Keep Pressure on US Senate for Human Rights in Mental Health: Should I Run For Congress?

NEWS RELEASE — LABOR DAY WEEKEND, SEPT. 2016 — IMMEDIATE RELEASE

David W. Oaks Warns National Group: “Disability Movement Must Unite Against Rep. Tim Murphy’s Attack on Mental Health Human Rights! We Need Revolution!”

As the USA celebrates labor, leaders in the disability movement are gearing up to defend the most vulnerable of the labeled: people diagnosed with a “mental illness.”

For 42 years, David W. Oaks has worked as a psychiatric survivor human rights activist in mental health. This week he addressed a teleconference of a major US disability group. He reflected on a recent overwhelming vote in the US House of Representatives for HR 2646, known as the Tim Murphy (R-PA) Bill.

Oaks presented at the monthly meeting of the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), Mental Health Civil Rights Subcommittee. Mike Bachhuber is Chair. Oaks said:

“Support One Another As We Resist This Psychiatric Assault On Our Human Rights!”

Two days after our nation celebrated freedom, 6 July 2016, the US House quietly passed the worst piece of mental health legislation I have seen in my 42 years of human rights activism. This Bill is mis-named the “Helping Families in Mental Crisis Act of 2016.” We hear over and over that the House is divided and paralyzed. The reality is that during this era when it comes to our people, the House showed by voting 422 to 2 that Democrats and Republicans, left and right, are apparently united in throwing us under the bus.

Let’s stop this frightening bill by contacting both US Senators via their website! We must phone these offices after Labor Day. Prevent these terrible ideas from being introduced as amendments in the Senate, into S 2680.

I just have seven points I would like to make because of this historic moment:

  1. REACH YOUR SENATORS’ OFFICES NOW! Psychiatric survivors have overcome so much, I have met courageous humans who have continued to speak out following psychosurgery, electroshock, solitary confinement, discrimination, segregation, and more. They never give up! As every credible disability and mental health advocacy group recommends, please contact your US Senators today! For more info about this campaign: http://www.advocacymonitor.com/an-update-from-the-ncil-mental-health-civil-rights-subcommittee-3/
  2. THE 422-2 VOTE FOR HR 2646 IS PROOF WE NEED REVOLUTION! In Eugene, Oregon we have been very disappointed Rep. Peter Defazio (D-OR) is a co-sponsor. This is why I am considering encouraging people to write my name in as an opponent to Peter in the November election. What do you think? Leave a comment with your opinion. I am following the strategy if Micah White, one of the organizers of Occupy.
  3. MURPHY BILL IS RACIST AND KILLS! Forced outpatient drugging overwhelmingly targets people of color. Instead of addressing the crisis of mass incarceration, this is the newest form of chemical mass incarceration! For more on Murphy’s racism, see: http://138.68.254.83/blacklivesmatter-race-mental-health The family of drugs that is typically used during coercion are the neuroleptics, also known as antipsychotics, such as Haldol and Abilify. During hot weather, these drugs can suppress the brain’s temperature self-regulation; when poor people, who seldom have air conditioning, are forced to have these drugs as the climate warms, there are many deaths. For more info see: http://www.mindfreedom.org/kb/psychiatric-drugs/death/heat-wave-forced-neuroleptics-death
  4. WE NEED GROUPS AND COALITIONS NOW! For example, thanks National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery, you have been doing some great work: http://www.ncmhr.org/
  5. SOCIAL MEDIA WARNING! In the big picture, what I am learning so far, we need to renew our solidarity and support for each other. For example I relied for years on a Facebook group for this campaign. But the admins suddenly shut down the group. We need organization and coalitions that are transparent, and accountable to each of us! Yvonne has a new Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/990352404357602/ or search FB for: “Legislation and Attacks on Survivor Community.”
  6. NO NORMALITY IN MY NAME! After centuries of the mental health industry jumping up and down, up and down on the free minds of millions, we now wonder why our society seems so conformist and like zombies in the face of climate crisis. We psychiatric survivors know about what is a kind of war against human spirit.
  7. SEN. BERNIE SANDERS MAY HAVE A SPECIAL SUPPORT FOR OUR MOVEMENT VALUES! We do not know either way for sure, but Bernie has an occasional contact with our movement issues over the decades. Let us all contact Bernie Sanders’ office. (202) 224-5141. The website to send your comments is: https://www.sanders.senate.gov/contact/comment The staffperson in the DC office of Bernie who works on disability is Lori Kearns, and her email address is: lori_kearns@sanders.senate.gov

I recently blogged about how we should all reach our US Senators now, and you can read this entry here.

