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Volume 1, Issue 3          •           November 23, 2020          •          Published Biweekly 


James B. (Jim) Gottstein has been a long-time advocate for the rights of people imprisoned in psychiatric facilities and drugged against their will.  His recent book, The Zyprexa Papers, outlines what occurred when The New York Times began a series of front-page stories on the harms of Zyprexa, a drug marketed by the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly as an antipsychotic.  The news stories were based on internal documents, which showed the corporation knowingly concealed serious, sometimes lethal, metabolic side effects of its top-selling drug, while promoting the use of Zyprexa on particularly vulnerable populations: children and the elderly. Lilly's attorneys went after Jim, as Jim had provided the papers to the Times and others, after he acquired them via subpoena for a separate case challenging the forced drugging of psychiatric survivor, Bill Bigley. Jim's account of the ensuing legal battle paints a vivid picture of corporate corruption and the failings of the US legal system, while also describing the devastating real-life impact on people incarcerated and drugged within the powerful mental illness system.

Jim's work as an attorney and advocate is inspired by personal experience.  In his own words: "When I was 29, I got into a situation where I didn’t sleep for days. I tried to do too much. I went psychotic."  After waking in a hospital, Jim was told that he was permanently mentally ill and would need to abandon his career in law.  Instead, he worked to better recognize and manage need for sleep and has now accomplished more than twenty years of legal advocacy for the rights of psychiatric survivors, while at the same time running his own private practice specializing in public land and business law.  Jim has stated, "I was lucky not to have been made permanently mentally ill by The System. I could have very easily become “chronically mentally ill.” It was pure luck that I didn’t." (A self-authored account of Jim's experience can be found on MindFreedom's website here.)

During his career as a Harvard-educated attorney, Jim has taken on many cases in defense of the rights of individuals labeled with psychiatric diagnoses.  In addition to his work in legal advocacy and representation, Jim has co-founded a number of impactful organizations, such as PsychRights (a public interest law firm that strategically works against forced psychiatric drugging and electroshock in the US); Soteria-Alaska (which provided peer-run, alternative services, especially the right to choose not to take psychiatric drugs); CHOICES (Consumers Having Ownership in Creating Effective Services); the Alaska Mental Health Consumer Web (a drop-in center providing peer support); and Peer Properties, Inc (peer-run, needs-based housing).  The Zyprexa Papers by Jim Gottstein
Jim is now mostly retired, dividing his time between his home state of Alaska and the sunny beaches of Hawaii.  He spoke with me on the phone from Maui.

Good afternoon, and thanks for taking the time to speak with me. 

Your book, The Zyprexa Papers, illustrates the courage and determination required to challenge routine forced drugging, as it can require taking on the courts, pharmaceutical companies, and hospitals. I wanted to ask you specifically about your clients, such as Bill Bigley, who oppose the system while still trapped within it.  In these situations, retaliation by the psychiatric system is a valid fear.  How can people be protected while challenging the facilities that are holding them?
It’s a really tough situation, because people are basically being labeled as “crazy” by supposed experts, who claim that nothing they say should be believed.  Fundamentally, I think the public needs to be educated about the truth: that what gets labelled “mental illness” is not illness, and that the so-called “treatments” forced on people actually makes things worse, both for the person and in making the entire situation more dangerous.  This is also true for psychiatric imprisonment, which is labelled “involuntary commitment,” but, really, this is another way of saying psychiatric imprisonment.

We really need to make this message very public.  That’s been hard, because there’s so much money on the other side.  In fact, that’s one of the main goals I had in writing The Zyprexa Papers - to get this knowledge to the public.
I thought it was interesting that Lilly’s attorney’s accused you of violating the secrecy order when you distributed the Zyprexa Papers, but didn’t go after the New York Times for publishing much of the same information in a series of front-page articles.  Do you have any thoughts about the reasoning that may have been behind that decision?
It’s also interesting that they didn’t go after Pat Risser, who downloaded the Zyprexa Papers from the internet and shared them with others.  Pat sent Lilly this email:

“Gosh, what a mess. I’m sorry but I wasn’t aware of any court order at the time I downloaded the ‘secret Zyprexa documents.’ So, I not only downloaded them but I made several copies (burned them to CDs) and distributed them. I mailed them to some family and friends as well as several newspapers (in Ohio and Oregon). Since I had some extra copies (about 40 or so) I also passed them out to folks who seemed interested as I stood outside of a shopping center store. I have no idea who these strangers were so I can’t possibly get these CDs returned. I’m so sorry. I figured since you’re making such a fuss over the thousands of copies that went over the internet, I’d better let you know that this ‘secret’ has spread and I really can’t help stop the spread at this point. Sorry.”

