreated. It’s about the inescapable nature of the boxes people put us in (even some of those boxes not filled up with pills).

Until the Mental Health Channel (and so many others) is willing to really hash that bit out – as long as people think they’re being ‘well rounded’ and presenting ‘alternatives’ because they sometimes mention that exercise and meditation and eating well can help a ‘mental illness’, too – then there will be no balance at all.

So, Mental Health Channel, you get an ‘A’ for production value, but an ‘F’ for following your own stated goals. You are doing harm. Your homepage professes that you are a “new online network that’s changing the conversation,” but it appears to me that you’re using your considerable resources to further mostly the same old stories.

And, in the process, you further the silencing of so many voices that couldn’t possibly compete with your reach or your budget to produce. You perpetuate dangerous ideas like that those of us who have been psychiatrically labeled are dangerous, or ‘need to take our meds’ (even if they’re killing us or drastically shortening our lives which, at least in my perusal of your website thus far, seems to go unmentioned).

You’ve repeatedly said that you want to avoid taking sides; You want to stay ‘non-partisan’. But, in the end, this is not just some political debate about ‘to med or not to med’. This is systemic oppression, and you are taking part. Is that really where you want to be, or were you serious when you said you want to change the conversation? If so, you know where to find me (as our e-mail exchanges indicate) and so many others who might be willing to help. (P.S. I’m not so sure you can truly change a conversation without getting at least a little bit ‘political’.)

Until then, I really hope the rest of us can figure out how to maximize the resources and connections we do have, and get our stories beyond these bubbles in which we currently appear to be floating along adrift.


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. Sera,

    I looked at their website because I wanted to find out where the money comes from to fund them. It only says:

    “MHC is underwritten by philanthropic gifts to the Mental Health Fund of the Greater Houston Community Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit corporation.”


    Then you can see who is on the board of the Greater Houston Community Foundation here:

    It’s full of rich, white, corporate types, although I couldn’t immediately find any Big Pharma people (although there is someone from Baylor University Behavioral Health, which likely is funded by Big Pharma).

    It’s quite likely that a trace of this foundation’s funding would eventually reveal corporate interest, either in direct funding or via having people on the board of the funding entity that benefit from an expansion of medicalization and drugging. If that is the case, then the responses of the individual you talked to might make more sense.

    As for the propogation of the disease model into poorer countries, it’s truly disgusting and should make anyone ashamed to be an American. This is one of the worst things we are doing as a country: trying to force a model of brain diseases and drug treatments onto poor people around the world without respect for their culture or desires, a model that if we were able to be honest with ourselves based on the available data on drugs and diagnosing, we would have to admit that it causes worse long-term outcomes and premature death. Because of the real long-term effects of diagnosing, drugging, and ECT physically and psychologically, mental health literacy (i.e. propagated despair, early death, and murder) is a euphemism up there with Assisted Outpatient Treatment (forced treatment) and not that far behind the Final Solution (mass murder of Jews).

    I can only hope that citizens of countries like South Africa, Brazil, China, Nigeria, etc. will stand up for themselves and try to resist the colonization attempts by these white landowners (i.e. rich corporate Americans). Hopefully their community/group based cultures will see through the attempts to reduce each individuals’ problems to their brain and there will be a backlash.

    Fortunately (or not from some perspectives) America is already on the decline geopolitically, internally and externally. Externally, America is gradually getting weaker economically and politically in relation to countries like China, India, and other developing nations. Internally, rich, older, conservative whites’ power is being eroded by the rise of proportionally more minority, socially diverse white people.

    Hopefully these factors will slow and stymie the American corporate attempts to medicalize life problems for everyone globally. Several unforgiving clocks are ticking including the debt clock (, the climate change clock, the eventual exhausting of cheap fossil duels, and hopefully these factors will eventually bring American imperial colonizing ambitions to an end. The ticking of these clocks can be seen in the politicians who imply that America has already lost its position of greatness, and we have to try to make it the great global power again, something which is not going to happen because the clocks above are much more powerful than any one nation.

    If climate change and fossil fuel non-availability get bad to the point that they devastate the economy, and they probably will, there will be no more invasions of the Middle East and no more corporate invasions of other countries through “mental health literacy”. In the extreme scenario of a total economic collapse, mass psychiatric treatments of the “mentally ill” with drugs would no longer be affordable or feasible at an industrial scale.

    People think that is impossible, but as writers like Jared Diamond (Collapse) and Joseph Tainter (The Collapse of Complex Societies) discussed, no great civilization has ever survived in its dominant form indefinitely, and over a long time-frame, there is no reason that the American empire will not collapse too. At that time, people around the world may rightly tell us that American exceptionalism was a myth. The loss of American power may also be a positive thing, because if and when the post-industrial economy which undergirds psychiatry collapses, new understandings and approaches to mental distress may open up.

    Ok, now I got pretty far away from the subject matter of this article 🙂 Or maybe not.

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    • Bpdtransformation,

      Yes, I had poked around to try and find out more about their funding and backers and advisors, too, and hadn’t gotten much beyond where you did. I did see the same statement about the foundation that is funding them…

      I also did find mention in some early e-mails that I received that they do have some sort of advisory board and that Tom Insel (formerly of National Institute of Mental Health) was on there, but couldn’t find who else may have or have had membership there… I’ve e-mailed to ask, but don’t know that I’ll be getting much of a response on that point… I also found that something called used to have something called the ‘Mental Health Channel’ too and that they also appear to have been based in Austin, Texas and that John Grohol (founder of was on (is on?) their medical advisory board… I have no idea if those are all connected, but I believe I included that question in my e-mail to them, as well.

      It seems to be a trend on many levels that the US attempts to spread its ‘right way’ (beyond just the issue of medicalization) to other countries… I do hope there is something to interrupt that somewhere along the way… Good, common sense would be nice, but it doesn’t appear that that’s happening. 🙁

      Thanks for reading and writing!


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  2. The Big Thinkers on Mental Health selection could reflect MHC’s economic position as much as its ideology. The videos were originally produced by BigThink and MHC may have received usage rights a premium discount (as a non-profit). I doubt that the producer would admit to this logic. You could ask MHC would it be willing to include alternative video material if it were provided to it or licensed at a reasonable price. The producers could be decent folk who feel defensive under such criticism. Make them feel like you want to help and new perspectives could be readily included.

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    • I think that more actual material and well-produced videos by mental health reformers are needed. We may not have the necessary funding and drive at the moment to really get in on the conversation.

      Zrbialk, I think your point about the people at this organization getting defensive may be correct; they probably know nothing other than the medical model, and feel attacked when they have their feet held to the fire about why that is the only thing on their site. They are probably also subject to pressures and expectations from whoever is actually funding the initiative, which is almost certainly Big Pharma or Big Pharma connected individuals and institutions.

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    • zrbialk,

      I’m sure you’re right that they will feel defensive, but part of my point regarding the blog is that we invested a fair amount of time *not* attacking and just offering information to them in 2013. I spoke on the phone with them. I e-mailed with them. I tried to help connect them with people at the Alternatives Conference in Austin that year. What I also did not include in this blog (there’s a lot that I cut because it was just getting too long), is that we also invited film producers who were working with them in 2014 into our community to meet with a few people, *and* we tried to offer them some content that we’ve produced to include on their site earlier this year (though admittedly, none of it is anywhere near the production value of what they do post… we just don’t have that sort of budget).

      Pleasantly offering our information and resources up, however, has gotten us nowhere and likely for a mix of reasons… But, as I said toward the end of my blog, I do think that this is ultimately a part of the picture of systemic oppression and I’m not sure it’s fair to require those in the non-dominant group to forever be nice and non-confrontational until those who hold the power simply voluntarily decide to listen. At some point, I think we just get to speak our truth and demand that things be different…

      The problem, of course, is I’m not seeing *either* way be particularly successful at creating actual change… I think there’s a number of reasons for that, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog (or 10) right there.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


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      • Serea,

        Thanks for the extra detail. Context really sheds light on everything, doesn’t it. I am saddened to hear the that they proved so unresponsive. It’s not hard to introduce a balanced account; as a teacher I needed to balance the serotonin deficit hypothesis (an official component of the AP and IB Curriculum) with challenges to it. Prepared curriculum always makes it easier and I am surprised that they proved so averse to prepared alternative perspectives. Keep up the good fight.


