Beware the So-Called Mental Health “De-Stigmatization” Campaigns such as Make It OK and NAMI, for They Are Front Groups for Big Pharma

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Yves here. This post is more strident than is desirable, but I am running it because it highlights the role of advocacy groups in pushing the use of psychoactive medications, and names names. While I am a leery of Kohls general anti-vax point of view (which he has argued in other pieces), I don’t deem his skepticism regarding the flu vaccine which he throws in as an aside here to be unreasonable. Even in the best years, its success rate in creating immunity to the bug du jour isn’t so hot. I similarly didn’t get the older shingles vaccine due to not-stellar effectiveness, but a new shingles vaccine is much much better, and now that it is apparently in distribution, I plan to get a shot.

Shorter: the fact that Kohls goes overboard on vaccines does not invalidate his arguments about the use of astroturf groups to promote psychiatric treatment, meaning drugs.

And please do not litigate the vaccine question in comments. We are going to be much stricter than usual about requiring readers to stay on topic.

By Dr Gary G. Kohls, a retired physician from Duluth, MN. He writes a weekly column for the Duluth Reader, the area’s alternative newsweekly magazine. His columns deal with the dangers of American fascism, corporatism, militarism, racism, malnutrition, Big Pharma’s psychiatric drugging and over-vaccination regimens, and other movements that threaten the environment, prosperity, democracy, civility and the health and longevity of the planet and the populace.

Here is a little known but extremely relevant fact: The first campaign to “Stop the Stigma of Mental Illness” was launched many years ago by the psycho-pharmaceutical industry (Big Pharma) that makes tens of billions of dollars annually by selling unaffordable, often highly addictive, brain-altering drugs that are then promoted by psychiatrists and family physicians as being necessary for the rest of the drug-taking patient’s lives.

Why doesn’t that surprise anybody? The norm for all capitalist enterprises is to make money by hook or by crook.

With a seemingly altruistic agenda of understanding and compassionately dealing with unfortunate people that are somehow different than the rest of us, the fact is that the campaign is all about marketing a product rather than ending the “stigma” of so-called “mental illnesses”.

The campaigns have been going on for decades under different guises and each one (see a partial list of some of them at the end of this column) has been started and funded by greedy, sociopathic multinational pharmaceutical corporations that primarily want to maximize their profits by getting more and more patients labeled as having mental illnesses (of unknown cause), which will ensure that many of them will be placed on potentially-dangerous, dependency-inducing psych drugs.

The primary propaganda targets of drug company advertising are prescribing doctors and nurse practitioners. The secondary targets however are the obedient, drug-swallowing folks who are sitting in front of the boob tube, most of whom naturally feel sad or nervous from time to time and who are somehow willing to swallow whatever drug is prescribed to them.

It is a simple three step process that begins with a prospective patient passively watching an attractive female actor on TV, to then wanting to get a diagnosis for whatever disorder the actor was supposed to have, and then finding a health caregiver to prescribe whatever drug the actor on TV was “cured” by taking.

The same TV drugs and TV “disorders” are also subtly and cunningly promoted in non-paid TV programming that avoids discussing any of the negative aspects of the Big Pharma drugs (or vaccines) from which the media outlets had accepted large amounts of advertising money that always keeps unwelcome truths from coming out, thus complying with the old rule that says that “whoever pays the piper calls the tune” (meaning that TV and radio broadcasters never report anything that might offend the program’s paymasters and advertisers and that interview hosts try not to invite courageous truth-tellers or whistle-blowers on to their shows).

Among the first Big Pharma front groups that promoted ”mental illness de-stigmatization campaigns” were the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder (CHADD). Some of the deep-pocketed founding sponsors of NAMI, CHADD and some of the other so-called PAOs included Abbott, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Glaxo, Janssen, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, SmithKline Beecham, and Wyeth-Ayerst Labs.

So next time you see an advertisement or a commentary article in your local newspaper or television station from an obvious PAO or some psychiatrist group that is promoting another “stop the stigmatization of the ‘mentally ill’” campaign, understand that the group is very likely a front group for a multinational psycho-pharmaceutical company that actually only wants to sell more product.

Such blatant PAO promotions are no different than the “Just Get Your Damn Flu Shots” campaigns every fall and winter that are sponsored by some fake PAO. They also are just paid-for advertisements from some of the Big Vaccine corporations and their partners in the CDC that have vested interests in unloading their supply of seasonal vaccines to an unsuspecting public.

The target audiences for seasonal influenza shots will not be informed how high are the Numbers Needed to Vaccinate (NNV), which is the number of people that have to be vaccinated in order for just one vaccinee to benefit.

And the target audiences will also not be informed how low are the Absolute Vaccine Effectiveness (AVE) ratios for any given vaccine. (The AVE compares the number of vaccinated patients that didn’t get the viral infection with the number of patients that also didn’t get the infection but didn’t get vaccinated.)

And the target audiences also won’t be informed that the 3 flu viruses that have to be prematurely chosen for the coming year’s influenza season are highly likely to be just another one of the many vaccine mis-matches that have occurred over the years – and therefore ineffective in preventing the flu.

Below are some of the facts about how Big Pharma corporations have created and paid for the “de-stigmatization campaign PAOs for the so-called ‘mentally ill’”. A U.S. Senate investigation revealed that in just two years (2006-2008) Big Pharma companies funded NAMI to the tune of $23 million, representing three-quarters of its donations. And one of the major Big Pharma corporations actually “lent” one of its high-ranking officials to NAMI during its formative years in order the “harmonize” its strategies with the company.

Creating The Perfect Marketing/Lobbying Machine: Big Pharma’s Funding of “Patient Advocacy Organizations”

Mental health-type PAOs are groups operating under the guise of advocacy for the so-called “mentally ill”. In reality they are just Big Pharma front groups whose major functions are to influence public opinion by offering “expert opinions” on mental health issues, to keep mental health and so-called mental illnesses at the forefront of media coverage, to “support” patients who are already mired in the mental health system and to lobby legislators to pass legislation at both the state and federal levels. Big Pharma’s deceptive PAO campaigns affect large segments of the population, from normally inattentive and active kids to normally sullen and over-indulged teen-agers, to America’s stressed-out and traumatized military, to tired pregnant women and stressed-out nursing mothers and their babies, to the sad and neglected elderly in nursing homes, etc, etc, etc.

The job of the PAOs is to convince target audiences that normal variations in mood, emotions and behaviors are actually abnormal mental health conditions that need psychiatric evaluation and prescription drugs forever.

Is the New NAMI-Spawned “Make it OK” Campaign Just Another Big Pharma Front Group?

Most potential psychiatric patients (all of us) are unfamiliar with the pro-drug mental health PAOs that include NAMI, CHADD, NAMI’s recent spin-off “Make It OK”, and the myriad of bipolar, anxiety, depression or ADHD “support groups” that are all over the internet, but these groups need to be exposed for the deceptive front groups that they actually are.

Presenting themselves as innocuous PAOs is disingenuous, but the concept is quite seductive to the propaganda targets and altruistic helping volunteers, many of whom have a sincere desire to help a loved one or a family member who might have emotional or mood problems or are already struggling with the toxic or addictive effects of their cocktails of psych drugs.

PAOs are also very successful influencers of legislators, the media and the American public and have been very successful in getting laws passed that benefit the sociopathic drug industries that fund them, under the guise of helping the patients they claim to represent and from whom they reap enormous profits.

One would expect that any organization claiming to be advocates for the rights of patients would have as primary goals the full disclosure of all drug risks, the right to refuse treatment, and the right to know that psychiatric labels are not medical conditions that can be confirmed by any known lab or radiological test. But they are not advocates for the rights of patients at all.

One would expect that such altruistic-sounding PAOs would also provide patients with factual information about alternatives to Big Pharma’s unaffordable, poorly-tested, non-curative and sometimes lethal drugs (alternatives such as the many effective and potentially curative non-drug treatments that are affordable, non-addictive, non-harmful. But they don’t provide that information.

One would expect that an honest patients’ rights group would never endorse something as absurd and obviously dangerous as giving electroshock to pregnant women, nor would they condone schools requiring children to take a psychiatric drug as a condition of attending school. But they do.

One would think that an honest PAO would never be opposed to the FDA issuing warnings that antidepressants are known to cause some patients to become manic, more depressed, sleep deprived or have new thoughts of committing suicide and homicide. But they have opposed such warnings.

One would think that an ethical PAO would never object to the FDA issuing warnings that so-called “ADHD” drugs are essentially amphetamine-based drugs and therefore highly addictive and  even deadly. But they have objected to such warnings.

The following information is excerpted from one of the most effective Big Psychiatry and Big Pharma whistleblowing organizations in the world, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights International ( CCHR’s website is full of unimpeachable information exposing the members of the multinational psychiatry and pharmaceutical industry for their many illicit activities. Check out some of their powerful videos at

The Unholy Alliance Between PAOs And Big Pharma

In the late 1970s and 1980s, prominent American Psychiatric Association (APA) psychiatrists, directors and researchers with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) were in need of more government funding, so they devised a plan to create a “growth of consumer and advocacy organizations” with the intention of getting these groups to help lobby Congress for increased funding for psychiatric research. Several groups emerged first on the scene during that period, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI’s first name), CHADD, Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), National Depression & Manic Depressive Association (NDMDA), now called Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), and National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD).

