Posts tagged ‘Stigma’

It’s Only Murder if You’re Sane

The Gothamist reports that:

On Wednesday, police found the body of a nude woman in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem. Although initial reports suggested the woman may have been emotionally disturbed, last night police announced that they were treating Nina Rivera’s death as a homicide.

So, it’s one or the other is it? I don’t know whether this little blurb is a statement on the Gothamist’s “journalism” or the NYPD’s approach. Either way, there’s a severe problem of perception here.

December 6, 2010 at 11:20 am 4 comments

Murder is an Act, Not an Illness.

What do you do when you can’t handle the fact that your son, secure in the knowledge that his parents’ money buys impunity, confesses to a couple of murders? Cry mental illness.

From Gather:

Joran Van Der Sloot confessed to murdering two women and his mother cries mental illness and the death of Sloot’s father caused him to do it.

Anita Van Der Sloot wants everyone to know her son had been suffering from mental illness and had he accepted help, he wouldn’t have been in this situation

According to MSNBC, Anita Van Der Sloot stated that:

“Joran is sick in his head, but he wanted no help. He was a sweet boy who loved animals and his grandmother… Funny, open. He has gradually lost its way. It was insidious.”

Whenever someone does something we can’t make sense of or can’t face, we call it mental illness. It disgusts me to no end. Now, with every negative nuance of a personality labeled a symptom, isn’t everyone who does terrible things mentally ill?

This is a guy who got used to the idea that whatever messes he made for himself (and others) someone took care of him. With enough lies and money, he seemed untouchable so he did whatever he wanted. Sometimes what he wanted was to kill young women. It really is that simple. He’s not mentally ill, he just thought he could get away with it. Killing girls is not a symptom, it’s an act and being a horrible example of a human being is not a mental illness.

Sadly, some people will lend credence to this mental illness claim — at least enough to associate perceived mental illness with a compulsion for violence and that’s a hell of an association to make. Ask any good and gentle person with a psychiatric label. They are not hard to find.

Then of course, if not for the lack of psychiatric intervention, “he wouldn’t have been in this situation.” More to the point, what you’re really saying is that if only he had accepted psychiatric help, these girls wouldn’t be dead — right, Mom — because we all know psychiatry is the one thing that keeps sweet boys from killing.

June 21, 2010 at 2:20 pm 3 comments

Kings County and the Death of Esmin Green: Still Outraged

Some time around 6:30 am, two years ago today, Esmin Green was involuntarily admitted to Kings County’s psychiatric ER where she was ignored for 24 hours, the last of which she spent face down on the floor — writhing at first and ultimately dying in the presence of  the staff members whose job it was to care for her.

Think about that as you glance at the clock, going about your day today — how far 6:30 in the morning seems from your lunch, the end of the workday, prime time television. Think about where you’ve spent your day and how it compares to where Esmin was all that time just two years ago.

I’m still outrageed, still disgusted that we live in a society that allows that and — as long as it’s just those mentally ill over there — accepts it. We’ve created a line and carefully keep who and what lies on the other side out of our sight –as if there really is an us and a them. There isn’t. As long as we have a class of people who can be treated by force we have a public that cares little about what happens to them behind closed doors but there is no class and public. There’s just us and what we do to others, we’re doing to one of our own.

The only real rarity in this story is that it was caught on video. If it hadn’t been you would never have known about it. It would just be another death in another psych hospital — with no one to cry foul. KCHC has been operating like this for decades and even now, in their costly new building, under federal monitoring and with new accountability policies in place — the abuses continue.

I’m going to Brooklyn today — to King’s County. I’m going in remembrance of Esmin Green and in protest of an institution beyond reform. I’m going to stand aside others who won’t accept the state of the system and are standing up in the streets, demanding change — and when I glance at the time, I’ll know I’m where I need to be. Will you?