Pat showed Lilly's attorneys that they couldn’t intimidate him, and so they didn’t go after him.   They’re basically bullies.  They knew that they couldn’t bully the New York Times and they couldn’t bully Pat.  
It sounds like the way a person responds to attorneys can have a substantial impact.  What advice would you give people who are facing a forced drugging or commitment hearing?
The attorneys appointed to represent people rarely have the time or resources to do an adequate job. The judges basically don’t want to be blamed, if anything goes wrong.  So, the judges generally just go along with what the psychiatrist says.  People tend to face retaliation, if they resist.  So, especially if it’s the first time, I think the best strategy might be to say, “Oh, I’m so glad you pointed that out to me; I didn’t realize that.  Yes, give me the drugs.”  Then you’ll be more likely to get out, sooner.  You can deal with the aftermath, once you’re out.  

However, it gets more complicated with outpatient commitment, which I call “community drugging orders.”  With these orders, even when you’re out of the facility, the court requires that you take the drugs, and they enforce that.  So, if you’re facing that sort of forced drugging, going along is not a good strategy.

My assessment is that no more than ten percent of people who are psychiatrically imprisoned meet the legal criteria for involuntary commitment.  Frankly, I don’t think that forced drugging would ever be constitutionally allowed if the true facts were presented to the court and fairly considered.  So, the legal process is basically a farce.

With a few exceptions, the lawyers that the court appoints are basically there to check a box, saying that the person had representation.  Many of them feel that if their client wasn’t “crazy,” they’d know the drugs or being locked up is good for them.  But that’s not their job.  The public defender’s job is to zealously represent what their client wants them to do.  It’s the state hospital’s job to prove that they’re entitled to lock a person up and drug them.  If the lawyer representing the defendant isn’t doing their job, then the legal process is just a kangaroo court.
In The Zyprexa Papers, you mention that public defenders in Alaska could have between five and ten commitment hearings in a day, with no more than fifteen minutes to speak with each client and no time to contact witnesses.  It seems as if public defenders would not be able to do their job well, regardless of their efforts.
Right.  They aren’t allowed to.  It’s not just in Alaska.  Commitment hearings in Alaska tend to last about fifteen minutes, but they average only five minutes in California.  The best state, in terms of legal representation, might be Massachusetts because, even though the results are still terrible, public defenders are at least given a few days to try to put together a case. 
You’ve said that much of forced drugging could be prevented, if people had adequate representation in court.  What steps can we take to push for that kind of change?
On the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights’ website (, we have a forced drugging defense package. It has affidavits from Robert Whitaker, Dr Grace Jackson, and Dr Peter C. Gøtzsche.  You can get certified copies of these affidavits from MindFreedom. Certified copies are needed to present the documents in court.  There is a nominal fee, but I don’t think that they are denying anyone, if they aren’t able to pay.  The package also includes a set of form legal pleadings about why the person shouldn’t be subjected to forced drugging.  That’s a good place to start, and it would be great to get lawyers using this resource.  I don’t think that many of them know the truth about these drugs.

Of course, there are some legal problems.  For example, when you present an affidavit like that, it would be called “pre-filed testimony.”  So, the hospital would have the right to cross examine the person who gave the affidavit.  You would need to reach out to the authors to ask about that.  I know that Bob Whittaker has been willing to be cross-examined, in the past.
In a previous interview for Mad Media Matters, advocate Connie Lesold described participating in a mental hygiene court monitoring program.  The purpose was for advocates to observe hearings and see how often these orders were granted - whether people were getting fair hearings.  In your experience, would programs like that be helpful with the types of injustices you've seen in these court hearings?
  I think it’s a really good idea to have programs like that.  But, in order to have an impact, something must be done with the results.  Otherwise, it’s like a tree falling in the woods when no one is there to hear it - it doesn’t make any sound.
What do you see as the most effective ways to reach people who are unaware of these issues, to create possibilities for changing the system and improving outcomes for individuals?
  I think we’ve got to keep pounding on the media to be heard.  Movies reach the public - One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest had an impact.  We need successful media that presents both sides.  Most of the time, news outlets have a talking head on both sides and think they’re presenting the facts but, most of the time, our side isn’t represented.