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  3. Sera:

    Has anyone ever approached Piper Kerman of “Orange is the New Black” to write a guest op-ed for MIA? I know she speaks about the injustices of seclusion, and the “Psych Version” of seclusion. Remember the character Suzanne told Piper about the two versions within the prison? She said, “psych is even WORSE. I am the only one who ever got out of Psych.”

    Especially as the Murphy Bill has been postponed for re-submission in the House until early 2016 in order to “lower its price tag,” I am thinking this could be timely. Piper would be a quick study. She would figure out what is wrong with the bill, very VERY quickly. What do you think?

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    • Hi Snowyowl,

      I do remember that element coming up in ‘Orange is the New Black’ (all seasons of which my husband and I just made our way through this past year). I don’t otherwise know much at all about the main character, or the woman (Piper Kerman) upon whom the Piper character is based… A quick glance at her webpage does certainly suggest that she’s pretty politically involved in some realms!

      I don’t know enough about Kerman to know if she’s reachable or truly interested in this topic, but I do certainly think that engaging voices that have more social capital than we do (celebrities, etc.) would be great if we could accomplish it!


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  4. “Mental health” are the key words to “mental health movement” PRopaganda. How can your film company be unpolitical about what is essentially a legal decision (i.e. danger to self and others)? People are “insane” by legal decree, not science. A “mental health channel”, well, you know what to expect right off the bat, or, rather, the expectation is that there are people “sick in the mind”, and relations, for whom such a channel serves a purpose. That purpose is usually PRopaganda for the “mental health” social control industry (i.e. jumpy politicians, pharmaceutical companies, mental health cops, and families that trash family members). Joseph Goebbels did as much for the German NAZI Party. Break a leg of the Z in NAZI, stand it on its side, and what do you get? NAMI! You can’t expect the truth from your NAMI station. The truth just wouldn’t go with those mental patient gloves everybody is wearing. I suggest people remove the gloves, and build a school instead. Your PRopaganda, Arcos Films, if it isn’t presently killing people, it will be killing people. Building a school just makes a lot more sense all the way round. Oh, and a school in which dialogue is welcome. A school where free speech is extolled rather than suppressed. We don’t need a lot of banning, or burning, of classic literature either.

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    • Frank,

      I wish ‘mental health’ didn’t need to be such a corrupted phrase… physical health and well being isn’t, after all, just about conquering sickness, but also about nutrition, exercise and just simply taking care of one’s self and being attentive to one’s needs… but in the end, I agree with you that it is (in most circles, anyway).

      Thanks for reading and writing, and for your justified outrage as always. 🙂


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        • It’d definitely an alternative I use at times! Though, I think the complication comes in with the fact that not all cognitive processes are clearly related to emotion? For example, when disconnecting from my general annoyance and discomfort with the term ‘mental health’ based on how it’s been abused in the ‘mental health’ system… I *would* consider, say, my memory and ability to call upon and express what I know and think as related to my overall sense of ‘mental health’, but it doesn’t completely resonate to think of it as related to my ’emotional’ health for me… Cognitive health, maybe? I don’t know… It’s complicated, but the term ‘mental health’ has certainly been corrupted by the system.


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          • Thanks Sera -very interesting points and yes, it is so complicated.

            I had made a framework in my mind that `emotional health’ was opposite to ‘severe emotional distress’ , and that in emotional distress, ‘cognition’ could be hijacked in more or less degrees by terror. (e.g. You can’t access parts of your cognition due to emotional factors). To me this is how ’emotional health’ would be different from the ‘cognitive health’ of people suffering from certain neurological conditions or cognitive deficits.

            As my knowledge is ‘second hand’ (observation of a loved one) I am always very grateful for any input from people who have experienced these things first hand.

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    • Frank,
      I agree also that mental health doesn’t have to be an bad phrase. It only is if you think of it in opposition to the fraudulent term mental illness. In a general everyday sense, mental health can be equivalent to emotional wellbeing, psychic wellness, happiness, etc. If you read the research Ed Diener and his writing on wellbeing, he defines mental health very environmentally and socially in terms of what makes us feel good, i.e. friends, job, independence, good physical health, love, etc. So it depends how you think of mental health.

      Your comment on NAMI and the M to Z made me laugh. I don’t think NAMI is quite that bad, though. I wonder if you came up with this idea.

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      • Thanks.

        For posting this. I think many people have different views of what Mental Health is.

        I know people who being able to use a label and think they have a brain disorder actually saved their life.

        I don’t think NAMI is a as bad either. I think the people are good it’s what’s behind it that may be more questionable. Big Pharma has it’s tentacles in many areas mental and physical health they clearly benefit from it.

        Why not take on big pharma instead seems more worthwhile?

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        • Regarding people being able to use a label and believing in the notion of a brain disorder, that may have worked for some people you know; the problem with this is that studies are showing that for the large majority of people, medicalization of psychosis or depression is harmful – and not only that, it’s unproven. There remains no biological or genetic evidence that so-called schizophrenia and bipolar etc are valid reliable disorders.

          Here are some people talking about the data:

          As John Read is saying here, we now have over 50 studies showing that the medical model (e.g. that schizophrenia is a brain disease) causes more stigma, more pessimism about outcomes, and may even cause worse outcomes – on aggregate. So the people you discuss Schac may be real, but if this is correct, it would be unethical for NAMI to promote the notion that pseudolabels like schizophrenia are real brain diseases, because they’d be harming more people than they were helping.

          This is Sami Timimi, a psychiatrist, talking about how research on specific disorders does nothing to improve outcomes, how drugs cause poorer long-term outcome, and how anti-stigma campaigns increase stigma. I recommend watching a significant part of this video as the statistics are quite shocking.

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      • BDTransformation, I don’t see “mental health” as a good phrase, and what’s more, “emotional health”, and even “behavioral health”, are not improvements. My feeling is that just as the term “mental illness” is figurative, so is the term “mental health”. “Mental health” is a euphemism for something else. French philologist Michel Foucault lectured on the psy-function of psychiatry once. I think maybe that has something to do with it. The “mental health system” is about imposing an acceptable version of “reality” on people who are thought to have deviated from the conventional view of “reality” too far. I don’t think this disciplinary system has much to do with medical science, in reality, and beyond the pretentious illusions of it’s practitioners. Just because, at one point or another, somebody decided that people imprisoned in lunatic asylums would get better treatment if those asylums were seen as hospitals, and the inmates within were thought of as patients, doesn’t make it so. No, you get “sick” people by injuring them with electricity, insulin, schapels, chemicals and so forth.

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        • I don’t see “mental health” as a good phrase, and what’s more, “emotional health”, and even “behavioral health”, are not improvements.

          Again I agree; in fact “behavioral health” is even more totalitarian than “mental health” if you ask me.

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      • Frank,
        I agree also that mental health doesn’t have to be an bad phrase.

        I totally disagree. “Mental health” is always a bad term for the same reason “mental illness” is always a bad term; one implies the other. This is not an inconsequential matter, as both terms play into psychiatry’s cynical tactic to make people confuse brain and mind.

        While some people may realize that “mental illness” is a metaphor, for many others accepting it as something real is the first step down the slippery slope to psychiatric drugging and “treatment.” Both terms should be dispensed with, and never used in the anti-psych movement (or anywhere else) without quotation marks.

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        • HI Guys, I will have to disagree with you here, but not a big deal. I view mental health as a very general term that can be used positive and sometimes negatively as you describe. In its positive sense, mental health can mean emotional wellbeing, personal fulfilment, satisfaction, happiness, etc. It’s not always used in opposition to the mental illness misnomer that you are rightly concerned about.

