I wasn’t at the Heritage Foundation presentation, but I watched the live streaming. Dr. E. Fuller Torrey advocated making mental health care a state responsibility, not a federal one. That argument strikes me as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, but then Torrey complicated his point further by arguing for benchmarks and incentives that institutions must comply with or they will lose their funding, the carrot and stick approach which he thinks will lead to “good mental health outcomes.” Carrot and stick (emphasis on the stick) technique is also typical of his coercive brand of mental health activism. This strikes me as the same dubious technique used in the educational system, which is called “teaching to the test.” Teaching to the test has all kinds of perverse outcomes.
One positive thing that I took away from the presentation was how Robert Whitaker’s book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, is making inroads. Psychiatrist Sally Satel was talking as if for decades now, people have been encouraged to be on the lowest possible dose of medication, and she went on as if it is perfectly well known that many, if not most, people should be encouraged to get off their drugs. Huh? Well, it wasn’t so long ago, eight years ago in fact, that I was told all kinds of nonsense about the drugs being needed for life, and there were plenty of people around who were on and probably still are on high doses of a antipychotic cocktails. I noticed that E. Fuller Torrey conspicuously avoided looking in Satel’s direction when she was expressing herself. E. Fuller Torrey has done more than most psychiatrists to imbed the image in the mind of the public of a schizophrenic as always needing medication. This is serious mental illness, after all!
Another great positive from the presentation was the dedicated group of people who showed up to make the point that medications, not the federal/state situation, are the real reasons the mental health system and its patients are messed up. What the activists had to say directly contradicted the revisionist history that Dr. Satel was painting. Alaska attorney Jim Gottstein introduced this point, and said that people are dying on average twenty-five years early due to the drugs, and if they’re not dead, they are often disabled. Gottstein and others were there to remind Torrey, Satel, and the Heritage Foundation that psychiatry as practiced has victims. Lawyer Diane Engster made a poignant statement directed to Torrey that she followed his advice, she took her drugs, she used to be thin like Dr. Torrey, but she is one hundred pounds overweight and is disabled because of complications from the drugs. She would love to make the kind of money that Torrey and the others do, but she can’t work because she swallowed what Torrey was dishing out. Dr. Torrey played with his ear while she was speaking. Maybe he was trying to turn down the volume.
There was a lot of discussion about ACT (assisted community treatment) and PACT, and how ACT doesn’t act as well as its enthusiasts tell you it does.
Activist Daniel Hazen from Glens Falls, NY got in the last word. He respectfully disrupted the proceedings to tell the psychiatrists that, contrary to what they were saying, there is mental health care inside the prison system, and it’s coercive. Here’s an animation put together by Lauren Tenney that gives his intervention verbatim.
We owe an immense debt of gratitude to Jim Gottstein, Daniel Hazen, Daniel Fisher, Diane Engster and Yvonne Z. Smith for speaking up on our behalf.