In an incestuous relationship, many of these groups were formed by the directors or researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH),the very organization that needed mental health advocacy groups to make demands on Congress for increased funding. All of them had board or advisory board members with financial ties to Big Pharma. The majority of them were heavily funded by Big Pharma. So this turned out to be a brilliant marketing/lobbying strategy: set up patient’s rights groups to lobby for the funding needed for Big Psychiatry and Big Pharma while claiming to be “advocates” for the mentally ill.

Perhaps this explains why these groups – claiming to be patients’ “rights” groups – would so vehemently oppose such important mental health reforms as:

  • Black box warnings to highlight how antidepressants can cause suicide in children and young adults.
  • ADHD drug warnings that the psychostimulants being given to millions of children should carry warnings that the drugs could cause heart attacks and strokes.
  • A federal law prohibiting school personnel from forcing parents to give their children mind-altering psychiatric drugs as a requirement for their inherent right to education.
  • Better informed consent rights.
  • Banning the use of ECT on pregnant women, and instead endorse its use.

Rather, these groups—while raking in millions of Big Pharma dollars each year—frenetically lobby Congress and state governments to channel billions more taxpayer’s dollars into mental health programs that benefit the industry that funds them — not the patients they claim to represent. Among the issues these groups have supported include forced drugging of patients, endorsement and promotion of psychiatric drugs documented to be dangerous and lethal, mental health screening of all school children, drugging and electroshock treatment for pregnant women. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. These groups have also done all they can to suppress and/or minimize any workable alternative non-drug method (e.g. Soteria House, a proven and workable non-drug treatment for those diagnosed “schizophrenic”/psychotic) that threatens their multi-billion dollar psycho-pharmaceutical empire.

It is for this reason, and the disingenuous nature of many of these groups, that we are exposing their conflicts of interests because a patients’ rights group should be dedicated to patients—not the vested interests of the psycho/pharmaceutical industry. Big Pharma admits that it gets more bang for its buck from funding these front groups than it does from spending money on Direct-To-Consumer marketing (DTC).

Josh Weinstein, “a veteran pharma marketer” writing for the trade magazine Pharmaceutical Executive, in an article titled, “Public Relations: Why Advocacy Beats Direct-To-Consumer marketing said: “I have witnessed that the most direct and efficient tool for driving long-term support for [drug] brands has been, and continues to be, a well-designed, advocacy-based public education program….”

  • “Unlike DTC, advocacy-based promotion brings with it a cadre of allies…This factor grows in importance as the pharma industry becomes more of a political target,” Weinstein says. In such a situation, advocacy groups “can be counted on to speak out for [the company]” and “the media will view them as more objective sources than industry spokespeople.”
  • The pharmaceutical industry magazine Pharmaceutical Executive published a report by PR expert Teri Cox called “Forging Alliances, Advocacy Partners.” According to Cox, partnering with advocacy groups helps drug companies to “diffuse industry critics by delivering positive messages about the healthcare contributions of pharma companies to legislators, the media, and other key stakeholders.” And they help influence the decisions of policy-makers and regulators
  • Jeffrey Winton, vice-president of global public relations for Pharmacia is even clearer about the role of these groups. “Gone are the days when companies just handed out big checks to groups with no discussion afterward,” says Winton. “Now, we seek opportunities with groups that not only help them achieve their goals and objectives, but also help us move our business along.”
  • According to Dr. Peter Breggin, psychiatrist and founder of The International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology (ICSPP), the psychiatric-pharmaceutical company “advocacy” groups hold national meetings that bring together drug advocates to talk directly to consumers. They also put out newsletters and other information that praise medications. Sometimes they actively suppress viewpoints that are critical of drugs—for example, by discouraging the media from airing opposing viewpoints.”

The psychiatric-pharma cartel is able to conceal its covert advertising and uses these groups to bolster its poor reputation.

  • Sharon Batt of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, studied the behavior and funding of advocacy groups after years working herself in advocacy, where she noticed a general pattern. Organizations that accept pharmaceutical funding, she says, “tend to advocate for fast-track review and availability of drugs, greater insurance coverage, and they somehow see ‘direct-to-consumer’ advertising as a benefit to patients.” On the other hand, groups that maintain financial independence, she says, “emphasize safety over speed and are critical of direct-to-consumer advertising.”
  • Weinstein adds: “working with advocacy groups is one of the most accomplished means of raising disease awareness and enhancing the industry’s image as deliverer of new and tangible value to patients.”

Government agencies such as NIMH, CDC, FDA and NIH should not have its officers or employee researchers sitting on the Boards or acting as advisers to any of these groups. All of these groups can and must disclose their pharmaceutical funding (of their own accord, not due to the fact that they are under Senate investigation as many of them currently are) they should also require complete disclosure of any vested interests of their board members and advisory committees. When you read each of their histories as we have provided, you will understand why.

And while several of these groups are now under Senate investigation for huge amounts of their previously undisclosed pharmaceutical funding, CCHR wants to provide the general public with more information about these psycho/pharma front groups, including some of the key players who formed them, advise them or sit on their boards.


Below is a list of some other PAO/Big Pharma front groups that might not have been mentioned above.


American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)
Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA)
Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA)
Center for the Advancement of Children’s Mental Health (CACMH)
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)
Mental Health America (MHA – Formerly National Mental Health Association NMHA)
Mind of America Foundation (MAF) – previously NAMI’s Antistigma Foundation (NASF) National Association for Research on Schizophrenia And Depression (NARSAD)
Screening for Mental Health, Inc (SMH)
Signs of Suicide (SOS)
Suicide Prevention Action Network USA (SPAN)
TeenScreen National Center for Mental Health Checkups
The Texas Medication Algorithm Project (TMAP) a now-discredited algorithm to make more diagnoses of mental health “disorders”
The Jed Foundation

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  1. jack

    Question: Is this sort of industry-sponsored astroturf responsible for the growth of talk about ableism, especially on social media, in connection with mental illnesses like depression, anxiety disorders, ADD, and so forth?

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I don’t follow social media so I have no idea what ‘ableism’ might mean there. However, there is a new form of ‘trust’ fund created for the disabled, including those disabled by mental health, which is called an ABLE account. This is a very recent creation. An ABLE account enables the disabled to earn and save money without counting that income and savings against Social Security’s extremely stringent savings and income rules. Current Social Security disability payments are so low they cannot support independent living without the hidden supplement of special housing programs. Qualifying for state medicaid often hinges on qualifying for Social Security disability payments, and the high cost of drugs for treatment compels continued medicaid support, especially for those who must receive state mandated drug treatment. An ABLE account enables someone receiving Social Security disability payments to receive gifts into their account and make contributions to their account up to $15,000 per year. The person receiving Social Security disability can spend money from their account for qualified expenses which are reasonably broad to allow for special expenses related to their illness and expenses related to education and efforts to get off Social Security support. I believe housing costs can also be paid from an ABLE account now. []

      1. kareninca

        I thought that if you went on Social Security disability that you then were on Medicare, not Medicaid (“Disabled people who are approved for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits will receive Medicare, and those who are approved for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) will receive Medicaid. However, SSDI recipients aren’t eligible to receive Medicare benefits until two years after their date of entitlement ( However, this is a complicated topic and it would be important to quadruple check.

        Thank you for the info re the ABLE accounts, they sound very interesting.

    2. cocomaan

      I don’t know for sure. I suspect the ableism might come out of academia.

      A more constructive, less top down pharma-desireable version of this that I’ve learned to tolerate and perhaps even enjoy has been the Neurodiversity movement.

      To me, neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome. This represents new and fundamentally different way of looking at conditions that were traditionally pathologized; it’s a viewpoint that is not universally accepted though it is increasingly supported by science. That science suggests conditions like autism have a stable prevalence in human society as far back as we can measure. We are realizing that autism, ADHD, and other conditions emerge through a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental interaction; they are not the result of disease or injury.

      What I like about this is that it values people in groups and takes a sociological approach as well as a psychological approach to understanding minds.

      Sure, it could be abused. And is, in the context of some abelism discussions. But I was surprised it wasn’t in this article because I think it’s the sound alternative.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        I have some qualms with your views of things. I have a feeling — no statistics — that autism is on the increase and increasing in its severity — not just more often diagnosed. Which is to say I believe it is less a genetic problem than a developmental problem greatly exacerbated by environmental problems — as in pollutants and dark poisons affecting a very sensitive part of human development.

        — As for ADHD — I really cannot view that as a “condition”. I view it as a serious symtom of the failings of our school system and the footprint of its conformism with the deeply troubling pathologies of today’s society.

        And as for genetic differences in our psychological make-up I know with unfounded certainty one of my brothers was suited by body and temperament to be a great warrior — much as I am most ill-suited for that calling. We have needed and will probably need warriors in the future.

