Re-establishing My Credentials: Psychiatric Survivor Activists are Needed by the 100%, Now!

The popular blog site Mad In America just published my post about my psychiatric survivor #MadPride #Disability journey since I broke my neck in 2012: (If you would like to hear this as a voice synthesized podcast, click play below.) 

By David W. Oaks

David W. Oaks, Revolutionary, Aciu!

For more than four decades, I have worked as a psychiatric-survivor human rights activist. Then, at the end of 2012, I broke my neck. As readers of my blog posts, such as those on Mad in America, know, I have devoted the past few years to rehab and activism. But it has been a while since my last personal blog. Let me sum up my Mad Pride journey today, because a lot is changing.

As a quick background, all of my grandparents were immigrants from Lithuania. Both of my grandfathers were coal miners for a combined 31 years. I was raised in a very working-class neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, and got a scholarship to Harvard. During my sophomore, junior, and senior years, I experienced the psychiatric system. This included involuntary psychiatric drugs, such as on the sharp end of a needle while being held down on a bare mattress on the floor in solitary confinement.

During my junior year, Harvard’s volunteer social change agency, Phillips Brooks House, referred me as an intern at Mental Patients Liberation Front in nearby Central Square. MPLF is one of the very early psychiatric survivor activist groups from the 1970’s. After a total of five psychiatric lockups I graduated with honors in 1977, and studied community organizing with the infamous group ACORN, based on the methods of Saul Alinsky. Community organizing with psychiatric survivors became my career.

MindFreedom International: Winning Human Rights in Mental Health!

Fast forward: I co-founded and was Executive Director for 25 years of the independent nonprofit coalition, MindFreedom International (MFI) which fights for human rights in mental health. MFI has always been wide open to everyone who supports human rights, including attorneys, mental health workers, family members, and the general public. But surveys show that a majority of MFI members identify as having personally experienced human rights violations in the mental health system, that is, psychiatric survivors.

Because MFI’s constituency tends to be low-income, most groups in this field need to rely on government support to exist. That is understandable. But an amazing thing about MFI is that it has always mainly been supported by donations from individuals, poor and rich, and some private grants.

Because of this independence, MFI has always had a different center of gravity than most similar groups: Revolution! We at MFI always attempted to connect with other movements for social justice, such as prisoner’s rights, LGBT+, anti-racism, anti-poverty, and environmentalism. For the last few decades, one of our closest connections has been with people with disabilities.

A Tale of Two Movements: Psychiatric Survivors and People With Disabilities

Frankly, the connection between psychiatric survivor Mad Pride and the physical disability movement has been a bit complex, and sometimes even challenging. For example, there appears to be a difference about the issue of diagnoses. Don’t we radical psychiatric survivors reject all labels? Don’t people with physical disabilities often rely on their labels? Yes, “disabilities” are socially constructed; it is our society that is disabled. But I am aware that some leaders do not always understand our unity.

Unfortunately, I have even seen a leader of a disability Independent Living Center falsely say, repeatedly, that MindFreedom pushes people to quit psychiatric drugs. Wrong. In fact, there are many MFI members who willingly choose to take prescribed psychiatric drugs, and they have told me they feel totally comfortable and accepted.

Both the psychiatric survivor movement and the movement for people with disabilities are united in their goals. Both support the empowerment and choice of the Marginalized And Disempowered (MAD). I’ve written about this before, and I will again, but this is not my point now.

For now, I will point out that calling someone a name they do not want is labeling. Asking for a diagnosis from a pro you trust, willingly, ain’t labeling. More later, but for now, understand that the unity between psychiatric survivors and people with disabilities is more than theory for me. It is my life.

Our Cat, Bongo, Plays a Key Role in My Life

Bongo & Debra (David’s wife)

At the end of 2012, in an attempt to retrieve our cat, Bongo, I fell and broke my neck, becoming a very disabled quadriplegic in a power chair with impaired voice and hands. I do not recommend this drastic approach, but one silver lining is that now I have absolutely no problem at all bridging both the psychiatric survivor movement and the entire disability movement!

As some of us activists have joked about ourselves when we encounter challenges again: I have “re-established my credentials.”

Because of my profound disability challenges, I needed to retire from MFI in 2013. During the past seven-and-a-half years, I have been working on rehab.

I have improved my breathing by twice-daily exercises with heavy weights and an incentive spirometer, bringing my capacity from one-fourth to one-third typical breathing. A great improvement, but I am of course, at the age of 64, one of the most vulnerable folks during the COVID-19 crisis.

I have sought to improve my impaired speech. This has involved years of speech therapy and a surgery on my vocal folds.

Before my fall I could type 120 words per minute, now I cannot type at all. So I have worked to improve my memory because projects and writing need to stick up there, in the mind. Now, in one sitting, I can pretty easily and reliably memorize two shuffled decks of cards (a total of 112 cards, counting jokers and promo cards). I can repeat the memorized order of cards, blindfolded, in about five minutes. I have recited shuffled double decks perfectly 37 times.

There are many other ways I have applied the lessons I learned in our psychiatric survivor movement to my own rehab. For example, back in 1989, I started a men’s support group called the BUBS. During this COVID crisis we have been meeting weekly via Zoom. This sort of small group, mutual peer support, as we know from our movement, is invaluable to rehab and surviving a crisis.