Previous Related Posts:

Esmin Green Demonstration and Vigil (2009)

Kings County Hosital to be Monitored by Federal Judge

Sexual Assault by Kings County Employee

Kings County: A Call to Action

June 18, 2010 at 10:46 am

Kings County: A Call to Action

You may have heard — you should have heard — of a woman named Esmin Green. She was involuntarily admitted to the psychiatric emergency room of Kings County Hospital, a place already known for a long record of violence, sexual assault, abuses and neglect. Unfortunately for Ms. Green and countless others, when you are someone who is allowed be shoved into places against your will, you have no say about which places and what standards, if any, are upheld there. Esmin died face down on the floor of the psych ER after being neglected for more than 24 hours.

As a telling video of the staff’s complete and ultimately fatal disregard for her was released, they had little choice but to go into public relations overdrive. They agreed to make all kinds of policy changes and rules about accountability as if adhering to policy and truthfully recording their actions was something they were good at. Knowing that if you throw money at a problem people read it as care, they also built a $153 million replacement for the notorious G building where all of these abuses were happening. Not surprisingly, the horrors continue — even under federal monitoring. Kings County’s Building R is little more than a multi-million dollar snake pit.

Last year, I attended a vigil in Esmin’s memory and a protest of the hospital’s neglect and continued abuses against people labeled mentally ill. It was organized by We The People and was as successful as we might have hoped, though the work is not done. Survivors of psychiatric abuses had an opportunity to speak out — and what some of these survivors had to say is not to be missed. I heard from several people that have helped inform and shape my approach toward activism and human rights.

This year, two years after her death, We The People will not let it drop as the problem clearly continues and I intend to stand with them in protest of a place that, for all their talk and money, is clearly beyond reform. We need to stand in solidarity with those behind locked doors and let the ones with the keys know we’re watching. Come out June 18th – 19th and demand justice, choice and human rights in mental health, voice your disapproval of the current standard of care and show them that there is a growing opposition in the public. Human rights are universal and a diagnosis cannot be allowed to erode that or even worse — invite abuse. When we look back in the light of hindsight at an era that saw basic human and civil rights denied people labeled ill and how many times we’ve collectively turned a blind eye to staggering amounts of abuse, we will look back in disgust. At least I’ll know which side I was on.

See below fliers for details and feel free to copy, repost and display them in support of the event.

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May 22, 2010 at 9:51 am

Kendra’s Law — Five More Years?

Kendra’s Law, a controversial New York state law enacted in 1999 under the Mental Hygiene Law, is due to sunset in June. If you hear about it from both sides enough, it’s easy to overcomplicate things and muddy the waters but what it really comes down to is that Kendra’s Law enables the state to drug people who they think might become criminals. Kendra’s law is in place solely to allow the forced treatment of people deemed mentally ill using fear of violence, however unfounded, as its leverage. It enables the state to strip people of their rights based on a diagnosis. Last I knew, the constitution (at least on paper) applied to all of us and not just those the state deems mentally qualified to share in the rights it’s meant to guarantee. That is a very scary path to be on and make no mistake — we are on it.

While its future is unclear, Kendra’s Law might very well be extended for another five years but not without a fight from a grassroots organization (no, not that one — a real grassroots organization) formed to protect the rights of people regarded as mentally ill — We The People. I, for one, hope they are able to help turn things around. They’ve been making their presence and stance as advocates for rights in mental health known and are taking part in meetings with Assemblyman Felix Ortiz in an effort to help restore the rights and dignity of New Yorkers.

From the Legislative Gazette:

Bill opponents, such as We The People, a group describing themselves as survivors of psychiatric atrocities in the mental health system, said this bill would extend the reach of the law to further encroach upon the civil rights of those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds unfairly labeled as “mentally ill.” Especially, they said, because it removes a provision that requires a physician to testify at the court hearing.

We The People want another woman to be remembered besides Kendra — Esmin Elizabeth Green, a mother of six who suffered from depression. She collapsed on the waiting room floor of the psychiatric ward in Kings County Hospital Center in June 2008. She died soon after, unattended and unnoticed by hospital staff.