        1. KLG

          Anecdata, yes, but any parent who pays attention knows that ADHD is indistinguishable from sleep deprivation. Very young children should be in bed by 8:00, for their and their parents’ sanity. Adolescents by 10:00 for the same reasons, the latter with the phone turned OFF, as in off and sitting on the kitchen table. Yeah, I’m dreaming on that one. I’ve been accused of that before.

          1. cocomaan

            Not only that, but school start time needs to be moved up a few hours.

            According to some people, like this guy, Matthew Walker, sleep deprivation is epidemic because of how we structure the economy, because of entertainment, artificial light, etc. And that epidemic, he thinks, is the cause of a lot of health problems, mental, physical, etc.


            For instance, he wants doctors to start prescribing sleep.

          2. Andrew Dodds

            Sorry, that’s rubbish.

            I have two kids. Both have the same diet, give or take, the same sleep routine (on which we always have been strict), same parents, same schools, same practically everything. And no electronic devices in bedrooms, obviously.

            One is a ‘perfect’ child, one has ADHD and Autism and has to take methylphenidate (Ritalin) to function at school. If you think you have some wonderful parenting skills that can magically transform an ADHD kid into a neurotypical kid, then be by guest.

            And as a result of taking Ritalin, he has gone from being frustrated at school to near the top of the class. Neurodiversity is all well and good, but you have to be able to function in society as well.

        2. cocomaan

          That’s not my view, it’s the link’s view.

          I agree that autism is on the increase and it’s probably related to diabetes.

          But to me this discussion takes away from the thrust of neurodiversity, which is that there are plenty of evolutionary reasons why we have brains work the way we do. Medicating them to hell or stigmatizing behavior can have bad results.

          1. Jeremy Grimm

            I believe we sorely need their diversity — as our forbears needed the guidance of pathfinders.

          2. Jamie

            The question of neurodiversity demands a very serious investigation and careful skepticism. While I deplore the false confidence of the current psychiatric narrative and its consequent drug regimens, I think the destigmatization of the “mentally ill” is an important goal, and one that I support with some qualifications. I don’t support a process that claims to destigmatize people by merely changing the names of the labels they are given. Thus, calling someone “sick” instead of “crazy” is no real advance if the people in question continue to be seen as “other” or “not normal” in some fundamental way.

            At first blush, neurodiversity seems to be a remedy. But it does not challenge the notion that we are other, it only challenges the notion that being other is abnormal. If we normalize otherness, one supposes that all people might be treated more humanely. But maybe not. I think we have sufficient evidence of in and out group behavior such as religious persecution, witch hunts etc, to be very skeptical that attempts to normalize otherness will by itself lead to humane treatment all around. And I would seriously question whether a system in which some individuals profit from the treatment of others can reliably result in “humane” treatment.

            Some pressing questions for the science of neurodiversity are: What are all the actual distinct forms of neural development that can be identified and assigned verifiable causes? What are the limits of neurological diversity beyond which we can recognize a condition as pathological or is it the case that once we start down this path, no amount of brain damage can be considered pathological? How can we get beyond mere speculation about potential evolutionary benefits of different neuronal structures to some kind of empirical grounding? How does the theory answer questions about the effect of environments on neuronal development or deal with the fact that people with very similar neural structures nevertheless exhibit a wide range of different behaviors? How does the theory help us to manage behavioral “problems” that have no discernible genetic cause?

            To call on people to treat humanly those with “different” brains is a good thing. All people ought to be treated humanly. But this is a question of morality and politics, not a question of science. On the other hand, the question of whether my brain is really all that different from your brain and if so what caused or causes those differences is a scientific question. That question needs to be answered empirically, not dogmatically, and with full cognizance that brains are plastic, which is brain science talk for, “your brain tomorrow will likely look different than your brain today”. So any theory of neurodiversity worth its salt will also need to discover the limits and causes of plasticity and not wed itself to categories that are either too rigid or too gross to be very useful, which is one of the traps that psychiatry has already fallen into.

  2. Expat

    I dunno. Big Pharma is certainly evil but at least their products are supposedly designed to help or at least do no harm. If we are going to attack this sort of thing, I think it is tilting at windmills. The behavior of Big Pharma is not exceptional; it is a feature of the modern consumer society. Money is good, greed is good. Beat the terrorists by going shopping. What’s good for Wall Street is good for Main Street. And so on.

    We allow the sale of cigarettes which are a known killer and pat ourselves on the back because we put warning labels on the packages. We allow the sale of alcohol, which is also a massive killer and congratulate ourselves because we restrict it to a minimum age and deal harshly with drunk drivers. We let people drive cars, own guns, and so on.

    Attacking Big Pharma for promoting and selling cures for syndromes that may or may not exist is senseless until we overhaul the entire healthcare system and decide that health is not a business.

    Again, let me reiterate that I believe anyone working in Big Pharma should be fed to sharks along with anyone on Wall Street, but until you change America, it’s just a fantasy.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      “Big Pharma is certainly evil but at least their products are supposedly designed to help or at least do no harm.” I think you are very trusting and forgiving.

      1. Expat

        No, I have physicians in my family and three friends highly placed in Big Pharma so I understand what they do…or at least what they think they do. Most of the drugs they design and market are designed for real uses. Sometimes they get pushed into other uses for which they were not designed. Sometimes they have side effects and there have been many examples of severe side effects, some of which were known and shown, others which were unknown, and some which were known and kept hidden.
        But pharma companies have to produce drugs that are at least somewhat reasonable. There are not enough corrupt physicians out there to have MSD market a drug that has only negative effects. If you can cite a few, I would be interested to read about them.

        I am cycnical from experience with these people, but I don’t think they are quite as evil as you assume. They are mostly, but not entirely, evil, often from wishful thinking or shuttered views.

        1. Jeremy Grimm

          You are very trusting and forgiving. I readily accept the felicitous protestations of your friends and family and share my own hopes in their good offices. I assume no Evil but I also accept no protests of benefit where non acrue. I feel no need to make a list of Big Pharma’s Evils. And I do wonder at how often they note the severe or lesser side effects of the drugs they promote. Be that as it may, I perceive neither the same benevolent intent of Big Pharma nor the efficacy of their nostroms as you do. And all said and done there are drugs which have benefited my son.

    2. Synoia

      I dunno. Big Pharma is certainly evil but at least their products are supposedly designed to help or at least do no harm for profit.

      Examples: Opioids. Thalidomide.

    3. Dwight

      This is not a matter of selling harmless but fake cures for fake syndromes. Mental distress is real, but the supposed cure is not only ineffective in the long term, it is harmful. Antipsychotic drugs have grievous side effects, and are not designed or tested for long term use. The same can be said for anti-depressants, though the side effects are generally less severe. Business or not, physicians have a duty to ensure their patients are fully informed. Tobacco is not comparable.

      1. Expat

        Why isn’t tobacco comparable? There are few examples of drugs that have been marketed with full knowledge of their deadly effects. Thalidomide’s side effects were not known initially since it was accepted theory that drugs would not pass the placental barrier. Opioids are an unknown so you can say they were marketed with the express goal to create addicts; I can’t say that it not true.
        But those are two drugs, one of which caused only five thousand deaths.

        Tobacco companies lied about tobacco for decades, if not centuries. They knew it was addictive and deadly and sold it nonetheless. They stood in front of Congress and swore that tabacco was non-addictive and safe. how many has tobacco killed? Millions.

        So, yes, drug companies are evil but their products are fundamentally designed to treat things. If people believe they have anxiety, then drug companies will try to give them drugs for it.

        The entire modern consumer society is built around creating new needs and then filling them. Iphones, fidget spinners, pet rocks, whiskey. All totally unnecessary and the causes of millions of deaths (okay, not pet rocks directly). All the money spent on all the crap DC and Madison Avenue want us to buy to keep the “economy” rolling is money not spent on education and healthcare.

        Who kills more people? right wing politicians with their neoliberal approach to healthcare and their medieval approach to birth control or big Pharma?

        I gotta laugh, though, at seeing myself defend Big Pharma, even if the defense is to say that they are merely better than cancer or Ebola.

        1. Jamie

          The “evil” that is perpetrated by big Pharma is not the drugs they produce or the prices they gouge. It is not even the lies they tell in “marketing” their product or the behavior of the reps pressuring physicians to prescribe for off label uses. Those are all bad behaviors, but they are little pecadillos, pretty much standard corporate fare in everything but scale.

          The problem with big Pharma is systemic and not something that could be eliminated by everyone involved behaving. Certainly there are numerous well intentioned, decent people working for these companies. And as much as I like to criticize the profit motive for distorting the delivery of goods and services, for exerting economic pressure that favors the development of companies that over-deliver drugs and develop drugs that “manage” instead of cure, and pushes those companies to constantly expand their markets…, even that is not more evil than the pursuit of profit by many other companies in many other contexts.

          What I see as the truly evil result of big Pharma (as one cog in a disastrous medical system in which each part, from the insurance companies to the hospitals and universities, deserves its own share of criticism) is that their world view, that people suffering is a chemical problem best treated by doctors with medicines, prevents and occludes deeper understandings of what causes suffering and other means of relief. The problem with big Pharma and the world view it promulgates is that it pushes other solutions out of the marketplace, and keeps policy designed to mitigate the suffering of huge numbers of people off the political table. But it is not working alone in this. One can only hope that someday we will grow out of naive sociobiology and future generations will read with incredulity of these dark ages of chemical straight jackets with the same sentiments we feel when reading about whirling chairs, mercury treatments and ice pick lobotomies.