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          • Regardless of what it is “used to mean,” it is based on the illusion that a mind can be either “healthy” OR “sick” other than metaphorically. And while you seem comfortable speaking metaphorically when discussing positive states of mind, it sets you up for the flip side of the metaphor which is “mental illness.” Again, this is about how language is used. A metaphor which equates any state of mind with health or disease, while consistent with the rules of language, should be regarded as unacceptable by the anti-psychiatry movement based on the immeasurable harm done to so many by the deliberately misleading use of such terms by psychiatry.

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          • BPD, I don’t find any major problems with those “alternative” terms you mention, or similar ones. (Though “mental well-being” may be approaching that slippery slope.) It’s a step in the right direction anyway.

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          • I’m saying “mental health” is a figure of speech, and it doesn’t have a lot to do with literal health. Literal health is of the body. A healthy mind is a figure of speech. A healthy brain is a brain that has not been injured, or become diseased. “Mental illness”, so-called, is not disease. “Mental illness” is a figure of speech, a metaphor. Shrinks say they haven’t found the source of “mental illness” because they aren’t dealing with disease. “Mental health” treatment is a business, and a pretty shady business to boot.

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        • We can discern states of being in a variety of ways without even using the ‘m’ word:

          Calm vs. anxious
          Confident vs. insecure
          Grounded vs. volatile
          Joyful vs. enraged
          Clear vs. confused
          Kind vs. confrontational
          Love-based vs. fear-based
          Trusting vs. paranoid
          Fulfilled vs. empty

          I believe we can go in and out of these states of being all our lives, for a variety of reasons. In fact, it seems human to experience a wide range of emotional states, however they occur, especially given that we exist on a continuum. If we didn’t know suffering, we wouldn’t know joy.

          However, I suppose that if we spend most of our time in the latter states, this will eventually cause chronic suffering and will reflect profoundly in our physical health as well as our overall experience of life, particularly in relationship to others. Moreover, I feel we have more control over how we feel than we can sometimes perceive, by how we interpret, respond to, and navigate our lived experiences.

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  5. Hi Sera,

    Can I ask what you think we as a community should do?

    We talk about big phrama funding and so forth. BUT I think there needs to be ackolwdment that big corpperations are always goign to exist.

    I have found great help from NAMI and so has my family

    Do I agree with everything they say of course not. BUt I think paining NAMi as the enemy isn’t working.

    Alot of the people who work for nami are families and just want whatever help they can get .

    I often find a lot of the posts on here to very anti med anti nami. I don’t all they do but they have some great things great support groups

    I wish we as a community in some ways would stop blaming others for our problems which is what it sometimes feels like.

    Why can’t we fight a better fight more informed doctors and more inclusive therapies ( they both do exist)

    I almost gave up on psychiatry but found a doc who doesn’t not believe in chemical imbalances has been open to alternative meds BUT is is pretty traditional.

    I think we need less fist raising and more community

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    • Schmac,
      It is notable that the United States is almost alone (with New Zealand, I think) in allowing drug companies to directly market neuroleptics and antidepressants to consumers. There is also very little restriction on how Big Pharma can influence politicians and industry groups. It’s not a small thing that Americans comprise about 5% of global population, but consume over 50% of global psychiatric drugs, without any decrease relative to other nations in disability relating to supposed mental illness.

      So the anti-“med” (drug) issue is a real, massive problem. NAMI is contributing to this problem by spreading the myths that 1) schizophrenia, bipolar, and major depression are valid, separable, reliable illnesses, and 2) that people labeled with these fictions should be treated by drugs. NAMI is causing serious harm because it is misrepresenting to people the certainty of these labels, and it is advocating treatments which in the long-term cause more harm than good, according to the data we have from many sources like Read, Kirsch, Whitaker, Moncrieff. The data keeps piling in and almost every study says the benefit of drugs is negligible or nonexistent over the long-term, or actively harmful.

      I went to NAMI family meetings a long time ago and met many nice people there, both the group moderators and the participants. People genuinely wanted to help one another and find hopeful ways to think about things. In hindsight, it was sad, because I could sense that some of the people at my NAMI meetings didn’t want to think in terms of the medical model (e.g. they would respond to questions outside of diagnostic language), but they accepted it because things were presented that way. So you see, harsh critics like me are not out to get NAMI for no reason. NAMI could truly be a positive influence if it rejected drug company funding and presented people with honest representations of the uncertainty of mental health diagnoses and the potential risks and harms of drugs. At the moment, unfortunately, NAMI at an organizational level is being dishonest and causing harm.

      I understand why many people would still go to NAMI, even if they know on some level that NAMI leaders are completely misrepresenting the facts about diagnoses and drugs. NAMI still has caring people who provide emotional help – a much more powerful healing agent than any diagnosis or drug. And many families who cannot afford therapy or don’t have a big social network don’t have anywhere else to go. So NAMI will continue to exist and provide that service. The sad thing is, NAMI could do so much better if it took the steps outlined, i.e. rejecting corporate funding and started an honest conversation and the risks, problems, harms, and also the occasional benefits of diagnoses and drugs. But I think NAMI’s leaders lack the courage and willingness to take these stands, and that too many NAMI families are ignorant of the risks and harms of diagnoses and drugging.

      I think the resistance to facing the data on diagnoses and drugging also stems from the way the medical model benefits and attracts some NAMI people. Unfortunately, some NAMI parents are comforted by the myth that their loved ones has an illusory illness like schizophrenia, since it protects them from having to consider that their poor parenting may have contributed to their child’s problems (as often is the case). Investing in the medical model also protects them from really addressing the terror, despair, confusion, and rage that are beneath the illusory labels schizophrenia and bipolar. It’s much easier to label something a brain illness and just give the poor person pills. But so much worse for that person in the long run, since they most likely never get a chance to recover and truly live.

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    • Shac6,

      I definitely do not have the answers to all your questions, but I wonder if you’ve by chance read one of my older blogs that addresses some of my bigger issues with NAMI? It’s here, if you’re interested:

      I agree that not all people (or groups) associated with NAMI are bad. I agree that many are – as you suggest – simply desperate and/or hurting family members and others who don’t have anywhere else to turn.

      HOWever, I also agree with what I wrote in the blog I just cited above… And what, apparently pharmaceutical reps also agree with… Which is that NAMI and other organizations like it that have such a huge reach and so relentlessly promote the medical model as the absolute truth do HUGE damage. (Actually, the pharmaceutical rep I cited in the article above doesn’t say that they do huge damage… His frame is that they are the biggest help the pharma industry has to recruiting more people to take their psych drugs….)

      Meanwhile, NAMI (along with MHA’s current head) is one of the Murphy Bill’s most vocal promoters, and the New York chapter even gave Tim Murphy an award at their annual conference last year.

      While it may be a losing battle in some ways based on the power structures that be, given all this, I do not think that it’s fair to ask people to simply give up and play nice with NAMI…

      I’m happy to invite *people who are associated* with NAMI into any discussion, event, etc. that I have to offer… But I, for one, can’t ever imagine joining or standing with them, given that they would rather hold up the perspectives that are killing so many of us and elevate people like Murphy. It’s just too much to ask.

      While I’m with you on the idea of creating community, I actually think we need *more* first raising. When it comes to stepping out from behind computer screens and on-line pseudonyms, *FAR* too many of us now feel beholden to paid peer roles and other positions that are at risk if we speak up and unite around some of our beliefs in a wholehearted and outspoken way. Too many people are afraid to speak up truthfully for fear of losing their job, or have convinced themselves they agree because of the pressures of assimilation that exist for anyone who is a part of a historically disempowered group…

      Corporations will certainly always exist, but pharma doesn’t have quite the power in some other countries that it holds here, and so I also think there’s room for change. NAMI’s greatest source of power is the lack of access to the ability to get heard for the rest of us, and I have to believe there are also ways to change that. I see joining with NAMI to beg for their ‘getting heard’ scraps as doing nothing else other than increasing their reach and their voice…Although again, I understand why people who are just desperate for support turn that way and don’t think less of them for doing so.