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Stop This Horrible Mental Health Bill by Contacting Your US Senators Now!

Stop This Horrible Mental Health Bill by Contacting Your US Senators Now!

Last month, 6 July 2016, the US House quietly and overwhelmingly (422 to 2) passed the worst piece of mental health legislation I have seen in my 42 years of human rights activism. HR 2646 is sponsored by Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) and is mis-named the “Helping Families in Mental Crisis Act of 2016.”

This month of August, you can stop this frightening bill by contacting both of your US Senators. In fact, I would encourage you to also contact Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), because he has shown signs over the decades of supporting our revolution in mental health care. Of course, you may contact Bernie wherever you live in the world.

First, I will try to briefly explain this bill and the main reasons I oppose it. But you, dear reader, will I hope take action and contact US Senators, because we only have weeks to turn this around!

Why We Must All Act Now To Stop This Bill!

Rep. Tim Murphy is the only psychologist in Congress, today. His enormous and expensive bill is supposedly a response to mass shootings, but incredibly the Committee in the House that debated this legislation continued a multi-decade US Congressional ban on even studying or researching gun violence!

There are many bad parts to this bill, but just two that I would like to highlight are:

  1. It is disempowering! This bill would oppose the voice of mental health consumers and psychiatric survivors. The historic trend for the past few years has been to support the empowerment of mental health clients, but this bill, which is more than 100 pages long, excludes the perspective of the citizens directly impacted by mental health services.
  2. It supports forcibly drugging Americans in our own homes! The worst part of this bill, is that it would extend Federal grants for involuntary psychiatric treatment of American citizens directly in our own homes. Almost all USA States have passed such involuntary outpatient commitment laws, but these IOC laws are not used as much as fanatic tyrants would like, so this bill — supposedly by a “small government” Republican — gives taxpayer money to make sure Americans take our court-ordered psychiatric drugs while at home. This forced drugging is why I call this approach the “Bill Cosby School of Mental Health.” Seriously, this is chemical rape.
Oregon US Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.

Oregon US Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.

You Can Help Stop This Bill in The US Senate!

During the rest of this month of August, 2016, the disability movement is urgently asking you to contact US Senators to stop HR 2646 from contaminating a bill being considered by the Senate, S. 2680 “Mental Health Reform Act of 2016.” Some Congresspeople are trying to sneak in oppressive amendments from HR 2646 into S. 2680.

At the bottom you will find my letters to my USA Senators from Oregon, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. Your own words would be best! For more information about this campaign you can also download this PDF fact sheet:

http://www.ncmhr.org/downloads/Coalition-for-Mental-Health-Reform-Concerns-with-H.R.2646-8.1.2016.pdf

Senator Ron Wyden Has a Personal Connection to Mental Health

It is not well known, but the only sibling of Ron — Jeff Wyden — at first had a promising start in Stanford University, but at the age of 21 was diagnosed as schizophrenic. Before his early death, Jeff Wyden was to experience three decades of intense mental health treatment, including involuntary drugging and even involuntary electroshock.

The parents of Ron and Jeff were remarkable. Mother Edith, born in Koenigsberg, Germany, fled the Nazis at the age of 16. Father Peter, born in Berlin, Germany, fled the Nazis at the age of 13. Both parents began their free lives here in the USA. Peter became a journalist, and one of the ways Peter addressed his profound feelings involving the mental health system, was writing a book that was published in 1998 about his son, Jeff. I read this book when it was published, and frankly there was a lot of it with which I disagreed. For example, the author seemed to know a little about our psychiatric survivor social change movement, but I did not perceive a level of deep curiosity about us, but instead I felt some unfair criticism.

