Archive for July, 2009

Soteria Alaska Opens its Doors

   Soteria Alaska is a project developed to enable people to work through problems diagnosed as serious mental illness. The project focuses on recovery and while utilizing a pool of shared knowledge and experience, is intent on allowing people to recover largely on their own terms — that’s right, recover. Contrary to prevailing biopsychiatric doctrine, recovery is possible but you have to address issues and behaviors, not pathologize and suppress them.

   There are more differences between Soteria and mainstream psychiatric facilities than there are similarities. At Soteria, little to no psychiatric medication is used, a person is treated as a whole and wholly unique person, there is little differentiation between resident and staff, and residents are encouraged to assume their own social roles and activities, epitomizing autonomy in care.  All of this is in stark contrast to the hospital setting which strips you of your basic rights at the door. Powerful and harmful psychotropic drugs are commonly the first line of action, diseases are treated instead of people, The difference between staff and patient is stressed which enforces the “superior well” and “inferior sick” roles, and patients are limited in regard to their roles internally and in broader society. 

   After six years of  hard work, planning and development, they are currently open with two residents and pending some more red tape will be running on a slightly larger scale with up to eight beds, still enabling them to keep things focused and based on individual needs and strengths. 

   This all seems so revolutionary in today’s pseudo-medical culture, so deeply entrenched in the multi billion dollar psychopharmacology industry and all of its resultant labels and stigma but it’s not a new idea. It is modeled after a project of the same name started by dissident psychiatrist Loren Mosher in 1971 at which point in time, it was equally revolutionary. What he was able to accomplish was remarkable but not marketable so it ceased to be when his funding came to an end. His methods were more effective and certainly more humane than the traditional medical model, allowing many residents to move forward from their diagnoses rather than wear them as a weight and a stigma.

   I celebrate any approach to a person’s emotional state that treats them as fully human no matter how distressed. Let the results speak for themselves but we should embrace treatment that enables someone to live well. The alternative is the medical model which openly offers no cure and whose “treatment” is detrimental to one’s physical health and creates a third class of people devoid of choices, basic rights, social value and hope. But then, they’re just going by the book. Unfortunately for so many millions of people, that book is the DSM.


Further Reading:

White Paper – PDF (Soteria Alaska FAQ)

Soteria: Thorugh Madness to Deliverance

And a video

Soteria 1972


July 28, 2009 at 12:42 am

Iman Morales

Iman Morales

On September 24th, 2008 Iman Morales climbed naked out of his apartment window in Brooklyn, NY in a state of distress. He was in the midst of some sort of dispute with his mother. When he tried to get back inside by way of his neighbor’s window, she refused to let him in. The police were called. He climbed down the fire escape and then, upon their arrival, onto the narrow top of a roll-down security gate. His mother pleaded with the police to let her calm her son, but was refused and kept at a distance as the police tried to get Iman down and he became more agitated. He began waving a florescent light bulb at the officers, jabbing at one of them in the chest. At this point, at the order of Lt. Michael Pigott of the Emergency Services Unit, Iman, still standing on that narrow ledge ten feet high, was shot with a taser by officer Nicholas Marchesona. Having made no provisions to catch him or break his fall, several police and a crowd of onlookers watched as Iman’s body became rigid and paralyzed. He fell forward, head first onto the concrete below and died.

   What did they think was going to happen when they shot that charge into his body? Was he going to become calm and climb down smiling? The effects of a taser on the human body leave little to mystery. We know what they do and how the body responds. That’s why they are used. Tasers were only incorporated into more common use in the NYPD to curb their overactive trigger fingers in the first place and the use of the device in this event was in clear violation of department guidelines.This of course begs a few questions–How could one officer give the order to use a taser in this instance, another comply, and still others stand by allowing a man to fall predictably to his death?  Why were no provisions made to ensure a safe landing if they were going to use the device? Why was no one in the gathering crowd willing to tackle a cop to catch a falling man or better yet — to stop the device from being used in the first place? That of course would require them to drop their phones and stop taking pictures and videos.

City Councilman, Peter Vallone – chairman of the Public Safety Committee, of all things – said of the tragedy, “A situation like that is never going to end in a good way. The most important thing is that no innocent bystanders or police got hurt.” 