Social media has potential because people can make their case directly to the extent that some even get their messages to go viral.  Although I’ve seen some very troubling censorship on Facebook and Twitter.
In your experience, is disagreeing with a psychiatrist taken by courts as a sign of mental illness?  So, people either agree that they need treatment or their refusal is labelled “anosognosia” and seen as evidence that they need treatment, regardless of consent?
  In Alaska, if you deny that you have a mental illness when you meet the criteria, then yes, that is a factor in the judge deciding whether you’re competent to decline medication.
You know, “anosognosia” is actually a term for a symptom of brain injury.  Psychiatry has hijacked that medical term.  I did a deposition for a doctor in the Myers case (Myers v. Alaska Psychiatric Institute, 2006, which ruled Alaska's forced drugging procedures unconstitutional).  He basically told me that if someone agrees to take medication, he will find them competent because, in Alaska, people must be competent to take drugs, as well as refuse them.  If a person agreed to take the drugs, the doctor would find them competent, and if they disagreed, he would decide that they were incompetent. And, of course, the courts uniformly go along with this.
"If a person agreed to take the drugs, the doctor would find them competent, and if they disagreed, he  would decide that they were incompetent.  And, of course, the courts uniformly go along with this."
I ended up winning that case.  The hospital actually gave up.
It sounds like the hospital wasn't used to much well-reasoned opposition.
That's a really good point.  Forcing people to do things has gotten so easy, that it's become the path of least resistance for the psychiatrists.  For example, if a patient wants to know about the side effects of the drugs they're prescribed, a perfectly reasonable concern, the doctor can just say, "If you don't take it, now, then I will make you take it."  It's so easy, and the doctors don't have to answer any questions or try to get the person to trust them. 

However, if you make it hard enough for these doctors, then they will look for other ways.  For example, the Myers case that I mentioned, that became a four-month, all-out legal battle - the likes of which the hospital had never seen before and didn't like. 

Shortly after that case, a patient called me from that hospital.  The hospital had to file a forced drugging petition the next day, or else let the person go.  I called the hospital and let them know that I would be representing that individual.  Then, the hospital worked real hard to find something else.  I never even met that person.  As I was driving up to the hospital to meet him, the night before the hearing would have been, he was being driven away, to somewhere else.  So, making it difficult is really important.
"Forcing people to do things has gotten so easy, that it's become the path of least resistance for the psychiatrists... the doctors don't have to answer any questions or try to get the person to trust them."
I have spoken with legal guardians of people ruled by the court not to be competent.  Often, if the guardian disagrees with a forced drugging or has serious concerns about the doctors' treatment plan, that has been considered grounds for removing the guardianship and giving it to someone who will agree.  Do you have any advice for people in that sort of situation?
That's another example of how the judicial system is just not fair, in these kinds of cases.  If a person can get an effective lawyer to represent them, that really helps.

One strategy could be for a person facing a community drugging order to leave the state, fleeing that jurisdiction in order to escape forced drugging. However, that presents all kinds of problems. In a few states, it's not legal to do this, so it would be important to know the law, where you are.  Obviously, there are obstacles such as finding housing, food, clothing, and hopefully a job.  If you're on SSDI, that might move with you, since it's federal. 

Ten or fifteen years ago, MindFreedom tried to get a project going to establish "landing zones" to serve as a sort of an underground railroad.  [MindFreedom defines a Landing Zone as a "locality with the resources in place, in terms of services, advocacy, support, and assistance, to accommodate a person fleeing forced outpatient drugging orders in another state."] I understand they may be trying to resurrect this.  

Regardless, a person really has to be in a position to handle whatever was causing the problems that resulted in authorities wanting to grab them, lock them up, and drug them, in the first place.
Often the kinds of problems that get characterized as mental illness are really responses to trauma.  So, responding to an entire system that feels rigged is certainly not going to alleviate those kinds of issues.
"Many, many people experience the trauma of being in the psychiatric system as a way bigger problem than whatever brought them into it, in the first place."
Many, many people experience the trauma of being in the psychiatric system as a way bigger problem than whatever brought them into it, in the first place.  The idea of this being diagnosed as some brain defect or chemical imbalance, something that has never been proven - that is almost certainly false.  Especially in the vast majority of cases, in which there are no physical conditions involved, like Lyme disease or something like that.  Rather, these experiences are the results of things that have happened to people.
The Hearing Voices Network doesn't ask, "What's wrong with you?"  Instead, they ask, "What's happened to you?"  Even mainstream psychiatry is seeing that adverse experiences in childhood correlate with being diagnosed with serious mental illness, later.  We've been telling them that same thing, for at least fifteen years.

I wanted to ask you about your own experience.  In your book, you referred to a psychiatrist, Dr Robert Alberts, who explained to you that your episode of psychosis was caused by lack of sleep and steered you in a much better direction than the mental illness system.  If Dr Alberts hadn't provided this information, would you have accepted a mental illness explanation of your experience?  How might your life be different, today?
  I have been so lucky, in many ways.  I was very fortunate not to have been turned into a permanent mental patient.

It's typical, after a manic episode, to become pretty depressed.  That happened to me.  I write in the book that, but for the grace of God, I could have been in the same position as Bill Bigley, who was only two months older than me and was first hospitalized just two years before I was.  He didn't have the family or financial resources that I have.  His life was just destroyed.  And that could have been me.

Even having resources and a lot of family involvement doesn't always protect a person from forced drugging and psychiatric incarceration.  I recently wrote a piece for Mad in America about what's happening to Evan Durst Kreeger.  That's not about resources.  Pervasive propaganda has led society to believe that we need to lock people up and drug them, to keep the rest of us safe.  In reality, it's just the opposite.