Before my fall, as a fiercely independent Pagan, I relied on my occasional trips to the Oregon wilderness for three days of fasting and reflection. In fact, after one of these trips, I recorded a brief statement, which can be found on YouTube by searching for: david w oaks neptune beach.

Since my fall, to make things easier, I have joined the nearby Unitarian Universalist Church. Yes, a church. I am glad I did, because the UU philosophy works for me, and they are very supportive of people with disabilities. For example, I helped re-start an Access Committee at our church with support from the reverend.

But What Would Judi Chamberlin Say?

Judi Chamberlin

As I have expressed, and many other psychiatric survivor activists know, I have always fought against involuntary and unscientific diagnoses. “Label jars, not people!” as my friend in MPLF, the late Judi Chamberlin, liked to say.

After my accident, I clearly had thoughts and feelings consistent with classic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, such as recurring vivid nightmares of falling off my bed that would continue after I woke up. Folks, I cannot even budge once I am lying in my bed!

I have found my psychotherapist, Dr. John Bundy, to be very helpful in addressing these problems. Finding a psychologist that works for me took a bunch of my skills and networking from our movement. Dr. Bundy is superb, and because of a childhood accident, is 100% blind. Perhaps we connect more as peers because of our disabilities.

Yes, many friends and family have encouraged me to write a book, because there are many other tools from our movement I have used in my rehab journey, that may help the general public now.

Silver Linings of Planetary Crises: No New Normality!

Looking for silver linings is one of the lessons I gained as a psychiatric survivor with major physical disabilities. Today, as the whole world struggles with COVID-19, there are quite a few silver linings. One of these is that undeniably we are all connected in one planetary community, obviously and deeply.

To the right are images of my home care team wearing masks. This montage is a tribute to these truly essential workers, crucial for my independent living and our household. One of my home care workers pointed out that essential workers have always been essential, even before this pandemic. Good point. Mainly, I need help thanking and giving credit to my home care team.

Ačiū! Ačiū! Ačiū! This is an ancient Lithuanian word that means “thanks.” This gratitude is why I named my consulting business Aciu! Institute. Thank you, everybody, for your support!

During this rehab, I have attempted to blog now and again. But I will now try to do this more frequently. I believe there are real life lessons from the psychiatric survivor and disability movements which can assist the general public right now, in this era of viruses and climate crisis. I have often heard media outlets say people with disabilities or mental problems make up ‘x’ percent of the public, such as 18% or 15%. But, for example, everyone on Earth addresses the severe trauma of how we treat nature. Scientists suggest that none of us have, or even can, get a grip on reality.

We are now all the 100%. In today’s world, if you are not crazy you may be nuts!

Today we often hear about how “normality” is gone. But normality never really ever existed. Kind of like a unicorn. Many are now talking about a future “new normality.” But this is a lie! Normal is dead forever. One way or another, for better or worse, we won!

This year, my consulting business, Aciu! Institute, LLC, has its second major client, MindFreedom International! I report to their superb director who has taken my place very well, psychiatric survivor Ron Bassman of Colorado. I am helping build their network of Affiliates and Sponsors, updating the list of past groups and finding new ones. One of the uniting tasks that Ron is encouraging for these groups is to support a retooled MindFreedom Shield. Shield is a campaign to support individuals who are expressing concerns about their involuntary psychiatric procedures, issuing human rights alerts that encourage action, similar to pressure campaigns by Amnesty International.

Here in Eugene, Oregon, USA, we continue to build our own MFI local affiliate, MindFreedom Oregon and MindFreedom Lane County. We meet every month by Zoom now. Contact me if you are interested: revolution@aciu.info.

MindFreedom has always called for a global revolution. Wouldn’t a planetary revolution be a nice thing to try? Is there any other way? We can discuss what kind of revolution, but at least talking openly about this would be a start.

As well as MindFreedom, my Aciu! Institute consulting business is assisting a variety of disability and mental health groups. I will blog about this in future posts. Even though I only work a few shifts a week from home, working remotely with my superb administrative assistant Fian Peng, launching Aciu! helps my purpose and meaning. I last ran a for-profit back when I was a little kid, selling seeds and lemonade. I then worked for decades for wonderful nonprofits. It is a blast returning to a for-profit dedicated to social and environmental change!

Building Support for the Next Phase: Revolution!

After I broke my neck, the values and wisdom from our movement helped me each day in my real-life endeavors. Many call this inspiring. I call our social change Mad Pride movement inspiring. Once in a while, someone will question the whole idea of “Mad Pride.” (I sometimes wonder if they like “Normal Shame.”) But for the last few years, our Mad Pride crazy wisdom has helped support and sustain our home, my independence and my life.

One skill I learned in our movement was grassroots fundraising, from many people, poor and rich. While I was in Craig Hospital rehab, we held a number of support drives to raise funds. For instance, quick support from people like you is how I bought my wheelchair van.

Since then, I have not done much fundraising. For one reason, my wonderful wife, Debra, and I live a comfortable life on our quarter-acre homestead we call Mad Swan. One of the absolutely best things in my early adulthood was falling in love with the amazing and always-fascinating Debra.

But while we are not struggling for food, I do want to use my background and experience to help justice and transformation today.