          1. Expat

            There is no money in getting to the root of a problem.
            Mental illness: changing society doesn’t get you a bonus, so you make drugs instead
            Crime: education and jobs don’t get you rich, but prisons do
            Health: prevention and free treatment make people healthy, while the US system gets them sick and then makes money from treatment
            and so on.

    4. Leslie Pate Mackinnon

      Just read “Our Daily Meds.” Big Pharma runs this country and probably the world.

  3. pretzelattack

    i think their products are designed to make them the most money, but helping doesn’t seem to be a priority.

  4. shinola

    One of Dr. Kohl’s suggestions:

    “A federal law prohibiting school personnel from forcing parents to give their children mind-altering psychiatric drugs as a requirement for their inherent right to education.”

    I’ve never experienced or even heard of a school requiring this. (It has been decades since I’ve had to deal with school aged children.) Is it really a thing?

    1. Synoia

      Yes, Ritalin for ADHD.

      A great majority of Ritalin is prescribed for boys. I was told so 30 years ago the 40% of Boys have ADD. My response was that 40% of boys cannot have a disorder by definition.

      I believe is a survival trait, a necessary condition, for young boys to have short attention spans. Ones that don’t look around continually became food.

      Natural selection at work.

      1. Arizona Slim

        Back in the day, I was an active little kid.

        Did my mother think this was a problem? Nope. Many years later, she told me that she thought it was cool when I talked to bugs.

        Nowadays, I’d probably be classified as ADHD.

      2. Jeremy Grimm

        I think ADHD might be cured by a recess. Maybe it is time to attend some school board meetings.

        1. Arizona Slim

          Recess? Still do ’em!

          This hyperactive adult goes for walks around the block, takes bike rides, and likes to be busy with projects around the house.

          And, if I’m at work and start pinballing around the office, well, it’s time to step into the shower stall inside the restroom and do pushups. I also do pushups at home.

        2. berit

          Create spaces that induce more physical activity all through (and beyond) childhood. Smaller classes, shorter school “hours”, longer recesses, bigger school yards, trees to climb… This has been tried with good effect on socalled unconcentrated children. Schools can doble space available for physical activity by organizing recess so that half of classes have recess in the yard at the same time… And then there may be issues of nutrition too. But medicating growing children with brains not fully developed till they’re in their twenties is just crazy, gateway to all kinds of trouble, some of which are well known. Drugs, more drugs, delinquency and so on and so forth. There are no quick fixes to anything, least of all to grow from childhood to mature adulthood.

      3. Aumua

        A cursory search reveals a lot of teeth gnashing and second and third hand anecdotes, but very little solid evidence that any schools actually force medication on the kids. Ok, here’s something on the bill itself:

        Reading through it, I get a picture of a student who is disrupting the class, acting out somehow, being loud or whatever and also getting poor grades. So the school says to the parents “We need to put the kid in special educational class… OR, as a possible alternative you can try psychiatric treatment/medication”. I hate to be the one playing devil’s advocate for big pharma. I have no love for them, but you see how these things can get twisted around, and then spread through “strident” articles such as this one which are out to paint a very specific picture. Just something to mull over.

        1. Arizona Slim

          Disrupting the class? Guilty! Being loud? Represent! Acting out? Moi!

          Yes, it’s true. I wasn’t a Well-Behaved Student. Numerous note were sent home to my mom and dad.

          Know what the problem was? Here goes:

          I was bored. B-O-R-E-D.

          The classes moved at a snail’s pace. And smart little Slim had no patience for that sort of thing.

          As I got further along in my schooling, I found things that engaged my interest. So, the boredom went away.

          1. Aumua

            I hear ya. I’m 100% against giving kids speed, and I believe that the roots of these kinds of issues run so deep in society that society really doesn’t want to look at them, because that would require questioning the very foundations of how we live our lives. It’s a multi faceted issue and there are no easy answers.

          2. Andrew Dodds

            That’s not ADHD


            There is a world of difference between ‘bored/naughty child’ and ‘ADHD child’. One relatively simple test is the bribery test. If a credible person had offered you £100 to behave all day as a child, would you have behaved?

            ADHD children will not respond to bribery even when they want to and believe the bribe to be credible. Normal children will, even if they are often naughty. It makes parenting ADHD children particularly hard.

        2. Jeremy Grimm

          I also disrupted class but I wasn’t bored as much as offended by the pedantic views of my teachers. I never hesitated to argue with them and I believe many times to win those arguments. I disrupted out anger at the mediocrity I was exposed to and forced to endure. I think Arizona Slim might agree with this sentiment.

    2. JohnnySacks

      It’s done with more subtlety. Calls every afternoon, circling the wagons of school personnel at all too often meetings. You’d have to be naive to not see it. Been there, done that, refused.

      As for the rest, my brother did inpatient to break a lorazepam (Ativan) addiction. Not sure which was worse, Jim before Ativan, or trying to break it.

    3. Psych guy

      Yes, it really is a thing: teachers and schools have put strong, irresistible pressure on parents to drug their kids. I believe that some states have enacted laws that prohibit such pressure from schools and school personnel.

  5. Deborah Schultz

    The emphasis on destigmatization suggests it’s the attitude toward mental illness that needs correction. But it seems to me the problem is there is no deep sustained commitment to diagnosis and treatment. It would take real money to do that and some serious national efforts to do long term follow up studies on psychiatric drugs and their effectiveness and side effects.

    I also think that it would help if the police were disarmed, given Narcan and told to use it, and had some real options available to them when confronted with the mentally ill.

    I keep hoping people will grow tired of punishing everyone they view as aberrant or feel threatened by. Just a hope, I know.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I believe I willingly mis-read your comment to enthusiastically endorse your suggestion to disarm the police and make them take — “given Narcan and told to use it” — Narcan, which I guess must be some sort of relaxant. I very much share your sentiment of hoping people will grow tired of punishing everyone they view as aberrant or feel threatened by. Beyond that hope I believe we need to celebrate those among us who color outside the lines and don’t walk the walk and talk the talk of today’s “sanity”. We need many more artists and pathfinders.

      1. berit

        I recommend reading Michael L Perlin, professor of law at NYU a pathfinder in the wilderness of what today goes for “sanity”, expertly, conventionally, culturally sanctioned prejudices of clear borders between normality versus insanity – in the service of profitable industries, academia, professions, politicians, ignorant mass media, politicians, parents and astroturf organizations the like of corrupt NAMI. Books by US science journalist Robert Whitaker and the Danish professor Peter Goetzsche are also most enlightening about corrupted psychiatry. We have a saying here in Scandinavia: The worst and some of the best come from the USA – as demonstrated by this site and very good commenters, the best! Thanks!

    2. hemeantwell

      But it seems to me the problem is there is no deep sustained commitment to diagnosis and treatment.

      Yes. To get at it somewhat obliquely, I just had to go through the formalities of obtaining continuing education credits to renew my psychologist license. You read some lit, you answer some questions. Consistently I see forms of depression and anxiety that, based on personal experience and the literature, I know can be treated without medication instead being discussed in terms of the most appropriate medication.

      Without going on about that, it does seem to me that one factor dovetailing with Pharma Uber Alles is the fact that approaches to therapeutic training are increasingly failing to enable therapists to tolerate their ordeals their patients are going through. I don’t mean this in a superficial way, but rather in the sense that the dogged effort to orient patients to relatively cheery realities their “irrational ideas” — e.g. “I’m afraid I’m going to kill someone in a car accident” — supposedly overlook leads the therapist to look away from what may be frightening emotional states the patient is experiencing. I’ve supervised someone who was taking such an approach, one that reflected their training. They didn’t have a clue about former inquiry and interpretive guidelines, and so missed the fact that the crash-fearing patient was enraged with interventions their parents were making in their marriage and at times was so angry they thought of killing them. The anxiety was a derivative of rage and also fear of losing their parents. (I’d add that, since here people are talking about panic attacks, this patient also suffered them, which wasn’t surprising since panic attacks tend to be about fear of object loss.) And their cluelessness was not just a matter of theory, but also reflected not having been repeatedly required to fully engage rage and despair and flatout madness as part of their training. Without being aware of it, they slid into a formulaic way of thinking about the patient that avoided thinking about parricide and matricide. And since their training didn’t require their own therapy, there was a way in which their idea of treatment also helped them to evade consideration of the range of emotions they’d experienced with their own parents.

      1. HotFlash

        And since their training didn’t require their own therapy

        Whoa! Or perhaps I mean, woe! Is this widespread? Unshrunk shrinks are in no position to provide therapy to others.

  6. lyman alpha blob

    Thanks for this. I was recently watching the NBA playoffs and there was an ad with Kevin Love and some other fairly well known players coming forward about their own mental illness issues, which I thought was kind of odd. Now it makes sense.

