Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 4.15.10

The Bully Model
One choice is no choice in mental health care
By david w. oaks

Thanks for the excellent article, “Different Paths to Mental Health: Alternatives to medication for mentally ill patients” (2/11). Reporter Kate Loftesness accurately summed up a complex topic that is often over-simplified and distorted.

For example, because our nonprofit, MindFreedom International (MFI), criticizes the unfair power of the psychiatric drug industry, sometimes we’re labeled as “anti-psychiatry” or “anti-psychiatric drug.” However, as Loftesness reported, MFI is pro-choice. Many of our members willingly choose to take prescribed psychiatric drugs as part of their recovery. Many mental health professionals are members of MFI.

We are united in opposing a “bully model” that has dominated mental health care for centuries. There ought to be far more choices beyond the “one size fits all” approach of a narrow medical model.

Unfortunately, at least one reader apparently did not understand. Terry Arnold, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Lane County, wrote in a letter to the editor (2/25), that his views “differ” from ours because, he said, “I believe that medications used to treat mental illnesses can be effective.”

Let me respond by repeating something Loftesness quoted me as saying: “It’s not about the civil war — are we for drugs or are we against drugs? — it’s just that there ought to be choice. The way we put it is, ‘One choice is no choice.’ There should be a range of choices available for alternatives.”

We have members of MFI who are also members of NAMI. While there have been divisions in the past, we hope this is a new day. Our organizations can unite for the common ground of more peer support services, more housing, more employment.

In his letter, Arnold had this to say about psychiatric disorders: “Mental illness is just like cancer, diabetes and lung disease. They all are biological in nature.” Where we differ with Arnold is that we believe people are far more complex. Our members mix and match a variety of approaches, including a medical model, but also spiritual, trauma, psychosocial, peer support, nutritional, political and more. The scientific jury is still out on “the one root cause” of overwhelming mental distress.

What the best of modern scientific evidence does show is that we are a planet in environmental crisis, and no one has a grip on the mysteries of reality. In other words, extreme distress and differences are universal.

Democracy must get far more hands-on with the topic of mental and emotional well being. Maybe democracy is waking up. Last year, a U.S. Senate investigation forced the national leaders of NAMI to disclose something that NAMI had kept hidden even from its own members. The Senate hearing discovered that more than half of NAMI’s income for the previous five years had come from pharmaceutical corporations, but the NAMI board had chosen to keep that secret.

From my discussions with Arnold, I know he and his local NAMI chapter share with me serious concerns about the national NAMI’s past. We also agree that it’s a new day. In the next legislative session, we look forward to all mental health organizations — whatever their differing perspectives — working together for the common purpose of empowerment, self-determination, peer support and a wide choice of alternatives for clients of Oregon’s mental health system.

David W. Oaks is executive director of MindFreedom International (, based in Eugene.



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