MindFreedom International News – 21 July 2010
Voice For Choice in Mental Health Care
http://www.mindfreedom.org – please forward
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“WHAT ABOUT BOB?”
USA Mental Health Agency May Cancel Journalist Robert B. Whitaker as
Keynoter of “Alternatives 2010”
Bob Whitaker’s Book “Anatomy of an Epidemic” Criticizes Psychiatric
A major annual conference funded by the US government since 1985
advertises itself as “organized by and for mental health consumers and
survivors.” The goal of this popular “Alternatives Conference” is to
support empowerment, self-determination and choice by mental health
But MindFreedom International News discovered that after Alternatives
2010 organizers confirmed their choice of keynote speaker as
journalist Robert B. Whitaker, author of a new book with a scathing
critique of psychiatric pharmaceutical claims, upper-level federal
*BELOW* is an exclusive MindFreedom interview with Whitaker about his
possible cancellation, plus how you can take action to inform
President Obama, and join an online conversation on the controversy.
BACKGROUND: Anatomy of Psychiatric Censorship?
Since 1985, the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration [SAMHSA] has provided a grant to fund the Alternatives
Conference, bringing together several hundred mental health consumers
and psychiatric survivor from throughout the USA, many of whom lead
innovative mental health peer support programs.
The Alternatives Conference is organized each year by one of the
handful of federally-funded “Technical Assistance” or TA Centers,
which are staffed and advised by mental health consumers and
Alternatives 2010 is slated to begin 29 September in Anaheim,
California with the provocative theme, “Promoting Wellness Through
Social Justice.” Conference organizers confirmed an invitation with
Robert Whitaker to keynote.
Whitaker’s book is getting a lot of attention. Time Magazine’s review
said, “Despite much vaunted claims to the contrary, writes Whitaker, a
medical journalist, ‘there was never any evidence’ in the scientific
literature showing that certain mental illnesses result from faulty
brain chemistry… Psychiatric drugs have changed the lives of
millions, but this book explores how they would have fared without
them. It’s an alternative worth imagining.”
On 15 July, Alternatives organizers told Whitaker his “confirmation”
was retracted, saying they had received objections from US government
higher-ups that he was a high-profile critic of federal agencies.
However, many past Alternatives keynoters — including the heads of
federal agencies and MindFreedom director David Oaks — have also
criticized federal agencies.
And Whitaker is no radical, he’s a medical journalist. He emphasizes
that he sees value in the use of psychiatric drugs. His book is also
pro-active, describing his recent visit to Finland’s vaunted “Open
Dialogue” approach that is helping young people diagnosed with
schizophrenia while minimizing psychiatric drug prescriptions.
By coincidence, the day before Whitaker’s un-confirmation, on 14 July,
a number of national mental health consumer/psychiatric survivor
leaders issued a statement of “alarm” about “the conflict of interest
in the current relationship between the federal government and the
So if the Alternatives conference is about alternatives… then what
about the alternatives Bob talks about?
What about Bob?
BELOW is the MindFreedom International interview with Robert B.
Whitaker. BELOW that is how to speak out to President Obama, and find
out more info.
MINDFREEDOM INTERNATIONAL INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT B. WHITAKER:
MINDFREEDOM INTERNATIONAL [MFI] QUESTION: Why do you think you have
been disinvited from the Alternatives conference? What do you make of
ROBERT B. WHITAKER ANSWER: I think the reason is obvious — I was
going to tell a well-documented story of science about psychiatric
medications that some at SAMSH find threatening, a story that they
don’t want users of the drugs to hear. But you should ask those who
nixed the invitation. I would be curious to hear their answer.
MFI: What is it that you write about in Anatomy of an Epidemic that is
WHITAKER: The story told to the public by the NIMH and by academic
psychiatry is that psychiatric medications have greatly improved the
lives of those diagnosed with psychiatric illnesses. Yet, even as our
society has embraced the use of psychiatric medications during the
past two decades, the number of people receiving government disability
due to mental illness has more than tripled, from 1.25 million people
to more than 4 million people.
So you can see, in that data, that something may be wrong with that
story of progress. And then, if you look at how psychiatric
medications affect the long-term course of psychiatric disorders, you
find — in the scientific literature — consistent evidence that they
increase the likelihood that a person will become chronically ill. I
know this is startling, particularly since we do know that some people
do well on the medications long term, but that evidence, in terms of
how the medications affect long-term outcomes in the aggregate, shows
up time and again in the scientific literature.