However, I know that there are very deep things going on with the human mind, and everyone deals with these difficulties in a variety of ways. A few months after Peter published what was to become the last of his one dozen books, he died of a stroke and subdermal hematoma at the age of 74, possibly related to a head injury he received upon bumping his head when exiting his car, according to his family.

Peter’s son Jeff also died, soon after his father, in 2002 at the age of 51, after living in a halfway house in San Jose. The main article I found about the death of Jeff Wyden said the cause of his death was not yet determined at the time of publishing.

Of course everyone’s life is far too complex to sum up, however, as a psychiatric survivor myself, who was also first diagnosed schizophrenic as a young adult inside a psychiatric institution while attending a prestigious college, I know that the trauma experienced by Jeff must resonate to this day with the whole Wyden family.

Over the decades I have had a few chances to talk with Senator Wyden both in Eugene and at his Senate office. He started his career as an activist for senior citizens, so I have always had hopes that he would support the goals of our social change movement. For example, during our work on electroshock, his office helped to prevent the rubber-stamping of the device by the FDA.

I have checked with an attorney, and though this might not be believed by the average person, Rep. Tim Murphy’s awful bill can be used for not only forcibly drugging, but court-ordered involuntary outpatient electroshock. Yes, I realize that the vast majority of involuntary psychiatry is about drugs. But once in a while, involuntary outpatient commitment has involved electroshock. For real! To research how this monstrosity has happened on the state level, please direct your search engine to these phrases:

  • Ray Sandford electroshock
  • Elizabeth Ellis electroshock

Here is my letter to Senator Ron Wyden: 

Dear Ron and any staff work on disability or mental health:

Over the decades, Ron, we have met a few times, mainly here in Eugene and once in your in your Senate office. But you meet so many thousands of people, let me please sum up my 60 years:

I am a psychiatric survivor. I was diagnosed schizophrenic, locked up in a psychiatric institution several times, but recovered enough to spend my whole life working to improve the mental health system.

Ron, this is the most important letter I am writing to you!

You see, I feel that the US House has made a severe mistake a few weeks ago. Yes, they were well-meaning when they passed HR 2646, for mental health reform, but there are elements in there that make this among the very worst mental health bills I have ever seen! Please pass the Senate bill 2680 without the amendments from HR 2646, also known as the Murphy Bill.

Ron, the reason that I started this work about 40 years ago was that back then I was a working class kid from Chicago going to Harvard on scholarships. I ran into difficult times, and five times I was placed in psychiatric institutions, with diagnoses such as schizophrenia, clinical depression, and bipolar (then manic depression).

Thankfully, Harvard referred me in my senior year as an intern in the human rights social change movement led by other psychiatric survivors. I graduated with honors from Harvard in 1977, and I learned about community organizing and mental health. This became my career.

While I am retired now, I have spent my whole professional life as a human rights community organizer in mental health. Perhaps you might have remembered my work as co-founder of MindFreedom International, based here in Eugene. For 25 years I directed MindFreedom and it is one of the main independent human rights groups in mental health.

In 2012, I experienced a very bad fall which broke my neck. I am now a quad in a powerchair, with even better connections to the disability movement, as you might imagine.

The reason I am sending you and your staff this important, urgent message. It is important that you pass Senate Bill 2680, without the amendments from HR 2646. Specifically, since you are so busy, let me focus on two points:

  1. We in the disability movement have a unifying slogan: “Nothing about us without us!” Yet, HR 2646 silences the voices of people who have real-life experience with mental health issues. The trend in mental health, internationally, is for more empowerment. However, HR 2646 actually muzzles citizens with psychiatric disabilities from speaking up in our agencies!
  1. HR 2646 gives away precious taxpayer money through grant funding for what is mistakenly called “Assisted Outpatient Treatment.” This is actually forced psychiatry, usually forced drugging but sometimes even forced court-ordered electric shock. Can you imagine? There is no evidence that outpatient commitment is more effective than voluntary care.

Ron, of course I read your father’s book. Since this topic has impacted my whole family for some many decades I know this can be a controversial topic for many people.

