Mental health prevention means people in emotional crisis don’t need labels and medication:
The Treatment Advocacy Center, (TAC), basically works to advance the cause of forced medication as mental health prevention. Whenever a state has a violent shooting, TAC gets advocates in the state to say, “People with mental illness are so violent, we have to force them to stay on their meds or no one will be safe.” One of TAC’s board members, DJ Jaffee, also consistently takes quotes of their framework so they don’t make sense, misrepresents recovery movement organizations with straw man arguments and name-calling, and has recently been calling for the abolition of SAMHSA because they are the national organization that listens to people in recovery. He also inaccurately quotes the scientific literature for mental health prevention out of context which is ironic because he accuses people in recovery of “cherry-picking” data.
Trouble is, the evidence based for forced medication pretty much shows that we can’t really tell if forced medication is effective for mental health prevention. There are many research articles on this, some pro and some con, but the balance of research says we can’t really separate any benefits for forrced medication from the benefits made just by simply increasing the availability of care. Even a review by the National Association for State Mental Health Program directors says we can’t really tell how or if it works for mental health prevention.
Recovery advocates point out that most people who end up a little separated from reality still know that something is wrong and will ask for help. The trouble is that this is often not available. Many parents of people who end up in violent situations have extensive tales of seeking help and not being able to find resources. Another issue is that maybe serial killers are not mentally ill, they are just jerks. There are possibly evil people on this planet, and calling every criminal “mentally ill” is inaccurate and insulting to people with mental health labels.
Honesty on both sides means admitting both risks and benefits of using forced medication for mental health prevention.
However forced medication can still be beneficial in rare situations. It’s a lifesaver for some people. My best friend’s best friend, David Hilton, fought his forced med orders for years when it could have helped him. My friend Fred Frese who is on TAC’s board says it was an integral part of his recovery. If my recovery story of being harmed by meds is valid, then Fred’s recovery story of being helped by them also has to be valid. If TAC is not willing to come to the table for an honest dialogue, we can still stregthen our position by admitting any amount of validity that their position might have about mental health prevention.
For instance, parents whose kids are unwilling to work on recovery often end up violent to their family and the family must make a horrible choice between accepting abuse from their kids or letting them become homeless. Many parents have watched their adult kids get sick immediately after coming off medications, not knowing that this might be medication withdrawal problems. The real problem is that many parents have never heard of the recovery movement, and Suzanne Beachy points out the recovery movement needs better PR to give parents our hopeful message.
Problems with forced medication as mental health prevention:
However, often, forced medication orders are not subject to appeal. Once people get these orders, it is almost impossible to stop the forced treatment regardless of recovery status or how stable people are. The problem is that medical care should be done by doctors, not judges. Even Fred Frese from TAC says there is not nearly enough oversight to these laws. Even he says there needs to be more consumer input.
Being forced to take a treatment you think may harm you is extremely traumatizing. If we want to reduce discrimination and prejudice against people with mental health labels, then we need access to the same civil and criminal protections as other people. Forced medication orders are essentially saying, “You might commit a crime in the future, so we’re going to do this to you now so it won’t happen.” Guilt before innocence, and even guilt before crime.
I met a guy at 2009 Alternatives conference in Omaha whose son got put on a forced med order because he had severe priapism. This is a med side effect that also goes along with Viagra where people sometimes end up with penis amputations because the blood flow to that organ won’t stop and can cause gangrene. This kid ended up with priapism due to his meds and he got yanked off four meds at once regardless of medication withdrawal effects. Then he got put on a forced med order because the withdrawal symptoms caused him to start yelling at hospital staff so they said he was violent. Then they wouldn’t release him for 6 weeks out of this hospital even though he said he felt fine. They said it wasn’t safe to release him to the community without meds and they were scared to restart the meds because of the priapism. Ironically, the staff would tell the young man how it was costing the state $1000 a day to keep him in there. Then once he got out a doctor put him back on tons of meds and wouldn’t let him discuss which ones he really needed. He also coudn’t switch doctors because of the orders, and his dad spent a ton of money fighting this case.
Forced meds are a super hot button issue for people in the recovery movement because the forced meds themselves can cause trauma. Many of the laws are written so that simply disagreeing with your diagnosis is a reason to force people on meds. Given the other research questioning the effectiveness of labels and medications, then we might have a situation where people are being given harmful treatments for no evidence of help. Mind Freedom has tons of stories about people who get stuck in these situations and can’t escape. The worst was Ray Sanford two years ago who got forced shock treatments at $20,000 per month of taxpayer expense despite evidence showing that shock treatments weren’t indicated for his diagnosis, that he was stable in his community, and that they might cause permanent brain damage.
Forced mediation advocates are also powerfully entwined with the mental health lobby, and may have been one reason that SAMHSA’s budget recently got shifted from providing mental health programs (recovery funding) to promoting justice and truama issues (forced meds) and screening for theoretical mental health prevention (selling labels and meds.)
Here is the solution, how we reframe mental health prevention:
- Use our art, social messaging, and recovery to keep talking about how recovery is possible
- Get involved in communities outside the mental health field
- Enjoy your own life and work on your own recovery to show examples of mental health prevention
- Create entrepreneurial based programs that don’t rely on government funding which has been challenged by forced medication advocates
- Keep working to recreate the discussion frame when we talk about mental health issues:
Pam Hyde, the director of SAMHSA recently said at the National Recovery movement conference, “The only time public attention is paid to mental health is when there is a mass shooting. Then people say, ‘More gun control, more hospitals,’ instead of looking to services we know that work. It’s time to stop saying, “This is a group of people we have to lock up since they are so dangerous.’ Instead we need to say, ‘These people are so talented and valuable that we can’t keep wasting them with illness.’”