It's hard to convince people that a system that makes them feel safe, is actually harmful.  People generally have to experience that for themselves, in order to believe it.  Because people want to feel safe.
"Pervasive propaganda has led society to believe that we need to lock people up and drug them, to keep the rest of us safe. In reality, it's just the opposite."
What issues are you involved with, currently?
I'm getting older, and I'm mostly retired.  Although I still find ways to try to advance the cause.  That was my reason for writing The Zyprexa Papers.

There is one issue I would take up, if I were presented with a case.  If someone, somewhere, wanted to bring a False Claims Act against someone for drugging children.  There's a federal statute that says that, if someone makes a false claim for money to the federal government, anyone can sue on behalf of the government and, if successful, get a share of the recovery.  And each false claim has a minimum penalty of $5,500.  In the case of drugging foster children, each prescription is a false claim, because virtually all foster children are on Medicaid. Foster children are kept psychiatrically drugged at such a high rate, it's horrendous. So, each prescriber that does this would have prescribed probably at least one thousand prescriptions, over the course of the six year statute of limitations - that would total five and a half million dollars in penalties.  The idea would be to bankrupt one or more of these prescribers and scare the others, so they would stop drugging kids.  I would probably need to work with a local attorney, to have a local presence. I would come out of retirement to take one of those cases.Psych Rights Law Project for Psychiatric Rights

There is more information about this on the PsychRights website.  It's called the PsychRights' Medicaid Fraud Initiative Against Psychiatric Drugging of Children and Youth.
Related Resources

Against Forced Drugging:
Social Workers and Police - A Combustible Mix
  By Wilda L. White, Founder, MadFreedom
  Following the murder of George Floyd and just as activists initiated calls for defunding police and reinvesting the proceeds in social services, people of all political stripes began to propose that social workers collaborate with or replace police officers in interactions involving individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. 
In June 2020, President Trump issued an “Executive Order on Safe Policing for Safe Communities,” which called for “increasing the capacity of social workers working directly with law enforcement agencies.” In October, U.S. Representative Katie Porter, a Democrat, introduced a bill with the lofty title “Mental Health Justice Act of 2020,” which, if passed, would award grants to U.S. municipalities to hire, employ, train and dispatch “mental health professionals" to respond in lieu of law enforcement officers "in emergencies involving persons with a mental illness or an intellectual or developmental disability.”
In the State of Vermont, where MadFreedom is based, the legislature recently passed a measure that will “embed” social workers in each of the state’s 10, police barracks and the mayor of Vermont’s largest city has proposed adding two social workers to the police force.
People across the political spectrum have embraced these measures as the answer to the high rates of police killings of people in a mental distress. However, if one looks closely at the work of social workers in the mental health sphere, there is no reason to believe that they will cause less injury or indignity to people in mental distress.
Collaborations between police and social workers are not new. Social workers have been working in tandem with U.S. law enforcement agencies for decades. However, their presence has not guaranteed a safer outcome for people in mental distress. For example, in two cases currently pending before the Vermont Human Rights Commission, psychiatric survivors allege that the social worker actually encouraged and ratified law enforcement's excessive use of force. In another Vermont case, a police officer killed 76-year old Phil Grenon, who had a known history of psychosis, in his own bedroom while a mental health crisis worker, at the direction of law enforcement, sat outside in her car. Although it was the written policy of the police department to consult with the crisis worker before resorting to lethal force, the police department chose not to do so.

And despite a history of collaboration between Vermont state police and social workers, Vermont state police policy still carries disparaging and stereotypical characterizations of people in mental distress. While research has demonstrated that people with mental illnesses are no more violent than others, the Vermont State Police policy on responding to persons "with mental illness and/or diminished capacity" refers to the "unpredictable and violent nature of the mentally ill" and warns that "dealing with individuals who are known or suspected to be mentally ill carries the potential for violence." This is all to say that even where social workers are already collaborating with law enforcement, they have done little to educate law enforcement about the humanity of people in mental distress. Rather, social workers take a backseat to law enforcement. 

Reducing harm to people in mental distress is not necessarily even the goal of the proposals to pair social workers and law enforcement. For example, in the draft Memorandum of Understanding between Vermont mental health workers and the Vermont State Police, avoiding use of force is not even mentioned as a goal. Rather, the goals include "mental health crisis assessment, consultation, support, resource connection and referrals for voluntary and involuntary treatment." (emphasis supplied) 
Because social workers have the power to forcibly drug and involuntary incarcerate people in mental distress, they are no more a de-escalating presence in the field than are police officers. While social workers do not carry guns, they nonetheless have a history of harming people both physically and emotionally through forced drugging and psychiatric incarceration. In other words, while the carceral system overseen by social workers may be different than the carceral system overseen by police, it is a difference with no real distinction. The two systems are the opposite sides of the same carceral coin. 

