Hurricane Harvey, Trump and US Mental Health: We Are All Mad, 100%!

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Dear Year 2192 & Year 2017:
Hurricane Harvey (photo credit: NASA)

Can our two years talk? Let’s use our imaginations.

The Iroquois Native Americans wisely advised us all to think ahead seven generations. As Hurricane Harvey attacks the Houston area in this year 2017, seven generations ahead (each generation is now about 25 years) would be the year 2192.

Wow, you in the year 2192, that is the 700th anniversary of the invasion of this continent by us Europeans. I hope someone is there to read this message? Perhaps if we here in the year 2017 are effective and ignite a global revolution, we can ensure there will be people alive in 2192.

While our family has always been working class, because of scholarships I attended Harvard College. I experienced stays in a psychiatric institution about five times during college. In my senior year, Harvard academic peers referred me to volunteer as an intern for a radical psychiatric survivor group, Mental Patients Liberation Front. Somehow I graduated anyway back in 1977.

Community organizing of peer psychiatric survivors and allies became my career. For more than 40 years, I have worked on the human rights of people in the mental health system. As the Harvard class of 1977 celebrates its 40th anniversary, another person from my year, Bill Gates, hopefully evens out our incomes. But I appreciate, and continue to appreciate, addressing this fascinating intersection: the mind, well-being, human rights. What have I learned?

Hermann Hesse, Glass Bead GameBack in the summer before my freshman year, we had a little hoax played on us that was a lot of fun. You see, Harvard recommended that we entering freshmen read Hermann Hesse’s book The Glass Bead Game so that we would be able to have a conversation with other new students. But we also received a notice that there would be an actual quiz about this book. I know that I became pretty darn nervous!

It turned out that the quiz notice was a joke from the Harvard Lampoon, but I enjoyed it. I read this Hesse book pretty carefully. He imagines a world where many people play an intellectual, creative game involving glass beads. The author never explains in detail what this game looks like.

Lately I have been reflecting that in a way we are all playing a glass bead game, by pursuing our own truths. I know that game is a metaphor for my last few decades. What does your glass bead game look like?

What Have I Learned in 40 Years? 

My main lesson from my own glass bead game, my decades of activism in mental health, is that, in layman’s terms, we are all nuts. All the time, from womb to tomb. Our choice is to try to be Positively Crazy rather than Negatively Crazy.

Year 2192, if anyone is there, you can clearly see that our year of 2017 proves we are nuts. Cuckoo. Bonkers. Bananas. Wacko. Now, I am not a mental health professional, but back in college I was diagnosed as schizophrenic, bipolar (then called manic depression), clinically depressed, etc. I received psychiatric drug injections in solitary confinement. Does that make me a kind of expert?

Nearly five years ago, I fell and shattered my spine, resulting in my needing a power chair. So now I also address the topic of post-traumatic stress disorder, and regularly see a good counselor. You know how there is a cliche that we should “Watch out for that last step! It’s a doozy!” There really is a last step. My blog is an attempt to warn the public about that doozy of a last step. The USA is now threatening the future of civilization, and perhaps humanity and life. That is one heck of a last step!

I have blogged for a number of years, and surprisingly I have received some complaints from folks who I thought would agree with me about activism and mental health.

Is Trump Out of His Mind?

Donald TrumpSurprisingly, of my dozens of blogs, one of the strongest objections is when I pointed out that President Donald Trump has severe mental and emotional problems. I called him President Cuckoo. Someone objected, claiming I had called him “mentally ill” after spending decades working for human rights in mental health. The truth is I do not use the phrase “mental illness,” but the nub of the objection is that I apparently labeled our President as having severe mental and emotional problems.

Perhaps there would be less controversy if I point out that the President is spiritually ill, ethically ill, morally ill. But yes, he also has overwhelming, life-threatening mental and emotional problems.

