David Hilton Would Not Take Care of Himself
My Mentor Was A Giant in the Mental Health Empowerment Movement
Note: David Hilton, Part 1 looks at David Hilton’s contributions to the mental health empowerment movement, and being my mentor and partner in New Hampshire.
When facts and experience contradict an ideology, rational people question their ideology. Ideologues deny the facts and cling to their ideology.
My best friend, colleague, and mentor in the mental health recovery and empowerment movement, David Hilton (1953-2003), repeatedly ignored his own experience, and followed his anti-medication ideology to repeated episodes of forced treatment and confinement, and finally suicide.
He refused to take care of himself time after time after time.
Some people who hear me say that think I just mean he refused to take his psychiatric medication. He also refused to deal with his alcohol abuse, or the rage he carried with him from the abuse and emotional distress of forced treatment and confinement in the old state mental hospital when he was a young man years before.
How you interpret the facts of David Hilton’s life will be a good test of whether you are an ideologue or a rational person capable of nuanced thinking.
On His Meds, David Hilton Changed the World
David Hilton was the nation’s first director of a state Office of Consumer Affairs. He started the NH Mental Health Consumer Advocacy Council, introduced recovery to staff training at agencies, and started a statewide network of consumer-run peer support and crisis respite centers.
David Hilton recruited Shery Mead, before she was famous, to start a peer support center, including a peer-run crisis intervention center, and he made NH the first state to adopt Mary Ellen Copeland’s Wellness and Recovery Action Plan (WRAP), before they were famous.
In 2006, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) gave the NH mental health system a grade of D+, but specifically praised our peer support centers and “culture of recovery,” the legacy of this passionate, life-long NAMI-hater, activist David Hilton.
Off Meds, David Hilton Became a Danger to Himself
Why David Hilton repeatedly became a danger to himself is a matter of controversy, speculation and interpretation. It always happened after he stopped taking his medication abruptly, when he was drinking.
But why did he keep repeating that script, expecting a different ending, after four involuntary emergency admissions (IEA’s) to the state psychiatric hospital in seven years?
Also controversial is whether David Hilton’s problems were caused by trauma (distress) or brain chemistry (disease), or if alcohol abuse was a bigger problem than either one.
David was severely traumatized by forced treatment and confinement in the big state psychiatric asylum as a young man, but his repetitive, time-related relapse cycles might indicate brain chemistry was involved.
It could be, as unconventional psychologist Bruce Levine says, that nobody could tell David Hitlton what to do.
Anti-authoritarians are often diagnosed because, Levine says. Psychiatrists and psychologists spend years successfully doing what they’re told. Their professional degrees are rewards for compliance. Anti-authoritarians often look diagnosably irrational to them.
Meanwhile, anti-authoritarians try to figure out if the authority figure knows what he’s talking about, if the instructions make sense, and if the authority is speaking from self-interest or a need to obeyed.
David Hilton thought all psychiatrists and psychologists were self-interested, with a need to be obeyed. Instructions based on the chemical brain disorder theory made no sense to David Hilton.
The only shrink David Hilton believed was Peter Breggin, MD, who wrote there is no scientific proof that a brain lesion, chemical imbalance, or genetic marker, specifically related to mental illness exists, the only one at the time who said what David already believed.
Maybe David Hilton was prejudiced, or able to predict from Breggin’s limited evidence that Robert Whitaker would publish more after David died.
I believe anti-authoritarianism, trauma, substance abuse, and some chemical issue of unknown origin were all at work, and none of those is the whole explanation.
Part 1 deals with David Hilton’s accomplishments as a mental health activist, his recruiting, me into the movement, and how anger was an ultimately unsustainable motive for a life of change.
Part 2 deals with possible reasons David refused to take care of himself: medication he refused to take, alcoholism and trauma he never addressed, and an anti-authoritarian personality.
Part 3 deals with David Hilton’s final chapters and his death by suicide.