Human Rights And Psychiatry 101

What are human rights?

Once again we need to define our terms. Human characterizes members of the genus homo, the only surviving species of which is homo sapiens, or a species of human identified with its wisdom or sensibility. Rights are defined, at the Yale University Library online in Definitions of Words and Phrases Commonly Found in Licensing Agreements, as:

Rights: Powers or privileges granted by an agreement or law.

Human beings then, by agreement or by law have agreed that these powers and previleges belong to them as a species. Disrespecting these rights, therefore, is a matter of not treating a human being as a human being should be treated.

According to Wikipedia:

Human rights are “rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled.”

According to the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy:

Human rights are international norms that help to protect all people everywhere from severe political, legal, and social abuses.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

Definition of HUMAN RIGHTS

: rights (as freedom from unlawful imprisonment, torture, and execution) regarded as belonging fundamentally to all persons.

According to Amnesty International:

Human rights are basic rights and freedoms that all people are entitled to regardless of nationality, sex, national or ethnic origin, race, religion, language, or other status.

Human rights include civil and political rights, such as the right to life, liberty and freedom of expression; and social, cultural and economic rights including the right to participate in culture, the right to food, and the right to work and receive an education. Human rights are protected and upheld by international and national laws and treaties.

I particularly like the wiktionary definition because it defines human rights as rights we should have, not rights we necessarily have now. Enforcing laws enacted to ensure that human rights are protected was what the civil rights struggle was, and still is, all about.

The basic rights and freedoms that all humans should be guaranteed, such as the right to life and liberty, freedom of thought and expression, and equality before the law.

Civil rights according to the Free Dictionary Online are:

Personal liberties that belong to an individual, owing to his or her status as a citizen or resident of a particular country or community.

Obviously citizenship rights are related to, and have to do with a recognition of, human rights.

This idea of human rights grew out of the eighteenth century enlightenment idea of natural rights. Natural rights held that the law of the cat was not the law of the bear, and thus it would be unfair to treat cats like bears. According to the rules of natural order, it would be tyranny to treat human beings in the same fashion that other species lower on the evolutionary scale might be treated.

What does this have to do with mental health treatment?

Much mental health treatment historically and today involves violating the human rights of people in treatment. One glaring example of this violation is seen in the delineation of a patient’s right to treatment that ignores that patient’s human right to refuse such often harmful and invasive treatment. Treatment that is, in point of fact, often maltreatment.

Mental health law itself represents a gross violation of human rights in that it is seen as a civil matter insuring that mental patients don’t have the same rights to due process that are accorded suspects in criminal justice proceedings. People in mental health facilities then end up being imprisoned through kangaroo hearings on the basis of the word of psychiatrists while suspects in criminal cases are held to be innocent until proven guilty in a trial by a jury of peers.

Civil commitment is imprisonment. Imprisonment is a violation of the human right to liberty. The rationale behind this imprisonment is that it has something to do with medical treatment. No other branch of medicine imprisons people. Any medical value imputed to imprisonment is very questionable at best.

If a person under civil commitment order refuses to take psychiatric drugs, sometimes the facility has its own hired goons who physically restrain the person. These hired goons then will inject the restrained person with a psychiatric drug in that person’s buttocks. This physical restraint is assault, a criminal offense, and it is a violation of that person’s human rights to security of person and liberty.

A person’s human right to security of person, or safety, is routinely being violated in mental health treatment through the standard use of psychiatric drugs that destroy physical health. One’s right to life is also being violated through the effects of these psychiatric drugs where, according to recent studies, people in mental health treatment are dying on average as much as 25 years earlier than the general population.

One human right we speak of is a person’s right to informed consent. Consent is seldom informed when the information being provided on a drug’s effects are usually a drug manufacturing companies glossing over of the facts of the matter. Nobody, as a matter of fact, usually explains the potential for damage that exists in using the drugs typically used in psychiatric treatment. Consent then is seldom truly informed, and iatrogenic disease is epidemic, in some measure, because of this human rights violating failure to inform.