As community organizers, we know that power can be used to silence or amplify people. Groups run by mental health consumers of course have many opinions. But there is unity when it comes to opposing HR 2646!

Please, oppose the amendments from HR 2646, and support S. 2680.

I look forward to your reply as soon as possible!

Sincerely,

David W. Oaks

Below is a copy of my letter sent yesterday by email to my other US Senator from Oregon, Jeff Merkley:

Dear Jeff and any staff work on disability or mental health:

Jeff, you have been a great voice for the powerless! This time, the group I am talking about is very powerless indeed. But we in Oregon lead the way to change how people in the mental health system are treated! Let me please sum up my 60 years:

I am a psychiatric survivor. I was diagnosed schizophrenic, locked up in a psychiatric institution several times, but recovered enough to spend my whole life working to improve the mental health system.

Jeff, this is the most important letter I am writing to you!

You see, I feel that the US House has made a severe mistake a few weeks ago. Yes, they were well-meaning when they passed HR 2646, for mental health reform, but there are elements in there that make this among the very worst mental health bills I have ever seen! Please pass the Senate bill 2680 without the amendments from HR 2646, also known as the Murphy Bill.

Jeff, the reason that I started this work about 40 years ago was that back then I was a working class kid from Chicago going to Harvard on scholarships. I ran into difficult times, and five times I was placed in psychiatric institutions, with diagnoses such as schizophrenia, clinical depression, and bipolar (then manic depression).

Thankfully, Harvard referred me in my senior year as an intern in the human rights social change movement led by other psychiatric survivors. I graduated with honors from Harvard in 1977, and I learned about community organizing and mental health. This became my career.

While I am retired now, I have spent my whole professional life as a human rights community organizer in mental health. I was a co-founder of MindFreedom International, based here in Eugene. For 25 years I directed MindFreedom and it is one of the main independent human rights groups in mental health.

In 2012, I experienced a very bad fall which broke my neck. I am now a quad in a powerchair, with even better connections to the disability movement, as you might imagine.

The reason I am sending you and your staff this important, urgent message. It is important that you pass Senate Bill 2680, without the amendments from HR 2646. Specifically, since you are so busy, let me focus on two points:

  1. We in the disability movement have a unifying slogan: “Nothing about us without us!” Yet, HR 2646 silences the voices of people who have real-life experience with mental health issues. The trend in mental health, internationally, is for more empowerment. However, HR 2646 actually muzzles citizens with psychiatric disabilities from speaking up in our agencies!
  1. HR 2646 gives away precious taxpayer money through grant funding for what is mistakenly called “Assisted Outpatient Treatment.” This is actually forced psychiatry, usually forced drugging but sometimes even forced court-ordered electric shock. Can you imagine? There is no evidence that outpatient commitment is more effective than voluntary care.

Jeff, since this topic has impacted my whole family for some many decades I know this can be a controversial topic for many people.

As community organizers, we know that power can be used to silence or amplify people. Groups run by mental health consumers of course have many opinions. But there is unity when it comes to opposing HR 2646!

Please, oppose the amendments from HR 2646, and support S. 2680.

I look forward to your reply as soon as possible!

Sincerely,

David W. Oaks

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Presidential Primary & Forced Outpatient Psych Drugs

Presidential Primary & Forced Outpatient Psych Drugs

This month, May 2016, the candidates for USA President compete in our usually-missed State of Oregon, so this is a very good time to ask the following question:

“How do you stand on the controversy of forced outpatient mental health drugs?”

This is my 40th year working as an advocate for people labeled “disabled,” and I know that the topic of involuntary psychiatry can be a little complicated for people. After all, if one of our beloved family members becomes irrationally self-destructive, we can become desperate for help. However, this is such an important topic that we need to go deeper than just a bumper-sticker answer.

So, let us find out where the candidates for President stand: Are you listening Hillary, Bernie, Donald, Ted, and John?

The past few years I have been working a bunch in disability advocacy, one of the biggest social change movements in human history. How we treat the most vulnerable people in a group can be very revealing.