      So, I really don’t know the answers to your questions, though I do think we have more power than we make use of if only we’d each find ways to strategize and get different perspectives into our communities, even if its only to submit something with alternative ideas to local public access or local colleges or what have you…

      But I guess i have a question back for you… As much as I can appreciate a good portion of what you’re saying, when I hear, “I wish we as a community in some ways would stop blaming others for our problems” I feel a little uneasy… Because I think we’re up against systemic oppression that is much like racism, classism, sexism, etc. in so many ways… And when put in that context, it feels really hard to me to suggest that people in the non-dominant group should stop blaming the dominant group for all their power and privilege or asking them to be accountable to the wrongs that have been done and to recognize the need for change…

      I wonder if you believe that this is an issue of systemic oppression? If you do believe that, then there’s room for lots of well intended people and even good doctors and good NAMI employees, but there’s still a ton of power imbalance and privilege and abuses and need to unpack and change all that.

      Thanks for reading and writing! 🙂


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      • As someone who is volunteering for NAMI I can state the following.

        Yes they support the Murphy. I was very upfront that I do not, that did not stop me from volunteering or being allowed to volunteer in anyway.

        I also, feel like there are other ways to change these things we do not like. I found that in many ways we can mobilize but it may have to be done not by just creating alternative spaces but integrating into mainstream ones.

        It means choosing battles.

        Will I be asked to support the murphy bill again possibly could it become an issue maybe.

        Do I agree that I have a brain disorder no

        But the work I am getting to do with NAMI in many ways rivals what were doing as a community as well.

        I am getting to put together resource list for people in crisis or need help finding a warm line, therapists etc things I needed when I went to the hospital and never received.

        I am also putting together lists of celebs who are identified with certain mental health issues.

        and possibly going into classes rooms to talk to kids about the benefits of ADHD

        and that last part was all my idea.

        My feelings and ideas were well received by NAMI as I presnted in way that still allowed me to use there language and mine

        I kinda think is how things will get done being able to say ilness or emotional difficliues while not seeming big is very big for people hearing these optipons.

        The whole fighting the system i don’t think really works in this case. But rather small subtle changed due.

        While also acknowledging that some people do like labels and the medical model and we should strive to be more inclusive and just allow people to use whatever tools they need to get better and move forward

        Do I think there is systemic oppression sure I think it’s everywhere its a by product of how our brains are designed It’s not right but it exists, but I think fighting it in doesn’t seem to work. If work with it it seems to go to better

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        • on that note, I feel like the reason NAMI does so well is not just funds but organizing, I can’t tell you how many times i have posted in the icarus projects facebook page about organizing…. nothing has happened it needs too

          we also need to change our lanuage “alternative,” may not work but emering or new evidence based may be better anything that included evidence and science is the way to go

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          • Schac6,

            That’s great that you’re having impact and that people in your corner of NAMI were receptive to the ideas… I still find it to be a bind on my end, because even if I find such receptivity, I would worry that they would only use the fact that they’re doing something progressive in one little corner to fend of critics and bolster their overall presence. That is also one of many reasons we won’t take pharmaceutical funding.

            For the record, I *never* tell people they’re wrong for wanting to use medical labels for themselves or finding something helpful (in full or in part) about the medical system… In fact, if you look at my other writing, there are places where I try to be very clear about that: That it’s not about getting out of one box, only to step in another, and that one of the biggest problems inherent to this particular system is how it *tells* people what their story is… I’m not interested in replicating that problem… In fact, ‘Beyond the Medical Model’ – the first film I made, is largely about that underlying message…

            But given the medical model is currently elevated, most of my time and energy is dedicated to raising up other options and pointing out why the medical model should *not* be elevated about all others (which is different than saying it shouldn’t be an option at all)…

            I agree with you that organizing is a problem… Although I’ve never posted on Icarus, I’ve seen the phenomenon you describe elsewhere… Unfortunately, I think this is part of the self-feeding system of oppression, I believe. It’s hard to gather energy from people who’ve been beaten down, are feeling hopeless, have no resources, are just trying to get by day-to-day, are afraid of the consequences of speaking up beyond a computer screen, etc. etc. I think it often says more about the impact of oppression then about, say, the skills of people at NAMI or in other settings… But of course, it’s more complicated than that, and I have no real answer for it.

            I just know that the path you describe as being right for you is not right for me, as I fear it only gives an oppressive system more power and that so much of the change it brings is illusory in nature. I hope, however, that you find continued success on the path you have chosen.


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        • Schac,
          If you tell kids that ADHD has benefits, you might want to consider that doing so is essentially communicating falsehoods to the children. The problem is there is absolutely no validity or reliability behind the label ADHD. In other words, there is no cut off point at which distractible aggressive behavior suddenly becomes ADHD; ADHD doesn’t exist as a distinct condition. Rather, ADHD is a fictitious illness created by old white psychiatrists in a meeting room outside Washington DC. This uncertainty might be something to communicate to the children. Some of these kids will find out as adults that ADHD is a fraudulent non-illness, and then they will wonder why you, long ago, decided to tell them it was real but beneficial.

          You can argue that telling little white lies to these children helps them – just like psychiatrists say it’s ok to tell little white lies to people that they have a chemical imbalance requiring drugs – but misrepresenting what is actually known to people, whether adults or children, always has consequences eventually. Think about that the next time you’re in the classroom.

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          • Thanks I understand you find no solace in those words and I get it.

            But if I am going to speak to class of kids I am going to have to use some label.

            Ned Hallowell a great psychiatrist says ADHD is a personality trait he has also ” has ADHD.”

            And there is a benefit too ADHD, as it’s a personality trait. Thomas Hartmann has discussed in his own work.

            And yes there no unified mindest on a condition, there is however the idea that what is labeld a disorder ” is when someone is unable to engage in the life they want.”

            For some people there complusions can become overwhelming and hold them back

            For some if it’s ” ADHD.” then it could be arguring and intersponal relationships

            I look at ADHD as the same as any thing else. A reaction to some stressor or trauma that brings out ones personality spectrums un healthy behaviors.

            Within that personality and person are great benefit.

            That gene evoled for a reson,

            the ADHD gene is the hunter gene, it used to be the top person always on the lookout for food, hunting and gathering however as things changed and became more sednetary that personality had to adapt to the ever changing world creating more difficulutes for them.

            But there were difficulties to begin with

            Saying ADHD doesn’t exist is like saying my OCD is made up. Let me tell you that’s not true either

            A good therapist will understand that those overwhelming compulsiuons or the need to act or not sit still is your brains way of reacting and trying to defend itself abiet an unhealthy one when you get caught up in it.

            I want to show kids there are benefits to there diagnosis because as this point in time your not gonna just get up and get rid of the DSM but if you can point kids to there true talents and they have many they won’t care about the label as much infact they may own it.

            I am sorry that you don’t like labels and i do respect your opnions that these aren’t real illness.

            I don’t beleive they are either neither does my psycholigst and my psychiatrst doesnt beleive in chemical imblances so theirs that

            While there are other factors such as creating more flexible and accommodating environments which would limit and reduce people suffering I am trying to help kids live and get by with the world the way it currently is so that maybe they can be apart of some change.

            And even if we crate more open less traumatic envrioments whose gonna benefit from that and who won’t

            Changing environment will be bound to cause a whole another group to have some reaction as well.

            We can fully get rid of mental health suffering

            BUT we can be more accepting of it and show kids and people there abilities

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          • Schac, I have interacted with troubled kids, but I don’t use labels with them. I just talk to them about whatever is going on in their life. It’s not necessary to use labels whether one is talking to groups or individual children. That’s a fallacy. One can understand the individual’s problems (“symptoms”) in a narrative subjective way without calling it an illness or disorder.

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          • Schac,

            I actually had been avoiding this particular piece of the debate, but wanted to chime in briefly…

            I particularly want to challenge the idea that one *must* use labels if they’re going to speak to a class… I’ve definitely spoke to class, written grants to traditional funders, etc. etc. without doing more than saying things like, “What may sometimes get labeled as x” simply to help them draw the connections. I hear people say all the time that, if they’re going to “write a grant, work in a hospital, talk to a class, write a paper, etc.” then they have to use the language of the system, etc., and I’ve just routinely found that not to be true…

            This is less about you and what you’re saying than my wanting to be sure to name that for others who may read this, I guess.