People who have had their rights violated by having alleged mental health issues used as a pretext for imprisonment often then have to deal with a continuing set of human rights violations that have a lasting impact on their quality of life. This imprisonment endured constitutes a disruption of whatever life the person had going before imprisonment, and rather than being compensated for this imprisonment, usually the person who has had his or her human rights so violated is then billed for the abuse.

Companies and schools screen for mental health issues, and employment opportunities are often minimal following psychiatric imprisonment. Housing is also restricted, sometimes to what amounts to an extension of the institution where one was initially imprisoned. This prejudicial mistreatment constitutes further violations of one’s human rights to property, freedom, equality, and/or pursuit of happiness that must be considered when we look at effective counteractive and corrective remedial measures.

We use human rights to seek redress from human wrongs. If power corrupts, checks are needed against abuses of power that come of this corruption. Forces within democratic societies often seek to expose human rights violations perpetuated under totalitarian regimes while downplaying those human rights abuses that might occur within their own countries boundaries. As psychiatric institutions are where we hide our unwanted citizens, psychiatric institutions aren’t always open to the kind of exposure and scrutiny they should be receiving. Social justice has been slow to arrive where such abuses have taken place, and human rights violations continue to be commonplace in the practice of psychiatry.

Psychotic Medications

I remember a psychiatric inmate, patient doesn’t begin to describe her situation, confined at Western State Hospital near Staunton Virginia who telephoned me about the effects of the psychiatric drugs she was being fed. She called them psychotic medications.

Now I’ve found a tweet that describes them in the same fashion. The tweet is found in the Jacksonville Times-Union, in a section called Florida morning blog, under the heading, Powerful Republican state Senator appears headed for showdown with Rick Scott. It is my contention that Senator Greg Evers, on this point, was more correct than the psychiatrist.

TWEET OF THE DAY – Sen. Evers to psychiatrist: “Do you prescribe psychotic medication.” Response: “No sir. I prescribe antipsychotic medication.” – @bsfarrington http://bit.ly/gSlsw6

Shrinks would try to give the impression that they have some kind of wonder cure here when they don’t have any such cure. There is no wonder cure in “medication maintenance”, as it is called, or giving lifetime prescriptions to these absolutely debilitating drugs.

The recent publication of study results from the University of Iowa Carver School of Medicine showing that long term treatment by neuroleptic drugs is the culprit in brain shrinkage rather than any “mental disorder” is a case in point.

If you you think these drugs are really “anti-psychotic”, I suggest you look again, and this time explore such subjects as Tardive Dysphrenia and Tardive Dementia.

For psychosis, there are other and more effective methods of treatment. Due to the damage that always accompanies long term neuroleptic, often catalogued under the misnomer “antipsychotic”, drug usage, I would suggest giving some of those other methods a good hearing.

The medication query was probably only a slip of tongue on Senator Evers part. Senator Evers is one of the sponsors of a bill that would allow the carrying of concealed weapons on Florida college campuses. Passage of such legislation is not a good idea at all. Although there is a possibility that such actions could have lessened the kind of carnage we saw at V-Tech in ’07, it would certainly mean more gunplay on campus. I don’t think most Florida residents want to see a gunfight on the University grounds anytime soon.

When the doors are no longer locked

The headlines in the Vancouver Sun shout, Mental patients key to erasing stigma. I beg to disagree. No mental patient, no “stigma”.

Does anything work? Thankfully, yes. A World Psychiatric Association pilot study launched in Alberta in 1996 “found that by far the most effective way to change attitudes was to engage people in an emotional experience, and the best way to do that was to establish contact between people with mental illness and other members of the public.” Contact with a person in the throes of a mental illness can be, at best, disconcerting. So McKnight rephrases it: “It’s important for members of the public not simply to have contact with psychiatric patients, but to see and hear from successful members of the community who have battled mental illness.”