People of the year 2192, if you exist at all, should have no difficulty identifying extreme challenges in President Trump’s mind. Incredibly, this individual, despite having access to thousands of smart, experienced, reputable scientists, continues to deny that the climate crisis even exists. How is this a sign of mental and emotional wellness?

Let me hasten to repeat that we all, always have mental and emotional problems. We are truly the 100%. Like me, you probably seek to be Positively Crazy, nuts about life and love and Earth! But there is also a kind of normal, negative, numb nuts, which we should try to avoid.

Apparently someone felt that I was giving President Trump a way out of his moral dilemma. They were concerned that rather than admitting his racism, misogyny, insults, disrespect, etc., he could plead a kind of insanity. However, I feel we all have moral obligations that do not end when we have mental and emotional problems. In fact, our freedom and empowerment when we are troubled may be necessary for our recovery and survival. Donald Trump is morally culpable, whatever his mental state.

One Quick Example of Our Mental and Emotional Challenges

I talked with a loved one who is a bit confused about Hurricane Harvey in Houston. To paraphrase, they said: “If climate crisis exists, then it would mean less hurricanes, not more. My evidence is a scientist who talked about how the future may mean changing ocean currents, bringing a colder climate to Europe.”

First, what do you mean “if”? Climate chaos has been proven over and over by just about every reputable scientist alive. Yes, some of these scientists do predict that Europe might be in for a cold time in the future. This has nothing to do with the fact that the water in the Gulf of Mexico is far higher, the temperature of that water is far hotter, and the atmosphere has a lot more water.

No one I have ever heard says that Hurricane X is caused by climate crisis. However, scientist after scientist, such as noted expert James Hansen, says that storms will be far more severe, accelerated and devastating because of climate chaos. Hurricane Harvey is what climate chaos looks like. This “1000 year storm” was far more likely because of climate crisis.

It takes a few decades for carbon pollution to change the environment. Scientists such as Hansen say this delay is about 40 years. You in the year of 2192, if you exist, know that there have been more than four of these delays since our year of 2017. The ocean has been absorbing a lot of pollution, and scientists estimate about 93% of green house gasses disappear into the sea.

Butterflies and Our Mental Health

Love Earth RevolutionDear Year 2192:

The most surprising thing for me, the past few years, is that when I have talked about mental health and climate chaos, some folks actually ask me how they are connected? They ask me if we should stay focused on human rights in mental health and not stray into environmental concerns.

But you know, 2192, if you are there, that our mental and emotional well-being are very much connected to our environment. The Kogi Indians down in Colombia, South America withstood the European invasion, and many of their villages have existed intact for centuries. In a couple of documentaries, Heart of the World and Aluna, the Kogi ask why we younger brothers are not doing more to stop the climate chaos?

Year 2192, you might have some answers. My guess is that we need a global revolution. As the musical artist Mike Love says, we need to make this our finest hour, and not our final hour. The Butterfly Effect is real, small actions can amplify in a positive feedback that can be powerfully influential. Use your Butterfly Effect to love Earth for a Positively Crazy Revolution!

What do you want to say to the year 2192? We can post on Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #2192. And I wonder what folks in that year would tell us?

In the 1950 movie Harvey, actor James Stewart converses with a rabbit that apparently only he can see. Is he crazy? We are all in a state of mind that could be called crazy, in the sense that none of us has an absolute grasp on reality. And look around you: is there any argument that we have severe mental and emotional problems?

Many of us do know that we need to use the best inside of each of us, our individual glass bead game, to unite for a revolution. The present and the year 2192, in seven generations, need to work together. Let us avoid that last doozy of a step! How? We do not always know exactly, but we need to act anyway.

That is my best guess, in my quest to be Positively Crazy, the new and real PC. What is your Positive Craziness?

David Oaks and Debra Nunez
David Oaks and wife Debra Nunez, 2017, back deck, Eugene, Oregon.

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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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16 COMMENTS

  1. Another obvious effort to brand Trump “mentally ill” while claiming to do something else. Please move on.

    And let’s not talk about “morality” — anyone who voted for cold-blooded war criminal Clinton is equally morally reprehensible to any Trump voter. The problem is capitalism, not any individual politician; let’s not even play that.

