Update: My Open Letter to Linda Vigen Phillips, Author of the New Young Adult Novel “Crazy”

Posted by on October 24, 2014 in Activism, Alternatives, Commentary, Mental Health, Peer Support | 1 comment

Update: The author has replied, and you can read this November 14, 2014 update at the bottom of this,

Here in Eugene, Oregon, I heard a radio interview with the author of a young adult novel called “Crazy,” and I hoped that the author would challenge some mental health oppression during her book tour here in Oregon. After all, her semi-autobiographical fiction novel is about growing up in Klamath Falls, Oregon with a mom who has severe mental and emotional problems. Unfortunately, the radio interview seemed to turn into a promotion of the conventional mental health system.

Below is my open public letter to this author to ask that she questions the mental health industry more in her book tour:

Cover of the book "Crazy"

The Young Adult Novel “Crazy” is by author Linda Vigen Phillips.

Dear Linda Vigen Phillips,

At first, when I heard the interview with you on my local radio station KLCC-FM today, I was enthused about the possibilities for your book tour. I had high expectations that you can challenge mental health oppression.

For the past 40 years I have been working to change the mental health system as a person who survived abuse by the psychiatric system as a teenager. So I’m optimistic that your book tour could give many teens struggling with these issues a great amount of hope.

However, during your interview, I felt very disheartened because the message seemed to support the current mental health industry, which I feel needs to be overthrown completely. You seem to be such a caring and smart author with the intent of supporting psychiatric survivors and our families. So below I ask some questions that I would love to hear a reply to, and most importantly, I urge you to open dialogue with your audiences about these issues throughout your book tour.

I have not yet read your young adult novel, “Crazy,” but I know you are reaching many of us who have psychiatric diagnoses and family members, such as during your book tour visit to one of my favorite bookstores, Tsunami Books. Several times over the past few years, Tsunami Books has hosted some great psychiatric survivor authors, poets, musicians and other creative folks. So please take my questions in the friendly manner they are offered to you:

1. Can you give us any scientific evidence about your claims regarding genetics?

During the interview, you told the audience that people with psychiatric problems, such as those of us labeled “bipolar,” have a clear genetic connection. In fact, you said that if one parent had such problems then the child had a 50% chance of developing similar problems. Incredibly, you then added that if both parents had these problems then their child had a 100% chance of developing similar psychiatric problems.

Can you please offer me even one scientific source for such a claim? I am friends with psychologist authors who dispute such a biological link. It may not be your intent, but your interview implied that genetics equals fated destiny. I know that we are way more complex than that, and I know that the science is way more ambiguous. By the way, science tends never to use such numbers as 100%. If there is even one person in the world without these psychiatric issues whose parents both have bipolar diagnoses, that would disprove this claim.

2. Isn’t it a contradiction for you to then claim that writing was your “salvation”?

Directly after you made the above genetic claims, you said that writing, such as your journaling, helped your “salvation.” But that seems to be a contradiction. How can children of parents with psychiatric diagnoses have a great chance of developing the same psychiatric problem, while you used very hopeful and positive psycho-social alternatives to direct your own fate and healing? So are you saying that if your father was also diagnosed bipolar that such journaling would be fruitless? I bet your message is more nuanced than that, but I did not hear that today.

3. Will you be our ally in stopping the “Bully Model”?

There is a big division today within mental health. First there is a camp that claims one must take psychiatric drugs to recover from “psychosis” such as a diagnoses of schizophrenia or bipolar. Second there is a camp that absolutely hates ever including a medical model and instructs people that they must never use biological approaches such as drugs and electroshock.

I hope that you embrace what I call a third path, that endorses choice rather than the creed that I call the “Bully Model.” During your interview today, maybe you got over-enthusiastic, but you actually said that a diagnosis of “bipolar” may be “terminal” unless a person stays on their regimen of “medication.”

Yes, I realize that several times you also talked about the power of talk therapy, so I know you believe other approaches beyond the medical model can be helpful. However, there are many people, such as me, who reach some level of recovery after a bipolar diagnosis and are “off their meds,” as I have been since 1977.

To be a good ally for those of us in the mental health system, I hope that you endorse “choice” during your public appearances. You will find that leaders today tend not to use the term “mental illness” because invoking this phrase implies that one must follow a medical model to heal, when there is a rainbow of many choices that work. I have an essay about ending the use of the phrase mental illness here: http://www.mindfreedom.org/kb/mental-health-abuse/psychiatric-labels/not-mentally-ill

Many of us also have family members who are in the mental health system, and it is very important for us all to endorse a choice model to be awesome allies, especially for youth who have mental and emotional problems.

4. Is there really such a big division between “Normal” and “Crazy”?

During your interview, you mentioned that you originally wanted to use the title “Nervous Breakdown,” but your publisher thought the word “crazy” would have more of an “impact.” This may seem like I am making a joke, but isn’t “Normal” more scary than “Crazy”? Seriously, the most distressed person who is called bipolar, on their worst day, at least is not wrecking a whole planet. Truly global catastrophes such as the climate crisis require the complicity of billions of so-called “Normal” people. We are the 100%!

By the way, I am one of those mental activists who uses words such as “crazy,” “mad,” and even “cuckoo.” Unlike some folks with mainstream mental health groups, I believe in recapturing some of those bad words. However, by using the word crazy for this fictional mom, and maybe your own real mom, aren’t you discounting the trauma that might have led to her problems? Shouldn’t words like “crazy” be used in a way that pushes us all to reconsider who and what are crazy, rather than in a way that legitimizes using the medical model? Isn’t it better if we use such words about ourselves, rather than for others?

5. Can you refer people to our Mad Movement?

I know that some groups endorsing the current mental health system are referring people to your novel.

There is also an alternative, diverse, international, growing social change movement to overthrow the mental health system. This Mad Movement is led by psychiatric survivors. One great source of info about this movement, including many mental health professions, journalists, attorneys, etc., would be the great website Mad In America.

Can you please refer people to dig deep on this topic and hear the voices of critics of this industry, especially psychiatric survivors?

Good luck on the rest of your book tour, and I look forward to your replies.

Those who are interested can link to my blog entry here (which will help search engines find these questions), and look up your own website here:


Reply from author:

Dear Mr. Oaks,

Thank you for responding to my interview on KLCC with your open letter.  It has been my desire from the beginning to use this book to open dialogue about mental health, and I have been encouraged to see that happening on this tour.  I certainly agree that there are many avenues available to help those with mental issues today, and I applaud both patients and medical professionals who are open to customizing treatment.  I thank you for sharing a bit about your own history, and I am intrigued by the fact that you have been off meds since 1977.  I would love to hear about the regimen you have followed with such positive results.
The statistics concerning genetic inheritance vary widely, and I believe the exact formula for the influence of nature versus nurture is not known.  In retrospect that is what I should have said, and I certainly did not intend to imply that “genetics equals fated destiny.”
Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me, and I wish you all the best.
Linda Phillips

1 Comment

  1. Great letter David.