            In any case, I hear you (and have heard from so many others) that some people feel that psych labels are useful to them at least some of the time. I’m not here to do what the psych system has done to me and tell any person they’re wrong about that.

            *BUT*, I do wonder if there’s a way for you to – when you present to classes – both present that sometimes people find psych labels useful, and that even when they do, it’s possible to see both the *positive* and struggle in the associated experiences (which is what I think I hear you saying you are already doing) *AND* talk about the fact that there isn’t actually conclusive evidence to suggest that those psych labels are the only way to look at things at all, and share some of that information, as well?

            It’s not so much when the medical model is presented that I cringe, but primarily when it is presented as the best, obvious, or only choice…

            Thanks! 🙂


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          • I can’t believe this. Telling kids that they have ADHD and that ADHD is a real disease is NOT ok, it is simply wrong and you are doing a great disservice to anyone you confuse with this misinformation. I’m not feeling as polite as others are right now. There is no “ADHD gene.” I suggest you stop confusing these children and examine almost every assumption you have about psychiatric propaganda. MIA is as good a place as any to start. Maybe in a few months we can have an intelligent conversation.

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        • In time if you continue studying the issues brought up here you will recognize that you are being used — not necessarily by the individuals you come into contact with but via the organization’s basic propaganda line put out at the level of the top leadership.

          Before he went over to the “dark side” E. Fuller Torrey, who I am told helped found NAMI, acknowledged that one could no more have a sick mind than he/she could have a purple idea. The notion of “mental illness” is a metaphor or figure of speech used concretely to denote a real thing. “Concrete thinking” was defined in my Abnormal Psychology textbook in college as a symptom of “schizophrenia.” So what gives?

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      • Hi Sera,

        Thanks for writing back.

        I think alot of the lack of orgainzation is tied two things. One, people feeling beaten down.

        Two people getting into a cycle of learned helplessness where they think nothing will change and therefor contribute to there suffering. Which sounds harsh but it is true.

        There has to be some responsibility on our behalf this isn’t all the ” oppressors fault.”

        I think things can organize if people were willing to integrate people who come various background business, marketing.

        By that I mean we may need people who are sympathetic to our issues who may not be dealing with our issues in the same extent and can come in help organize and fundraise.

        This is simliar to what ACT UP did in the 1980’s in the aids crisis.

        Tons of people who were sympathetic helped out scientics, chemists and it really changed things and help create a structure

        We need to reach out and and find those people . I don’t think we can do it all alone as many of us are stuck in our mental health issues. Nothing wrong with that but i can create a lack of progress as many people are goign through crisis after crisis which is what our community attracts to a large degree and provideds much needed support.

        it’s hard when your in a crsis to help rally and organize a movement all at once.

        I think there are ways to do this however.

        On the other I do take issue the idea what I am doing is not creating change but the illusion of change. That does come off as be very demeaning.

        Choosing to tell your story and the abilites with in your diagnosis will and can help empower people

        It has for me.

        More importantly, you cans say it’s giving power to a big organization but changing language is very important. it’s something I have learned through therapy it;s very subtle but it creates change.

        Saying emotional difficult while seeming benign is not to many and open up young children deal with there emotions and find a good caring therapist.

        I have not seen any of this come from “our community,” regards to any of these programs

        And until they happen telling someone that there not really creating change is the antithesis of what I thought this community was about

        I am here today because that mindset helped me.

        I think it comes down to the following. Life can suck. It does. People can suck and they often. Most of life is boring or crappy. There are always obstacles.

        So we can sit here and rail against a system over and over and preach to the choir or do something about it which would mean ackonlweding everything and everyone that we may not be always right.

        I learned alot of that from Patch Adams. A man who was in psych ward three times and hates the medical model A LOT.

        His whole motto is stop whining and complaining and start living. If you don’t like something do something about it. The world owes you nothing.

        That may be harsh and in many ways it is. BUT it’s true.

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        • Schac,

          I’m sorry that you found my comment demeaning. I was speaking for myself, though, and that’s the reality of my experience… That I have spent a *lot* of time (still do… just not with NAMI) trying to change existing parts of the system… and what I’ve found is that they may start to *say* different words, but that they’re not actually changing anything underneath all that…

          In fact, they have gotten congratulated for bringing me or others who speak a different message in, because it makes them feel more progressive and because they can point to us as examples of being more progressive… But when we actually start pushing for them to *really* change and not just hold us up in tokenistic ways, they get uncomfortable… And as a part of that process, they take from our culture only what *is* somewhat comfortable and essentially co-opt it so that it loses it’s meaning and nothing has really changed in the end.

          I’m not speaking for what’s happening for you, and I am speaking in ‘broad strokes’ that are often more complicated in reality… But that is my experience of what happens when I spend too much time trying to change of those systems by participating in them… I just make them *look* better and contribute to the illusion of change, when underneath it, things are still pretty much the same (but now that fact is harder to see)…

          I agree with you that people get into a place of learned helplessness… It’s similar to some of what I was saying in my last reply to bpd…


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          • I fully understand that NAMi may not fully change nor do i expect I always beleive there will be some power upsetting people its how we work as a people but I do think that if that little small change of even speaking at nami helps someone just one person then youve done ur job

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          • Hi Sera,

            I am writing back here to your comment about going into classrooms.

            I understand your concerns however I am doing this for NAMI.

            I am not in the position to go in and just radically change there program and that’s not my aim.

            My aim is to take there pre-existing structure and utilize to show benefits of those diagnosis

            And to tell my story as well.

            I am not going to talk about the downfalls of the medical model that’s not my aim nor mission at this moment.

            Although I don’t agree with a large part of the medical model, I personal like the fact that I can show kid’s the upside to there ” conditions.”

            And on that end even if I didn’t use ADHD I would still have to use some label as it helps give some gudiance to different personalities.

            Even Jung Classified personaliaty types abiet not as exteme as the medical model may seem.

            My role and goal isn’t to turn NAMI upside down and fight NAMI isn’t the enemey in my opinon.

            And while I think it’s great to keep moving forward and breaking down walls of opression I also want to kids to have some hope RIGHT NOW.

            Changing a whole system won’t happen tomorrow or today and I would rather give a child a new perspective on a label or a word while things are slowly changing

            And on that note there and will always be some form of oppression it’s how are brains are programmed to work.

            We want to be above others, be cool. This occurs in highs cool to the work place to our personal groups of friends.

            It doesn’t mean we be aware of it and try and become more consistent of how were behaving but there will in some fashion or form be some cultural hierarchy which in some ways does have it’s place and benefit.

            So I would rather be fighting the real enemy at this moment which is people not having acess to care which in this NAMI wants to help people become aware of, helping kids be aware of celebs who have identified as having a mental health issues.

            I would love ulitmatley if people were just given more chose and freedom to choose how to deal with there suffering.

            That for me is the most important and I think overtime science does win out.

            Right now there are alot of emerging things coming out of the third way of CBT particularity DBT and ACT that is less beholden to labels and more focused on context, and meaning.

            I urge to look into people that I linked to below.



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    • It would be great to have more community, but I have found that my very well researched views are not welcome in many communities where people are very invested in the “chemical imbalance” viewpoint. I think there are a lot of political reasons for this, and most of them do NOT come from fist-raising by consumers, but from job protectionism and corruption within the industry. And sorry to say, when you remove the pig from its accustomed feeding trough, the pig is going to squeal.

      It really is a bullying type situation. We can tell people to “get along” all we want, but as long as the bully has everyone afraid of being beaten up if they don’t support the status quo, “getting along” quickly deteriorates into “capitulating to avoid a fight.” That does not lead to community.