My family created a “David W Oaks Irrevocable Medical Trust” that supports my independent living. Support from this trust is helping me launch my Aciu! Institute consulting.

I pledge to post more often to my own personal blog (www.davidwoaks.com), my consulting business blog (www.aciu.info), and of course Mad in America, which has helped amplify my concerns over the years, so that I know my leadership is still here and helpful.

More than ever, I especially value your feedback. The Mad in America community is vibrant, and I look forward to your comments here. I will try to reply to as many as possible. You will now also find me frequently on Facebook, including our group UU Mental Health Justice. On Reddit we have created subreddit r/MadPride. On Twitter and LinkedIn, let us explore what challenges and opportunities can be found in the intersection of #MadPride and #Disability. (You may comment here, and/or join the lively debates in the comment area at the end of my post on Mad In America.)

Ačiū!

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Editor’s Note: If you wish, you can make a one-time or monthly donation to David W. Oaks Irrevocable Medical Trust. Your gift is not tax-deductible, but is very important to his independent living. He is launching his consulting business, Aciu! Institute.

For more information about donating to David W. Oaks Irrevocable Medical Trust, go here: http://davidwoaks.com/welcome/support

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Eco-Crisis Means Disability Movement Must Help Lead Global Revolution, Now!

This year, 2019, is my 43rd year working for human rights in disability. Based on sheer numbers, we are one of the largest social change movements in Earth’s history.

Let us act like it now, and help lead a world-wide revolution.

Sound crazy? Well, the odds are indeed against us. However, this is not a question of what can be done, this is a question of what must be done.

Here are three reasons I feel we must pour our souls into this endeavor, now:

1. Creative Disorder

We in the disability movement are extremely diverse. Some of us reject our diagnoses. Some of us embrace our labels. But all of us have been diagnosed as “disordered.”

When society by any definition seems paralyzed, who you gonna call?

The disability movement! The current individual who occupies the White House identifies himself as a “very stable genius.”

But we need instability right now. And not any kind of instability.

We need creative instability.

Creative Disorder! This is a modernization of a phrase that Martin Luther King used over and over for over a decade. MLK repeatedly said he was proud to be “maladjusted.”

In fact, MLK said the world was in dire need of a new organization, the “International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment” (IAACM).

2. Never Again!

Over and over and over again many of us have vowed, “Never Again!” We will never have another Holocaust.

But now scientific experts overwhelmingly warn us that the ecological crisis may wipe out a heartbreaking amount of life and civilization. Humanity keeps heading toward trigger points for positive feedback loops. Dozens of them.

Most recently, scientific studies show that the warming of the oceans may be 40% worse than originally thought. As methane is released from the floor of the ocean, for example, this can lead to more warming, which means more methane, which means more warming, etc.

We are headed toward a wall of cascading chaos. We cannot predict the future exactly, but let us glance at a worst case scenario.

I have made a very rough, unscientific estimate of just the number of human lives at stake.

The life of a species is about one million years. We humans are only through part of that cycle. Basing my estimates on the “carrying capacity” that many have estimated, along with the number of generations yet to come, etc.

Adding this all up, just focusing on human life, I get an incredibly large number.

By coincidence, this number is six million squared. In other words, for each person lost in this six million estimate, there is another six million.

This is the Holocaust Squared. That is the human cost that I estimate is at risk. Not even addressing all the animal and plant life at risk.

3. Extinction Rebellion

My hats off to you for being a leader in the coming global revolution.

For example, I have been active with the group 350.org. I am gratified to see Our Children’s Trust continues to fight for the future. There are many other groups.

There are a couple of organizations that I have only recently found out about, are very promising for a global revolution. Everything that I have seen so far is positive.

First, there is a group that started recently in London with non-violent civil disobedience that shut down several bridges, and is going international, Extinction Rebellion.

Second, today, 15 January 2019, is a kickoff date for a national Earth Strike. There are several more dates over the next few months, leading up to 27 September 2019, Earth Strike! Check it out.

Disability Leadership Needed Now!

In the comments below, I would love to hear your reactions and suggestions. I know revolution is difficult. The first question I often hear is “what kind of revolution?” But even talking about the topic is helpful.

And I feel, that no matter what the odds are, hearing that folks are positive Revolutionaries may help us maladjust to our collective trauma, creatively.

And we are all, 100%, traumatized today. All of us, 100%, are now the Creative Disabled!

Let’s roll!

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

Hurricane Harvey from a NASA photo taken by a satellite.

Dear Year 2192 & Year 2017:

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.

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New Game: What Are Your Four Truths (#4Truths) That You Feel Could Save the Planet?

Here in Eugene, brother Tony, worker Ian and love of my life Debra joined me for 2017 eclipse watching. Senior discount seating was available!

Over the years I have created a number of games that I mostly play in my own head. One of these has actually caught on a bit with some of my homecare workers: When you hear anyone, such as on the radio, say the word “normal” you howl. That is it. You can play!

On the right we made a party for watching the 2017 eclipse. My brother Tony chose the soundtrack.

Personally my current game that I play in my own head is named “4Truths.” All you need to do is provide four of your truths that you feel that if the world knew, it may save their bacon.