    Just looked it up and evidently Love had a panic attack. Just one according to the article. So does one panic attack make somebody mentally ill? Should they be seeking medication for it? I’m guessing the ad I saw is part of the campaign mentioned in the article, so clearly big pharma thinks the answer is yes.

    I’m a big baby and hate the doctor and just going for a checkup makes me very anxious. One time I went and mentioned this and the doctor I saw, who was not my regular doctor, tried to prescribe anti-anxiety medication which I felt was unnecessary, rather than checking on the things I asked her to check like my inner ear, as I’d been experiencing some ringing. I had a couple panic attacks about the same time, quite likely as a result of seeing this doctor and worrying about what was going on with my head. I went to see a different one who checked my ear, told me nothing was wrong, and ordered me out of his office which made me feel a lot better. Finally saw my regular doctor who gave a name for my specific ailment and told me that the symptoms I had were due to the onset of middle age, which completely alleviated my fears and no more panic attacks. I never did take any of the pills I was prescribed, but regardless some pharma company still cashed in a little bit since the pills got paid for.

    I’m sure medication does help some people with serious illness but it should not be prescribed for every little ailment. I’d originally though that the mental illness ads I saw might be beneficial but after reading this it seems like just another pill-pushing scheme.

    1. jrs

      It helps or not sometimes and it doesn’t seem to depend on the severity of the illness. Drugs for psychosis don’t always help, while some people swear by their anti-depressants. But people with anxiety or depression it is often vastly exacerbated and sometimes primarily about social conditions. Or in other words it’s the lucky indeed (either in terms of finances or temperament) who aren’t made anxious and depressed by the current neoliberal order.

  7. Jamie

    There is more to this story than evil drug companies. At the time of the founding of NAMI there was also a very robust anti-psychiatry movement being developed by patients who were “advocating” for ourselves. The anti-psychiatry movement defined psychiatric “treatment” as “mistreatment” and our goal was to minimize and stop it, especially forced treatment (i.e. people drugged, shocked or incarcerated against their will). But not only forced treatment was under attack. The entire metaphor of “crazy” behavior being somehow a medical problem best dealt with by doctors was (and still is) in serious question.

    Part of the role that NAMI played was to mute the voices of “patients” who, with first hand experience of the system, had developed sharp critiques and wanted to stop the medicalization of behavioral problems.

    NAMI might have been designed by NIMH experts and funded by Pharma, but its great appeal and is political power came from distressed parents who could not stand to see their children suffering, or who didn’t have a clue how to “help” their troubled, or troublesome, children navigate our failing social institutions. It was these desperate parents who demanded (!) that “something be done” for their children. And, of course, it was those demands that most benefited Pharma. This was called “advocacy”.

    From the point of view of one of those anti-psychiatry protestors, NAMI was basically demanding that the political concerns of the bill paying parents be addressed, not the political concerns of “patients”, who, more or less by our definition as “patients”, had no voice of our own, and who, because we were crazy, were assumed to be completely incapable of speaking for ourselves or knowing even our own best basic survival interests, never mind our own best political interest.

    The basic premise of “advocacy” is the inability of the ones advocated for to speak for themselves, or to know their own interest. The natural result is that the “advocates” always end up advocating for themselves in opposition to the interests of the group they claim to advocate for, while pretending to all the world and to themselves, that they are “helping” and “doing good”.

    NAMI was outshouting the actual mental patients who were organizing for our own interests and basically trying to shut us up. The anti-psychiatry movement was saying as loudly and as clearly as it could, “stop ‘treating’ us and start listening to us, we are human beings, not medical patients!” while NAMI was usurping our voice and demanding more treatment, saying, in effect, “our children are broken, fix them!”

    For the broader public, who are you going to listen to? The anguished pleas of distraught parents, or the demands of surly or sarcastic kids who misbehave, speak out of turn, and challenge all the presumptions of your lifestyle and capitalist culture? NAMI and other “advocacy” groups are very important cogs in the system. They are political organizations that serve the interests of capital and the conservation of mainstream culture, conservative in their very nature, dogmatic and ideologically dedicated to a particular world view that is hierarchical, dehumanizing, intolerant and rigidly conformist. They do not seek to amplify the voices of patients, but to supplant them. They do not seek to further the actual interests of people diagnosed with “mental illness” but against those interests, though they pretend otherwise, and claim to know best what those interests are. They seek to reinforce the medicalization of behavioral problems, including when such problems are created by their rigid conformist social institutions and class warfare. They work to claim the right to define, in accordance with the medical profession and the teaching profession, what is a “behavioral problem” and what is not, who has them and who does not, and ultimately, who is punished and how they are punished for not fitting in or toeing the line.

      1. Expat

        What’s wrong with Soma? Everyone who takes it is really happy. Why is being happy so bad? Is it better to be naturally miserable or artificially happy? Given the choice, I think I would choose happiness.

        1. Jeremy Grimm

          So you have found happiness where Voltaire’s Good Brahmin could not? That saddens me.

        2. jrs

          anti-depressants don’t make anyone happy though, those who have taken them and advocate them would say they manage their depression, those who have taken them and been less impressed just say they make them numb.

        3. Jamie

          Not sure if you are speaking tongue in cheek, but in case you are serious:

          While the link is about the inability to feel pain, not unhappiness, I think they are analogous conditions. Unhappiness tells you something about the way you are living your life… that some kind of change is called for. The problem with “choosing” artificial happiness is that it is delusional and delusion is not particularly pro-survival behavior. It might be fine once and awhile for short periods, but every day for the rest of your life? Pursuing natural happiness, on the other hand, generally is pro-survival behavior, though perhaps not if it becomes an obsession.

          So, why do you present a false dichotomy between natural misery and artificial happiness? Do you have no experience of natural happiness to draw on? And where in your analysis is the recognition that many addicts (who constantly seek artificial happiness) live the most miserable of lives? There are many more choices than you present.

    1. Pespi

      Thank you for the background. The campaigns around mental illness make me think of all the people unnecessarily prescribed life changing personality smashing anti-psychotics for things like anxiety and depression. The real cure is a change in lifestyle and the resources to live like a human being, but there’s no short term profit in that.

      1. Aumua

        There’s little interest in making positive changes in general. People don’t change. Doctors, mothers and other trusted voices suggest all kinds of healthy changes that people routinely ignore, until there is some life threatening circumstance. Then they might make some changes. I’m just saying it goes both ways. It is a societal condition.

        1. pretzelattack

          there is also the issue that what doctors, mothers and other trusted voices might regard as a positive change may not be so regarded by the individual–remember when being gay was a mental problem? lots of trusted voiced advocating therapy for that, even the noxious “reparative” therapy to cure them into straightness.

        2. Karen

          Yes. The nature of our “condition” is carefully and thoughtfully explored by Johann Hari in his book Lost Connections. He offers an effective takedown of the fake drug testing & screening regime we have in America. It’s a must-read.

        3. Pespi

          Societal is the right word. Mental illness is only sui generis in a small percent of cases (if any, although it becomes a question of epistemology). We have to fix our society and we’ll need the mentally ill swinging hammers with everyone else.

      2. HotFlash

        Setting aside the fact that anxiety and depression might be a perfectly correct, normal and sane responses to, for instance, the current world situation. And IMO climate change deniers should be treated as insane and potential dangers to themselves and others.

  8. Jeremy Grimm

    This post concludes with Big Pharma in bed with government in bed with Big Pharma and names names in a long list of organizations ostensibly advocating for the mentally ill while most actively advocating for the Mental Health Industry and Big Pharma drugs. It’s nice to have this connection made plain, but on brief reflection it seems like yet another Business-Government-Business cluster of Market solutions for all our problems, and as such depressing but not surprising. I do appreciate the scorecard and list of players.

    Something that doesn’t come across in this post is how little remains to deal with mental health problems after you remove the organizations this post lists. Serious mental illness most often shows up in older teenage, a time when many of our children are still living at home and a time when they are difficult to manage even without mental health problems. Where can you look for and find help? The Pharma front organizations have nothing to offer and nicely hide any real help there might be, if indeed there is any help available. Help comes when the mental health problems bring in the unhappy help of the police and our “justice” system. With a lot of time, and a lot of money, and luck you may be able to get your young adult moved into the state mental health system [and prison otherwise]. Aside from various concoctions from Pharma paid for by the state at high cost, the mental health system provides extended periods of extreme boredom as the primary treatment.

    This post mentions the Pharma cutouts supporting mental health screening of all school children. A little frank talk with other parents and with any young adults willing to talk to a sympathetic adult, and you will learn just how effective whatever screening of school children has been.

    [I chased the link to Soteria House. After a little web-noodling I left with the impression it was a link to promote sales of the books listed there.]

    1. Arizona Slim

      I was one of *those* people. As in, a troubled teenager who became a troubled adult.

      Can’t say I enjoyed my troubles. If anything, I wanted to get far, far away from them.

      And I did. What was the secret ingredient? Well, actually, there were three. Here goes:

      1. The biggest ingredient has been the passage of time. In short, I grew older.

      2. Support groups. I was a member of several of those “anonymous” groups. Best thing I learned was how to refrain from the problematic behaviors that were causing me (and those around me) so much trouble.