    Also, “craziness” is a meaningless term; it is neither positive nor negative.

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      • “And let’s not talk about ‘morality'” Really? Truly?

        In terms of “weaponizing” language, as a quad in a powerchair I guess I should be kind of honored to be falsely accused of violence, however as a psychiatric survivor for the past few decades I can tell you that a lot of us are falsely accused of violence. Fact is, I do not support violence. Also, I do not use psychiatric language such as “disorder” or the common phrase “mentally ill” even though a few folks elsewhere have complained about my use of that phrase… I do not use that phrase “mentally ill” because medicalizing mental health labels gives the industry more power.

        Just trying to silence the general public of the world as we look at President Trump and see obvious, undeniable, repeated moral and mental and emotional problems, seems to fly in the face of community organizing strategy. For decades I have seen a few of the groups in our mental health field tell the public they cannot use words ever, ever, ever such as: Nuts, cuckoo, crazy, mad, bonkers, etc.

        My feeling has always been that such shushing is the opposite of what we need. It is fine and dandy to have a crazy shirt, to be crazy in love. There is a whole website that uses the phrase “Mad in America” and this movement calls itself the Mad Movement.

        Should we instead call ourselves the normality movement? Is that the goal of recovery? To recover normal?

        Fact: President Trump has severe mental and emotional problems. Now, if someone wants to debate me about that particular sentence, without making up falsehoods about using the phrase “mentally ill,” without any psychiatric language at all, try and do it.

        And, yes I will continue to talk about “morality” and to try to prevent anyone from talking about “morality” is an example of very challenging community organizing.

        I am proud to think outside the box of normality, and there are millions of us, both labeled and not labeled, who are proud to think outside the box of normality. All of us are always “mad” if that word is used at all.

        The President could easily be a more difficult opponent, by hiding his challenges with false language. For example, he could pretend to be rational about the climate crisis, while doing nothing. I am not saying this pretend sanity is better.

        On the other hand, I could very easily imagine a President who obviously thinks outside of the box in a positive way: Perhaps she might wear bizarre clothing, talk now and again in riddles, discuss challenges she has had. Nothing wrong with that, in fact this would make her far more human.

        For another third time, or fourth time, all of us are always mad all the time. The choice is what kind of mad. I am the kind of mad that will continue to talk about morality.

        If anyone says I should be silent, if anyone claims my reasonable points are “weapons,” then may I ask questions? What about you right now, this moment? It seems to me this attempt at silencing is kind of a pretend “normality,” am I correct? Right now are you “mad” or so-called “normal”? And I mean that question with respect, I would never accuse someone of exercising free speech to make reasonable points as “weaponizing,” I am just asking a question. Are you “mad” or do you think you are “normal”?

        Right now?

        Thanks, everyone, for contributing to this fascinating and I hope ongoing dialogue. It is OK to have differences of opinions and discuss this difference in a mutually respectful way.

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  2. I think I get what you are saying, but I feel that most people out there in the world who are now calling Trump ‘crazy’ are not thinking that everyone is crazy in either a positive or negative way. They are pushing Trump into the more typical description of ‘crazy’, into the world of people who have been given psychiatric diagnoses. Thus all this talk about Trump being crazy is resulting in even more discrimination.

    The person I know who suffers from extreme distress is truly suffering on a daily basis, and I believe does so because of being so sensitive to the injustices and cruelty of the world, because they no longer believe that they can be safe in the world. This person is so far from being ‘morally ill’ that it is upsetting to me to see them being described with the same blanket term of ‘crazy’ that is being used to describe Trump. Whatever ‘morally ill or morally distressed’ might mean…it needs to be treated separately from a blanket ‘crazy’ term. Otherwise the stereotype that mad people are dangerous, violent, unfit for jobs etc. will continue to escalate.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love your articles and admire and appreciate all you have done for the mad movement…I just think the common occurrence that seems to be happening now – of people (who are not so enlightened as you), – calling Trump crazy….I think this phenomenon is really perpetuating stereotypes. (Also I know this article was about so much more than the Trump issue…and I really believe that speaking up about environmental issues is definitely crucial to any human rights cause)