   In a dark turn to an already dark story, Lt. Pigott, on modified duty without his badge and gun, took his own life shortly after in order to keep his children from seeing him in handcuffs, according to a note he left. Not surprisingly, however,  the department said it was unlikely that he would have faced prosecution. His death then led to the spin machine telling the story of a hero officer who killed himself distraught over a tragic accident, reducing Iman Morales to a side note in a story about the pressures faced by police. I say this, not to diminish the loss of the Pigott family, but to restore a speck of balance to the telling of events.

   Regardless of what happened afterward, the end of Iman’s story is further evidence there is a climate of disregard for human life that needs to be addressed. It can be seen throughout our culture and is nowhere more evident than it is among that third class of people deemed mentally ill. People in power can make all the policy changes they want in the name of public relations, but it matters very little when policy is ignored and even less when policy is a sorry substitute for true moral character and respect for the lives others.


 It is worth noting that prior to that week he had been regarded by all accounts as “gentle and sweet” but was experiencing erratic behavior apparently in response to a new medication and subsequent withdrawal.

July 26, 2009 at 12:19 am 2 comments

USNUSP Press Release: CRPD Signature

Users and Survivors of Psychiatry Support President Obama’s Intention to Sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Signature is only the beginning; grassroots engagement is essential to meaningful ratification

Washington, DC | July 24, 2009 | The U.S. Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (USNUSP), a newly-formed grassroots human rights education and advocacy network, acknowledges the significant step taken by President Obama in announcing his intent to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities today at the White House. In doing so, he moves the U.S. closer to joining the international community in committing to uphold the human rights of people with disabilities.

Drafted and negotiated under the leadership of people with disabilities themselves, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) represents a paradigm shift away from a medical model that views people with disabilities as objects of charity and treatment, to a social model based on the principles of self-determination and self-representation. The treaty addresses core issues of significance to people with disabilities, such as forced treatment and forced detention; access to voluntary, community-based services and support; non-discrimination; freedom from torture and other forms of cruel, unusual, and degrading treatment; social inclusion; and economic empowerment.

“Signing means nothing when we do not have access to basic rights, such as the right to live in the community,” said Anita Cameron, activist with ADAPT, a national grassroots community of disability rights activists. “We need to end the institutional bias against people with disabilities once and for all.”

“The CRPD unites all people with disabilities and allies behind a common goal: the struggle for our human rights and freedom. Signature is a positive step, and we will keep the pressure on Washington until the treaty is ratified, without reservations,” said Daniel Hazen, Co-coordinator of USNUSP.

“We should be organizing and raising awareness of the importance of this convention so that it doesn’t stall with a courtesy signature on it,” said Aaron Bellve, USNUSP activist. “We need to fight hard now for ratification, then for compliance. Then later, we will look back and wonder why we should have been made to fight at all.”

UN regulations call for the actual signing to occur in New York; today the President will direct Ambassador Rice, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, to execute the signature at a second ceremony on July 30 in at the UN Headquarters in New York.


About the U.S. Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry: The U.S. Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (USNUSP) seeks to facilitate connections among users and survivors of psychiatry and allies in the disability and human rights movement to engage in human rights education, advocacy, and community organizing.

For more information, contact: Leah Harris, Co-coordinator, USNUSP
Tel: (202) 236-7747 

July 24, 2009 at 8:18 pm

January First?


The LA Times did a story on a 6 year old girl named January Schofield who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia–a shockingly uncommon age for an already uncommon diagnosis. The reporter, Shari Roan had an interesting take on the story, but what was even more striking was what she chose to omit.

The father, Michael, is a writer and has a blog detailing his life with a supposedly schizophrenic child. In brief, he admits to some horrifying behavior in the way of parenting and if this child is excessively violent, it doesn’t seem as though you’d have to go far to find the root of the problem.

“…We tried starving her. We did EVERYTHING we could to try and break her…at times Susan and I both lost it and hit Jani as hard as we could. We hit in impotent rage…We saw Janni today and she was at her most psychotic in several weeks. I have a nice welt on my arm where she hit me when I refused to call her toy rat “99.”Of course, I was goading her, but I wanted to see if she could deal with it. Of course, she couldn’t”

He later removed from his blog the part about starving her , oddly leaving the hitting in. He also appears to have gone from doctor to doctor until he got the diagnosis he wanted which now gives him carte blanche to administer an alarming amount of drugs to her including high doses of Thorazine and Haldol.