Let me explain a little background in brief:

For many decades, almost all USA States have been quietly passing laws that allow court-ordered involuntary mental health care, that is, of people living out of institutions in the community, often in their own homes or group homes.

Sponsors of these “involuntary outpatient commitment” laws use a more euphemistic phrase: “assisted outpatient treatment” laws. “Assisted?” Sure, the way Donald Trump is “assisting” Muslims by seeking to ban them in a bigoted way. The way bigots in Bangladesh recently “assisted” a gay rights activist by killing him.   

To put it very simply: This is court-ordered coerced drugging, using a variety of methods for enforcement, sometimes even a daily visit to the person’s home.

There is a Congressperson, Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), who for years has been pushing a huge bill that has a section for national, federal incentives for more of this involuntary outpatient care. This Murphy Bill, HR 2646, is enormous, weighing in at 173 pages, but the worst part would be a national program for more forced outpatient psychiatry. If his bill — which he calls “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act” — passes then thousands of more American citizens would have court-ordered psychiatric drugs administered to them, even though they are living out in the community, many even in their own homes!

Last year I asked one of the bill co-sponsors how many Americans they want to forcibly treat? After all, some of these zealots claim that 11 million Americans need but are not getting psychiatric care. Are you one of these 11 million? Unfortunately, the co-sponsor has stayed silent about how many citizens they are going after.

Every Person Ought to Oppose the Murphy Bill!

As far as I know, every group in the USA speaking for mental health consumers opposes increasing coerced care out in the community. There are far better ways to help people.

This Murphy bill is the worst I have seen in my 40 years of mental health advocacy. Many of us in this field are terrified and working hard for years to stop this type of care!

So where do the people running for Democratic and Republican nomination for President stand about this issue?

Note that a Republican congressperson is pushing this bill, even though Rep. Murphy claims he is for “small government.” A surprising number of congresspeople have co-sponsored this bill, even some who are considered progressive, such as my own Democratic congressperson, Rep. Peter Defazio.

Bernie and Friends: Where Do You Stand?

For more than a month, one of the main psychiatrists to publicly back Bernie Sanders for President has been asking one of the Bernie campaigners, Nick Carter, about Bernie’s position. You see, Bernie opposes certain regulations of firearms because Vermont, his home state, is so pro-gun. The National Rifle Association opposes gun regulation partly by claiming that better mental health care is the solution. So asking Bernie for his position is reasonable. Unfortunately, Bernie and Mr. Carter have apparently stayed silent.

The silence about this important topic is deafening. We need to insist on an answer from everyone. A few years ago, I saw something similar happen with Ralph Nader, who was referring mental health questions to his friend, Doctor Sidney M. Wolfe, who I know from personal experience has a terrible position about forced psychiatry. Let us stop throwing our folks under the bus, whether that is a Republican bus or a Democratic bus.

To show you how bad this can get, incredibly a few years ago when I directed the nonprofit MindFreedom International, we surfaced two people who received court-ordered involuntary outpatient ELECTROSHOCK. I would not blame you if you did not believe me. To provide evidence for this, you can google these phrases:

ray sandford electroshock

elizabeth ellis electroshock

When courts order forced drugging this can be very racist, because white doctors and white judges tend to disproportionately target African Americans and other minorities. You can read more about this here:

http://138.68.254.83/blacklivesmatter-race-mental-health

After exchanging one e-mail with Rep. Defazio, he has gone totally silent with me. I tried to email his health person on this, Brittany Lundberg, but she has not responded to me. Readers of this blog can try to reach her in a civil way by emailing to: brittany.lundberg@mail.house.gov

Many of us wonder why our society is not showing more passion and more creativity in the face of climate crisis. Centuries of targeting our people may be one of the reasons that the population is so conformist right now, when we should have a revolution.