This incident is just one example of the mistreatment of the mentally ill, law opponents say, because the assisted outpatient treatment system amounts to coercion, oppression and “torture.”

I’m not sure why the author felt the need to put torture in quotes. It reads like undue editorializing to me — as if to say it’s a stretch to call it torture. There’s a reason there’s a survivor movement and it’s not because the system has a healthy way of dishing out a healthy version of care. These drugs wreak havoc on your body, alter your mind and take you over in so many instances and in so many ways.Of course, once you become someone for whom force is considered an option, these things are just details, secondary to your being kept under control. Force does something sinister that rights and law can’t quite touch. Where you were once a person worthy of care, you become a problem to be solved.

Lauren Tenney, a coordinator of We The People, said, “They designed this [assisted outpatient treatment] to make it sound nicer. It was designed to fool the public to make people think it stops people from killing people, but they’re just getting drugs and no support. The research is entirely flawed.”

AOT should be referred to as IOC, she said, involuntary outpatient commitment.

She said the law is coercive and denies people their civil rights because it forces people into taking psychotropic drugs without their consent and does not provide the proper therapeutic support.

“I’ve seen people tortured and dead from their medication,” said Tenney.

If you have something to say, sign on to add your name and voice to the action We the People are taking. Contact Assemblyman Ortiz directly. Time is limited. Do you really want the kind of guy who wants to ban salt in restaurants making decisions regarding your mental health rights? Probably not, but that’s the situation. Don’t let it happen while you sit quietly. If you think you’re out of reach because you don’t live in NY, think again. Forced treatment laws are being introduced or strengthened all over. This is not just an issue of mental health rights but basic human rights and civil liberties. Drugging to prevent crime? That’s one step too far and a decade too long.

May 7, 2010 at 9:41 am 1 comment

Judi Chamberlin: Her Life Our Movement

“People labeled with mental disabilities are largely invisible to the wider world. To the extent that they think of us at all, they usually think of us as a problem that somebody has to do something about and not as human beings, individuals, each one of us — deserving of human dignity.”  — Judi Chamberlin

This is a great video created by activist, artist and psychiatric survivor, Leah Harris. I met Leah in Brooklyn at a demonstration and vigil in honor of Esmin Green and in protest of her passing for lack of care in a hospital. Leah immediately impressed me with her outspoken determination and when she’s performing a spoken word piece, she has a gift for getting to the core of what she’s communicating. What I might say in a lengthy rambling post or conversation, she cuts to in a phrase.

Leah’s been bringing that sharpness, conciseness and strength to video editing as well lately. In this short video, she shows viewers what the mental health rights movement is to many of us and what the late Judi Chamberlin is to that movement. You’ll notice I didn’t say was. Anyone who has fought as hard for and had such an impact on such a movement that survives them will always be tied to it. Benjamin Franklin once said something to the effect of, “If you are to be remembered long after you die, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. ” Judi did both. Some day, when we look back on this movement in the same peculiar light of hindsight as we view the fight for black civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights, Judi will stand out as one of its first and strongest figures. In addition to what she did directly and for its own sake, she inspired many — often at times and in places where inspiration was notably absent. I wish I would have been in a position to meet and work alongside her toward our shared purpose. Instead I am blessed to be in the good company of people she affected directly.

Madness Radio: Survivor Spoken Word Leah Harris

Madness Radio: Judi Chamberlin Psychiatric Survivor Movement

March 26, 2010 at 9:45 am

Violence Prevention Medication?

