Congressman David Jolly (FL-13) has recently introduced the Veteran Suicide Prevention Act (H.R. 4640). The bill calls for the VA to study veteran suicides over the past five years and to determine what extent psychiatric drugs are implicated in those suicides. The International Society of Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry (ISEPP) has long been concerned about this issue, and more broadly, how our veterans and military members suffering from the horrors of war and other traumatic experiences are being treated. I sent letters of support to Mr. Jolly’s office, offering ISEPP’s assistance in any way possible.
In 2012, ISEPP launched “Operation Speak Up” (OSU) as a response to the alarmingly high suicide rate of veterans. The name signifies our desire to help veterans speak up, rather than being shut up with psychiatric drugs. Although it started as an effort to encourage Congress to consider a non-medical model approach to helping those suffering from trauma, it quickly turned into a grassroots and consumer focused endeavor from the ground up under the leadership of our OSU Director, Mary Vieten, Ph.D., ABPP, U.S. Naval Reserve Commander. Mary has since made great strides in partnering with Melwood, Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities in the greater Washington DC area. Together with Melwood’s support and funding, Mary has created a program called TOHIDU (a Cherokee word meaning “peace of mind, body, and spirit”) as a wonderful alternative to conventional treatment. You can see more about TOHIDU here.
Mr. Jolly’s bill will be the first to establish congressional oversight of this alarming problem of using psychiatric drugs shotgun style to quiet the screams of trauma. Despite the increasing concerns of the deleterious effects of psychiatric drugs, they continue to be the mainstay form of treatment within the VA and Defense Department, as they are on the outside. This has to change.The extant research makes it abundantly clear that psychiatric drugs do not correct chemical imbalances. It would be better said that they cause chemical imbalances. They artificially alter brain chemistry in ways that are not clearly understood, and that numb important emotions that signal meaningful issues in our lives. The brain tries to counteract their effect by making changes in how neurotransmitters are used. The person experiences these changes in very agonizing ways, the most worrisome is called “akathisia,” or a state of agitation, restlessness, and a terrible sense of not feeling welcome in one’s own skin. This can lead to unpredictable irritability and violent behavior, including violence toward oneself. To read more on this, see ISEPP’s White Paper.
Because of how the brain reacts to these drugs, trying to stop them becomes increasingly difficult and there are horrible withdrawal symptoms that can last for years. The more psychiatric drugs are used, the more they have to be used. They create disability and dependency, and they never address the meaningful nature of the person’s struggles.
The meaning of veterans’ reactions to war is quite simple; they are trying to find a way to integrate the incredible horrors they’ve witnessed and to find a way to come back into a society that cannot possibly fully understand them. Drugging them into a stupor is not the answer.
I encourage everyone to support Mr. Jolly’s bill by writing or calling your congressional representatives and encouraging them to cosponsor the bill. To do so, call 202-224-3121 and tell them your district or zip code, and you will be transferred to your representative’s office. To contact them by email, go to http://www.contactingthecongress.org.
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.