Op Ed: Choice in Mental Health is a Human Right (Mind Freedom International)
Below is an op ed about CHOICE IN MENTAL HEALTH published in the daily
newspaper of Eugene, Oregon, USA, today, Human Rights Day 2009:
The Eugene Register-Guard — 10 December 2009
GUEST VIEWPOINT: Eugene recognizes mental health patients have rights,
BY DAVID OAKS
Two famous authors from Lane County — Opal Whiteley and Ken Kesey —
had significant interactions with the mental health system. Whiteley,
who portrayed the woods around where she grew up near Cottage Grove as
a fairyland, ended up in a psychiatric institution in England for more
than 40 years. Kesey, whose novels are interwoven with what amount to
love poems to rural Lane County, used the authoritarianism he
witnessed while working inside a psychiatric institution as a metaphor
for conventional society in his bestseller, “One Flew Over the
I like to think this coincidence has something to do with our
closeness to what’s left of America’s wilderness. When I swim in an
Oregon mountain lake surrounded by ancient trees, I feel alive in
mysterious ways that do seem “northwest of normal,” as our popular
local slogan puts it. Our civic “mad pride” contributed to the recent
passage by the city of Eugene of the first and only municipal
resolution I know of that affirms support for human rights in mental
Today, the 61st anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations of
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is a good day to celebrate
that resolution’s approval.
When the media cover those of us with psychiatric labels, it’s often
about the small fraction who are violent; but there are many Lane
County citizens with mental health histories who are contributing
positively every day, such as psychiatric survivor Hugh Massengill.
The resolution emerged from a process that began in 2004 when the
Eugene Human Rights Commission adopted the issue as a priority because
of encouragement from Massengill, who was then a commissioner.
Guided by advocate Carmen Urbina, the city sponsored a series of
public forums where citizens diagnosed with psychiatric disabilities
dialogued with mental health professionals, judges, family members and
the public, culminating in a large conference at the University of
Oregon in 2006.
This momentum launched the “Opal Network” in May 2007. Named after the
author, these quarterly meetings bring together all who seek to
amplify the often-ignored voice of mental health consumers and
The local cross-disability organization, Lane Independent Living
Alliance, especially LILA counselor Bjo Ashwill, spearheaded this
innovative coalition, which is gaining national attention.
Holly LeMasurier, a human rights analyst for the city of Eugene’s
Equity and Human Rights Center, helped distill the conclusions of
these past five years of grass-roots community organizing into
Resolution 4989, which the City Council unanimously passed on Oct. 26.
The resolution affirms the human right of citizens to have more
empowering choices in the mental health system, including more nondrug
alternatives, for complete recovery.
Psychiatric survivor advocate Tracey “TC” Dumas spoke in front of the
Eugene City Council to thank its members.
Dumas, who survived forced electroshock as a teenager and went on to
earn her Ph.D. at the University of Oregon, said, “I’ve been in the
mental health system for 35 years. Many people are not offered
choices. I just want to say ‘thank you,’ especially to you Mayor Kitty
Piercy, who wanted to see this resolution happen.”
Ron Unger, coordinator of MindFreedom Lane County, did a lot of the
background work for the resolution.
He told the City Council, “I am a mental health counselor. One size
does not fit all. Especially to reach young people, the mental health
system needs to be much more positive and helpful. Thank you for
passing this resolution.”
The resolution does not shy away from one of the most controversial
topics in mental health, the over-prescription of psychiatric drugs.
One paragraph in the resolution states, “Many people determine that
psychiatric medications are quite helpful for their mental and
emotional conditions, and are grateful to have the opportunity to take
them. Others find medications to be harmful to their health, unhelpful
and/or excessively intrusive and problematic. When people seek
treatment and are offered medication as the only treatment option,
they may feel coerced into choosing that option. Many of the
medications currently provided are typically associated with
significant medical risk, are often experienced as subjectively
harmful, and their long-term effectiveness remains controversial.
Furthermore, there are widely researched psychosocial alternative
treatments likely to be at least as effective for many, with fewer
The resolution concludes by calling for two goals:
First, “All mental health service providers within the city of Eugene
are encouraged to incorporate self determination and consumer choice
as much as possible, with accurate information provided to consumers
and to families about those choices. Special emphasis should be placed
on providing diverse alternatives in treatments, including nondrug
alternatives, whenever possible.”