      So if you have a pathway where those who are invested in their either pro- or anti-medical viewpoint can find some common ground, I’d love to hear it. But in truth, it’s not the “mentally ill” who started this fight. Your comments remind me a little (just a little) of black people being told that white people can’t hear their message because they’re too strident and angry about it. Well, gosh, I think they have good reason to be strident and angry, and it’s not the job of the person experiencing oppression to take care of the oppressors to make sure they feel OK! In fact, to capitulate to that reasoning seems like collaborating in their own oppression. I think the same applies to those with mental health labels. If some people are OK with or even like their labels, that’s their choice, but why is it that people rejecting labels is so threatening to those who accept them? Or especially to the parents who are concerned about their adult children and see force as the only answer?

      I know it’s not easy to navigate these waters, but remembering that the recipients of dishonest and sometimes deadly psychiatric care are not equal players on a level playing field, but are in fact the victims of forces vastly beyond their own control, it becomes a lot more understandable why ANGER is an appropriate response, rather than endless attempts at “respectful dialog” that do nothing to enhance the power position of the victims in this power play.

      —- Steve

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      • Thanks for being so patient with your response. I think it might take a couple readings — maybe after mulling it over for awhile first — before it gradually starts to sink in. But truth has a habit of doing that because…it’s TRUE.

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  6. Relative to the discussion around NAMI, I have asked before for anyone to chime in who has a regular corporate or business-world job, and who advocates publicly against the medical model of mental illness. Here’s asking that question again – anyone who has a regular job with a company or institution, i.e. is not retired, self-employed, or on disability, answer this comment and share what you do and why you feel you were able to do it.

    The silence is going to be deafening.

    Because most of the people who are doing something for our cause, are not taking much personal risk. Sera Davidow, Robert Whitaker, Laura Delano, John Read, Sami Timimi, etc. are all either self-employed, retired, working in unusual systems that support the expression of counter-mainstream views (e.g. Sera’s Western Massachusetts group), or they work in Great Britain/Australia where the political environment is more forgiving. Show me someone who is willing to risk their mainstream private or public sector job to advocate and then I will be impressed.

    Many people who would act to promote alternatives and undermine mainstream diagnosing and drugging choose not to do so due to fear of job loss. That is why the only thing I am currently willing to do is promote a website and post on forums under a pseudonym. I work in the education industry and in real estate and if there were a complaint made to the corporations I work with, i.e. that I am promoting controversial supposedly harmful views on “mental illness”, I might lose one or both of these positions. Having enough money is key to my survival in the real world; I live in an expensive, competitive area near Washington DC. I have considered whether I could countersue the corporations in such a situation; I don’t know.

    So while it would be easy to join NAMI and promote the officially-sanctioned lies that schizophrenia and bipolar are valid brain diseases and neuroleptics should be part of every treatment, it’s not at all easy to publicly advocate for groups promoting the positions with much stronger scientific support: that mental health diagnoses are invalid and unreliable, and drugs cause more harm than good and should not be required treatments for psychotic states. If I do that, what are the chances of my losing a job? Should I risk my ability to keep my house and to be a functional working member of society?

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    • Bpdtransformation,

      For the record, I did do much of that when I chose to ‘come out’ as someone with personal experience in the mental health system while I was working in a relatively senior role *in* the mental health system… I’d already been trying to integrate different perspectives into my work… but once I ‘came out’, I did indeed end up fired. 🙂 ( for a bit on all that if you’re interested)

      Anyway, yes, you are speaking to what I mentioned in a prior comment… That systemic oppression is re-enforced by industry, and by (justified) fear of speaking out. I believe it to be one of the *greatest* losses that has come with the industrialization of peer roles… This movement did indeed used to be much more vocal in some parts, but as more people have come to work *for* the system and become dependent on it financially, we’ve lost even more steam in that regard. It’s not something to blame the individual for… Just one of the many deeply challenging issues that we face.

      That said, I will offer this: There are actually multiple ‘Recovery Learning Communities’ in the state of Massachusetts and all of us are funded largely by the state Department of Mental Health… But, not all of them do much to particularly challenge the medical system. In fact, some of them collaborate quite closely with NAMI and have centers hospital basements.

      We’ve even gotten calls from some of them that are totally out of our area and go something like this:

      (WHISPERING) Other RLC: “So, there’s someone in our community who wants to get off their meds, but we’re not allowed to talk about that here…. Can you talk to them?”

      There’s a number of reasons why those RLC’s are different… But I gotta tell you, one of the reasons is they disempower themselves. We consistently speak up more than most of the other RLCs, have more controversial events (in fact, I tend to bring our controversial events to other parts of the state whenever I can, because most of the other RLCs aren’t going to offer such things themselves), say more controversial things at statewide meetings, etc. etc… And one of the biggest differences is that we basically *do* have a couple of beliefs we keep in mind:

      1. If we just act and speak like our approach and what we’re doing is unquestionably the way it’s supposed to be, more people will believe us than not, and few will try and stop us. (A play from the medical model’s playbook, if you will…)

      2. We are willing to lose a contract or have a complaint placed against us (I’ve had a formal complaint filed against me with our funder since I’ve been in this role) if it comes down to it, because to be doing anything else would be such an ethical loss and injustice that couldn’t stand it.

      While there’s other factors involved in our success, the reality is that – at least at this point in time – we are the largest RLC (we started at the same time as two of the five others), have a great relationship with at least the local representatives for our funders, and are certainly the best known beyond the borders of our state.

      So, it’s a complicated picture in many ways.


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      • Sarah, Thanks for sharing all this – were you fired simply for having been “mentally ill” in the past, or were you fired because you said something counter to the medical model (i.e. that your diagnoses was garbage, or that drugs were not necessary)?

        I did not listen to the whole 50 minute interview, sorry, and don’t think I’ll get to it, not because I don’t respect you but because it’s too long for me right now. If I knew what section to listen to go to I would go and listen to part of it.

        Your experience kind of confirms my fears. While I want to do more in my heart, I keep telling myself I should be self-interested and do whatever is necessary to survive and continue to improve, which in this case means not publicly speaking about my viewpoints. I have a rather ruthless, survivalist part and a tender, caring part to my personality, and right now the former part is winning. If I knew I would have some legal protection against reprisal from an employer, I might feel differently. The fact is I have no idea what might happen if I came out so to speak.

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        • Bpd,

          Honestly, I don’t know why *anyone* listens to that damn interview, but apparently a lot of people have… 😉 I’ll see if I can dig through at some point and figure out where in there I talk about that, so I can use it as an easier reference point in the future… Though I kind of hate the sound of my own voice!

          In brief: When I did the whole ‘coming out’ thing, I didn’t just do it quietly… I was on leave at the time (I’d been holding it together for quite some time, but I’d just had a baby and then the pipes in my house froze and basically tore the house apart when my baby was three weeks old and I kind of just felt apart for a while after that…), and decided – with a co-worker – to start up a website specifically for people who both worked in the system and had gotten services in it… And we both posted our stories, mine included stuff about self-injury and some challenging ideas (though not as challenging as what I’d likely write now!)…

          It freaked people the hell out because a) I was in a leadership position at the org b) I was challenging some of their basic ideas c) I was talking about some of what they considered the ‘scariest’ stuff (cutting, etc.) way out in the open… And I basically went from one of the most praised employees with lots of credibility (which meant they largely left me alone to do what I wanted) to ‘is she competent to return to work’ in a matter of days…

          I didn’t get fired right there, though… It’s just that after that, without any real credibility left, *everything* I was doing got questioned and all the alternative stuff I’d been bringing in (acupuncture, yoga, etc.) was scrutinized like it had never been before, and… Well, there’s more to the story, but I’m out of time at the moment, and you likely get the picture…

          In the end, I can make the argument from both sides. Yes, some people (like me) really do end up losing their jobs… But truly, that ended up being a good thing for me because it opened the door to a place where I *could* talk about it… And once here, it’s been absolutely *critical* to my feeling okay about the work that I do that I again be willing to lose my job to be able to do the right thing.. and because of that very attitude that i have and that I’ve supported in others, we’ve gone way further than we otherwise would have…

          Complicated. I totally understand your own struggle.


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          • Ok thanks. It sounds to me like they made a very questionable decision, and should have welcomed your honestly, and perhaps should have been legally liable after firing you.