Pairing social workers and law enforcement also wrongly implies that mental distress is exclusively an individual problem for which individual treatment is the solution. This belief diverts attention and resources away from addressing the social ills that create mental ill health, such as racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, sexual abuse, and structural inequality.

In addition, embedding social workers with law enforcement or replacing police with social workers will more quickly usher in the transformation of mass incarceration into mass medicalization. That is, those who are now disproportionately incarcerated -- black and brown people – will become under the social worker proposal disproportionately labeled with mental illnesses and suffer all the negative consequences of that label, including premature death, disproportionate rates of unemployment, and more pervasive discrimination.
Where today this labeling occurs after arrest or conviction, by dispatching social workers in response to 9-1-1 calls, the process will begin even earlier and ensnare ever more people. This is possible because there is no objective test for mental illness. The diagnosis of a mental illness is entirely subjective and thus ripe for the operation of implicit racial biases. 
The same racial disparities we see in the criminal justice system are also prevalent in the mental health system. For example, clinicians diagnose schizophrenia in black patients and particularly black men, four times as often as in white patients. The 2009 book, The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became a Black Disease, chronicles how schizophrenia was transformed from a largely white, middle-class non-menacing disorder to one that is widely perceived as dangerous and threatening precisely at the time of the U.S. civil rights movement. Fears associated with urban violence and the rise of black power in the 1960s became an essential part of the very definition of schizophrenia.
Today, black Americans are disproportionately subjected to forced drugging and involuntary psychiatric incarceration. Even in Vermont, where non-white people are a tiny minority, non-white people are disproportionately incarcerated at the state psychiatric hospital. 

Oppressive systems such as Jim Crow and mass incarceration are preserved through transformation. As mass incarceration loses favor, it is not a stretch to foresee the control of black and brown people being shifted to the mental health system through social workers acting with or in lieu of police. 

In short, pairing law enforcement and social workers will create an explosive cocktail of racial injustice.

Finally, the rush to pair social workers with law enforcement or to intercept people for mental health treatment based on 9-1-1 calls represents an overt ideological shift away from treating mental distress as an issue of public health and towards regarding it as a matter of public safety. With such a shift, what is deemed a successful outcome will be based on what is beneficial to the community rather than what is beneficial to the individual. The program will be regarded as successful based on metrics such as a reduction in 9-1-1 calls or police job satisfaction. Whether individuals in mental distress ever achieve genuine flourishing after intervention by a social worker becomes irrelevant. 
Overall, proposals to pair social workers with law enforcement are no more than band-aids that mask an inadequate mental health system that relies almost exclusively on meds and beds rather than community-based resources that provide people what they need (and when they need it) to thrive.


United States: 
  A new report, published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, describes the "misleading message" conveyed by psychiatric professionals that "mental disorders are brain diseases cured by scientifically designed medications."  The authors, affiliated with the Institute of Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of Bordeaux in France, contend that the misrepresentation of psychiatric knowledge has various causes: overt falsification of data by researchers; preferential publication of positive results by academic journals; misleading pharmaceutical marketing; researchers attributing causation to correlation, and the embellishment of neuroscience findings by the news media.  The report, entitled "Messaging in Biological Psychiatry: Misrepresentations, Their Causes, and Potential Consequences" can be downloaded in full, here.

  An examination of what can happen when a defendant opts for an insanity plea instead of a prison sentence. 

In 2000, Sutherland's lawyer convinced him to turn down a chance to go to trial for a felony arson charge, in order to enter a plea of "not responsible by reason of mental illness."  The attorney advised Sutherland that "if you can convince these people you are not a danger to society, you should be out in a year or two."  Twenty years later, Sutherland is still locked up.  In a written decision issued last month, New York state Supreme Court judge Russell P. Buscaglia acknowledged that Sutherland “has not proven to be dangerous” during his two decade confinement, but the judge still declined to release him.  New York Times Magazine reporter Mac McClelland has noted that criminal defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity are frequently locked up for lengths of time that “can range from ethically questionable to flagrantly unconstitutional and illegal.” 

According to New York State’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, five years in prison is the most common sentence for individuals convicted of the felony arson charge filed against Sutherland - meaning that if Sutherland had been found guilty at trial, he would likely have been freed fifteen years ago.

NARPA (National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy) 2020 webinar videos published online 
  In lieu of a face-to face conference in 2020, NARPA has offered a series of free webinars related to current events. The following have been recorded and released: On December 10th, NARPA will host a webinar entitled "Mental Health Courts and Specialized Courts in Canada: Access to Justice from the Perspective of People with Psychiatric Histories”

  The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported on Friday that the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has tossed out local bans on conversion therapy in Palm Beach County and Boca Raton.  The full opinion can be found here.  This ruling applies to ordinances in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.  Twenty states currently ban the practice, state-wide, and the American Medical Association has stated that conversion therapy should not be allowed for children. It is noted that both appellate judges who decided against the ban (Judges Britt Grant and Barbara Lagoa) were appointed to the bench by President Donald Trump, whose administration has been criticized for taking a number of anti-LGBTQ positions.  The case could be headed for the Supreme Court.