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    • Thanks for your comment. And I appreciate being thought of as “enlightened.” The name of this website is “Mad in America” and many of us bloggers refer to the “Mad Movement” and even “Mad Pride.” Yes, of course we do see that vulnerable folks can be hurt and seek a solution that our society may call mad. If we use that phrase at all, may I ask a question? What about the individual standing on a ledge threatening to jump to their death many stories below. It is interesting to me that we collectively can view that individual as “mad.” But what about the presidential figure who obviously lies every day, denies a reality that hurts their own family and kids, obviously is not in touch with reality. Yes, if we use the phrase “mad” at all in any sense that is commonly accepted, I do believe that 100% of everyone all the time matches that criteria. We need to educate society that we are the 100%. We had better educate quickly, because our society is standing on the edge of a ledge right now. Thanks again, I look forward to other comments. There is no easy answer but we sure need to address climate crisis throughout our world, and I would like to see global revolution. Sounds like you agree with that, and I think many readers do. How do we make that more likely? How would the year 2192 hear us?

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      • What about the individual standing on a ledge threatening to jump to their death many stories below. It is interesting to me that we collectively can view that individual as “mad.”

        Personally I would view such an individual as manipulative. Though this is similar to “what about the person running down the street naked in the winter?”

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  3. Thanks, David. We need to do something about climate change before we’re all cooked. (I have this theory that it would be good for people’s health, too. Otherwise, break out the life preservers, here comes the ocean.) We need to do something about Trump, and people like him. Sure. We’ve seen those tweets. Trump is nuts.

    The only question to pose to 2192 for me is the rather obvious one. How did you survive the 21st century? I’m looking ahead, and seeing mainly trouble, if not…The Terminator. Sooner or later, pride and selfishness are going to threaten, not only life as we know it, but life on this planet. Of course, we might want to send our messages out in little time capsules aboard rocketships bound for other places in the universe because, as is, we don’t know if we’re going to survive that one.

    What were you saying? Oh, yeah. “The revolution begins at home.” I don’t know about that, but planetary preservation should definitely begin with our home planet. What do you do about the utter waste, when there is nobody around to regret it? I guess that’s probably going to require a little elbow grease on our part before 2192 even gets here. 2017, you got that.

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    • Thanks, Frank, you are a great friend and I miss you. It is okay to talk about issues such as the mental and emotional problems in the White House. My friend Patch Adams, MD, by coincidence, wrote me a little message that arrived just now. I will blog about this later, but we need to howl at so-called normality! Peace to you, the President and everyone who reads this. Patch is a psychiatric survivor, who is not normal and would be a far better President than Trump! It is not the craziness, we are all crazy, it is the kind of craziness. Thanks for your Positive Craziness!

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      • I think that you hit on a real truth when you stated that “It is not the craziness, we are all crazy, it is the kind of craziness.”

        And I also agree that we must continually work to do something about the climate problem and global warming. It is obvious that the present gaggle in the White House is not going to do anything to control or curtail said climate problems so we must go around them, above them, and work despite them to save this planet and our world and all the species of life that call it home. I think that many people fail to grasp the point or remember that we must work to save more than ourselves in all of this. Without the web of life created from all the interlocked and interdependent species we will fail to continue ourselves. As the supposedly most highly evolved form of life on this planet we must be held responsible for its continued viability by working to save all life here.

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  4. I like Mark Twain’s comment: “Let us consider that we are all partially insane. It will explain us to each other; it will unriddle many riddles; it will make clear and simple many things which are involved in haunting and harassing difficulties and obscurities now.”