MFI: Can you give an example?
WHITAKER: Sure. I’ll give two quick examples.
First, outcomes for bipolar disorder today are much worse than they
were 40 years ago. Today, people so diagnosed are much more constantly
symptomatic than they used to be; their employment rates have declined
from around 85% to around 33%; many struggle with drug-related
physical problems, such as obesity; and today they show signs of long-
term cognitive decline, whereas that didn’t used to be the case.
Leading bipolar experts have written about this deterioration in
modern outcomes, and they point to the prescribing of antidepressants
and antipsychotics to this patient group as a likely reason for the
Second, our society of believes that all people diagnosed with
schizophrenia need to be on medication all their lives. Yet, the NIMH
has funded a long-term study of schizophrenia outcomes by a researcher
named Martin Harrow, and in 2007 he reported that at the end of 15
years, the recovery rate for those off medication was 40%, versus 5%
for those on medication. At the very least, Harrow’s study shows that
some people diagnosed with schizophrenia do better long-term off
medication, but that is the type of information that is never conveyed
to the public. The NIMH didn’t publicize the results of Harrow’s
study, and certainly it hasn’t publicized the astonishing
deterioration in modern bipolar outcomes, even though it is recognized
by experts in the field.
MFI: Why is this information so important? What is at stake here?
WHITAKER: I think we can all agree that the honest communication of
scientific results is essential to good medicine, and essential to
helping people make informed choices about what is best for them. And
if our society is going to stem this epidemic of disabling mental
illness has erupted in our society, then it needs to know this
information and think about alternative programs of mental health care
that might be funded. Mindfreedom held a hunger strike in 2003 to push
for this very thing–honesty in what psychiatry and the powers that be
tell about psychiatric disorders and psychiatric medications.
ASK: WHAT ABOUT BOB? *** ACTIONS *** ACTIONS *** ACTIONS ***
Please keep all communication civil and strong:
(1) ASK PRESIDENT OBAMA: WHAT ABOUT BOB?
Please use the White House web site to encourage President Barack
Obama to ask SAMHSA to encourage empowered community organizing and
choice by and for mental health consumers and psychiatric survivors,
Sample message — your own words are best:
“Dear President Obama: You are a community organizer. Did you know
that mental health consumers and psychiatric survivors have also done
community organizing for decades? Please ask your agency SAMHSA to
support their choice of journalist Robert Whitaker to be keynote
speaker at the annual Alternatives 2010 conference. The Alternatives
conference is about alternatives, so… WHAT ABOUT BOB? Bob’s book
Anatomy of an Epidemic is an important warning about problems with the
psychiatric pharmaceutical industry.”
If possible, please copy your message by e-mail to SAMHSA director Pam
Hyde at am.Hyde@SAMHSA.hhs.gov” onclick=”top.Popup.composeWindow(‘pcompose.php?sendto=Pam.Hyde%40SAMHSA.hhs.gov’); return false;” target=”_blank”>Pam.Hyde@SAMHSA.hhs.gov, and to MFI for public use at firstname.lastname@example.org
(2) TALK ABOUT IT!
You can use the MindFreedom Facebook page to speak out about your
opinion. Should Bob be allowed to speak? What do we do if he’s censored?
Go to MindFreedom’s Facebook page here:
(3) USE THE WEB TO GET AROUND ANY CENSORSHIP!
Please *forward* this alert with a few words of your support to all
interested people on and off Internet.
Forward MindFreedom’s Twitter feed and add your own.
Use your “creative maladjustment” and get out the word!
MORE INFO on WHAT ABOUT BOB CONTROVERSY:
** TIME Magazine’s review of “Anatomy of an Epidemic”:
** Read OTHER reviews of “Anatomy of an Epidemic”:
** ORDER Whitaker’s book “Anatomy of an Epidemic” at discount from
MindFreedom’s MAD MARKET, and benefit MFI’s human rights work:
** HEAR a MindFreedom Radio interview with Whitaker:
** MORE about Bob’s book at MFI web site:
** READ Rockville Bastille Day 2010 Statement about “Undue Influence
of Psychiatric Pharmaceutical Industry”:
** INFO about Alternatives 2010:
** SAMHSA web site:
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