This letter to the editor by Su Budd, one of the founders of the mental health civil rights movement, is an answer to an op-ed in the Washington Times by D. J. Jaffee of the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC). Jaffee calls for closing SAMHSA (the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) for not “doing its job” of protecting people from violence by dangerous people with untreated mental illness. Jaffee, TAC, and its founder, E. Fuller Torrey, MD, support forced treatment and confinement.
I am very concerned about a proposal to close SAMHSA, based on this old fashion way of perceiving mental illness as violent and dangerous. Research has shown that violence among people with mental illness is no more prominent than violence among normal people.
There are elements in our society that feed on the fear of people who
react to people who are “different,” or who cannot keep up with our
society’s pressures for speed and performance. These elements do not
want to deal with people who no not fit into the greater social
This actively creates stigma against people who may have a
mental illness, and relegates them to a minimal role, poverty, and
Research is now beginning to uncover the role of trauma in the
lives of many mentally ill individuals. Also, it is being discovered
that trauma can change brain chemistry. While this is not true in all
cases, it is true in many.
Op-Ed Favors Forced Treatment and Confinement
The trauma may be outright abuse or much
more subtle, such as a lack of nurture and affirming love. The use of
force, advocated by the Washington Times article, is a continuation of
trauma. Force is not conducive to compliance with healing treatment,
and only generates more resistance in mental health consumers.
However, there is a school of thought that forced treatment
and forced medication is an easy answer to the problems surrounding
mental illness. Obviously, the author of the article is of this
Why I Would Hate to Close SAMHSA
And he hates SAMHSA for advocating another approach to
mental illness. In my opinion, SAMHSA is well worth the money it
invests in alternative and innovative programs. I would hate to close SAMHSA. Much of the new understanding of mental illness is due
to the creativity of SAMHSA and its ability to listen to both
consumers and families.
In the climate of national debt reduction, and the emphasis of
the Republican Party on not subsidizing government assistance to the
poor, elderly, and disabled, I fear that closing SAMHSA, and the criticisms of the author,
may carry weight in high places.
This will be a blatant tragedy as mental health services have advanced so much in the last 40 years
through SAMHSA’s work on mental health service programming.
About Su Budd from a Mental Health America presentation on the history of the mental health consumer movement:
As one of the few remaining active founders of the national mental health consumer movement, Susan Estelle (Su) Budd has a unique perspective that brings the founding principles of the early days to today’s movement. She has expertise in movement history, organizational development, and peer/mutual support systems.
Su has been a consultant to a variety of established mental health organizations and agencies including the National Institute of Mental Health, the Center for Mental Health Services of the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, state departments of mental health, local mental health centers, consumer run organizations, and the Kansas Governor’s Mental Health Planning Council.
She is a contributing editor of Reaching Across: Mental Health Clients Helping Each Other. Su is currently the director of the Leadership Academy sponsored by the Kansas Consumer Advisory Council for Adult Mental Health, the statewide consumer/survivor organization in Kansas.