    I agree with Sera that there are problems with calling Trump mad: but there are also big problems with not noticing he is in a sense mad! So I don’t have an answer to offer, maybe we just need to have a dialogue that won’t have a solution.

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    • Thanks Ron, you are a thoughtful and caring person. There is a very good point of concern that calling anyone a name, anyone, does not truly help them. The peace movement has long warned us all that the ends and the means are connected.

      I note that some folks have used words on Mad in America discussions in the last few days calling Trump the following: clown, buffoon, asshole, motherfucker.

      Perhaps it might help to think of this dangerous president for a moment as a troubled relative or friend. Many of us have family members who actually support Trump, or deny climate crisis. How should each of us feel with a troubled relative or friend? However, calling for silence about the mental and emotional state of Trump is a surprisingly-futile and odd request. Much of the whole world knows that he has overwhelming challenges. Perhaps some other politicians hide them better, but the public resonates generally with understanding that Trump has mental and emotional problems that threaten us all.

      As a psychiatric survivor myself, I see breaking the silence about truth to be part of Mad Pride. Yes, let us do this in as peaceful ways as possible, but really is this silence a top priority for our movement? For decades I have seen hundreds of great psychiatric survivors doing great projects, but funded by the mental health system on a state and national level.

      The chickens are coming home to roost on this, with Trump’s mental health czar, and many other examples. I will end by pointing out that the moment witch-burning in the USA became unpopular, was when the young accusers began to point their fingers at judges!

      Fingers may not always be pointed correctly, but let us not be the movement of wagging fingers of shame at folks who are pointing out the obvious.

      I am proud to have Mad Pride and pursue “positive craziness.” Thanks again for advancing a respectful dialogue. Let us continue to show that is okay to disagree and chat about that. After all, that is part of mental wellness right?

      Psychiatric survivor, David

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  5. This is incredibly offensive. You are playing onto the hands of people who use psychiatric language to demean others. I’m sick to death of trying to explain to progressives why it is harmful to people with psychiatric histories to weaponize psychiatric language against political opponents, but I’m disturbed that someone in our movement is doing this. Shery Mead, Chris Hansen, Sera Davidow, Cathy Bustin and I will be doing a workshop at NARPA next week about why this is harmful.

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    • People are definitely using “psychiatric language to demean”, but I don’t think politicians questioning the mental health (cough, cough) of other politicians is anything beside judges judging certain people to be “incompetent”, “incapacitated”, or “insane”. Is it medicine in politics, or politics in medicine, or both, or neither? And if the jury is still out, the jury is part of the problem. (I’m not your peer, Jack! I’m calling this what it is, a mistrial.) Here’s the thing. The politicians, being attorneys in the main, have it easy. The people they come down on, don’t have it easy. The way I look at it, I’m not seeing a lot of people here who’s, if you will pardon the expression, shit doesn’t stink. I think if we get lost in politics, we lose the point, real people are being “demeaned”, abused, discarded, and killed while there have got to be better things to be done with them. A politician calling an opponent this, that, or the other, well, that’s not ending anytime soon, and as for “mental patients”, the scapegoat of scapegoats is still a scapegoat. This open season is not ending anytime soon. I can’t really say that ending demeaning language, here, is going to end demeaning language, and mistreatment, there. Alright, over it. Which politician’s poops do you think smell the most like roses?

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      • If you can pardon the tone of the above comment, I think I must have woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. The evening before I had watched a theatrical version of Orwell’s 1984 performed by a local theater troupe, and this morning I woke up to people talking about the stinginess of people.

        Sera, in her recent post, mentions all these people deeply and negatively, it would seem, impacted by the mental health system. I just don’t see how labeling politicians is any different from labeling anybody else. In other words, even if they were so privileged that we should shut up about them, I don’t see how doing so would positively affect all those people who have gotten a bum rap by the system. Were doing so likely to have a positive effect, I’d be all for it. I just don’t think it’s likely to have much of an effect at all. If it eliminated a few bad apples from the political barrel, that would be another good effect, and on that score, we will have to wait and see.

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