New Hampshire:
  This information was included in an annual report released last week by the New Hampshire Office of the Child Advocate.  This rise comes after the state's psychiatric hospital, New Hampshire Hospital, closed its children's unit.  However, Moira O'Neill, Director of NHOCA, says that the number of beds is only one piece of the puzzle.  “The question is: Why are children reaching crisis level psychiatric needs in the first place, and what can we do to better support families at home so that they don’t end up in the emergency room?”

New Jersey:
  The New Jersey Public Defender's Office has agreed to settle a class-action suit with state officials alleging a pattern of patient abuse and neglect at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, court documents show.  The lawsuit, filed in December 2018 by the Public Defender's Division of Mental Health, alleged mistreatment of current and recent patients at the state-run facility, including acts of staff-on-patient and patient-on-patient violence.

Robert Davison, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris, whose nonprofit organization treats and advocates for Greystone patients, stated that the settlement will result in "[m]ore psychiatrists, more internists, more nurses, more dentists, more training and an oversight committee to prevent any bureaucratic shenanigans in the future."

This is far from the first time that Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital has received public attention for the so-called "bureaucratic shenanigans" that have led left some patients permanently injured or dead.  The hospital was the site of a stabbing murder of a patient on New Year's Eve of last year, after a hospital director overruled an order from the victim's psychiatrist, indicating that the man needed one-on-one protection.  According to accounts, staff were unaware of the killing until a staff member noticed blood in the hallway.  In May, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of a former patient who alleged she was raped by a Greystone orderly "for years" while being held there, as an adolescent.  When the victim reported the rapes to hospital staff, she says she was told to "keep her mouth shut.".

In September, an online oral history record was published, documenting patient experiences at Greystone Park's former hospital building, which was demolished in 2008 "due to continued overcrowding and deteriorating buildings."  Patient stories can be accessed here.

  Chief Nursing Officer Meghan Baston has announced her resignation from the state's largest private psychiatric hospital, the Brattleboro Retreat.  Over the summer, union members called for Baston's termination while picketing in front of the hospital.  This announcement comes at the end of a year full of public issues at the Retreat, including staff complaints over lack of safety measures to protect patients and staff from COVID19; repeated financial problems; firing of union leaders; reports of physically unsafe conditions for patients and sexually aggressive language by administrators; increased use of force during the pandemic, staff shortages, and large-scale layoffs.

  A federal bill revising the rules on medically assisted death in Canada proposes to exclude people with mental health conditions, as it amends the law to expand eligibility for everyone else.  Under Bill C-7, a mental illness will "not be considered an illness, disease or disability" for the purpose of the assisted-dying law.
  Senior Assistant Superintendent of Police Anisul Karim was killed on November 9, 2020, in what staff have referred to as a "soundproof torture cell" in Mind Aid Psychiatry and De-Addiction Hospital in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  Video footage shows that Karim was physically restrained and then fatally beaten by five or six people at the psychiatric hospital.  The incident has already led to several arrests of hospital administrators.  The killing has brought public attention to the unlicensed and unregulated psychiatric clinics operating in Bangladesh.
  From Critical Voices Network Ireland:

"There has been no shortage of mental health advice and guidance from statutory services, voluntary organisations, and ‘mental health experts’ since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic earlier this year. We have seen headlines such as ‘tsunami of mental illness’ and references to opportunities to move towards more digitalised mental health services.

The conference will critically consider the range of recent responses to mental health matters arising from the pandemic and will explore ways of developing networks of support and solidarity in these uncertain times."

Available presentations include:

  Kazakh blogger and journalist, Aigul Otepova, was taken by police to a psychiatric clinic, where courts have ordered her held for one month.  Aigul was at her home on house arrest, following a Facebook post in which she criticized the government's efforts to curb COVID19 transmission.

Before getting into the police car, Otepova told an RFE/RL correspondent that she had no medical conditions, including mental problems.  "A recently held medical examination concluded that I am absolutely healthy. My situation now is not about my health. This decision is politically motivated," Otepova said.
still sane
By Persimmon Blackbridge and Sheila Gilhooly
 Image of sculpture by Persimmon Blackridge
"I told my shrink I didn't want to be cured of being a lesbian.  He said that just proved how sick I was.  He said I needed shock treatment."

Published in 1985, Still Sane is a book by Sheila Gilhooly and Persimmon Blackbridge that chronicles Gilhooly's three-year struggle against a psychiatric system that regarded lesbianism as a sickness to be cured by incarceration, shock treatment, and drugs. Excerpts from the book, which is based on a sculpture project, are reprinted here.