      However, I also bought into the dogmatism, which didn’t help me make friends in the real world. People tend to avoid you if you’re always thumping them over the head with your support group dogma.

      Letting go of the dogmatism meant letting go of those groups. Which some might say was a form of “going out again.” For me, it wasn’t. I needed to graduate from the “anonymous” world and I did.

      3. Finding other things to do. Because “having problems” can take up a lot of your time.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        I feel our society balances on a knife’s edge. Our young see this most clearly as they venture toward life as adults in a slowly and not so slowly degrading economy and prospect for the future. Our young learn this as they try to follow a safe path but many find punishment at every turn like the rats driven mad in one series of experiments with Skinner boxes. I fear the growing madness all around, waiting for a spark.

        1. Jeremy Grimm

          Margret Thatcher asserted, “There is no such thing as society.” She and others of her kind have helped bring truth to the assertion in the form of a null society.

            1. Jeremy Grimm

              Her who? Thatcher? Her ego fills too many initiatives bringing about her null society.

              1. berit

                Margaret Thatcher and the Tories did to Britain what the American Psychiatric Association, Big Pharma, cynical and selfserving Democrats and Republicans are doing to the US and the world we live in: Speculative diagnosis, prescriptions, politics, dangerous drugs, desperation, violence, war. This month of May has been the warmest ever recorded in Norway. We must change our ways or everything shall be gone. Trump is not crazy, I think, just the ultimate US product of perverted values and corruption. Most of us have good reasons to be misadjusted protesters – I think.

          1. jrs

            No some truth to it had to have already existed. I mean afterall why is a statement like that persuasive? I think mostly because there aren’t the types of social groups that make people feel connected to society (aka the thesis of bowling alone). And that includes unions? Oh yes in my view definitely yes. Unions are the main way people should feel connected and their stake in the workplace.

            But anyway government isn’t really society anyway, and that’s not a comment on the role of government or anything. Look government does many things BETTER than charities, than family members etc. It’s better suited. But it’s just not how people experience society. If you need a safety net and you get it that’s good, and it feels a little more like someone cares. But feeling part of something is more than that.

            1. Synoia

              I mean afterall why is a statement like that persuasive?

              She was English. She was not being persuasive, she was being dismissive.

              1. Jeremy Grimm

                She was stating the obvious once you swallowed sufficient Neoliberal KoolAide.

                But what! no afterthoughts? No after-misgivings?

      2. Aumua

        It’s strange because I’ve been clean in NA for a while and I don’t seem to have much of a need to go around spouting 12 step philosophies, or attaching them to every thing I say or whatever. I spend a few hours a week maintaining my positive state of mind by participating in my recovery, and it’s pretty much cool. I graduated recently, not from 12 steps but from the University with a degree in Physics, and I’m starting grad school in the Fall. My relationships with “normal” people are not strained by my self identification as a recovering addict. If anything, the fact I don’t drink or use any drugs in a world where many people do sets me apart, but that has little to do with dogma. I’ll still hang out in a social drinking situation, and drink my Perrier or what have you.

    2. berit

      Above link to an article about Loren Mosher, American progressive psychiatrist denied funding, frozen out of the NIMH when his low-cost Soteria House project for persons diagnosed with schizophrenia, no drug – minimal use of drugs, homely surroundings staffed by carefully chosen lay persons, gave positive results. His letter of resignation from the APA is a treat to read, saying a fitting name for the psychiatrists’ association would be The American Psychopharmacological Association… There are several Soteria house projects in Europe,

  9. KLG

    “…but at least their products are supposedly designed to help or at least do no harm.”

    They were, at one time. Now, not so much. Money is the object, period. Hook ’em early and sell that prescription in perpetuity. The US is the only country, other than New Zealand IIRC, that allows direct-to-consumer (sic) marketing of prescription drugs. This is a sign of deep sickness. Which isn’t to say that in other countries, what we reserve for prescriptions are often available over the counter, but that is a different matter.

    As far as anxiety is concerned, I went to the dentist yesterday and had to concentrate hard to not freak out. Just one of those things with me. A Valium might have helped, but I’ve gone my whole life without diazepam, so why start now? Nitrous oxide was fine for root canals and wisdom tooth extractions, though ;-) That stuff works and isn’t available by prescription or over the counter!

  10. perpetualWAR

    Thank you for this article!
    It explains many things for me now, most specifically why NAMI has been so useless as an organization designed to “assist and advocate” for the mentally ill. As they do neither. My family has sought their help many times in looking for assistance, as one family member has serious schizophrenia. There was no assistance that ever came from NAMI, even though everyone points to them as an advocate. I can tell you from first hand experience: they are not.

    However, now that my eyes are open, I know many non-profits have alterior motives than the one’s they purport to have.

    1. upstater

      Not sure what sort of NAMI organization you contacted, but our local chapter is not as you describe. They run regular family-to-family training and are reasonably well-connected with different providers and I know they help families in crisis. I do not agree with everything they advocate, in particular “assisted treatment” (i.e., forced and coerced). Perfect they are not. But who is?

      I don’t know which state you live in, but some offer virtually nothing besides prison for the mentally ill. Far too often, families are left on their own to navigate through a mess.

      Kohls, however, is doing persons with mental illness a disservice. What is he offering to families with mentally ill members besides accusations of collusion between NAMI and Pharma? NAMI is anything but astroturf.

      1. perpetualWAR

        Perhaps NAMI has some good local professionals but our family has not experienced that here in Washington State, unfortunately. We have virtually been on-our-own wading through mentally ill minefields. But because of my Mom’s extreme advocacy for her baby, my sibling has had a fairly good existence even with this horrible disease.

        1. upstater

          The local chapter here is strictly volunteers; there is no paid staff of any sort. Several people that work in a local mental health agency attend training, but they also have family members with mental illness.

          I believe there is paid staff at the state level (NYS).

          Like any volunteer organization, it depends on how much members are willing to give-to-get..

      2. Jamie

        I agree with Yves that Kohls’ post is strident and I would say insufficiently thoughtful to be of much use. Merely revealing the money connections between these groups does not change much of anything. But I strongly disagree that Kohls “is doing persons with mental illness a disservice.” Unless you would like to offer evidence that he is lying about the money connections and the founding of NAMI, I can see no way that knowing the truth about this would harm patients or their families. And while he may not be offering any solutions, for the mentally confused any little bit of truth is potentially useful.

        You are absolutely right that many families get something that passes for “help” from NAMI. But that doesn’t negate the claim that it is astroturf. Nowhere is it written that astroturf organizations have to be ineffective or small and unpopular. And I respectfully suggest that you are confounding help for families with help for patients. These are not at all the same thing, though they are not mutually exclusive, and families certainly need the help.

        The only real problem I have with NAMI is that they claim to advocate for patients when they actually serve the families of patients, and may discount the patients’ actual best interests as expressed by the patients themselves. That doesn’t negate the help the families receive, but it is no small matter for patients, and is more deserving of being characterized as a “disservice” than anything Khols wrote. Especially as there is a portion of the “mental health” population that are “patients” as a direct result of their dysfunctional or abusive families.

  11. Reify99

    Last I checked, the top three advertising agencies in the world each had a clinical trials arm. Totally objective I’m sure.
    Yes, our culture goes after the problem of mental illness in a mechanistic, profit driven, transactional manner. No big surprise there.

    I see clients every day that I think would be better served by hypnosis. (A previous incarnation.) No longer fashionable.

    The thing is, even if the the (family blog) pharmaceutical companies fund their AstroTurf organizations they might, even accidentally, help some people. I know some of those helped. And their meds have long since gone generic.

    “There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Rumi

    The problem is that the “patient’s” world view is ignored and the practitioner’s world view is substituted. At it’s worst, a polemic, like this article.

  12. OldBear

    I have been on an SSRI for the last 20 + years. The first one was Luvox, to which I apparently developed a physical allergy resulting in urticaria (hive-like itchiness and swelling) in the hands such that I couldn’t close my fingers together to hold a newspaper. I dropped that and they switched me to Paxil, which worked fine and I still take the generic version, paroxetine.

    It’s not an ideal situation. I wasn’t seduced by any beautiful blonde on the TV, although I had a general awareness of having heard of Prozac, the granddaddy of the SSRI clan. The recommendation came from a therapist, the third one I had seen between the ages of roughly 20-40 for a bunch of problems too long and boring to go into, but which had caused periods of severe depression. The short, formal diagnosis was OCD. I had the privilege of having a very good health plan that allowed me to see this therapist for pretty much as long as I needed and also consult with the psychiatrist with whom he was associated in a practice. I had no idea at the time how much of a luxury that was. It wasn’t a case of going in, saying what was going on, and having them whip off a prescription, but a long, careful, multi-visit consultation combined with talk therapy and a thorough discussion of pros and cons, side effects, etc.

    I shudder when I hear about people having a panic attack, running to their primary care physician, and coming out 15 minutes later with a scrip for whatever. A coworker of mine has been doing this for at least 10 years, getting one drug after another, and she is a train wreck. Multiply this by millions and it’s no wonder we have a problem.

