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News :: Social Welfare
USA Mental Health Agency Cancels Journalist Robert B. Whitaker as Keynoter of Alternatives 2010
22 Jul 2010
Bob Whitaker's Book "Anatomy of an Epidemic" Criticizes Psychiatric Pharmaceutical Claims

A major annual conference funded by the US government since 1985 advertises itself as "organized by and for mental health consumers and survivors." The goal of this popular "Alternatives Conference" is to support empowerment, self-determination and choice by mental health clients.

But MindFreedom International News discovered that after Alternatives 2010 organizers confirmed their choice of keynote speaker as journalist Robert B. Whitaker, author of a new book with a scathing critique of psychiatric pharmaceutical claims, upper-level federal officials objected.
*BELOW* is an exclusive MindFreedom interview with Whitaker about his possible cancellation.

BACKGROUND: Anatomy of Psychiatric Censorship?

Since 1985, the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration [SAMHSA] has provided a grant to fund the Alternatives Conference, bringing together several hundred mental health consumers and psychiatric survivor from throughout the USA, many of whom lead innovative mental health peer support programs.

The Alternatives Conference is organized each year by one of the handful of federally-funded "Technical Assistance" or TA Centers, which are staffed and advised by mental health consumers and psychiatric survivors.

Alternatives 2010 is slated to begin 29 September in Anaheim, California with the provocative theme, "Promoting Wellness Through Social Justice." Conference organizers confirmed an invitation with Robert Whitaker to keynote.

Whitaker's book is getting a lot of attention. Time Magazine's review said, "Despite much vaunted claims to the contrary, writes Whitaker, a medical journalist, 'there was never any evidence' in the scientific literature showing that certain mental illnesses result from faulty brain chemistry... Psychiatric drugs have changed the lives of millions, but this book explores how they would have fared without them. It's an alternative worth imagining."

On 15 July, Alternatives organizers told Whitaker his "confirmation" was retracted, saying they had received objections from US government higher-ups that he was a high-profile critic of federal agencies. However, many past Alternatives keynoters -- including the heads of federal agencies and MindFreedom director David Oaks -- have also criticized federal agencies.

And Whitaker is no radical, he's a medical journalist. He emphasizes that he sees value in the use of psychiatric drugs. His book is also pro-active, describing his recent visit to Finland's vaunted "Open Dialogue" approach that is helping young people diagnosed with schizophrenia while minimizing psychiatric drug prescriptions.

By coincidence, the day before Whitaker's un-confirmation, on 14 July, a number of national mental health consumer/psychiatric survivor leaders issued a statement of "alarm" about "the conflict of interest in the current relationship between the federal government and the pharmaceutical industry."

So if the Alternatives conference is about alternatives... then what about the alternatives Bob talks about?

What about Bob?

BELOW is the MindFreedom International interview with Robert B. Whitaker.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

MINDFREEDOM INTERNATIONAL INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT B. WHITAKER:

MINDFREEDOM INTERNATIONAL [MFI] QUESTION: Why do you think you have been disinvited from the Alternatives conference? What do you make of this?

ROBERT B. WHITAKER ANSWER: I think the reason is obvious -- I was going to tell a well-documented story of science about psychiatric medications that some at SAMSH find threatening, a story that they don't want users of the drugs to hear. But you should ask those who nixed the invitation. I would be curious to hear their answer.

MFI: What is it that you write about in Anatomy of an Epidemic that is so threatening?

WHITAKER: The story told to the public by the NIMH and by academic psychiatry is that psychiatric medications have greatly improved the lives of those diagnosed with psychiatric illnesses. Yet, even as our society has embraced the use of psychiatric medications during the past two decades, the number of people receiving government disability due to mental illness has more than tripled, from 1.25 million people to more than 4 million people.

So you can see, in that data, that something may be wrong with that story of progress. And then, if you look at how psychiatric
medications affect the long-term course of psychiatric disorders, you find -- in the scientific literature -- consistent evidence that they increase the likelihood that a person will become chronically ill. I know this is startling, particularly since we do know that some people do well on the medications long term, but that evidence, in terms of how the medications affect long-term outcomes in the aggregate, shows up time and again in the scientific literature.

MFI: Can you give an example?

WHITAKER: Sure. I'll give two quick examples.

First, outcomes for bipolar disorder today are much worse than they were 40 years ago. Today, people so diagnosed are much more constantly symptomatic than they used to be; their employment rates have declined from around 85% to around 33%; many struggle with drug-related physical problems, such as obesity; and today they show signs of long- term cognitive decline, whereas that didn't used to be the case. Leading bipolar experts have written about this deterioration in modern outcomes, and they point to the prescribing of antidepressants and antipsychotics to this patient group as a likely reason for the
decline.

Second, our society of believes that all people diagnosed with
schizophrenia need to be on medication all their lives. Yet, the NIMH has funded a long-term study of schizophrenia outcomes by a researcher named Martin Harrow, and in 2007 he reported that at the end of 15 years, the recovery rate for those off medication was 40%, versus 5% for those on medication. At the very least, Harrow's study shows that some people diagnosed with schizophrenia do better long-term off medication, but that is the type of information that is never conveyed to the public. The NIMH didn't publicize the results of Harrow's study, and certainly it hasn't publicized the astonishing deterioration in modern bipolar outcomes, even though it is recognized by experts in the field.

MFI: Why is this information so important? What is at stake here?

WHITAKER: I think we can all agree that the honest communication of scientific results is essential to good medicine, and essential to helping people make informed choices about what is best for them. And if our society is going to stem this epidemic of disabling mental illness has erupted in our society, then it needs to know this information and think about alternative programs of mental health care that might be funded. Mindfreedom held a hunger strike in 2003 to push for this very thing--honesty in what psychiatry and the powers that be tell about psychiatric disorders and psychiatric medications.

This work is in the public domain.
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