This morning, I stumbled upon an opinion piece for the Buffalo News pushing for Kendra’s Law to be made permanent. Kendra’s Law is an attempt to prevent violent crime by essentially treating people diagnosed as mentally ill like some sort of pre-criminals. On paper it’s also supposed to be for the safety of the “patient” too but when it’s time to push for support, it’s almost always about protecting “us” from “them.” (As I’ve said before, fear sells when facts fail.) Advocates of Kendra’s Law and similar attempts to criminalize extreme states of mind use phrases like assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) instead of the more truthful involuntary or forced outpatient treatment.  These are the types of laws that allow for forced drugging, electroshock and hospital confinement — all based on the unfounded idea of biological mental illness but the idea is just the packaging. It’s essentially a way to keep people under control out of fear of what they might do. This thinking has no basis in fact regarding mental illness and certainly no place in the arena of human rights or a constitutional America. The article is a fine example of fearmongering but that’s the current state of media. Somehow factmongering never caught on.

As with most battles for thought and opinion, this one is very much centered on carefully crafted words and phrases — not unlike much of the current mental health industry. As with force being rephrased as assistance, drugs are renamed and recategorized, some officially and some in the minds and words of the public. (Neuroleptics have come to be called antipsychotics which are now being called antidepressants.) Sometimes words with no previous connection are paired and when spoken with some authority or when used to speak to people’s fear these words become inseparable, creating a false choice scenario. The latest I’ve seen, in the aforementioned article, is “violence prevention medication.” Of course, there is no such thing but it’s another step in grooming the vernacular.

Kendra’s Law—designed to keep people who really need it on their violence-prevention medication—was passed about 10 years ago. It’s up for renewal, again. Just make it permanent…

The law allows judges to order certain mentally ill people to remain on violence-prevention medication as a condition of release and, if that doesn’t work, to order involuntary committal to mental hospitals if shown to be a danger to themselves or others.

The author creates a connection between violence prevention and drugs. Simply by accepting the phrasing, you’d be accept the idea as truth. And if that’s the truth, you are either in favor of forced drugging or you don’t care if innocent children are slaughtered at the hands of madmen. Facts be damned, that’s your choice. Somehow, when I picture people being tackled to the ground, restrained by undue force, faces pressed against a cold hospital floor and forcibly injected with drugs — powerful mind and body altering drugs — it’s hard to see it as “violence prevention.” We are transferring violence at best and at worst and in truth, causing it.

March 17, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Saving Normal?

A recent opinion piece by Allen Frances for the LA Times is plainly pointing out the dangers of the new DSM’s broad strokes and the potential to paint too many “normal” people as mentally ill. It’s notable enough that mainstream press is presenting any criticism at all about psychiatry in general and the DSM in particular but Allen Frances was one of their own and no silent partner or low level underling either. He was the chairman of the committee that created the DSM-IV.

Our panel tried hard to be conservative and careful but inadvertently contributed to three false “epidemics” — attention deficit disorder, autism and childhood bipolar disorder. Clearly, our net was cast too wide and captured many “patients” who might have been far better off never entering the mental health system.

The first draft of the next edition of the DSM, posted for comment with much fanfare last month, is filled with suggestions that would multiply our mistakes and extend the reach of psychiatry dramatically deeper into the ever-shrinking domain of the normal. This wholesale medical imperialization of normality could potentially create tens of millions of innocent bystanders who would be mislabeled as having a mental disorder. The pharmaceutical industry would have a field day — despite the lack of solid evidence of any effective treatments for these newly proposed diagnoses.

Where the DSM-versus-normality boundary is drawn also influences insurance coverage, eligibility for disability and services, and legal status — to say nothing of stigma and the individual’s sense of personal control and responsibility.

It’s interesting to see someone in psychiatry addressing the notion of false epidemics of mental disorder when a committee decision and ever changing public opinion are all that separate a “real” epidemic from a false one. That said, committee decisions and public opinion have proven quite powerful and if you look back, the release of each DSM has brought on a rash of newly mentally ill. If history proves a good indicator, there will be millions of people who are normal today and mentally ill in 2013 — all thanks to a book with the power to categorize and medicalize the human condition. How much sorrow is too much? How excited can you be about everyday things before you are manic? And now with the proposed introduction of psychotic risk syndrome, anyone who isn’t deemed mentally ill can be subject to the book’s reach simply out of fear that they may be in time.

