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

Sera Davidow
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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 www.madnessradio.net. (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.

95 COMMENTS

  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.”

    from http://mentalhealthchannel.tv/about

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

    http://ghcf.org/team/

    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 (http://www.usdebtclock.org/), 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.

  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.

    • 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.

  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?

  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.

    • 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.

      • 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?

        • 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:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7ROmGgag6M#t=5m52s

          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.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5caitdQA6HY#t=31m08s

          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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

          • 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.

          • Ok, I might come around to this; so, how about the terms emotional wellbeing, mental wellbeing, happiness? What word do you use when you think about positive psychic states / the mental experience of satisfaction and subjective wellbeing?

          • 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.

          • 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.

        • 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.

  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

    • 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.

    • 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

  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?

    • 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’…

        • 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

  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 NaturalPsychology.org) explains emotional suffering with real science and exposes the scientific failings of the medical model.

    Best wishes, Steve

    • 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

      • 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?

        • 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

      • 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

        • Here we agree. I’ve traditionally used the term emotional distress; suffering is accurate too. The whole “mental” thing is secondary.

          We need also to remember that many who end up in psychiatry’s clutches are not necessarily suffering; some are considered too happy, too energetic, etc. The people experiencing the alleged problem are relatives, teachers, police, etc.

  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.

  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.

  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”.

  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.

  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.