    It’s only healthy to be depressed these days. Every so often, during a routine Dr. visit, they will run through a bunch of questions. One of them is about my mood. Any feelings of depression or hopelessness? I sit there a moment, and can just sort of visualize goggling at them, my jaw dropping to the floor, and saying, “Are you effing KIDDING me? How can you not be depressed with what’s going on in the world??!!” But I don’t do that. I would always say something like, “Nah, I’m good.” Lately that started to feel dishonest or something, so I will try to explain in a nuanced way and they just kind of nod vaguely and check the box off.

    Paroxetine has helped, or at least something did. I’ve occasionally thought of trying to get off it, but have heard it gets very involved. I know the time or two that I’ve run out and haven’t been able to get refills for a week or so, the results are not pretty at all. So I do see the problems with these meds, but I think they might have a valid use also.

    1. Jamie

      but I think they might have a valid use also.

      Absolutely! The drugs are very powerful. The problem is political and economic, it’s not a chemistry problem. No shame in taking them, especially after going through the exhaustive process you describe. But we need to recognize that at least some of what is labeled “mental illness” is a very human reaction to insane social conditions, not a biochemical brain malfunction. Because otherwise, we will drug people in place of repairing social relations and our social environment will continue to degrade until even “normal” people won’t be able to function without their daily morning fix… oh wait…

    2. jrs

      With depression I don’t think it’s necessary to be depressed about what’s going on in the world as plenty of people are unhappy Trump is president say and not depressed.

      But what if one is stuck in deep poverty that keeps one in bad situations (an abusive workplace/marriage etc.), or has been unemployed and looking for work for a year and a half and not found it? Yea see when your talking about the types of things that would produce depression in almost ANYONE ELSE placed in similar circumstances … then it’s really not so personal.

    3. kareninca

      I quit Paxil after 4 or 5 years of taking it since it made me fat (gained 25 pounds) and raised my blood sugar (SSRIs greatly increase your risk of diabetes). Once I quit it I immediately lost the weight. Also it increases your risk of dementia (it’s a pretty powerful anticholinergic).

      I quit cold turkey, since none of the “weaning” approaches I read seemed to work better for people. It took me a FULL YEAR to stop having withdrawal symptoms. The most exciting were the night terrors (something hideous sitting next to me as I slept) and the sleep paralysis (couldn’t move a muscle, not even to open my eyes). It turns out that in the case of people who have sleep paralysis as a stand alone problem, Paxil is a treatment (it figures). The sensation of electric shocks going through my body were kind of interesting; that went on forever.

      The flatness that the Paxil caused, which I did appreciate at the time, since the alternative was depression, has not really gone away, even six years later.

      I have since found that a 7 oz. glass of red wine every evening (followed by raw broccoli to prevent it from being harmful) works just as well. But that may just be me.

  13. chuck roast

    I remember the early 80s, but I don’t remember exactly how it happened…Reagan somehow defunded mental health centers everywhere and many of them were immediately closed and the population turned into the streets.
    I had a record store at the time in an mildly edgy, but funky part of town. Almost overnight all these new people began appearing on the street. Staggering around, self-medicating, puking, begging, talking to themselves. It was awful.
    This kind of thing won’t happen again now we have full-grift thing going.

    1. Lee

      There were supposed to be smaller, local residential and outpatient facilities to replace the large institutions. In our neck of the woods a 13 bed pilot project got funding back then. It still exists and has an impressive record of success. Alas, it is a lonely outpost, as those that were meant to follow never came to be.

      A friend of mine works as a retail clerk at a shop in San Francisco, one of the richest cities in one of the richest states in the richest country on earth. She says the stress of dealing with the growing number of homeless, pugnaciously mentally ill who come into the place is starting to take a toll on her own mental health.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        The Japanese have a problem with hikikomori. In the U.S. we have a problem with homeless. Such “indolence” as hikikomori is most often met with the streets in the U.S.

  14. Bulfinch

    My personal sense is that most of the people I’ve known throughout a lifetime of knowing people (inasmuch as one can ever really know another person at all) have been at least a little mad. I feel strongly that it’s mostly environmental pressures that are to blame — but especially our overbuilt and samey western landscapes that have become home to a litany of toxins injurious to each of our five senses to varying degrees. Navigating that minefield day in/day out for enough years is a sure recipe for crazy.

    I also suspect that, as with many things, the baseline for what’s deemed normal has inched out a bit from where it once was. If we could somehow overlay a perceptibly sane (normal) person from today with a perceptibly sane person from 100 years ago, I wonder how far off the registers would be?

    I’m certain if I were to thumb through the DSM, I could find one or two diagnoses with a waist and inseam that fit close enough for jazz; but I treat it more like biofeedback, where, if something in my life or in my environment isn’t right, my body is telling me so. And I try to listen.

    Unless you think you work for the CIA and are on a covert field mission to assassinate the impostor masquerading as your father, then you’re probably okay with some therapy or a puddle of wine.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I like wine … but a puddle won’t do. I make my own by the carboy — spiced mead most favorite and next hard cider.

  15. upstater

    Where to start…

    There is no doubt psychotropics, particularly antidepressants, are way over-prescribed.

    However, it is both foolish and irresponsible for Kohls to suggest that they do not have a very positive role for people with mental illnesses. We can debate about the validity of a “serotonin theory” of depression or a “dopamine theory” of schizophrenia, but there are people that absolutely need psychotropics to live semi-normal lives. Obviously much more research needs to be done and better treatment options (besides prisons) must be provided.

    From personal experience: “Doctor” Peter Breggin makes a living not as a psychiatrist, but as an expert witness for attorneys that sue pharmaceutical companies. My son has schizophrenia and had is first psychotic break some years ago. Breggin, after and hour of one-on-one with him “diagnosed” him as having depression. As parents we wanted to hear that instead of the “S” word. Long story short, 6 months later he had his second psychotic break and Breggin threw us out of his office, without a referral to another doctor. I personally would have filed a complaint with the NYS licensing board, but my son and wife felt it would be too taxing on our family.

    Soteria House has a wonderful story… but it does not exist in any meaningful form the treat the 3 million schizophrenics in the US.. If it actually had the efficacy as claimed, it would have blossomed 40 years ago, but it has not. The “proven” non-pharmaceutical methods sounds just fine, particularly when you see the side effects of neuroleptics up-close-and-personal as I have. But the sad fact of the matter is that non-pharma methods simply do not work for everybody.

    If my some didn’t take antipsychotics, he couldn’t live at home with us. Life with a psychotic person for months on end makes Alzheimers and Demetnia look like a picnic by comparison (believe me, I tried it for a full year). My son NEVER would have graduated with a degree in Molecular Biology and Genetics without antipsychotics. He NEVER would have been able to volunteer his time in a laboratory doing research on these terrible disorders. Hopefully he can work for compensation some day. There is hope.

    Quacks give people false hopes. I personally think that people like Kohls or Breggin are dangerous people. They are quacks — I know Breggin is from personal experience. Stay away from such hacks.

    Read Patrick and Henry Cockburn’s book “Henry’s Demons: A Father and Son’s Journey Out of Madness” or a reality check… They get it right.

    1. ppp

      My older brother is schizophrenic, he is 28 now. I would think that you were my father posting that comment (upstater) until you wrote your son graduated with a degree in Molecular biology. Everything you said is on point. If my brother didnt get his shot every 4 weeks, he would barely be able to wipe his own ass, I mean that literally. The shot doesnt even last 4 weeks, only 3, but before that it was 2 years of psychotic episodes, a fucking nightmare (Alzheimers and Demetnia look like a picnic by comparison) <—-Yes. Even now my brother is virtually nonfunctional, he has told my father that he is still 16 years old in his mind, a 28 year old 16 year old. It has been 2 years since this started, and my father is 70 and running out life/patience. What the fuck do you do if you are the parent of that child? What do I do after my dad is dead? Tough love, Indulge him? I dont want to see my brother muttering to himself in the park, a homeless madman but I cant deposit all of my energy into that black hole and retain my sanity. (can I?) My sister had me read ''i'm not sick and i don't need help'' by xavier amador, it had some decent advice in it, I will check out “Henry’s Demons: A Father and Son’s Journey Out of Madness”

    2. Jamie

      My son NEVER would have graduated with a degree in Molecular Biology and Genetics without antipsychotics. He NEVER would have been able to volunteer his time in a laboratory doing research on these terrible disorders.

      I understand that you have strong feelings about this, but you cannot possibly know that. When I was diagnosed with schizophrenia my doctor told my parents in my hearing that I was “very sick” and would need to be on medications for the rest of my life. My parents accepted that situation and I dutifully took my meds for about six months, but I hated every minute of it. When that last prescription ran out I simply chose not to renew it. I have been drug free ever since (40+ years). It has not always been easy, and my life did not follow the typical trajectory of my cohort. But it is what it is and I have made peace with that.

      Now, I am not your son and I don’t claim to know anything about what he needs. And I would never blame you for getting him as much help as you possibly can, or for valuing the drugs he takes or the help you received from the medical establishment. You’re his parent and all you can do is to do your best by him. You have to trust your own instincts and observations and make your own judgements and no one can make them for you or tell you otherwise.