The sculptures consist of 27 life-size body casts done in clay, with writing on the bodies or on sheets of paper, metal or wood, coming out of the bodies.

Sheila Gilhooly's blog can be found here.  She is also the author of Mistaken Identity, a memoir about being mistaken for a man.

An interview in which sculptor Persimmon Blackbridge speaks about the works she created for Still Sane can be accessed here.  Blackbridge is also the author of Sunnybrook: A True Story with Lies

Image of sculpture by Persimmon Blackridge
"I was quite on edge but happy and spinning [at my first therapy appointment].  The shrink was very grave and said it was serious and bad.  I got a bit upset and even shed six or seven tears, so the shrink gave me my first Valium.  After I left, she phoned the Royal Hospital.  She said she had this sicko lesbian who should be hospitalized for a while.  She said she could certify me against my will since maybe I was self-destructive.  After all, I had cried in her office and I was a lesbian to boot.  I spent the next three years in and out of mental hospitals."

Image of sculpture by Persimmon Blackridge
"...didn't know where I was.  I had this incredible headache and all this gritty stuff on my face and I wondered what awful thing had happened.

...could focus my eyes and saw I was on a stretcher.  There was this whole row of stretchers with people groaning as they came to and I guess I was groaning too."

Image of sculpture by Persimmon Blackridge
"19 shock treatments and I still didn't want to be cured of being a lesbian."

Image of sculpture by Persimmon Blackridge
"I told them what he did to me but they said I was making it up, I was crazy, that I secretly wanted him and I was going to get in bad trouble for telling stories about people who were only trying to help me.  I never told again even though it happened again.  And again.  And again."

Image of sculpture by Persimmon Blackridge
"still sane"



Deadline to apply for assistance is Tuesday, December 15, 2020:


VT COVID-19 Assistance Program provides Vermonters who have suffered an economic hardship due to the pandemic with utility bill assistance for their overdue residential or non-residential account balances.  

How It Works 

This program is administered by the State of Vermont’s Department of Public Service and applying for assistance is a two-step process.  

First you must register for the program by visiting this link. This will take approximately 3-7 minutes.  

You will then be sent an email with your login credentials enabling you to start the application.  

Residential applicants may apply for one grant for their primary residence, and non-residential applicants may apply for each of their accounts using separate applications.  

If you do not have access to the internet and would like to apply, please contact a community action agency to help with registration by visiting this link.

Eligible Account Balances  

Account balances are considered eligible if they are for usage after 3/1/20 and they are more than 60 days delinquent.  You may have an account balance that doesn’t meet the 60 day threshold now but it will become eligible in the coming weeks.  In that case, you do not need to reapply for assistance; we will keep track of those balances and remit a supplemental request for payment.  

The State issues all qualifying payments to the utilities directly.  

Grants will be awarded by the State on a first come, first served basis until funding runs out or the program ends in December.  

The program was made available through the Federal CARES Act and the State of Vermont Coronavirus Relief Fund.  

Deadline to Apply

The deadline to apply for assistance is December 15, 2020.


Please contact the Department of Public Service at or by calling 1-800-622-4496.  

A list of Frequently Asked Questions can be found here.

Friday, December 11th from 10:30am to 12:00pm:


This meeting is open to the public.

Join Microsoft Teams Meeting
+1 802-552-8456   United States, Montpelier (Toll) 
Conference ID: 315 512 019#

The Emergency Involuntary Procedures (EIP) Review Committee is convened by the Commissioner of the Department of Mental Health to review emergency involuntary procedures occurring on inpatient psychiatric units for those in the custody of the Commissioner.

The December 11, 2020 meeting is to include a discussion of the explosive growth in emergency involuntary procedures at the Brattleboro Retreat between April and June 2020. You can review the report here.

The Committee’s responsibilities are to:

  • Review aggregate data, review inpatient hospitals’ adherence to the requirements of the CMS and Joint Commission standards
  • Review the appropriateness of the decision(s) to use emergency involuntary procedures
  • Ensure that there is external review and oversight of emergency involuntary procedures
  • Prepare an annual report to the Department summarizing its work, providing suggestions and recommendations regarding the hospitals’ adherence to CMS & Joint Commission standards.

Monday, December 14 from noon until 3pm EST:
Department of Mental Health Adult State Program Standing Committee


Join Microsoft Teams Meeting
+1 802-828-7667
Conference ID: 268 652 786#

This meeting is open to the public.

The Agenda includes a discussion with DMH leadership about the Emergency Involuntary Procedures Quarterly Report.  This report describes use of force in psychiatric facilities, which has increased significantly since the pandemic began, DMH's grievance and appeal procedures and the DMH Anti-Racism Stakeholder Committee, whose meetings have been closed to the public.

There will be a public comment period. 