———-

For more information:

A Facebook group about stopping the Murphy bill:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/StopMurphyBill/

Promotion of the bill by Rep. Tim Murphy:

https://murphy.house.gov/helpingfamiliesinmentalhealthcrisisact114

A website dedicated to stopping this bill:

http://www.westernmassrlc.org/stop-the-murphy-bill

A moveon.org petition you can sign for free online against the Murphy Bill:

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/stop-the-murphy-bill

A change.org online petition against the Murphy Bill:

https://www.change.org/p/u-s-house-of-representatives-vote-against-the-helping-families-in-mental-health-crisis-act-h-r-2646

A psychiatrist explains opposition to the Murphy Bill in this MadInAmerica Blog entry:

http://www.madinamerica.com/2015/12/a-psychiatrist-opposes-h-r-2646-heres-why/

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Race, Gun Violence & Mental Health: #BlackLivesMatter

October 10, 2015 World Mental Health Day

Mourning in Columbia, South Carolina after the racist shooting. Credit: USA Today.

Mourning in Charleston, South Carolina after the racist shooting on June 17, 2015. Credit: USA Today.

In the wake of yet another national uproar about a mass shooting, much of the public once again turns its eye towards supposed mental health reform as the solution to the atrocity of acts of gun violence carried out in public spaces by primarily young, white men. The issue of gun control has soared back up to the top of concerns being addressed by presidential candidates, and national discourse has fallen back into its routine, polarized stances. The Republican leadership continues to suggest that gun control is not the solution — there must be something wrong with “those people’s” brains.

Leading Black mental health reform activists are warning us that the simplistic approach of more involuntary psychiatric drugging is inherently racist. To address the spiritual illness of violence in America we must confront the reality of racism in our media, institutions and lives.

Forced Psychiatric Drugging is Racist

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) is proposing a huge and complex bill that would, among other disasters, expand what he calls “Assisted Outpatient Therapy.” Mental health rights advocates more accurately refer to these methods as Involuntary Outpatient Commitment (IOC). IOC is court-ordered psychiatric drugging of people in their own homes, out in the community. Murphy’s bill has been widely criticized as an expansion of a system that forcibly drugs people and leaves them to their own devices with little or no meaningful support.

Yvonne Smith, Washington D.C. psychiatric rights activist

Yvonne Smith, Washington D.C. psychiatric rights activist.

Following the clearly racially-motivated mass murder of nine members of an all-Black congregation in Charleston, North Carolina, Yvonne Smith, a leading Washington D.C. African American psychiatric reform activist commented, “One of the premises I hate about the Murphy bill is that all bad things can be explained by ‘mental illness.’ Racism is an act that hurts and destroys. More than five decades ago when four little girls were killed in a church no one questioned if it was a illness. Sometimes evil just occurs. Sometimes, actually, it’s fueled by the likes of a Murphy or a Rush Limbaugh. I doubt seriously if they will use last week’s tragedy to fuel their evil plans because it would then suggest that racism is in need of a remedy.”

Mass Shootings are a Racial Issue

When white men kill people some people decide there must be something wrong with their brain, because no normal white person would ever had reason to commit such acts. When Black men kill people, we often talk about Black-on-Black crime, gang violence, violence against white women, or mostly we just stay silent. When Arabs commit such acts they are labeled terrorists and no further questioning is needed about why someone would do such a thing. Historically, our mental institutions primarily served white people, who were considered able to reach higher levels of civilization than colonized and enslaved peoples. In other words, white minds are considered worth fixing.

Murphy’s Bill (Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, H.R. 2646) opens with the following statement: “Mental illness does not discriminate based on age, class or ethnicity.” While that may be true (though let us avoid use of the term mental illness), it cannot be denied that mental health care does in fact discriminate based on race. Within circles working in opposition to this destructive bill there is little discussion of its inherent racism. We need to bring to the light the realities of psychiatric racism and the potential for Murphy’s Bill to dramatically exacerbate this historically entrenched reality.  Yvonne Smith expressed her distress at the predominantly white movement for psychiatric justice: “Just wondering, am I the only African American person against the Murphy Bill? Sure seems like it!”

Vanessa Jackson, activist/soul doula/therapist

Vanessa Jackson, activist/soul doula/therapist.