Here are my four truths: 

  1. What is the lag time between emitting carbon pollution, and hurting the environment? I have read that this is 40 years. In other words, a recent summer 2017 month was the hottest on record. The pollution that led to this was produced back when I was in college, and I graduated 1977.
  2. Why is there this major lag time? My understanding from scientific articles and documentaries, is that the ocean absorbs a lot of our pollution. About 93% of greenhouse gasses are gobbled up by the sea, so that the impact of climate chaos is not immediately visible. The ocean stays all blue and consistent. Right? Not forever.
  3. When is seven generations ahead? We often hear that phrase first put forth by Iroquois Native Americans. According to my search engine, the average generation is now about 25 years. That means that seven generations is about 175 years. From this year, 2017, that would be 2192, the 700th anniversary of the invasion of this continent by us Europeans. (We had tried before, such as with Viking settlements, but they did not last.)
  4. So what if there are a few lags between pollution and climate crisis? There are more than four “lag times” before the year 2192. Big deal? Yes! Science has gone through a quiet revolution. Ask any reputable scientist, from physics to sociology. They will tell you that if anyone triggers enough positive feedback loops, chaos can result. Think of shooting off a gun despite warnings of a pending avalanche. When the snow starts to tumble, it may be too late.

What are your four truths? 

I will be tweeting the short phrase #4Truths. Please post your tweet there, and/or here on my blog comment area. Thanks!

Buddhism has its “Four noble truths.” Let us hear yours!

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Crazy Like A Fox? Trump’s Mental Health Debated While Senate Quietly Rubber-Stamps “Mental Health Czar”

Updated July 18, 2017:

US Senate Moving Now About Trump “Mental Health Czar” Appointee!

Dr. Ellie McCance-Katz, appointed by President Trump to an important mental health position.

I just heard that the US Senate, via Senator Lamar Alexander’s HELP Committee (Health, Education, Labor & Pensions), will be looking at this Trump appointee at the end of July, 2017. Hey that is right now! 

There are many ways to influence this committee! They include Sen. Sanders, Warren, Franken, plus many Senators from States with activists (such as Wisc., Maine, Mass., Wash., Penn., Virginia, etc.). If you have a US Senator on this Committee, act now. If your US Senators are not on this Committee, please ask them to speak out today.

Since the bizarre attempt to gut the ACA is scuttled, this is a good time to speak out!

It may be too late to stop this appointment, but we could be asking some very good questions. We need to find out about Dr. Ellie McCance-Katz support for empowerment, recovery, peer support, alternatives, etc. But we should also find out about her understanding of the way psychiatric drugs are forced on people, hazards of long-term use, federal support for involuntary psychiatric drugging including on a outpatient basis, alternatives to psychiatric drugs, brain damage associated with neuroleptic drugs, electroshock, involuntary electroshock, and how involuntary outpatient procedures can and do include occasional court-ordered involuntary electroshock! 

Below is the blog I wrote a few weeks ago about blocking this Trump appointee, and I have some questions listed. Let us ask some good questions right now, come on everybody!

Stop the Trump Appointee of a “Mental Health Czar”! At Least Ask Some Good Questions!

The nation and media debate Pres. Trump’s mental health. It is kind of a kick to watch Trump act nuts. Maybe it’s like driving past a car wreck on the highway. You vow to yourself to look away, but I look. Maybe you do too.

However, Pres. Cuckoo is distracting us.

Pres. Trump is “crazy like a fox.” The US Senate is quietly approving his first “Mental Health Czar.” Really!

You may have not heard about this controversy at all in the corporate media.

This “Mental Health Czar” appointment is moving below the radar of many people. In December 2016, the vast majority of Republican and Democrat congresspeople passed a huge and extreme mental health law for the nation, as part of the “21st Century Cures” bill.

Trump is Nominating New Mental Health “Czar” 

As part of this new law, Pres. Trump has nominated a psychiatrist, Dr. Ellie McCance-Katz, for this first brand-new very-powerful position, widely considered “a mental health czar” of the USA.

 

While this process is not spoken about much in the media, the US Senate via Sen. Lamar Alexander’s committee, is supposed to ask her questions and decide about her confirmation. The formal title for this brand-new position is “Assistant Secretary for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (Samhsa).”

Paolo del Vecchio heads the Center for Mental Health Services, a half-billion dollar agency within Samhsa.

If you are new to the US mental health world, you may not know that Samhsa is the huge federal agency that funds much of the mental health system. Just one of the Samhsa agencies is Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS),  overseeing about a half-a-billion dollars annually, including many of the mental health consumer events such as the popular annual Alternatives Conference, the next one in Boston starts August 18, 2017.

CMHS is headed by Paolo del Vecchio, who has publicly identified himself as someone with “lived experience” of a mental health disability. Thousands of folks in our movement lead by mental health consumers and psychiatric survivors have met Paolo.

Now Paolo and CMHS find themselves in the middle of a strange and quiet battle.

For many decades, mental health consumer organizations in the USA have counted on the federal and state governments for their budgets. Only a few organizations have even tried to fund their budgets with donations, memberships, grassroots sales, and small independent grants.

It is difficult to explain to people how much advocacy organizations for mental health are under the control of the mental health industry. Imagine almost all the environmental groups in the USA, such as GreenPeace, getting their funding from the petrochemical industry. You might spot a problem here?

