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Synopsis: 

Our use of psychotropic drugs in mental health care over the last half century, despite chemically lobotomizing patients and thus reducing symptoms, has caused an explosion of chronic mental health problems that would not otherwise have existed (by messing up neural transmitter systems, catalyzing strong psychosis-inducing counterreactions in the brain, while in no way addressing the original problems that caused the drugs to be prescribed in the first place). We are forming a non-profit (ClearMind, Inc.) to raise awareness of the issue, provide alternative services (and particularly assist psychiatric patients in weaning themselves from the drugs which are debilitating them), and coordinate efforts in the mental health profession to yield more to the evidence and less to entrenched professional assumptions and habits.

Perhaps you can help us to raise awareness and launch ourselves as a robust and effective organization by reposting and sharing this post. We are looking for some kick-start money to help cover our initial costs while jumping through the legal hoops of establishing ourselves as a non-profit and pursuing start-up grants. Eventually, we intend to provide clinical services to those trying to wean themselves from the psychiatric drug cocktails that have destroyed their lives, mental health educational services to the general public, and advocacy for increased evidenced-based and holistic approaches to mental (and physical) health care in general.

I’m writing because of an issue that has recently come to my attention, and is absorbing an increasing amount of my time and energy. It is, at core, a mental health care issue (though a microcosm of a general health care and a general social issue as well), very similar to trying to end the widespread use of lobotomies a generation or two ago, but involving a practice far more widespread, more socially costly, affecting more people, and creating quite possibly a problem of more catastrophic proportions.

First, I have to provide a quick synopsis of an amazing survey of decades of research pointing toward having gotten it horribly wrong once again. A Boston-based investigative journalist and science writer named Robert Whitaker wrote a series of books on the history of mental health care in America, the most recent being Anatomy of an Epidemic, published in 2010. In Anatomy, Whitaker makes what is possibly the best empirical argument I’ve ever seen (on any topic), that the widespread use of psychiatric drugs in mental health care, despite providing short-term alleviation of symptoms and catalyzing relapses when stopped, leads to worse long-term outcomes for the patients, and causes (or worsens) mental illness rather than cures it.

All of the processes by which the profession and the public have come to think otherwise are chronicalled in amazing detail, and all of the evidence revealing the error is compiled to make a case that, were it a criminal case in a court of law, would not only meet the burden of “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” but would meet a much higher burden were one imposed on it. It is as close to an irrefutable case as anything I’ve ever seen (tracing all of the research for over half a century on causes of various mental illnesses, on effects of the various pharmaceuticals on neurotransmission systems, of short-term and long-term outcomes, and of explanations for both, among other things, all leading to one conclusion).

I know that in the eyes of many this position has been discredited by it having been adopted early on by Scientologists, and most notably by Tom Cruise, who, by giving voice to an exaggerated version of it, and claiming to be uniquely endowed with esoteric knowledge that ran counter to the accumulated wisdom of an entire profession, made it appear to be a radical fringe position. But Whitaker’s is actually a very well-supported and difficult to dismiss analysis, demonstrating with a very precise, comprehensive and compelling empirical argument why a more moderate version of that same position is, in fact, spot on.

It is, really, not a minor problem of slight dimensions. This is similar to trying to end the use of lobotomies as a mental health treatment because these drugs are, in many ways, “chemical lobotomies” (which is how they were originally perceived when the first ones went to market in the 1950s!). It is potentially more catastrophic because it is causing a mushrooming rate of mental health problems, and reduced recovery from them, disabling many times more people than had ever suffered from chronic mental illnesses previously.

And, in yet one more example of what to us appears to be a remarkable confluence of insights and organized action growing into a torrent of change, the August 22 & 29 Newsweek’s cover article surveys the growing awareness in the medical profession that “less is more;” that to a far greater extent than we have yet acknowledged, many of our high-tech medical interventions, as currently utilized, are doing more harm than good. (Again, this isn’t a “medical luddite” position, but rather an understanding of the need for greater moderation, more judicious use of the medicines and technologies available to us, and an increased awareness of the greater value of a more holistic, proactive, “wellness” oriented approach.)

Here’s how I became involved: First, in law school and after, I did an internship and then paid consultancy work for a small policy LLC (The Center for Systems Integration) doing legal and fiscal research into the confluence of child and family welfare and mental health issues. This gradually instilled in me a recognition of just how enormously important mental health services are, and how important it is for everything else we do to get it right. Several months ago, as my family physician and I were becoming personal friends, he was fired for blogging on this topic. He turned his attention to the formation of a non-profit dedicated both to addressing this particular issue, and, more generally, advocating a more holistic, whole-person-and-environment mental-physical-social-spiritual wellness paradigm. He asked me to be on the Board of Directors.

Within the past couple of weeks, I’ve become one of three people directly involved in the initial planning of this effort (or this incarnation of a larger effort that is growing in multiple places and contexts): Dr. Mark Foster, Amy Smith (a mental health care consumer who has testified before Congress, has worked on numerous boards, and has personally experienced the phenomenon we are addressing), and myself. We have in place an amazing Board of Directors, including some nationally renowned people in the field. Whitaker himself is a friend and ally of our efforts. Mark is already presenting at conferences all around the country (thus far, on his own dime).

Even as I was writing this post, a documentary film maker who has become aware of the issue got in touch with Mark and asked about doing a film on the subject, focusing on the “consumer movement” of mental health patients who have gotten off their medications and are, as a result, living fuller lives than anyone had predicted they could. This is an issue not yet prominent on many people’s radar, but percolating below the surface, and, with the help of highly motivated people paying attention to the evidence and what it suggests about how best to serve human wellness, about to burst onto the scene.

We have put together our 501(c)(3) application, and have been meeting frequently and at length to develop our business plan. We are developing a funding strategy, prioritizing foundations and agencies to which to write grants, but even the most immediate start-up grants take a little time to process. I plan to donate my unspent campaign funds to ClearMind (the name of our organization), but can’t do so until we have 501(c)(3) status. Our most urgent need right now is to put together some kick-start money, to pay application fees, for our website, and the various other unavoidable costs that add up quickly.

We are also planning a national conference in December, to be held here in Denver, and it will be a race against time to acquire adequate funding for it. Dr. Foster has already shelled out a couple of thousand dollars of his own money, and, given that he is only working part-time at a low-paying clinic, it is a large burden for him. I myself am currently without an income, and so can not kick in much. Amy, as well, is unemployed. We simply don’t have the start-up funds among us to make this happen, though will all fork out as much as we can as we go forward.

So, as a first on this blog (almost precisely on the one year anniversary of its establishment), I’m asking three things of everyone who reads this post: 1) Please share it as widely as you can, so that at the very least we raise awareness of the issue. 2) I strongly recommend that you read Anatomy of an Epidemic; it’s not only thoroughly informative on this topic, but also a remarkable illustration of the ways in which, despite our highly rationalized social institutions, we continue frequently to pursue policies that are highly irrational, even independently of the more familiar political causes for doing so.

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