            I wouldn’t say it’s a struggle, just a frustration, for me. I have a life outside of trying to covertly advocate for mental health, but I want to speak out. I don’t work in a mental health setting, so it’s possible that there might be no intersection between what I would do in mental health advocacy and my work. But on the other hand, there is a slight chance, and that disturbs me. Because I have worked so hard to recover and become able to function and be financially successful, and I do not want anything to make me go backwards now that I am in the real world.

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        • Bpd,

          I think it’s a fair fear, depending on what you came out with… As much as I’d like to encourage you just to be free and fearless about it all. 🙂 It’s fair to want to protect what you’ve fought for…

          I did consider suing them afterward, but employment law is hard and often in the favor of the employer… I ended up taking a severance and signing what was essentially a ‘hush, don’t talk about this’ contract to receive that severance (a decision I certainly made out of survival of myself and my young family)… But people on the other end of that contract haven’t held up their end of the bargain, so I have felt less pressed to uphold mine…


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    • Because most of the people who are doing something for our cause, are not taking much personal risk…Show me someone who is willing to risk their mainstream private or public sector job to advocate and then I will be impressed.

      BPD, I think this is assuming a lot about people you don’t know. Anyone who publicly speaks out against this system, including those you mention, is taking considerable personal risk just by being considered a “leader.” As for the second part, Richard Lewis, for one, just quit his longtime job at a “mental health” center over their use of benzodiazepines and reported them to the authorities. Does that “impress” you? Many people are doing things they don’t always publicly announce.

      Don’t want to turn this into a big thing, just sayin’…

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      • Ok, you may be right about this Oldhead. I don’t know much about many of the people who post here. And I think Richard Lewis is very impressive! 🙂

        There are degrees of risk and part of what is being discussed is simply human nature to be cautious when faced with a threatening powerful system which can harm you.

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        • I have been clear if diplomatic about my opposition to DSM labeling and the wholesale drugging of foster kids for many years. I am fortunate to be in an advocacy job where we are expected to take contrary positions sometimes. It has affected me professionally in some ways (I believe it prevented me from getting a particular job at the State level that I would have been great for), but my agency has never wavered in their support for my taking on these issues publicly. I’m somewhat of a celebrity in the world of CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates, my organization’s affiliation) and in the local courts, where people know me as the psych med guy. And the local foster-youth-driven advocacy agency loves me.

          So it is possible to survive in a professional job while being “out” about my views, but it most definitely has costs.

          —- Steve

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  7. This is a great post; thank you for your community service.

    This is an important statement: “In reality, psychiatry and the medical model of mental illness are less defined by psychotropics themselves than they are by the concept that extreme emotions and altered mental states are based purely in biology.” It is totally correct if you consider biology as describing a disorder. However, it is a confusing statement if you consider biology to be the foundation of all thinking and mental distress as the natural neurobiology of emotional suffering from painfully distressful experiences.

    I am a natural scientist who experienced post-trauma stress but understood that there was no disorder about it; my experiences were torturing me. Unbelievably distressful experiences caused endless, excruciatingly painful emotional suffering. Extremely distressful experiences produce behaviors that may appear to be an altered “state” but constant, extreme emotional pain can drive anyone to behaviors that aren’t cool. I became an independent neurophysiologist because the pros did not understand something critical about mental distress; it is the natural, normal neurophysiology of painfully distressful experiences.

    Pseudoscience convinces our culture that mental distress is a mental disorder; I believe that only an alternative based on real science can convince them otherwise. My theory of Natural Psychology (published free online at explains emotional suffering with real science and exposes the scientific failings of the medical model.

    Best wishes, Steve

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    • Thanks, Steve. It did occur to me even as I was writing that statement that the truth was far more complicated (or less, depending on how you look at it)… That all that we experience emotionally, physically, and so on has some biological/body/mind component because it’s all connected… For example, when Eleanor Longden came and spoke within our community and someone asked her about hearing voices and biology and genetics, she made a point to say that the idea that ‘Schizophrenia’ is somehow biological or genetic is *very* different than saying that perhaps the experience of hearing voices might have some biological or genetic connection…. I’m not sure everyone understood her point, but I did, and I think it relates to what you’re saying… I just didn’t want to tread in that direction with this post that was already so long , so I did indeed (right or wrong) stay more on the surface of that point… 🙂 Thanks for taking that particular piece of the conversation deeper. 🙂


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      • Every psychological state has a physical correlation, however correlation is not causation. (I know you know this.) As an example, if you are angry you will have an infusion of adrenalin streaming through your system. But it obviously would be a mistake to decide that the anger was caused by the adrenalin. Similar logic may applied to other emotional states.

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        • Oldhead,

          I am a natural scientist so I believe that the “mind” and the brain are the same thing. I do not believe that there is such a thing as a “psychological state” beyond what might be described as resulting from psychotropic drugs. I believe that distressful experiences produce stress hormones to promote motivation and that anger is a learned response to distressful experiences (as opposed to meekness). Stress hormones and anger are correlated but neither causes the other; both are caused by distressful experiences.

          I also do not believe in emotional “states;” extreme emotions result from extremely distressful experiences on a continuum. Extremely distressful experiences cause extreme emotional pain that is often misunderstood as an “emotional state” because extreme emotional pain is hardly understood.

          Best wishes, Steve

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          • Mind and brain are not synonyms. Thinking is what the brain does, not what the brain is. I know all sorts of convoluted thinking today would resolve the mind/body split for us miraculously by magically transforming mind into matter, but I think all do so inadequately.

            A car in a head is different from a car on the street. I’m very glad such is the case. I wouldn’t want to be run over by a thought. To see thoughts in the firing of neural synapses is not to see much of anything at all. You don’t, for instance, have a radio without talk and music. Electrical current in wire, circuitry, that in itself can’t be said to be a radio. A radio’s purpose is transmission of information and entertainment. Without stations and people to man them, your radio wouldn’t have a function.

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          • Frank & Steve,

            Your arguments are philosophical rather than scientific. I agree that thinking is what the brain does but I do not understand what is meant by thinking is “not what the brain is.” The thought of a car is not a car but that does not prove that the brain cannot think about cars or needs a “mind” to interpret. I do not believe in a mind/body split so I disagree with all attempts to change an abstract philosophy of mind into matter. I understand thinking solely in terms of neuroscience and believe that the process is elegant- glorious.

            Best wishes, Steve

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          • I hate to say this, Steve, but your proposition is also philosophical. You say, “I also do not believe in emotional ‘states'” and “I believe that the ‘mind’ and the brain are the same thing.” Those are most definitely philosophical positions, not known scientific facts. I think it’s fine and important to discuss all of these philosophical viewpoints, but in truth, we don’t KNOW what “mind” really is and almost have to resort to philosophy to even discuss it. I think it’s important to remember that science itself is based on certain philosophical assumptions, and was originally conceived as a branch of the more overarching subject of philosophy (which, in fact, was originally seen as overarching ALL subject, and I think properly so).

            It’s OK with me for you to take a materialist viewpoint on the mind, but I don’t accept that it is automatically more “scientific” to argue from that particular viewpoint.

            — Steve

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          • Steve,

            My website ( explains all human psychology with elemental neuroscience; a philosophy of mind is extraneous. I agree that philosophy is the foundation of science; thus, unlike other scientific theories in psychology, my thesis is falsifiable (as per Karl Popper). Thank you for your civil tone in response to my bold statements; I seek criticism (a vetting) of my science thesis.

            Best wishes, Steve

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          • Wow. I think even the Webster definitions would differentiate between mind and brain.

            So when an autopsy is done where do you find the mind? Rather than wait for a response I’ll just say you don’t. Mind is abstract and non-physical; brain is concrete and physical. (I have also heard the mind defined as describing the function of the brain.) I believe most of those on both sides of this issue would agree on the distinction. Otherwise no progress is possible here because we mean different things by the same terms.

