Less than week before the opening of Alternatives 2010, a conference dedicated to promoting alternatives for better mental health care, the organizers did a strange thing: they decided to remove any language about coming off medications from the title and description of a workshop they had approved for the conference months ago. So the workshop's creator, Will Hall, the founder of the Freedom Center, did what he had to do and cancelled his participation in the five-day conference, which starts Wednesday in Anaheim, California.
The organizers of the conference, the National Empowerment Center, a long-time advocacy group for people with mental illness based in Lawrence, MA, say they decided to change the wording of Hall's workshop out of concern for liability issues. "If someone went to the workshop and stopped medication abruptly and had a bad reaction coming off and did something horrible, it would come back to us probably," said Dr. Daniel Fisher, executive director of NEC.
Why can't I buy this explanation? Possibly because, as Fisher, who is a psychiatrist himself, also admitted, the last-minute decision had a lot to do with the fact that Hall's workshop offered an alternative to working with psychiatrists and the prevailing biomedical model. "Our concern is that people would do this without working with their psychiatrists," Fisher said in a phone interview.
Ah, there's the rub. What Hall (and the nonprofit Freedom Center) espouse are treatments that don't necessarily depend on psychiatrists and drugs but on alternatives such as yoga, meditation, exercise, nutrition and access to peer-run support groups. I blogged about the Freedom Center and its goals here.
The irony in all of this is that Hall is not anti-medication. While he himself (as a psychiatric survivor -- he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder at one point) has been off drugs for 17 years, both the Freedom Center and the workshop he put together for Alternatives 2010 included information about how to continue on drugs, reduce drug utilization or come off medications. Hall is not saying that all mentally ill patients can or should do without their medications; he's just putting out information about possible treatment alternatives to drugs. But that apparently was too much for the psychiatric establishment who pressured the NEC into censoring Hall.
This, by the way, is the same supposedly consumer-driven organization that also rescinded an invitation to speak at its Alternatives conference to Robert Whitaker, author of Mad in America and Anatomy of an Epidemic. Whitaker was restored as a keynote speaker only after mental health advocates raised an outcry.
Sounds to me like Alternatives 2010 is not really about alternatives at all.