      And you may be right. There may be many different kinds of schizophrenia, different degrees of severity, different causes, different genetics, different environments, and possible misdiagnoses such that some people diagnosed can live (I would say satisfying, though not necessarily normal) lives without drugs while others cannot.

      And I say, stick by your guns and stay with what works. I would say it’s not your place to experiment with your son’s life and it most certainly is not mine to have any opinion about it at all. But you cannot possibly know that your son could not live his life as he chooses without the medications, though your feeling that he cannot may well be correct. Giving up medication was not cost free for me. I needed a lot of support, a lot of love, a lot of therapy, meditation and stress reduction. And a lot of contact with other people who had been through the system and had their stories to tell. I had to rearrange my life so that it was not normal. Some people who are diagnosed but refuse drugs do not survive. But it is also true that some people who take the drugs do not survive. In the end, for me, it was a quality of life decision. The fact that I survived without the drugs did not prove that I could live a normal life. It made me question why I was trying to shoehorn myself into a normal life in the first place.

      1. upstater

        After his second traumatic hospitalization (occurring right after Fall finals), he asked us not to send him to the hospital again. We honored his wishes. Several years ago, he tapered off medication over a 4 month period and went to summer school at a local college (it was the second time he elected to taper off medication).

        He A-ced Organic Chem in the first term, but by the second term he was struggling with moderate psychosis. The second Organic Chem course he got a B in, but was floridly psychotic by finals. This continued through Fall; he was unable to take any classes. In December he applied for full-time admission on his own (still in psychosis) and started class in January. By early March, the stress was simply too much and he was failing 3 classes. It was heartbreaking to watch.

        He went to the Registrars Office to withdraw from his classes and began crying. The do-gooders there called the campus police and he was dragged off to the local psych unit. As you may know it is not easy to simply leave a psych unit — he was there for 30+ days and was discharged in a moderately psychotic state. It was again a very traumatic experience in the psych ward.

        That summer, on his OWN volition, he resumed medication. It took 2 years to find the right combination. His first 2 semesters were not productive, but once he found the right mix and got on-campus support things began to work for him.

        Let me be clear — medication is HIS choice. However, we have to work very, very hard to insure he gets proper medical care and support services. If we were not actively involved in supporting his aspirations, I have no idea where he would end up. But having been through literally years of his psychosis, there is no doubt in my mind he would not have ended up with a reasonably happy life and a science degree without medication and support.

        We’re in our 60s and let it suffice to say we are frightened about what the future holds for him. We can’t assist his affairs forever, he has only one sibling that lives in Europe and the extended family is non-functional. It has been over 8 years now, but we are hopeful that he can live independently and hopeful he can find a life partner.

        But mental health care in the US absolutely sucks. The choices for medication are TERRIBLE, research is sparsely funded and community services are threadbare. Providers are way over-worked and under-compensated. The situation is disgusting; endless money for banksters, executives and the DoD while the largest providers of mental health care are usually prisons.

        1. Jamie

          Thank you for taking the time to provide some details about your son’s situation. Given the circumstances, I can’t say I would do anything differently in your shoes. Certainly supporting his efforts to live independently and make his own choices about his condition and his medication is the best thing you can do. Sometimes we have to recognize that all of the options available to us suck. We still have to chose the least bad alternative for the present and live with the consequences, seeking better options where we can, when and if we have the slack to do so. If one of those better options is a college degree and if drugs provide the slack for pursuing it, that is a good choice. We encounter limits everywhere we turn, and wishful thinking never solves anything, but hard work can take us past some kinds of current limits. Other limits are insurmountable by any means available to us.

          It would be nice to live in a world where we could be confident that our children would be OK after we die. Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in. Nevertheless, it is a good world. Your son is still able to think and plan and make his best attempts at navigating his life. That is all any of us ever get. But we can demand that our communities, our police forces and doctors and researchers not over-react or mistreat people because they don’t understand the situation. But until that changes, we, both “patients” and families of patients, have to deal with it.

      2. berit

        Jamie: … what is or passes for a “normal” life?… Who defines / decides what’s “normal”? People with power grabbed and granted defines and decides. But we are biological beings. Variety is “normal”.

  16. Jeremy Grimm

    @upstater — Thank you very very much for your comment. My son too seems to have benefited from psychiatric drugs and in spite of their many side-effects I believe he would not fare well without them. The success you described for your son gives me a small light of hope my son might also do well … eventually. I believe you get the story right for people with serious mental illness. I will caveat this opinion with my belief that many people like Arizona Slim [? — were you diagnosed or treated?] are diagnosed and treated without cause or justification.

    Thank you for the testimonial of your son’s success. It lends me hope at a time when I was losing hope [problems with the half-way house where my son resides]. This may sound crazy but I put hope on people like your son to break through the loggerheads in molecular biology to better understand what knowledge molecular biology holds within. I believe the next great advance for humankind will come in chemistry, in understanding enzymes and their meanings to catalysis, and to reactions and the chemical bond. There is so very much we do not understand as well as the journals try to suggest and so very much knowledge near enough to touch and smell. Some of those we call mad now were called pathfinder in past times.

  17. HotFlash

    I think it is a matter of the individual school’s policy. Back in the ’90’s my nephew from age 8 to 13 attended a school where it was required to have supplied to the school the Ritalin he was prescribed so that they could administer it to him during the school day. My FiL was worried about the Ritalin and wanted young H___ to stop taking it but the principal said in my hearing that young H___ would not be allowed to attend the school if they did not have and administer his Ritalin. His mother, a substance abuser herself, had gotten her enabler mother to pay for the psychiatrist as well as for the prescription. Ironically, there were signs at the school boundaries “This is a drug-free zone.” This was back in the ’90’s.

    It was later found that a local child psychologist, who was, coincidentally enough, on the township school board, was very fond of prescribing Ritalin and he might have been behind the policy. There was some scandal about it later and the Doc was booted off the board but I cannot find anything about it on line and cannot recall his name.

    I will ask my sister next time I am talking to her (not the nephew’s mother) since she still lives in the area and IIRC told me about the scandal bit.

    Sorry for the anecdotal, it was 25 years ago and I cannot find out much, except this policy statement (sorry, .pdf) from an entirely different school board and which seems more to be aimed at preventing students from having physical possession of their own prescription drugs.

  18. Jesper

    I believe that the pharmaceutical industry sponsors groups for two audiences: external and internal. The groups they sponsor might raise morale within the pharmaceutical industry (the internal audience).

    I came across this article:
    Morale might be affected if benefits cannot be seen. If statistics are not entirely reliable then maybe positive anecdotes might provide some consolation to the people developing the treatments. If the CEOs aren’t complete sociopaths and/or psychopaths then they might also like to hear the positive anecdotes while possibly forgetting the money provided to the people telling them the anecdotes.

  19. Rihana

    I so agree with this article. When I was in my mid forties I was having monthly problems with depression. The doctor put me on an anti depressant, and when that didn’t work, I was put on Lithium and told I must be bi polar. I actually believed the doctors!! Nothing really worked, and over the course of about 10 more years, I was given many, many drugs. I was usually on at least 6 at a time. I was told I was bipolar, had anxiety, etc., etc. all paid for by the county. I had a 15 minutes appointment with the shrink, every three months. I was a numb vegetable who could barely think. Finally, I was at my friend’s house and her husband asked me why are you on antipsychotics? You’re not psychotic!! I went home and very slowly weaned myself off ALL my meds. It took months and I told no one, certainly not any of the county mental health people. I got off all my meds. and never went back to a doctor. I’m fine now and feel great. After going through menopause, I realized my problem was probably severe pre menstraul syndrome, totally misdiagnosed. I was angry for several years, but got over that. Now I just avoid doctors like the plague and try alternative treatment when I feel the need, though I did get a new hip several years ago. The drug companies seem to be everywhere, trying to get people hooked. It’s all about the $$$$$.

  20. allan

    Pfizer to pay $23.85 million to settle U.S. co-payment kickback probe [Reuters]

    Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) agreed to pay $23.85 million to resolve U.S. charges that it used a purportedly independent charity to pay illegal kickbacks to Medicare patients, covering their out-of-pocket costs for its prescription drugs.

    The U.S. Department of Justice said on Thursday that the civil settlement resolves allegations that Pfizer improperly used the Patient Access Network Foundation as a conduit to cover co-payment obligations of patients taking three Pfizer drugs.

    Pfizer’s actions enabled the New York-based drugmaker to boost prices and revenue, violating the federal False Claims Act in a scheme that ran from 2012 to 2016, the department said.

    The False Claims Act bans drugmakers from offering anything of value to induce Medicare patients to buy their drugs. …

    The drugs are for kidney cancer, but same business model.

  21. roxan

    I suspect Big Pharma sponsors various ‘disease groups’ for patients with every significant ailment, including magazines and newsletters. I used to subscribe to a newsletter I thought was genuine until, one day, it occurred to me that all the patient testimonials were just too glowing while I was having an awful time with that drug. I wrote and asked them, and they seemed surprised I didn’t know it was sponsored so….ask and they will tell. I don’t know if I would consider that crooked, as they did offer some good tips, but definitely sleazy.

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