I do think there is something to be said for mixing. That said, I think maybe you could come out on the other end of the mix.

I would hope that some of these successful community members won the battle, if not the war, against, excuse me for using the expression, “mental illness”. A cancer non-survivor is a cadaver; a psychiatric survivor is no longer a mental patient. Many psychiatric survivors are no longer mental patients anyway. I tend to think more in terms of what we refer to as “mental illness” as being failure, and what we refer to as non-”mental illness” as being success. To return to an earlier formula, where there is no “mental illness”, there is no “stigma”.

The author of this article claims to have had been hospitalized for 2 episodes of depression (translation: profound sadness, formerly referred to as melancholia) 20 years apart in 1966 and 1986 or thereabouts respectively. I should hope that between bouts maybe the author met with a little smooth sailing here and there. I think the author is being rather stubborn and clinging when it comes to abandoning this rather non-advantageous notion of “mental illness”.

Mental patient is defined by a relationship to the mental health/illness system. Should a person leave the mental health/illness system entirely, that person ceases to be a mental patient. Technically, people outside of the mental health/illness system are not “mentally ill”. People that have left the mental health/illness system altogether, therefore, have recovered their mental health.

First, there’s a need to recruit people who are willing to talk openly about their mental-health history. Groups such as The Canadian Mental Health Association and The Mood Disorders Association are in a position to help with recruitment, as they often call on former mental patients to address meetings held to provide support for friends and families. But any campaign based on interaction with those of us who have been successfully treated must reach people with neutral or negative attitudes toward mental illness to make a difference.

One has to ask here, do you have a neutral or a negative attitude toward mental wellness? I don’t really see the virtue of “problems in life”, “troubles”, “life crises”, etc., all the little more intelligent ways we have of describing what quacks in the psychiatric field have come to characterize as “mental illnesses”. I happen to think it possible for people to overcome and get beyond such difficulties.

Which brings us to the second key factor, organizing events that attract people from all walks of life to meet those who thrive as a result of psychological and psychiatric treatment. This is something new, and enthusiastic people need to do some brainstorming as a first step.

I agree. There is life beyond the mental health treatment center. You and your friends should try it sometime.

The language of discrimination

Great is the hand that holds dominion over
Man by a scribbled name.
~from The Hand That Signed The Paper by Dylan Thomas

In my last post I used the s word, “stigma”, a word I usually try to avoid if at all possible. I want in this post to explain why I don’t like the use of the word, why I feel it should be discouraged, and why in my last post I felt I was justified in using it.

These campaigns among mental health advocates to clean up “stigma” that you may have read about here, there, and everywhere else are actually a scam dreamed up by the unholy alliance of big pharmaceutical companies, front groups for Big Pharma such as NAMI, and the American Psychiatric Association to sell psychiatric drugs.

The basic concept behind this scam is not at all recovery model, and it works like this, if most people labeled “seriously mentally ill” are unable to recover from their “illnesses”, the best we can do for them is to change other people’s perception of them. It works upon the basic assumption that most people so labeled are incapable of recovering from what is perceived to be their “mental disorder”.

On this basic theoretical assumption we find other unfounded assumptions have attached themselves. Among those assumptions are the assumptions that what is customarily referred to as “serious mental illness” is biological in nature, and that it has a genetic base.

The similarities between this view and those views that we would typically refer to as racist are often missed by the people using them. Is not this claim of defective genes similar to those views that would claim one race inferior to another? In fact, I get the overall feeling that much of the steam behind this theory is a hold over from the days when eugenics was a leading school of thought around the world.

I prefer instead to use those words that come out of the movements for civil rights and social justice. The expression that I would use to describe what certain other parties are calling “stigma” is discrimination based upon prejudice. You can legislate against discrimination, but when it comes to the s word all people can seem to manage to do is talk. When it’s merely a matter of talk, little changes, including the s word.