Second, “All mental health service providers within the city of Eugene
are urged to offer a full range of choices designed to assist in
The independent mental health advocacy nonprofit that I direct is
publicizing Resolution 4989 internationally in the hope that other
cities will pass similar resolutions. I think Opal Whiteley and Ken
Kesey would be proud.
[David Oaks (email@example.com) of Eugene is director of
MindFreedom International. The next Opal Network meeting is at 2 p.m.
Dec. 29 at the Eugene Public Library.]
* * * ACTION * * * ACTION * * * ACTION * * *
* FORWARD this op ed to all interested people on and off Internet!
* ENCOURAGE other cities, agencies and organizations to adopt it.
BELOW PLEASE FIND:
* The TEXT of City of Eugene Resolution 4989 on Choice in Mental Health
* How to DOWNLOAD a one-page PDF version of Resolution 4989.
* How to write a LETTER to editor of The Register-Guard — now is a
great time to do this!
* Why JOIN and DONATE to MindFreedom International, NOW, during MFI’s
end-of-year support drive, here:
City of Eugene • City Council
RESOLUTION NO. 4989
A RESOLUTION AFFIRMING THE CITY’S COMMITMENT TO HUMAN RIGHTS AND
MENTAL HEALTH CARE.
The City Council of the City of Eugene finds that:
A. The City Council of the City of Eugene recognizes that the
diversity of our population is vital to our community’s character, and
that we have a long tradition of protecting and expanding human rights
and civil liberties protections for all of our residents, including
persons with all types of disabilities.
B. U.S. Courts have affirmed a number of rights for people diagnosed
with mental disabilities. At the national level, the right to choose
to live in the least restrictive environment that is reasonably
available has been affirmed. At the state level, a number of courts
have affirmed a person’s right to refuse psychotropic medications,
even when the state has a “compelling interest” in providing
treatment, if less intrusive, effective treatment alternatives exist.
These decisions are consistent with the principle that all people have
e right to lives free of unnecessary restrictions and intrusions.
C. Many people determine that psychiatric medications are quite
helpful for their mental and emotional conditions, and are grateful to
have the opportunity to take them. Others find medications to be
harmful to their health, unhelpful and/or excessively intrusive and
problematic. When people seek treatment and are offered medication as
the only treatment option, they may feel coerced into choosing that
option. Many of the medications currently provided are typically
associated with significant medical risk, are often experienced as
subjectively harmful, and their long-term effectiveness remains
controversial. Furthermore, there are widely researched psychosocial
alternative treatments likely to be at least as effective for many,
with fewer harmful effects.
D. Many mental health problems are caused by trauma and human rights
violations, such as child abuse, war, racism, lack of housing and
economic opportunities, domestic violence, and others. A key element
in any kind of trauma is the denial of choice. When people who have
been traumatized are denied choices in recovery, an effect may be
E. Serious psychiatric disorder is often thought of as inevitably a
permanent condition requiring a lifetime of medication, however
research shows that a substantial fraction of those with even the most
serious diagnoses do fully recover, eventually not requiring
treatment. Treatment choices, designed to foster rehabilitation and
recovery, which include working, living, and participating in the life
of the community, have been shown to increase such recovery.
BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF EUGENE, a Municipal
Corporation of the State of Oregon, as follows:
Section 1. All mental health service providers within the City of
Eugene are encouraged to incorporate self determination and consumer
choice as much as possible, with accurate information provided to
consumers and to families about those choices. Special emphasis should
be placed on providing diverse alternatives in treatments, including
non-drug alternatives, whenever possible
Section 2. All mental health service providers within the City of
Eugene are urged to offer a full range of choices designed to assist
in complete recovery.
Section 3. This Resolution shall become effective immediately upon its
The foregoing Resolution adopted the 26 day of October, 2009.
[signed] Acting City Recorder
TO LEARN MORE, AND DOWNLOAD A ONE-PAGE PDF OF RESOLUTION
For more info on the resolution, including photo and links, go to:
To download a one-page PDF of the signed resolution, go to:
HOW TO WRITE A LETTER TO EDITOR OF THE REGISTER-GUARD
Now is a great time to e-mail in a LETTER TO THE EDITOR of The Eugene
Register-Guard affirming the opinion above.
Your letter *must* be below 250 words. Your own words and story are
best. E-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
From the newspaper’s guidelines: “Letters must be signed with the
writers full name. An address and daytime telephone number are needed
for verification purposes; this information will not be published or
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