The Chickens Come Home to Roost

I have spent about 40 years working as a human rights activist in the mental health field. I am proud that when I directed MindFreedom International, for about 25 years, we raised our funds the old-fashioned way mainly through membership donations. Yes, we tried to maintain friendly relationships with industry-funded groups, after all they did some good.

Time for all mental health consumer and psychiatric survivor advocacy groups to raise part or all of their budgets in a more independent way.

The reality today is that many of the mental health consumer groups in the USA are funded by agencies that are headed up by the President, Donald Trump. In other words, the boss’s bosses’ boss of many mental health advocacy groups is Pres. Trump.

Hey President Trump:

“Before your mental health czar pushes for court-orders of any more Americans into forced outpatient psychiatric drugging, will you have a mental health check-up yourself?”

I have blogged previously about why this new position is so very dangerous. For example, after decades of new laws, on the state level, for court-ordered Involuntary Outpatient Commitment with involuntary psychiatric drugging (so-called IOC or as apologists call this violation, “Assisted Care”), this authoritarian practice is now partly-funded federally by US taxpayer dollars.

The US Senate should ask Dr. McCance-Katz about federal support and her backing for this forced outpatient psychiatric drugging.

That is correct, if you are an American taxpayer, some of your millions goes to forcibly drugging your neighbors in their own homes, using court orders. That might even sound like a good idea to some people, until someone suggests you yourself might be one of those to be under such a court order.

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) is the only psychologist in Congress and for years he championed the bill that became 21st Century Cures. You may read articles about this topic over on Mad in America:

https://www.madinamerica.com/tag/murphy-bill/

Psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey Gloats

Dr. Torrey with a brain

Psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey promotes court-ordered involuntary psychiatric drugging for millions of Americans. He is winning so many victories with Pres. Trump that he told NY Times “I feel like I died and went to heaven.”

Psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey is widely considered one of the main opponents of our social change movement. This eccentric doctor seems to love the idea of forcing millions of Americans to take super powerful psychiatric drugs. According to a New York Times article on the nominations of Dr. Ellie McCance-Katz, Torrey told the NY Times recently, “I feel like I died and went to heaven . . . I honestly didn’t think I’d see something like this happen in my lifetime.”

Sure, we can debate the mental health status of Torrey and Trump, neither of whom appear to have gotten a mental health check-up.

Meanwhile, the US Senate should be asking some tough questions of Dr. McCance-Katz. Maybe the US Senate will approve her, but we Americans can at least ask about controversies such as:

  • Does she support more forced outpatient psychiatric drugging?
  • If so, how many Americans does she feel should get court-ordered drugging?
  • Does she endorse the current use of federal money for this?
  • Does she admit that court-ordered involuntary electroshock on an outpatient basis can be done?
  • What is the long-term impact of psychiatric drugs?
  • Why aren’t non-drug alternatives offered to Americans, including the millions of vets?
  • And many other questions!

Difficult to Learn About the Senate Debate on Trump’s “Mental Health Czar”

When is the confirmation process in the US Senate? How do you submit questions to be asked? What criteria will be used? How can we ask about involuntary psychiatric drugs, and their impact on Americans?

The Mental Health Civil Rights Advocacy Subcommittee of the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) holds a monthly teleconference, headed by Wisconsin disability advocate Mike Bachhuber. I’ve been on this Subcommittee for many years. Their most recent minutes, May 24, 2017, reflected a kind of despair about this process, to paraphrase:

“We discussed the nomination of Dr. McCance-Katz to Asst Secretary for HHS. The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) said that it is done deal. Has support of Mental Health America (MHA). Dan Fisher says that groups will not fight because many get money from SAMHSA and fear retaliation. Instead it’s suggested that we pepper the committee with questions about individual voice of service recipients.”

Let Us Resist! Fight Back Now!

We can at least have a more transparent process about this US Senate debate of the first USA “mental health czar,” appointed by a US President with obvious severe mental issues.

What is the timeline? How can we get in questions?

Dr. Torrey may think he is in heaven, but I would like a revolution, now!

And in case you still had doubts that Pres. Trump has severe mental and emotional problems:

New York Times opinion writer Charles M. Blow recently wondered about Pres. Trump’s apparent “obsession” with former-Pres. Obama:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/29/opinion/trumps-obama-obsession.html

I think it is pretty clear, from Pres. Trump’s denial of the climate crisis despite mounds of science, that he has severe and dangerous mental problems. In fact, I would argue that to exist, to live, we all have emotional problems. The challenge is to seek positivity and justice. Pres. Trump fails over and over in that pursuit. What an embarrassment, and what a risk especially to future generations.

But as Martin Luther King warned, beware the paralysis of analysis. The US Senate should be showing some bravery right now, and both of your US Senators should act.

Action: Contact Your US Senators, Now!

Each American has two US Senators. Call and email them now!

Simply say that you oppose the nomination by Trump of Dr. Ellie McCance-Katz for Associate Secretary of Samhsa. My blog from the Spring about this has more detail if you would like it:

http://138.68.254.83/trump-appointee-mccance-katz-samhsa

Everyone should contact their US Senators.

Call both the DC and local offices. Learn the name of the main staff person who works on health.