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          • “Mind,” I think it is safe to say, is an intellectual construct used to identify the processes that encompass things like beliefs, values, motivation, perspective, which are not easily attributable to any known location or physiological process we know if. Who knows, some if not all of the functions of mind may someday be explainable in physiological terms, but they aren’t as of right now, that’s for sure. Steve, I read your website and some of your document, and while it’s fascinating and well-reasoned, it’s still philosophy to me. A scientific finding that “mind” is a function of “brain” would have to tell me what exactly in the brain makes “mind” occur and how we know that this is the case. There would need to be measurements and testable theories and replicability of results. I’m not seeing that. I’m not surprised, either, because I think mind is a very mysterious phenomenon, and it may never be fully understood. I don’t believe it’s unscientific to acknowledge what we don’t know. In fact, that’s one of the core values of science – we assume we don’t know until proven otherwise, and then we only know what the data tells us and when conflicting data arise, we once again don’t know. Science is inherently skeptical, and it’s much more scientific to say, “I have this data suggesting this may be true” than to say, “The mind resides in the brain” when there really isn’t the data to show that with confidence.

            I love philosophy and think it is VERY important to understanding our world, but it’s different than science.

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          • Steve,

            Thank you for your consideration. I agree that the “mind” is “an intellectual construct used to identify the processes …which are not easily attributable to any…physiological process.” However, I contend that I can explain human psychology with known physiological processes and that the “mind” is extraneous to a scientific explanation.

            One cannot understand my thesis without understanding my criticism of the failure of current theory to follow the principles of biology, natural science, physiology and the philosophy of science. The first chapter of my thesis identifies and corrects these four scientific failures. The mind is a widely accepted intellectual construct (as Oldhead stated) but it contracts the basic principle of biology- biological reductionism. This is a complete paradigm shift so it is not easy to understand even though I am describing logical deductions from accepted, elemental neurobiology. .

            Best wishes, Steve

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          • “Mind is a function of brain” is not my definition, btw, I just don’t want to mistakenly attribute it to someone.

            I don’t know why anyone would want to reduce human thought, feeling and behavior to biology; at any rate I think there’s some confusion here regarding correlation vs. causation.

            I would posit that since our consciousness is “currently” focused in a 3-4 dimensional framework which requires a physical body to navigate, thoughts/feelings/events that may appear to originate in the physical body are only being coordinated and channeled via the body. So while we experience our “present” lives as physical and time-bound there is a deeper (some say “higher”) consciousness which transcends time and space. Purely physical data may seem to explain reality but it’s just part of the picture.

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          • Steve Spiegal,

            I certainly don’t think turning an abstract philosophy of matter into mind very workable either. Consciousness itself is not reducible to a biological mechanism at this time, and I doubt it ever will be so reducible. One would be hard pressed to call ‘wisdom’, for instance, biological, although there are many who suspect ‘folly’ is just that, a malfunction of mechanism. Should ‘wisdom’ not develop out of ‘folly’ then I guess many have their serviceable explanation.

            The thought of a car becomes a car eventually when the person doing the thinking is an automobile designer. I haven’t heard many theories positing car design as an innate function of the brain, however, there are people who build cars. My feeling is that, at this point, car design is pretty bad. I don’t see any reason why a machine would not, in due course of time, be able to do as poorly.

            I mean there is a direction to go in from here, maybe towards artificial intelligence. The kind of artificial intelligence that asks questions of its own. Should humanity succumb to the innate superiority of the machine? After awhile, I imagine, you have a situation where there are only machines left around to salute other machines. Equating redundancy with extinction, then or now, is not something I think would be very rewarding.

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    • I have often thought that rather than “mental illness,” those with a normal reaction to trauma would be better conceived as having a “mental INJURY.” This puts the blame where it belongs – on the injury and the person or events that caused it. It recognizes the suffering that results, but also is more empowering because injuries generally can be healed. It’s still a little medical for me, but I think it’s a much better frame than “mental illness” that might be more palatable to the mainstream but still get the point across that reacting with fear to a terrifying experience is hardly abnormal.

      What do you think of that idea?

      —- Steve

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      • Great question Steve – I too have been trying to sort out useful, empowering words. Mental injury, while an improvement over mental illness, focuses on the harm, the event(s), toxic stressor etc…? “Trauma adaptations” call attention to the many normal reactions and ways that people often cope with and survive abnormal experiences. Thoughts?

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        • I like “trauma adaptations” better, by far. The reason I suggest “mental injury” is because I think it could be adopted more easily and doesn’t sound too “PC” for those who are not so far along in understanding the power of words to redefine thought and political decision making. It’s kind of a “middle ground” term that might catch on, or that was my thought, anyway. In our alternative worldview, “trauma adaptation” is definitely a more empowering alternative.

          Always love to hear your thoughts!

          — Steve

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      • How we label mental distress is important because it controls the narrative; this question should be the subject of a blog for a wider discussion. I believe that “emotional suffering” is the most accurate term but use the term “mental distress” because “emotional suffering” has connotations that seem less problematic.

        Best wishes, Steve

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  8. “the harm started when they essentially gave those who hurt, and hit, and raped, and devalued me a pass and said the problems all resided in my head,” and that is essentailly what psychiatry does.

    The mental health channel is essentailly carrying on this tradition. It will flourish if it gets funding to do that.

    The funders, unless they are ones devoted to social change and probably anti-corporatists, will not want anything else.

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      • Difficult innit.

        I’ve been protesting against oil company sponsorship of Arts Institutions in London (some of that was with the Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir, who were fab).

        It does not stop the oil company but it does seriously challange thier social liscence.

        There is not a lot of direct action around challanging drug company influence on, “mental health,” provision but if the funders of this organisation are connected to Big Pharma then I think they would be an ideal target.

        I think MIA and all the work it does is building up a reputation for challanging the lies Big Pharma pumps out but eventually a direct action approach will be needed to make the message hit home.

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  9. Sera,

    Thank you for writing this article. After over 30 years working in this field and as a person with lived experience of recovery, I have come to two big questions and I tend to agree with your assessment here. One, “Are psychiatric diagnoses valid (at all?)?” And two, ” Does labeling someone with these diagnoses cause harm?” My answers have left me looking for ways to practice what I know in the small cracks and alternative spaces in our current mental health system. Your article validates my experience, helps me feel less alone and gives me hope.

    All the best to you.

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  10. I’m so, so glad I’m no longer a child, teen, or young adult. Psychiatry endangered Mad youth when I was young, but it’s youth oriented propaganda didn’t exist back then. This meant that a child like me could escape psychiatry’s dishonset and hateful diatribes on the supposed inhumanity of Mad people as soon as they stepped out of the clinic. Today, Mad people, and especially Mad youth, are being crushed beneath the tread of misinformed, fabricated, fear-mongering and Mad-exterminationist propaganda as it charges into the high brow of popular culture. The old-time movie monsters such as Norman Bates and Michael Myers were goonishly sanist, but they weren’t modeled after real people or explicitly portrayed as dangerous people to love and the movies they were in didn’t have a “mission” to “educate” the public on “serious mental illness”. Propaganda like “The Mermaid” is such a menace to art and social justice because, unlike the horror movies of the 20th century, its monsters can be devilish instead of goonish and its purpose is to satisfy people’s wish to be indoctrinated into sanist ideologies instead of their voyeuristic impulses. We need another Ken Keysey to counteract this sanist hate-speech that’s being passed off as “art” and “public service”.

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  11. Sera’s excellent blog makes me think that perhaps we need our own channel to share alternative viewpoints in the form of short videos. The Western Mass RLC and others have done a fantastic job of producing their own videos, but I hope other people and organizations will be empowered to do the same. We don’t need fancy corporate backers to make this happen. Just a YouTube channel and some basic filming and video editing skills. Social media could be used to promote the channel and the films. Just an idea.

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  12. A good idea. Seems like the devil would be in the details & it would require a motivated group of people who are both technically skilled and politically/analytically savvy enough to pull it off effectively. It could also be fertile ground for ideological power struggles — which is not a reason not to do it, but points to the continuing need to develop an updated position paper which is representative of the basic principles of the largest cross-section of “survivors” and “allies” possible without anyone feeling sold out or compromised.

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