My last post dealt with the official records kept on people who have experienced psychiatric hospitalization. The definition of “stigma”, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is “a mark of infamy, disgrace, or reproach.” The word originated from the practice of branding slaves and criminals on the forehead. It is my contention that those records kept by the state in order to keep track of people with psychiatric histories also represent a sort of mark of disgrace, and they are a concrete example of the prejudice expressed against people who have done time in state hospitals.

A mark that is invisible isn’t really a mark, or is it? A mark that is made on a piece of paper is a mark, and it can be used to keep tabs on people. Our state bureaucracies use such written records all the time. These records, in this case, are often used to keep people down. I’m not saying this mark is a good thing, or that it should be made. I’m just saying that it is made.

The definition of prejudice, according to the same American Heritage Dictionary, is “a hostile opinion about some person or class of persons.” Further more, the American Heritage Dictionary goes onto say about prejudice that it is “socially learned and is usually grounded in misconception, misunderstanding, and inflexible generalizations.”

A simpler way of putting this is to say that prejudice is a leap to judgment, and a leap to judgment before one has all the facts. Criminal court cases, to use an example, utilize a jury of twelve people expressly to prevent such leaps to judgment. We call this utilization due process of law. In such cases, the suspected criminal is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Civil commitment hearings differ from criminal cases in that the person undergoing civil commitment proceedings is not protected from such leaps to judgment or, to put it another way, diagnosis. I think that it makes much more sense, in practical terms, to campaign against such premature conclusions, or the after effects from them, than it does to endeavor to wipe off unacknowledged marks of disgrace. For this reason, I think we can be more effective by targeting discrimination than we can by targeting the s word.

Many states slow to hand over confidential information

Although there is a law requiring information on people who have been through the mental health/illness system be stored in a national data base so that their second amendment rights to bear arms may be violated and denied, more than half the states in the union, according to an NPR story, AP Finds Few States Follow Mental Health Gun Law, have been non-compliant at supplying names to this data base.

Kudos go to those 9 states that haven’t as of yet ratted out any of their residents. When you read the following imagine the national anthem playing full blast amid thunderous applause.

The states that have failed to submit any mental health records are: Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Dakota.

Our thumbs up must go to those states who have submitted very few records as well. Given time maybe they, too, will learn to seal their lips. Uh, I mean keep their top secret file cabinets locked.

Seventeen states submitted very few records: Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

This situation may change a little in the future as legislators in the state of Kentucky just voted to comply with this unjust and unconstitutional piece of legislation.

Subtracting these states from the rest of the states we get the names of those states that deserve a good finger wagging. We must ask officials within them, “Seriously, whatever happened to the notion of liberty within the border’s of your state?” When you see the names of these states imagine thrown fruit and raucous boos.

The 24 states that are free and easy with confidential records are: Virginia, California, North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan, Arizona, New York, Florida, Texas, Connecticut, Washington, Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana, Nevada, Maryland, Ohio, Tennessee, Kansas, Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Utah, and West Virginia.

People within these states must learn that there is indeed a “stigma” attached to receiving mental health treatment for their residents. This “stigma” is stored in Washington, DC.

This NPR story in fact gives us a few details about some of the most offensive of such states saying that 11 states have provided more than 1,000 records each to the data base. New York and Virginia are mentioned as being among the biggest offenders by having submitted more than 100,000 names each to the data base while California was said to have supplied a whopping more than 250,000 names.

Can 7 diagnostic labels save a murderer’s life?

I couldn’t help noticing this article, about an alleged cop killer, and the lengths to which the contemporary defense team is willing to go to try to save a poor man’s life. They’ve found a psychiatrist who, get this, is willing to diagnose him with 6 mental disorders. 7, that is, if he’s also seen as having a drug abuse or “disorder” issue.