Friday, December 18th from 9:30am to 2:30pm:
Joint Meeting of the Act 264 Advisory Board and the State Program Standing Committee for Children, Adolescent & Family Mental Health


Join Microsoft Teams Meeting
+1 802-828-7667
Conference ID: 521 278 941#

The Act 264 Advisory Board was created to advise the Secretary of Education and the Commissioners of Mental Health and for Children and Families about children and adolescents with a "severe emotional disturbance and their families." The Advisory Board is also charged with advising the Secretary and Commissioner on the development of the system of care plan that the law requires the Commissioner and the Secretary to submit annually to the Vermont legislature.

The State Program Standing Committee for Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health was created to advise the Department of Mental Health on the quality and responsiveness of the mental health services the Department provides statewide for children, adolescents and their families.


Wednesday, November 25th from 9 to 10:30am EST:
Dismantling the Master's House: On Anti-Racism, Institutional Racism, and Psychosis

Hosted by the International Society for Psychological and Social Approaches to Psychosis (ISPS):

"In the wake of this year’s widespread protests, and the continued work of the Black Lives Matter movement, there is increased urgency to address how the systems, services, ideologies, and institutions that make up our mental health system, contribute to the oppression of racialised people.

Themes the webinar will touch upon: Have 2020’s massive uprisings changed the landscape? How does anti-racism relate to ‘psychosis’ and the mental health system more broadly? Can mental health services be decolonised?

There will be time for questions to the panel.

Register here.


Thursday, December 10th at 1:30pm EST:
Mental Health Courts and Specialized Courts in Canada: Access to Justice from the Perspective of People with Psychiatric Histories

Webinar hosted by the National Association for Rights Protection and Advocacy (NARPA).

In this presentation, attorney and researcher Ruby Dhand will draw from 100 in-depth interviews with key stakeholders involved with mental health courts and specialized courts across Canada to critique the extent to which mental health courts and specialized courts in that country increase access to justice for people with psychiatric histories. Through a comparative critique of mental health courts in the United States and Canada, this presentation will further analyze the extent to which these courts address race, culture, and other intersecting equity issues and appropriately implement the principles of therapeutic jurisprudence, while putting forth recommendations to improve them. 

Register here.


Friday, January 22, 2021 from 4pm to 8:30pm GMT / 11am to 3:30pm EST:
Drop the Disorder Poetry Evening

An evening of spoken word performances that challenge the culture of psychiatric diagnosis and the pathologising of emotional distress.  By A Disorder for Everyone.

Note: While most events listed in Mad Media Matters are free, this is a donation only event with a minimum fee of £1 ($1.32) to maximize accessibility.

Register here.

Friday, February 12th from 8 to 11am EST:
A Disorder for Everyone! - Change is Coming


AD4E welcomes the authors of two recent publications that offer a fundamental challenge to the dominant models of 'mental health:'

  • Sami Timimi, author of Insane Medicine: How the Mental Health Industry Creates Damaging Treatment Traps and How You Can Escape Them
  • Mary Boyle and Lucy Johnstone authors of A Straight Talking Introduction to the Power Threat Meaning Framework
Their presentations will be followed by a panel discussion with questions invited from the audience.  

Tickets by donation.  Register here.


The proposed hunger strike, "Fasting for Humanity" will call on the APA and other major medical and mental health member organizations, the Office of the Surgeon General, NAMI, and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to produce scientifically-valid evidence for the orthodox medical model claims of psychiatry, or admit to the media, government officials, and the general public that no such evidence exists.

Details can be found here.

The International Society for Ethical Psychology and Psychiatry, Inc. (ISEPP) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit volunteer organization of mental health professionals, physicians, educators, ex-patients and survivors of the mental health system, and their families. They are not affiliated with any political or religious group.

Their mission is to use the standards of scientific inquiry and critical reasoning to address the ethics of psychology and psychiatry, and to educate the public about the nature of “mental illness”, the de-humanizing and coercive aspects of many forms of mental health treatment, and the alternative humane ways of helping people who struggle with very difficult life issues.

Connie Lesold is a member of the NYC-based organization, Disabled In Action. In an interview with Connie, published in the last edition of Mad Media Matters, it was incorrectly stated that Connie was a member "Disability In Action." Also, Connie's father attended her college graduation, not her high school graduation.
MadFreedom is a human and civil rights membership organization whose mission is to secure political power to end discrimination and oppression of people based on perceived mental state.
MadFreedom envisions a world where every person regardless of race, gender, sexuality, class, ableness and mental state has the freedom to live their life on their own terms without coercion and with equality under the law.

To get involved, send an email to, to receive updates and invitations to Zoom meetings.

This biweekly newsletter is curated and edited by Vicki Warfield in collaboration with MadFreedom founder Wilda L. White.
Let us know what you think by replying to this email. We also welcome submissions. Please send submissions to


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