There are other African American women speaking out against the Murphy Bill. Vanessa Jackson, an activist/soul doula/therapist working her magic in Atlanta, Georgia says, “It is very important to stress the way that these laws disproportionately impact people of color. Getting swooped up for behavior unbecoming Black people is a well-established tradition in the mental health field. It is another way to police black bodies without addressing the external factors — racism, economic inequity, violence, lack of affordable housing and continuous traumatic stress disorder — which contribute to our emotional distress.” (You can learn more about Vanessa’s work at www.healingcircles.org)

Celia Brown, President of the Board of Directors of Mind Freedom, Intl.

Celia Brown, President of the Board of Directors of MindFreedom International.

Celia Brown, President of the MindFreedom International Board of Directors says, “In Solidarity with #blacklivesmatter: African-Americans experience emotional distress, trauma and psychiatric oppression due to institutional racism. As a psychiatric survivor and African-American woman, I understand that African-Americans live daily with the threat or experience of psychiatric profiling, racial profiling, losing our lives due to police brutality, mass incarceration, poverty, involuntary psychiatric treatment, harmful mental health practices and psychiatric drugging. Racism chips away at the emotional well-being of the African-American community.”

In the United States, prisons are serving as de facto “treatment” facilities that warehouse and exploit the labor of a population that is disproportionately black and working class. Today, women are the fastest growing population of people being imprisoned. Historically, men have been incarcerated and women have been institutionalized in equally violent insane asylums. As the racist prison-industrial complex expands, so does the mistreatment of people experiencing mental and emotional duress. In fact, the system is designed to silence and invisibilize people that we, collectively, deem problems that we cannot solve.

Murphy suggests that his bill is a solution to the issue of people diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder or experiencing mental and emotional distress in prison, but we know that “Assisted Outpatient Treatment” is not a good solution. In reality, it is court-ordered Involuntary Outpatient Commitment. It’s just one more tactic of surveillance, control and domination — the newest manifestation of the insane asylum, the penitentiary, the private prison. In response to H.R. 3717, the original bill proposed, the Bazelon Center says, “Rep. Tim Murphy’s (R-PA) mental health legislation flies in the face of the federal government’s efforts to promote community integration, and would send mental health systems decades backward. H.R. 3717 would destroy the main system of legal representation for Americans with psychiatric disabilities, would strip away privacy rights, would incentivize needless hospitalization and civil rights violations, and would redirect federal funds from effective, voluntary community services to high-cost, forced treatment, including involuntary outpatient commitment.”

Murphy’s bill is part of the story of centuries of racism and psychiatry unfolding in the United States.

Here is a very, very, very incomplete history of racism, psychiatry, and the USA:

  • 1792: Benjamin Rush, largely referred to as “the father of American psychiatry,” argued that the “color” and “figure” of African-Americans were derived from a form of leprosy, and he argued that with proper treatment, they could be cured and become white. Rush used the term “negritude,” popular at the time, to refer to the disease of blackness.
  • 1851: Drapetomania was a supposed mental illness described by American physician Samuel A. Cartwright that caused black slaves to flee captivity.
  • 1961: Black activist, musician and lawyer, Paul Robeson, is administered electroshock and excessive doses of multiple barbiturates with no psychotherapy.
  • 1967: Mark, Sweet and Ervin argue that brain disease plays a role in African American political resistance and suggest that lobotomy may be a solution to rioting.
  • 1984: Reagan admits to CIA involvement in the Introduction of crack cocaine to LA. (See the 2015 documentary Freeway: Crack in the System.)
  • Late 1980’s: Nina Simone is given the label “bipolar,” institutionalized and administered forced, unauthorized drugging.
  • 1992: The Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration unleashed its “violence initiative,” which sought a genetic basis for criminal behavior. ADAMHA director Frederick Goodwin compared the “high-impact inner city” to a jungle and its youth to rhesus monkeys who only want to kill one another, have sex and reproduce. By focusing on “biologically vulnerable” youth for psychiatric interventions, including drug treatments, the initiative was essentially depoliticizing as it de-emphasized social explanations for crime.
  • 1994: NAACP speaks out about the fact that minority boys are 11 times more likely than the general student population to be administered mind-altering drugs.
  • 2005: One of the main statistical reports about involuntary psychiatric drugging using court orders for people living at home out living in the community was published this year by New York State. The data reveals that African Americans are far more likely be on the receiving end of such outpatient forced drugging. The report stated that, “The racial and ethnic composition of the population receiving court-ordered treatment is diverse: 42% of AOT recipients are Black, 34% are White and 21% are Hispanic.”