Keep calling and emailing. Please post a copy of your US Senate note, on this blog, on Facebook, etc.

Why?

Ask anyone in the mental health field for a copy of their message to their US Senators. If they do not have a letter copy then you may be looking at a sell-out. Maybe a nice sell-out, but a very confused mental health advocate!

If you can do more, try to get some good questions asked by the US Senate during this process. You can leave comments here. Just now I phoned up the office of US Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and the person who answered the phone was unaware of this controversy. Sen. Alexander heads the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is supposed to be in charge of questioning Dr. McCance-Katz.

The Vast Majority of USA Opposes These Practices!

Note that both Republicans and Democrats widely supported this bill.

But both the left and the right have spoken out many times over the years against heavy-handed government psychiatric drugging.

For instance, did you know that the USA Libertarian Party actually had a plank, passed quite a number of years ago, against all forced government psychiatric drugging?

Did you know that several grassroots Republican activists have been key for bringing up psychiatric drugging of children? When foster kids get heavy-duty psychiatric drugging, all of us share the guilt.

This issue is far beyond the usual right and left split.

We need a revolution in the mental health system and in our society. Pres. Trump may seem “crazy” but the fact is that his wild, inappropriate, disrespectful antics get the spotlight, when we should be stopping the appointment of Dr. McCance-Katz and this nightmarish 21st Century Cures Act that Torrey’s group, Treatment Advocacy Center, calls “monumental.”

Let us not be distracted by the bizarre behavior of Pres. Trump. Oppose the US Senate confirmation of Dr. McCance-Katz, and at least let us ask some good questions. Keep your eyes on the prize.

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Speak Out to Break the Silence: President Trump Appoints Mental Health Leader Who Campaigned for Involuntary Outpatient Drugging

By David W. Oaks

Dr. Ellie McCance-Katz, appointed by President Trump to a important mental health position.

I am a survivor of human rights violations in the mental health system. And even though this was a long time ago, back when I was a college student in the 1970’s, the issues are more relevant than ever. My friend, Patch Adams, MD, has connected the dots for me: Our society needs to be very agile right now, but has to overcome centuries of mental health oppression. But with compassion, we can have a global nonviolent revolution! 

Recent events show that mental health human rights violations are important for everyone. MindFreedom International was my employer for 25 years before my accident in 2012. They are an independent, activist group, and we need that energy as never before. 

The White House announced this past Friday, 21 April 2017, in the evening, that President Donald Trump has, for a pivotal mental health position, appointed a psychiatrist who openly speaks out for involuntary psychiatric drugging of people living outside of institutions, even in their own homes. This appointee criticizes our social change movement, especially our dedication to empowering peer support and our concerns about psychiatric drugs and labeling. It is important for everyone who supports human rights, especially in the social change movements for disability rights and those critical of mass incarceration, to speak up and oppose this approach.

Please phone your U.S. Senators to block this confirmation. This is a chance to raise these issues, now!

This “Assisted Outpatient Treatment” (as supporters call it) or “Involuntary Outpatient Commitment” (as it is known by many) has been quietly growing on the State level for decades, but is now being funded on the federal level, such as through the enormous 21st Century Cures Act that was passed by Congress at the end of last year. Whatever it is called — AOT or IOC — under these laws judges may order folks to have mental health care, which could be a range of approaches. In my experience, staffing a human rights phone and getting hundreds of contacts for decades, “mental healthcare” for the “seriously mentally ill” almost always includes psychiatric drugging, often with neuroleptics, or “antipsychotic medications” as prescribers often call this family of pharmaceuticals.

Neuroleptic drugs began in the 1950’s with such brands as Thorazine, Stelazine, Haldol, Mellaril, etc., all of which I have had. I personally experienced involuntary neuroleptic injections more than 40 years ago as a college student at Harvard. About five times I was placed in a psychiatric institution for emotional difficulties, and twice I experienced the sharp end of a needle, when in solitary confinement I was held down on the bare mattress and got forced drugging in my butt. I graduated anyway, in 1977, and our class is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

Now neuroleptics have dozens of more brands, but many of the hazards and risks are the same. For instance, in the long run there is the danger that many people can experience involuntary twitching that can apparently often be permanent. There is also the long term risk of brain damage and even death. Some folks choose these medications, but others do not. I choose to not take them, and I have not for these past four decades.

Takes One to Know One

President Trump has appointed Dr. Ellie McCance-Katz for a high-level position created by the 21st Century Cures Act. Dr. McCance-Katz would become the first Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse (SAMHSA) inside the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

In an essay published last year by the Psychiatric Times, Dr. McCance-Katz was highly critical of SAMHSA, especially its sub-agency Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), headed by Paolo Delvecchio, who has long-identified himself as an individual who has used psychiatric treatment. Many mental health consumers and psychiatric survivors know Paolo because of his work in this field for decades.

In her essay in Psychiatric Times, Dr. McCance-Katz:

  • Endorses federal funding of AOT (or IOC).
  • Criticizes SAMHSA for allegedly being critical of psychiatric drugs.
  • Challenges the support for “recovery” in mental health, a term used by many consumer/survivors as a rallying point for hope and empowerment.
  •  Calls for mental health care, which appears to be led by psychiatric drugs, for more than three million Americans.

Are You One of the Many Targeted? 