The DSM is now a grab bag of potential defenses in capital murder cases. This case is particularly interesting in that we can see the same type of defense already being suggested for the case of Jared Lee Loughner, the man who killed and maimed so many people in Tucson. Jared, of course, killed 6 including a US Discrict Court Judge John Rule, and Christina Taylor Green, a 9 year old girl, and seriously maimed 14 others, including Arizona state Representative Gabrielle Griffords.

The article in Newsworks bears the headline, Forensic psychiatrist diagnoses Derrick Powell with seven disorders.

Dr. Alizai-Cowan told jurors she examined Powell for several hours less than two weeks after Spicer was killed, reviewed numerous records, and saw Powell again in August 2010. Based on her findings, she diagnosed Powell with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar-2 disorder, panic disorder, cognitive disorder, anti-social personality disorder, post-traumatic stress, and cannabis disorder from the use of marijuana.

Talk about getting off to a wrong start! Apparently the young man had been diagnosed with ADHD, or throw away kid syndrome, from early on.

ADHD may have been present in Powell at a very young age, according to Dr. Alizai-Cowan. Jurors again heard about school and social-service records which indicated a pattern of disruptive and disturbing behavior, and being prescribed medication for the disorder. His father, Joseph Powell, said on the stand this week that he withheld the medication from his son unless absolutely necessary because he was concerned it could be a “gateway” drug.

From my understanding of the matter, those stimulants that are used in the treating of ADHD are more likely to be triggers of violence than deterrents of such, and so I would doubt the “off his meds” argument could be applied in this case.

When you’ve got a dope pusher, and a heavy dope user, who has been smoking marijuana since the age of 7, your chances of defending his life on a reefer madness defence I imagine are pretty high.

Dr. Alizai-Cowan said the disorder related to marijuana could have begun as early as age seven. She said Derrick Powell gave some stories she did not believe, including that he smoked 30 to 40 “blunts” per day, that he made $20,000 a week selling drugs at one point, and that he was shot. Powell also told the doctor that he believed he had a superior mind and that he could control traffic lights.

I think the PTSD might end up being a hard sell that I doubt the jury will be able to buy. The rest of the assorted disorders though are anybodies guess.

Under questioning from prosecutor Paula Ryan, Dr. Alizai-Cowan said it appeared Powell likely had many of these disorders on September 1st 2009, except for post-traumatic stress. She said it was unlikely that the earlier shooting and the police pursuit triggered PTSD, but she also could not rule that out.

As you can see the future of the insanity plea seems assured when it comes to using it to try to save people from their own state’s attempts at homicide.

Psychiatric drugs causing heart disease

As reported in a US News and World Report article, Antipsychotic drugs raise heart risk, experts warn, the number 1 cause of death among people in mental health treatment is heart disease. This heart disease is usually a result of metabolic changes brought on by the over-prescription of psychiatric drugs.

The authors of an editorial in the Feb. 19 issue of The Lancet noted that patients with severe mental illness live an average of 16 years less than people in the general population. Heart disease, not suicide, is the major cause of death in these patients and antipsychotic drugs are a factor.

These heart conditions are linked to the excessive weight gain that is often seen in patients who take the newer atypical neuroleptic psychiatric drugs developed to have fewer irritating effects than the older neuroleptic drugs.

A study published recently in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that patients who took an antipsychotic drug gained 11 to 13 pounds within six to eight weeks after they starting taking the drug.

The authors of the study on which the article is based seem to be missing the real point of the matter. Alternatives to conventional mental health treatments that use these psychiatric drugs, often to excess, need to be developed and explored if the physical health of people in mental health treatment is to improve at all.

They concluded: “Antipsychotic drugs are a clear risk to cardiometabolic health. This risk is, all too often, a necessary one. But the trade-off between mental and physical well-being is one that no patient should be forced to make. The mind-body dichotomy is both outdated and dangerous. The price of good mental health must not be a lifetime of physical illness.”