What are some of the most egregious invasions of normality suggested for DSM-V? “Binge eating disorder” is defined as one eating binge per week for three months. (Full disclosure: I, along with more than 6% of the population, would qualify.) “Minor neurocognitive disorder” would capture many people with no more than the expected memory problems of aging. Grieving after the loss of a loved one could frequently be misread as “major depression.” “Mixed anxiety depression” is defined by commonplace symptoms difficult to distinguish from the emotional pains of everyday life.

The media seldom addresses views critical of psychiatry but for psychiatrists to come out against the new proposals in such a public way is truly indicative of what’s at stake with the new DSM. You can bet that if psychiatrists are picking sides on this, it carries huge implications worth looking at. It doesn’t take much to see the power inherent in handing over our culture’s ability to define “normal” to a small committee comprised exclusively of people with something to gain and Frances is not exaggerating when he calls it “wholesale medical imperialization.” How much control are we willing to hand over? How far are we willing to let anyone go in defining us? How widely cast will the net be before it captures you? This is not an issue of special interest only to those marked as seriously mentally ill. Every label of mental illness is serious and with an ever broadening range of perceived illness encroaching upon a shrinking concept of normal, you may not be off the hook. Frances’ article says that it may not be too late to save ‘normal’ but I question whether ‘normal’ is worth saving.

See also: Allen Frances’ Opening Pandora’s Box: The 19 Worst suggestions for DSM5 in Psychiatric Times.

March 4, 2010 at 10:24 am 3 comments

Diagnosed by the Press

Apparently in the eyes of Dario McDarby of the Examiner, if you live strangely, have a troubled life and don’t step up to claim your diagnosis, you are  not only one of the great number of undiagnosed mentally ill but doing a great disservice to others suffering from mental illness by contributing to its stigma — at least if you’re a celebrity. In his gossipy, agenda laden ramblings, he refers to the late Casey Johnson as “obviously disturbed but possibly undiagnosed” and showing “the negative behaviors of a troubled person suffering from untreated neuroeccentricities.” His explanation for the connection between strange behavior and stigma to strangers:

The impact that this kind of notoriety of obviously disturbed celebrities causes trouble for people struggling to reclaim their mental well-being. It perpetuates the stigma of “mental illness” because of the obscene, grotesque, and ugly behavior of celebrities and others who can afford treatment but resist it because it somehow affects their notoriety. Most people do not have adequate access to services that can help them develop the tremendous talents that may lie undiscovered in their “disorders.”

I’ll never understand how people make the leap  from access to care or a right to care to the duty to receive care but it seems to be increasingly adopted by pro-diagnosis circles pretty consistently. Maybe it’s not one person’s “obscene, grotesque, and ugly behavior” that contributes to other people’s stigma around mental health. If anything, it’s armchair psychiatrists like McDarby trying to diagnose famous strangers through the microscope of gossip press, forcing a connection between serious mental illness and exploitable and tabloid-worthy acting out. One has little to do with the other  outside of the connection we create between them with articles like this. Psych diagnoses are stigmatizing because we try to put every socially unpopular or unacceptable behavior under the umbrella of a mental health label.

Though not diagnosed with any “mental illness,” at least to the public’s knowledge, Ms Johnson showed the negative behaviors of a troubled person suffering from untreated neuroeccentricities. In fact, she used them for notoriety in her alleged love tryst with Tila Tequila, possibly another troubled woman with undiagnosed mental health issues.

Instead, society becomes harsher toward neuroeccentrics because characters, who have the resources to reclaim their mental well-being, become pathetic actors in a tragedy written by scheming journalists and choreographed by dull-witted paparazzi. The blowback from this disgusting show greatly affects those with few resources, but who may possess even greater talents than the dead heiress and her grotesque Internet diva.