Children are complex and I don’t think you can take all of the undesirable behaviors of a child, find one cause, label it and medicate it away. It’s harder but I think you have to treat each behavior as its own action. Encourage imagination even if you don’t understand it, treat violence as violence, develop social skills even as social structure is questioned.

I urge you to read the story and the later commentary regarding it on both Furious Seasons (scroll down to it) and The Trouble with Spikol. That for me is where it gets particularly interesting and ugly. A number of readers on both of these sites are quick to defend the parents and condemn people for rushing to judgement. I have to wonder where we are as a society if we are not willing to judge people based on their actions. I don’t think we need reasons or mitigating factors here. We’re talking about adults hitting a six year old with all of their strength and starving her, talking about breaking her, referring to themselves as staff when they are in her presence, the list goes on. Some things are always wrong.

Upon being asked by a reader how Shari Roan could have written this story but omitted the abuse that both parents admit to she said, among other things:

“They have also hit due to sheer exhaustion and loss of self-control…I am certain this is not the case of a normal child who has been abused. This child has a horrible mental illness that has destroyed her and her parents.”

This sounds a lot like this supposed mental illness in some way makes January’s abuse more acceptable or understandable. “This is not the case of  a normal child that has been abused.” No, of course not, you’re not allowed to abuse “normal” children. I am not saying The Schofields are horrible, loveless people through and through. I do not know them. I am simply saying that they have abused their own child (prior to the diagnosis, if that makes a difference) in a manner that may have gotten her removed for her own safety if she were not labeled with schizophrenia. If we can’t judge people, may we always at least judge actions.

I have to believe it’s a statement about how we view people who are diagnosed as mentally ill. Treat them as you wish, you will not be held accountable. If we are to accept the notion, and I do not, that mental illness is a type of biological disease like cancer or epilepsy, then standards of care should be universal. I know of no disease that is routinely treated punitively and no sickness that makes it more tolerable for this to happen, if anything, less so seems to be the trend.

July 22, 2009 at 10:23 am 50 comments

Esmin Green Demonstration and Vigil

June 19th, I traveled to Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, NY to attend a demonstration at their Psychiatric ER protesting forced psychiatry. Immediately after,  a candlelight vigil was held for Esmin Green , a woman who died there as a direct result of the staff’s neglect. She had been admitted involuntarily, then left to sit their for approximately 25 hours, the last of which she spent face down, dead or dying and apparently alone even amongst no less than 5 employees. The staff then altered the records to assert that she had been checked on regularly and was well in an effort to cover up their negligence. As it turns out, a security camera was rolling the whole time. The video captured security personnel standing there looking at her, one guard couldn’t even be bothered to get out of his chair. A nurse nudged her with her foot and left the room instead of assessing her health or administering care. Were it not for this video being turned over to the police and press, Esmin’s death would have been just one more of many anonymous deaths in a failing mental health system.

In all respects the demonstration/vigil was a success. We stood in front of the Psyhiatric Emergency entrance making ourselves known. We raised awareness in real time on the street, it was covered live on the news, people were waving at us from the windows and gesturing their support (I assume they were not staff). One woman had what appeared to be a journal pressed against the window. I would love to know what she may have written in there. Some amazing speakers were heard and I met with some incredibly motivated activists, largely psychiatric survivors and their supporters. Perhaps the most important part, in this case, is that the Department of Investigation report came in while we were there, confirming in a legal sense what the tape had made abundantly clear. The staff failed and if not for them, Esmin Green would be alive today.

Five out of five staff members failed Ms. Green. This is not just one nurse or administrative staff member or just one security guard. The problem is systemic and when you are admitted involuntarily, you don’t have the luxury of choosing where you are taken, no matter what you know of the place. And for anyone who might cry understaffed, overcrowded, not enough funding or beds–the DOI dispelled that myth as well.

July 20, 2009 at 10:00 am

The End Is Near

The End Is Near

Ink and Watercolor on Paper – 11″ x 14″

July 19, 2009 at 6:57 pm



Ink and Watercolor on Paper – 9.5″ x 14″

July 19, 2009 at 3:10 pm 1 comment

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