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.