Calling the risk a necessary one the authors are downplaying the possibility of resorting to other methods of treatments besides drugs. This is unfortunate. When choice is respected, and when alternatives to conventional drug treatments are made readily available, mental health treatment has a chance to become something besides the death sentence that it currently, according to the statistics, is.

Prescription Drugs Killing Veterans of Military Service

A recent article in the New York Times dealt with the subject of polypharmacy among military and ex-military men and women. The headline says it all, For Some Troops, Powerful Drug Cocktails Have Deadly Results. An army report detailed the increase in suicide that accompanied this development.

“Prescription drug use is on the rise,” the report said, noting that medications were involved in one-third of the record 162 suicides by active-duty soldiers in 2009. An additional 101 soldiers died accidentally from the toxic mixing of prescription drugs from 2006 to 2009.

A number of soldiers killed themselves by their own hand, often considered a side effect of certain psychiatric drugs, while other soldiers over dosed on combinations of prescription drugs.

The actual number of accidental deaths from drug combinations I suspect is likely to be much higher than that attributed to drugs. Were the cause listed as “unknown”, for instance, the cause of death would not have been attributed to the drugs that could have caused it.

“I’m not a doctor, but there is something inside that tells me the fewer of these things we prescribe, the better off we’ll be,” Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the vice chief of staff of the Army who has led efforts on suicide, said in an interview.

When people in the mental health/illness system are dying on average 16 years earlier than the general population, 25 years earlier according to a 2006 study, you know you’ve got a problem. It is my hope that the alarm and the concern that has been generated by these “accidental” deaths among military and ex-military men and women might spread to some of those early deaths in the civilian population.

The problem has grown so severe in the army that the army has issued a new policy on the use of multiple medications.

“The sedation is not necessarily two plus two is four,” said Cmdr. Rosemary Malone, a Navy forensic psychiatrist. “It could be synergistic. So two plus two could be five.”

Our military and ex-military are not the only victims of polypharmacy, but in the service at least the matter is receiving some much needed attention. Sadly this attention comes too late to help those of our fighting men and women who have already died as a result of deadly combinations of prescription drugs.

Business as usual in the problem people industry

I found an interesting article in the Independent Online (IOL) lifestyle section about mental health workers called, sensationally enough, Shrinks in distress.

“Mental health practitioners are generally believed to hold all the cards to mental health,” says Gcina Makaula a clinical psychologist. “People want to feel they are with the right person. The brain is a very fragile organ to mess with. As a psychologist, I cannot ignore my own bias. I believe that psychologists are best at doing therapy. However, I cannot say that all psychologists are good, and I cannot claim that all social workers, mental health workers, or psychiatrists are bad. There are some very capable social workers who I refer cases to and some psychiatrists who I believe are great pharmacologists and diagnosticians.”

Most professionals are good at holding their own biases; otherwise they would have chosen other professions. Sometimes this is merely a matter of pride. I’ve met a few recovered psychologists, too, but very few. Most of them mostly keep at the game of therapy, and heeling people. Recovered psychologists are people who have changed professions and who no longer pursue the business of contributing appreciably to the disability epidemic that is plaguing our nation.

When it comes to psychiatrists, I agree, there are a few good apples out there, a very, very few. This is to say that shrinks themselves are 99.9 % bad, and .1 % or so good. There are a few good shrinks out there, and by good I mean psychiatrists like Dr. Thomas Szasz and Dr. Peter Breggin. I consider them both the exceptions to the general rule of badness governing their trade.

When it comes to great pharmacologists, you might have better success with a local bartender mixing drinks at a corner bar, and when it comes to diagnosticians, you might as well be saying hypnotists. Given the 300+ “mental illness” labels in the last revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) I find many of those diagnoses laughable.

The article goes on to discuss psychologist burnout, and the personal and familial problems that sometimes bring people into the profession.

Makaula disagrees. “Not all of us get into this line of duty out of the need to cleanse our own issues although no one can deny how therapeutic it is to hear other people’s stories, but some of us got into the fraternity with one mission and one mission only, to make it better for others who have not been as fortunate.”

