Sunday, September 26, 2010

Alternatives 2010 Censures Will Halls Message of Choice


I don't typically get on my soapbox here at "A Journey" but in this case, I am making an exception...

As a mental health advocate/activist and survivor of psychotropic prescription drug use my position around the issues of mental health care is that each person seeking mental health services or support be given enough professional information that a true, informed consent for services be made.

I do not advocate for or against "medication". 

do advocate for transparency and truth. 

A last minute decision has been made by the National Empowerment Center to Censure the content of a presentation by Will Hall who was originally approved to present at Alternatives 2010 this next week. 

Hall was scheduled to speak on the subject of a pro-treatment choice, harm-reduction philosophy. Hall was to share information about continuing, reducing, or coming off psychotropic medications from the perspective of both Therapist and Psychiatric Survivor. 

After the uproar from the "consumers" of mental health services, when Robert Whitaker was first scheduled then abruptly cancelled and then was reinstated as a key note speaker for this years Alternatives conference - this comes as a last minute surprise and clearly political manipulation IMHO.

The theme for this years conference is Promoting Wellness Through Social Justice. Yet after the effort to cancel Robert Whitaker (Anatomy of an Epidemic) and now this final hour censuring of a workshop that has been approved for the past nearly 4 months I am beginning to wonder just how valid this theme is. 

"Social Justice" would seem to include the right for those seeking assistance for mental health issues to be given all possible available options - including how to safely withdraw from these drugs that are connected to a lifespan cut short by 25 years over the average person. 

By waiting until the last minute, the NEP/Powers-that-be has effectively minimized any possible reconsideration of this decision by eliminating any opportunity for the constituency to be heard. 

 Perhaps this was actually a last minute decision rather than a political ploy but this last minute censure is looking strangely like an effort at implementing some damage control by keeping this quiet until 3 days before the conference is scheduled to start.  

The message is clear - maintain the status quo of dependence on these drugs that are often as effective as placebo's (STAR*D Scandal), that often lead to an early death and the favorable research proven to be skewed in favor of the entities that benefit from this industry vs empowering the people to have a clear choice and options in their health care. 

If the powers-that-be didn't feel that this was a valid message to begin with - why was Hall's workshop approved in the first place? And why did they wait until the week of the conference to let this cat out of the bag?

So with this new information my excitement to be a part of this national organization as an advocate is dampened - but my determination to be a voice and a force for change is multiplied a hundred-fold. 

Below is the Press Release distributed by Will Hall. You can visit his website here.

Coming Off Medications Workshop Censored at 'Alternatives 2010' Mental Health Conference
Alternatives, the mental health consumer/survivor conference with more than 1,000 participants annually, has withdrawn its previous approval for a workshop on coming off psychiatric medications.
The workshop, based in a pro-treatment choice, harm-reduction philosophy, was to share information about continuing, reducing, or coming off medications. After approving the workshop in June, the National Empowerment Center, which organizes the conference to be held in Anaheim California, made a last-minute decision to change the title and description to remove any reference to coming off medications.
Will Hall, an internationally-recognized schizophrenia survivor and radio host who was set to lead the workshop, decided that he could not go along with the decision and will not be attending the conference. "Coming off medications is a topic vital to wellness and recovery, and should not be censored," he said.
The controversial move by the National Empowerment Center comes in the wake of a recent similar decision to bar Robert Whitaker, a Pulitzer finalist investigative journalist whose work spotlights medication dangers and growing evidence that non-drug alternatives work better for some patients. Whitaker was restored as a conference keynote speaker only after mental health advocates mobilized quickly on the internet to challenge the decision.
The annual Alternatives conference is organized by consumer/survivor groups and federally funded. With workshops ranging from wellness, youth, housing, employment, advocacy and diversity issues, Alternatives is the country's most prominent gathering for mental health consumers, who attend from all US states and as far away as Guam. Medication issues, however, have consistently been excluded from the program.
Hall, who works as a therapist, says he educates individuals, families, and health care providers to make more informed choices, and is not anti-medication and does not give medical advice. "People are caught between pro-drug marketing by pharmaceutical companies and the anti-drug message of some activists. We need honest and unbiased information about psychiatric medications, including assessing drug risks and discussing how to come off drugs safely when they aren't right for you. Many people find medications helpful, but there are huge dangers involved, and sometimes it's better to reduce medication or slowly go off." 

After several hospitalizations and a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder schizophrenia, Hall has been medication-free for more than 17 years. He says a combination of holistic health, support groups, and spiritual practice nurtured his recovery from mental illness, but believes that "each person's path to recovery is different. My work fills a great need for information, and it's a shame this topic is censored at a national conference that claims to be dedicated to wellness and calls itself 'Alternatives.'"
Hall is the author of the Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Medications, published by mental health peer groups The Icarus Project and Freedom Center. The guide, available freely on the internet, has been distributed to more than 15,000 people and is available in Spanish and German translations. 


Kristin said...

Susan, what is the best way to voice dissension? A petition like what was engineered for Robert Whitaker's reinstatement as keynote speaker?
Some facebook pages are calling for protest. Meg is voicing concern that loud and angry isn't the way but rather to listen carefully to their argument and take them apart piece by piece.
The timing is, as you have said, very suspect. Waiting until the last moment when people are committed and plans are apt not be be changed is a calculated moment for them to oust Will Hall.
I will share your post on my fb page!

rriverstone said...

I'm going to the conference and plan to bring the issue up, not just with conference organizers, who may well be defensive, but with other so called "consumers," survivors.

Susan said...

Kristin - I agree with Meg. Arguing with those who won't listen is not productive. Being willing to share our experiences and concerns respectfully will harvest respect back.

Thanks for sharing the message and for supporting the cause that all have the opportunity to choose their path of recovery.

Susan said...

rriverstone - I will also be at the conference and would like to be a part of any discussion. I didn't see a way to contact you on your web can find my email in my "contact me" page if you are interested to connect in Anaheim.