Dr. McCance-Katz wrote in the essay: “It is estimated that 10 million Americans (4.2%) are living with serious mental illness. However, only 68.5% of the most severely mentally ill will receive any type of mental health services.”

I wonder how many of these three million Americans would refuse psychiatric drugs? Of those who would refuse, I wonder how many this psychiatrist would like to see drugged against their will?

This professor challenges the great interest in using peer support as a humane, empowering alternative priority. She writes, “Workforce issues focus in large part on the development of a ‘peer workforce.’ This ideology purports that one can become a mental health professional by virtue of having a mental illness. Peer support can be an important resource for some, but it is not the answer to the treatment needs of the seriously mentally ill.”

There are only a few, small groups that focus on involuntary psychiatric drugging, such as the Treatment Advocacy Center. The topic actually divides a lot of folks, since the average American in my experience does not like the idea of the government forcing citizens to have involuntary psychiatric drugs, once the value of empowering alternatives are explained. IOC can even for a small group include involuntary outpatient court-ordered electroshock, or electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). For example, search the web for the names Ray Sandford and Elizabeth Ellis, with the word electroshock. These two Minnesotans who received such horrible involuntary procedures, but MindFreedom put out human rights alerts that stopped the series of electroshocks.

In my decades of work in the field of human rights and mental health, I have been impressed with the way concern about this issue crosses political lines. Yes, support for this field has often been among those who would be seen as on the left. However, some of the most effective organizing about psychiatric over-drugging of children has been done by activists that would be seen as on the right.

I have seen both the Libertarian Party and the Green Party both pass planks in their platform, years ago, expressing support for some of our goals. Today we are often seeing critics question the sanity of the President of the United States because of his support of untrue beliefs, such as his denial of climate crisis and his many years of championing the odd belief that President Obama was born in Africa.

Well, it takes one to know one, and I am also a White Aging Crazy Citizen (WACC). Actually, what I have found in my work is that 100% of all people struggle about their mental wellness, it is a universal challenge. The distinction is between negative, bigoted craziness and positive, constructive, creative craziness. In fact, I would argue that the new PC is Positively Crazy.

Perhaps at this time, we need a Positively Crazy dedication to the First Amendment, which not only includes free speech, but according to the US Supreme Court, the right to think unusual thoughts, even irrationally. There are more compassionate, effective, sustainable ways to help troubled people. Let us all break the silence about human rights violations in mental healthcare, including IOC. Centuries of abuse in this industry have helped silence the population on many outrages, including the threat of climate chaos.

We need a nonviolent revolution throughout our society, in mental healthcare, in energy, in so many ways. There is no guarantee of results, but at least we can speak up about freedom!

My friend Patch Adams, MD has spoken out many time about the need for fun, creativity and  peaceful rebellion. You may read a recent blog I wrote after chatting with him recently, which you may read here

End

Below, for the very interested, you will find an essay I have just submitted to be published in the Harvard Alumni Association publication that comes out every five years. In my essay, I appreciate that a Harvard volunteer group first placed me as an intern working for human rights in mental health. Unfortunately, the nonviolent revolution we have long called for in mental health has not quite happened yet. However, perhaps now this topic may get more attention. 

My Essay to Harvard Alumni Association for My 40th Reunion

Mental health. Activism. Community organizing. Human rights. Disability. Nonviolent revolution! Thank you, Phillips Brooks House Association, for placing me as an intern in my senior year as a community organizer of people in the mental health system, because the above passions became my career. The incredible riches I have gained from working with some of the most powerless in our society are invaluable. After 25 years as Executive Director of the human rights nonprofit MindFreedom International, I had an extreme accident and broke my neck, and I now use a power chair. While it would be impossible to be totally prepared for this, my work in the disability movement managed to teach me a few principles. For example, I apply lessons from Martin Luther King, Jr.: What is my creative maladjustment?

Reflecting back on Harvard, the most memorable and influential class for me was about comparative religion. It would be fun to be in touch with any of you reading this. You can find me easily by directing your search engine to this phrase: david w oaks blog. When I summarized my passions above, I included “nonviolent revolution.” Yes, for decades I have raised this as a real choice. Now, with the climate chaos looming, I feel nonviolent revolution is an option we might want to choose. Scientists have estimated that the lag for carbon-induced impact is about 40 years. In other words, the pollution during our years at Harvard is only now changing the climate. I am very concerned that during the next lag, many more feedback effects can be triggered. For the current moment and for seven generations in the future, we truly need a nonviolent revolution. I estimate seven generations would extend to about the year 2192. May there be a healthy graduating class that year! The Butterfly Effect gives us a good chance, uncertain, but a good chance. Perhaps it is up to you?

It is important to create a dialogue to address the values we need today for excellent care. Therefore, I am copying the commentary that I very much disagree with. You may read the essay by the Trump appointee from Psychiatric Times below:

The Federal Government Ignores the Treatment Needs of Americans With Serious Mental Illness

By Dr. Ellie McCance-Katz

There she was again—a middle-aged woman, disheveled, crouching in the doorway of a closed store, grasping a notebook and pencil and scribbling. Intermittently, her eyes darted around and she would mumble, then go back to her notebook. Her eyes never met mine, but I wondered why she was not getting help with what was clearly a severe mental illness. I would see her in that same doorway several times a week for a couple of years before I left Berkeley, California, to become the first Chief Medical Officer of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In doing so, I hoped to help people living in the grips of cruel disorders that affect one’s thinking, one’s reasoning, one’s ability to relate, and one’s ability to even understand that one suffers from a disorder that can be treated.