My understanding is that psychologists and other mental health workers often live in another end of town, and in different neighborhoods, from those people they tend to treat. Were this otherwise, they’d not be “as fortunate” as they are. I suggest that they are not nearly so necessary as they perhaps might consider themselves to be. Moving down into the slums, and taking salary cuts, is usually not a part of the bargain. On the receiver side, therapy comes with shit jobs and slumming it in general. The mental health consumer, or troubled person, by and large, is not in the slightest bit upwardly mobile economically. Psychologists don’t tend to address this matter for good reason. Their position and salary depends upon their professional fortunate elite status. Without unfortunate people the psychologist is out of business.

Offering a counterpoint to the previously expressed view we get the following.

[Canadian social worker and psychology student Yolanda] Mkhize thinks otherwise. “A therapist who has or has had issues to deal with is more dependable than someone who only imagines what its like to have issues. Credibility comes from experience. The saying ‘those who cannot do teach’ must have come from that. It is always easier to look at someone else’s situation from outside,” she says. Clean as a whistle therapists are as good as a medicine dispenser in the hospital. Unless you have walked the path, you cannot give directions.

Remember what I said about recovered psychologists, the same applies here. The mental health/illness profession has little future without people giving other people such crooked advice. There are perhaps better directions to walk in than into the clutches of the disturbed professional. Of course, it may take an individual many years in therapy to achieve this insight, and to realize that there is a world of a difference out there waiting for him or her, but it has been known to happen.

What’s wrong with this forum?

The Schorr Family Award and the Arizona Daily Star are putting on a Forum in Arizona. The Arizona Daily Star has an editorial on this forum, Time has come for complete talk on mental illness.

The forum, “A Delicate Balance: Creating a better, post-January 8 system to protect the public and help the seriously mentally ill,” will be held on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 27 at Centennial Hall on the University of Arizona campus. The Star is partnering with the Schorr Family Award organization on the event in the shared belief that mental illness is a paramount issue in our community that must be addressed openly and honestly. The Schorr family have made it their mission to break the stigma surrounding mental illness by being public advocates.

1. The forum is a response to the shooting in Tucson. Some shrink calls the shooter “a paranoid schizophrenic” and suddenly everybody is exonerating the killer as a kook. The killer is not being held in an institution to determine whether he is fit to stand trial or not. The insanity defense is probably only going to come in as means to save the shooter’s life. I think there are better forums in which to debate the death penalty. This is about the death penalty, and it has absolutely nothing to do with “mental illness”.

2. “Stigma” is a big scam being used to sell psychiatric drugs. The idea is that if people can’t recover from “serious mental illnesses”, the best that can be done for them is to change the way society views such people. This approach ignores the fact that people can and do fully recover from “serious mental illnesses”, and that the real problem is one of discrimination and prejudice. Calling prejudice “stigma” is not so much a way to fight prejudice as it is a way to inure people to the fact that discrimination is occurring.

3. There are absolutely no psychiatric survivors or mental health consumers on the panel. This is a tremendous oversight in the selection process for this forum that happens time and again. We, in the psychiatric survivor and mental health consumer movement, have a slogan, “Nothing about us without us!” This panel should include psychiatric survivors and mental health consumers on it, too, and it just doesn’t do so.

The Arizona Daily Star claims…

The challenges facing people with mental illness aren’t contained in a nice, neat package that affects only the individual or their families. It’s time we face down the stigma and isolation faced by people affected by severe mental illness and come together as a community to build a solution – and the Schorr Family Award forum is a good start.

This forum is not such a good start at all. As long the panel doesn’t include any members of the local psychiatric survivor and mental health consumer community on it, it’s an atrocious start. Who needs you to speak for people with experience in the psychiatric system when they can speak for themselves. This is more than a mere oversight, it is a concrete example of the prejudice mentioned earlier.

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