(For a more elaborate history, see page 5 of the report linked in the resource list below.)

So-called “mentally ill” people are not our greatest dangers

Dan Fisher, National Empowerment Center

Dan Fisher, National Empowerment Center.

Once again, more gun violence is in the spotlight in the USA. At first, it would seem to make sense to think that mental health has the answer. But as Dan Fisher, MD, PhD, and Director of Emotional CPR at the National Empowerment Center points out, “Rep. Timothy Murphy has proposed legislation, HR 2646, which would increase forced psychiatric treatment in our own homes out in the community, and institutionalization of persons with mental health conditions. This legislation is based on the false premise that persons with mental health conditions are more likely to carry out gun violence than the general population. In fact, persons with mental health conditions only account for 4% of gun related homicides and yet account for 20% of the population.”

The solution to gun violence that we are hearing is often from people who call for small government. However, forcing people in their own homes to take powerful psychiatric may be one of the worst examples of government gone out of control. Incredibly, there are two examples from Minnesota where court orders for psychiatric care have meant that individuals living at home have been required to report to a nearby hospital to receive forced outpatient electroshock against their wills: Ray Sandford and Elizabeth Ellis.

Murphy’s Bill would make people’s bedrooms into cells and would make their homes into wards. Can you imagine turning psychiatrists into parole officers?

Cindi Fisher, activist and mother of a psychiatric survivor in Washington State.

Cindi Fisher, activist and mother of a psychiatric survivor in Washington State.

This debate about mental health may seem theoretical, but it can have real life consequences in families’ lives that can lead to a great deal of suffering. One of the mothers of a psychiatric survivor to speak out is an African American woman, Cindi Fisher.

She described having her son receive forced psychiatric drugging for almost two decades, rather than real help: “Following the overdosing, within eight months, after stopping and starting the psychotic drug, over and over again in an attempt to relieve his torment and agony, he experienced a medical crisis and made a desperate attempt to get someone to call 9-1-1. This act was criminalized and was the beginning of a 19-year vicious cycle of being drugged and criminalized, jailed or forced hospitalized, released into the community without real treatment, and criminalized and drugged again. These treatments have caused a significant decline in his cognitive functioning; a loss of his love of music, and dancing, as well as made him an insulin dependent diabetic; dependent on high blood pressure medication and caused a critically enlarged growth on his thyroid gland.”

Take action to stop the racist Murphy bill!

We ought to all take action against the Murphy bill, which is getting many sponsors in Congress. Please ask US Representatives to send some questions to Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA) about his bill H.R. 2646. This is called a “constituent inquiry” and is done frequently; the other congressperson often feels like they need to respond. Here are some questions you can ask:

  1. How many Americans do you feel should be court ordered to receive psychiatric care?
  2. How many more Americans would receive involuntary psychiatric procedures under your bill?
  3. Would involuntary psychiatric drugs, and even occasional electroshock, be court ordered to Americans living in their own home out in the community under your bill?
  4. Have you engaged in dialogue with the major groups representing USA mental health consumers and psychiatric survivors that are all opposed to your bill?
  5. How will you address the disproportionate impact that your bill will have on People of Color?

In addition to talking to your representative, we also encourage you to check out and contribute to the conversation happening on Twitter at #BlackLivesMatter

We say, #BlackLivesMatter! Spread the word.

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Resources to Stop the Murphy Bill and Connect with the Mad Movement:

This note is to provide acknowledge and thanks to Adrienne Bovee who worked so hard on this entry for months. Adrienne is truly a powerful, young, courageous worker for justice in prison, psychiatric, race and many other issues! 

This blog entry was originally posted at http://138.68.254.83, and is protected by the Creative Commons (attribution, not-commercial). This entry is rebroadcast by Mad In America here: http://www.madinamerica.com/author/doaks/ 

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