It is estimated that 10 million Americans (4.2%) are living with serious mental illness. However, only 68.5% of the most severely mentally ill will receive any type of mental health services. Whether those services are necessary and appropriate is not known. People with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, and other severe mental illnesses often complicated by substance misuse need effective, safe, evidence-based treatments as well as community resources where their clinical service needs can be met. The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is composed of numerous agencies that address the health care needs of Americans, but only one agency within HHS is charged with addressing the needs of those with serious mental illness and that is SAMHSA.

SAMHSA is a small federal agency with a budget of roughly $3.7 billion per year; much of that is in the form of block grants to states that are the arbiters of how the funds will be spent in support of the treatment of substance use and mental disorders. SAMHSA does, however, have the ability to focus on areas and issues that would improve the lot of individuals affected by severe mental illness. Unfortunately, SAMHSA does not address the treatment needs of the most vulnerable in our society. Rather, the unit within SAMHSA charged with addressing these disorders, the Center for Mental Health Services, chooses to focus on its own definition of “recovery,” which generally ignores the treatment of mental disorders, and, as a major initiative under “recovery” services, focuses on the development of a “peer workforce.”

There is a perceptible hostility toward psychiatric medicine: a resistance to addressing the treatment needs of those with serious mental illness and a questioning by some at SAMHSA as to whether mental disorders even exist—for example, is psychosis just a “different way of thinking for some experiencing stress?”

SAMHSA’s approach includes a focus on activities that don’t directly assist those who have serious mental illness. These include programs such as Mental Health First Aid, which seeks to teach people about the warning signs of mental illness in an attempt to provide support to those who are experiencing symptoms. Significant dollars are spent on hot lines for callers who may be experiencing suicidal thinking or who know someone who may be—yet suicide rates continue to climb in the US. SAMHSA supports integrated care programs that would bring some aspects of primary care to mental health services programs—worthy programs, but which do not address the treatment of serious mental illness. Programs that undertake the “re-education” of mental health practitioners who are assumed to be abusers of “consumer” rights and who dictate treatment to patients have been funded in the Recovery to Practice initiative.

Workforce issues focus in large part on the development of a “peer workforce.” This ideology purports that one can become a mental health professional by virtue of having a mental illness. Peer support can be an important resource for some, but it is not the answer to the treatment needs of the seriously mentally ill.

Lost in all of this are the real and pressing treatment needs of some of the most vulnerable in our society—those living with serious mental illness. Nowhere in SAMHSA’s stra­tegic initiatives is psychiatric treatment of mental illness a priority. The occasional vague reference to treatment is no substitute for the urgent need for programs that address these issues.

What’s needed?

What is needed is an agency soul-searching and a re-prioritization that places the treatment of serious mental disorders at the very top of the list of agency goals. SAMHSA needs leadership that acknowledges the importance of addressing serious mental illness. Initiatives that provide funding for new approaches to engaging the seriously mentally ill; for assisted outpatient treatment with enriched psychosocial services; and for additional psychiatric hospital beds, particularly for longer-term care given the severe shortage of such resources in the US, should be at the top of SAMHSA’s agenda.

Clinical education programs that address current, evidence-based treatment for serious mental illness, and new funding for the training of mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, advanced practice psychiatric nurses, and psychologists, should be a major focus. SAMHSA should develop closer ties with the National Institute of Mental Health, which is helping us to better understand the neurobiological underpinnings of mental illness every day. The real hope, change and ability to recover from these disorders, lies in their effective treatment. To ignore this is to leave a large segment of some of the most seriously ill in our society abandoned—indeed, discriminated against by the very agency charged with serving them.

What can be done to change the current course? Stakeholder groups that seek to ensure psychiatric treatment for all who need it should band together and exert pressure on SAMHSA, on political administrations, and on congressional representatives to address the needs of the seriously mentally ill. Skilled behavioral health providers with patient care experience—psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counselors—should consider committing a period of service to SAMHSA and to other federal agencies to inform policy decisions related to substance use and mental disorders. This is especially important because too many in the government have education in behavioral health fields but have never worked with patients, or if they have, it was many years in the past. Being inside the Beltway also imbues an artificial perspective that may be informed by lobbyists if at all. This does not serve the American people.

Time for change

I left SAMHSA after 2 years. It became increasingly uncomfortable to be associated with an agency that, for the most part, refused to support evidence-based psychiatric treatment of mental disorders. It was also quite clear that the psychiatric perspective I brought—inclusive of assessment, diagnosis of mental disorders, utilization of evidence-based treatments, including psychotropic medication and psychosocial interventions as integral components of recovery—was a poor fit for the agency. SAMHSA needs a complete review and overhaul of its current mission, leadership, and funded programs. Congress should quickly address this through legislative mandate.

For too long the treatment needs of the seriously mentally ill have been ignored by SAMHSA, and this needs to change. In doing so, perhaps people like the woman in the doorway will be able to move out of the shadows to live full and productive lives in our communities.

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