I’m not sure why any one person’s diagnosis is supposed to be the “public’s knowledge” and While McDarby appears to have some level of respect for people with mental health diagnoses, I’m puzzled by why he would write them into the stories of tabloid characters. To me, it seems a great disservice to link wild behaviors born out of celebrity to the people in this country with perceived mental illness that are leading (or trying to lead) “normal” lives, whatever that means. We are all too willing to throw life changing and stigmatizing diagnoses at people and now, having become quite comfortable trying people in the press, we are moving on to diagnosing people in the press which adds a lot to the notion that mental health is a matter of public opinion. I have to wonder how far McDarby is from the types of journalists and paparazzi he calls into question when he’s using a “dead heiress and her grotesque internet diva” to frame his argument that every one with troubles should get in line for a diagnosis.

February 6, 2010 at 10:19 am

One Cat, Six days and a Shot of Haldol

I had not heard the horrible story of Chris Muth’s 2008 psychiatric incarceration and forced drugging until reading of it on the blog Lunatic Fringe. The whole thing underscores the fact that the difference between sane and insane can be a simple matter of whether the right people believe you.


In July of 2008, Chris Muth was visited by a guest and his cat, Rumi. At some point, Rumi was poking around Muth’s apartment and entered a small hole in the bathroom wall. Muth ripped the wall open in hopes of rescuing a trapped Rumi, who returned his cat-calls, to no avail.  As it turns out, the small hole led to a large drop and Rumi fell 30 feet down a shaft within the wall. In his attempts to rescue the cat, he did break into an unoccupied apartment to create an opening. Understandably, the authorities were called. What is not so easy to understand is the leap the officers made next.

Not believing there was actually a cat stuck behind the wall, the police hauled him off to the psychiatric ward at Long Island College Hospital where he was held for six days. That is unconscionable. A man loses six days of his freedom because the cops mistake a very real cat for a psychotic delusion. Muth lost more than just six days through the ordeal. He lost his home, his girlfriend and his job while in LICH’s “care.”

In typical haul-them-in-and-label-them fashion, Muth’s medical records state that he “has the bizarre delusion [that he] was trying to ‘save’ a cat of his friend.” I wonder what kind of tests they administered to determine the existence of Rumi the cat. Surely they didn’t just take the officers’ word. Right? Muth, having had enough, decided to speak up saying to the resident nurse on duty, “‘Give me a pencil and paper. I’m going to write a press release and you are going to be the laughingstock of New York.”  Apparently no one informed him that the right to free speech doesn’t apply to psych patients any more than the right to due process. She did not get him a pencil and paper. She chose instead to  call for orderlies who held him down while she injected him with Haldol, a particularly ugly and powerful drug from the old round of antipsychotics — a blatantly punitive chemical assault and not an attempt at anything even resembling health, treatment or care.

“How can you stand up for yourself in this culture? You can punch someone and get arrested, or you can sue,” Muth said. And  he’s doing just that — suing the hospital and 11 0f its employees for a total of $260, 000. Considering what he’s been through and what was taken from him, that doesn’t seem like much. I hope he gets something that he can call justice out of the ordeal.

There you have it. A man carted off by the police to a psych ward, denied his basic human rights and civil liberties, separated from his freedom, his home and his source of income, held down and drugged by force — all because the police didn’t think the cat was real. And what if it hadn’t been? Would any of this be acceptable if it had all been a delusion? That’s not a rhetorical question. We need to seriously question what constitutes an abusive system, which rights we can do without and what it takes to trade them in. The mental health system has acted as a system of punishment for people on the margins of society for far too long. If Chris Muth can find himself in this situation, what misunderstanding or perception can put you there?

Rumi was eventually rescued by an animal control officer and is doing well after 15 days behind the wall. Here is an article about the original event and one about the subsequent lawsuit, both from The Brooklyn Paper.

December 23, 2009 at 12:20 am

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