Tuesday, October 19, 2010
There was one catch. The National Empowerment Center is bankrolled by the federal government via SAMHSA. SAMHSA did not like the Center's choice and disinvited Whitaker. Stupid is entirely too mild a term to describe this appalling absence of thinking. The group MindFreedom, with a strong antipsychiatry bent, organized a protest via the internet, and within two days Whitaker was reinvited.
At the conference in early October, it was revealed that Whitaker's restoration had come with strings attached: He was reinstated as a keynoter, but not allowed to present a workshop that had also been scheduled. In addition, an establishment psychiatrist was invited to deliver a second keynote with the stated purpose of discrediting Whitaker, without allowing Whitaker the right of rebuttal.
Stupid-stupid-stupid. The affair, naturally, raised accusations of government censorship, and the blogosphere was rife with outrage. The exception was a piece by JD Jaffe on the Huffington Post, which (after libeling Whitaker) questioned why our tax dollars were financing this sort of conference in the first place. In his own blog on Psychology Today, Whitaker interpreted Jaffe's piece to mean that certain independent-minded groups "risked losing their funding" if they did not fall into line.
The point everybody missed, of course, was that this was neither a censorship issue nor an intimidation issue. When someone else is putting up the money, then that someone gets to call the shots, be it an investor, a donor, or the federal government. There is no exemption for mental health advocacy groups who claim to be the voice of the people.
Pathetically, the National Empowerment Center and such groups as the California Network of Mental Health Clients could not exist for one day without federal or state government largesse, such is the sorry state of mental health advocacy in America.
These advocacy groups are closely aligned with the antipsychiatry movement, whose members nurse a visceral hatred against the most successful of the mental health advocacy groups, NAMI, which Whitaker mischaracterizes in his blog as "powerful." If NAMI were truly powerful, government agencies would be quaking in their boots, mental health services in the US would be a model for the rest of the world, and our jails would not be the largest de facto psychiatric facilities in the country.
Whitaker and others are on more solid ground in pointing out NAMI's heavy reliance on Pharma funding, but if money corrupts, then the National Empowerment Center and the California Network of Mental Health Clients and other groups need to send back their government checks. Then these groups need to do what real advocacy groups do - hustle for members, badger elected representatives, build alliances, offer real services, and dive under the seat cushions for spare change.
Ironically, they would be wise to model themselves on the people who founded NAMI, who did just that. While I'm at it, NAMI would be wise to model itself on the people who founded NAMI.
Three years ago, I requested media credentials to attend the Alternatives conference in St Louis. I was refused. For the record, I have only been refused by one other group - the Society of Biological Psychiatry. NAMI has welcomed me as a journalist, as has DBSA, the American Psychiatric Association, the International Conference on Bipolar Disorder, and numerous other organizations with nothing to hide.
I could have paid the $300 or whatever Alternatives was extorting from paying customers, but then the conference would have been playing to empty seats. Mental health consumers don't have that kind of money, much less money to get there and stay there. What happens is SAMHSA picks up the tab, provided you're willing to jump through the hoops in applying for a "scholarship."
So: No media. Hand-picked attendees. Don't get me started ...
In the meantime, Robert Whitaker is a journalist who has done his homework. His book represents the strongest challenge to psychiatry by far, based as it is on facts rather than empty rhetoric. He may be championed by the antipsychiatry crowd, but his only agenda is to sell his book. In his own words, he wants an honest discussion. Let's have it ...
Disclosure: I serve on the board of NAMI San Diego, which receives hardly any funding from Pharma. The views expressed here are entirely my own.