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Gun Violence Must End, But Not By Throwing People Into The Mental Health System

Reflections on Obama’s gun control strategy from a "survivor" of the mental health system.

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Imagine my experience replicated millions of times, and you’ve just awoken to our ever-expanding American reality.  As Robert Whitaker writes in Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America (2010), there was a fortyfold increase of “Bipolar” diagnoses in children between 1995 and 2003— I was first labeled “Bipolar” in 1997— which coincided with an increase in the prescription of antidepressant and stimulant drugs and an expanding inclusion criteria for the diagnosis, including reclassifying childhood irritability, agitation, distractability, and increased energy as a sign of ‘mania’.  “Mental illness” diagnoses and use of psychotropic drugs have continued to accelerate in thie under-eighteen population, despite black-box warnings of increased suicidality in children on SSRI antidepressants, and billion-dollar fines for civil and criminal charges against pharmaceutical companies for off-label use and failure to report safety data, as documented in a 2009 truthout report and a more recent article on a controversial Paxil study of children [Paxil was one of nineteen psychotropic drugs I was prescribed between 1997 and 2010].  In addition to these rapidly increasing rates of diagnosis and prescribing of children, one in five adult Americans already take at least one psychotropic drug.     

Never before have I sensed such danger percolating around me; the pressure is palpable, and rapidly intensifying in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy.  Indeed, last month’s massacre has unquestionably become American society’s tipping point; just what, exactly, we are now accelerating— or freefalling— into is hard to believe.  Just as I felt compelled to write a response to the viral blog post, “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother”, I feel the same sense of urgency as I write these words.  I ache with sadness and fear for post-Newtown America, but unlike the collective fire of emotion that’s been stoked by our government and media, the fear I feel is not in response to the American obsession with guns, or to the blank stares of Adam Lanza, James Holmes, and Jared Loughner, who have come to symbolize “untreated mental illness”, which is undoubtedly one of America’s greatest mass delusions.  No, I am not afraid of violence in the name of harm— the kind that’s been driven throughout human history by hate, intolerance, fear, greed, arrogance, and jealousy.  That violence is reprehensible, tragic, and painful to think about, but it doesn’t paralyze me with fear in the same way a different violence does. 

The violence I fear most is of an insidious nature, hidden under the guise of “First, do no harm,” and perpetrated by a system spewing false promises to “care”, “treat”, and “heal.”  When I let my mind wander to the places usually associated with the darkest parts of American history or science fiction— surveillance, mass social control, torture, and eugenics— it’s hard to accept that pinching myself does nothing.  Science fiction and the most shameful parts of our past have become today’s undeniable reality: legislation is currently being pushed to pass “mental health” registries that strip those labeled “mentally ill” from the right to bear arms; to encourage, or even require, providers to report to authorities any mention of harm to self or other by their clients; to strengthen “Assisted Outpatient Treatment” laws or bring them to states that currently don’t have them; to ramp up funding for “mental health” screenings in schools so that “problem” children can be filtered out and given the “treatment” they need.  Indeed, Big Brother is watching us.      

Slow Down With Profiling Who Is mentally Ill

President Obama claims that we will be judged by how well we shield our children from harm, and by how supportive we are in helping our children to follow their dreams and build this country.  He tells us that we must ensure our children’s safety, and listen to their voices.  I urge him, and every legislator across our nation, to also listen to the voices of those of us who are lucky enough to have escaped the “mental health” system.  Countless psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers tried to “shield” me from harm and in doing so, took me further and further from all those things that President Obama wants for our children today.  For all their best intentions, they removed the tools I was accumulating to build a life for myself; they extinguished the spark that got me excited to grow up; they led me to believe I needed them in order to get through my day, and that I needed bottles of pills in order to be an acceptable teenager. 

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