Decision: Is it time to protest the mental health system, or not? Ray Sandford of Minnesota received another involuntary, outpatient, maintenance electroshock today.

Ray Sandford is regularly given involuntary outpatient electroshock in Minnesota.

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14 January 2009

    Another forced electroshock for Ray Sandford today.

    Decision: Protest the mental health system, or not?

    by David W. Oaks, Director, MindFreedom International

As I e-mail out this message, Ray Sandford is being escorted again this Wednesday morning, 14 January 2009, from his group home near Minneapolis, Minnesota to Mercy Hospital for another involuntary, maintenance, outpatient electroshock under court order.

There is a decision each and every one of us needs to make.

It is the same decision Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks and thousands of others in the civil rights movement had to make.,

To protest, or not?

One of my resolutions for 2009 is to nonviolently protest.

Ray — summoning that unstoppable human spirit that always impresses me in so many psychiatric survivors — asks us to protest.

Survivors of electroshock human rights violations on the MindFreedom “Zapback” e-mail list, where the Ray Campaign is being coordinated, also say it’s time to protest the mental health system.

There are many ways, times, places and reasons to protest.

But it begins with a decision.

Ray’s forced electroshock today is not a fluke.

Ray’s forced shock is not because the mental health system lacks money, though good programs need more resources.

Ray’s forced shock is not because of a few “bad apples” in the mental health system.

Ray is surrounded by an array of taxpayer-funded agencies and professionals who are charged with protecting and helping Ray.

Ray has had court hearings represented by a court-appointed attorney. He has a conservator, general guardian and a guardian ad litem. Minnesota legal advocacy, ombudsman and mental health consumer groups are well aware of Ray’s shock. Minnesota’s Governor Pawlenty has received hundreds of complaints. MindFreedom filed a torture complaint with the United Nations.

The headquarters of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America [ELCA], whose six Synods in Minnesota own Ray’s guardian agency LSSMN, say they have been inundated with hundreds of complaints. Their official response: They’re not in charge of Ray’s shock, though we never said they were. We asked ELCA to stand up publicly against forced electroshock, they refuse.

Ray’s forced shock is a sign and symptom of how extremely oppressive today’s mental health system remains, and how so much of our society is complicit with this oppression.

Ray’s forced shock is an excruciatingly painful lesson and wake up call to us all about an oppression so deep, it is seldom named: sanism.

Ray’s courage has educated so many people. Because Ray called the MindFreedom office this Fall, many people now know forced electroshock exists, and that psychiatrists sometimes give ongoing “maintenance” electroshock. Many now know electroshock is often given on an outpatient basis.

Many people now know that even Americans living in their own homes, which are supposed to be our “castles,” out in the community, without being convicted of any crime, can be court ordered to receive such an invasive, potentially-irreversible procedure.

Now we know.

Don’t let this knowledge become normal. As MLK said, show your “creative maladjustment.”

When I was an activist in the peace movement, there was a saying. “To know, and not to act, is not yet truly to know.”

Reading about this on the Internet is not enough.

Each of us needs to decide and prepare:

Protest or not to protest?

When it’s time for a forced shock, Ray is told because preparation must begin.

The day before, all food is removed from his fridge because to get ready for anesthesia he cannot eat for a number of hours.

Then early in the morning staff wake him up and he is brought to the hospital. Ray is put under anesthesia, and electricity is run through his head inducing a convulsion. He wakes up with more memory and cognitive problems.

Ray has had more than three dozen and he says, “It is scary as hell every time I go.”

Ray’s forced shock is not because of a lack of public attention.

Hundreds have spoken out against this ongoing forced shock. Last month, Ray’s plight was aired on National Public Radio. Ray’s own elderly mother, a retired psychiatric nurse, has recently pleaded with Ray’s psychiatrist to stop (since Ray is under guardianship, she has no official say).

Most recently, Ray was sent to a neurologist for a check-up, but that did not stop his shock.

The only change this past month is that instead of weekly electroshock, Ray is now on a complicated pattern of every other week, followed by every third week, back to every other week. Instead of receiving his maintenance electroshock last Wednesday as Ray at first expected, his shock is today.

Why are we surprised?

Based on the hard-won lessons of so many other groups that have organized for their basic human rights, how can we expect real change without protest?

In my 33 years in this field, I have seen many colleagues begin to work in organizations and agencies that are funded by the mental health system, and many of them are doing tremendously helpful and crucial work. This work must continue, it’s a sign of hope.

Today it is common to hear mental health system leaders claim this system’s values have changed to:

  •   Mental health consumer self-determination.
  •   Client empowerment.
  •   Advocacy and human rights.
  •   Recovery.
  •   Consumer-driven trauma-informed peer-delivered services.

And again, there are signs of hope.

But we ask:

Why is Ray Sandford getting involuntary maintenance electroshock this morning?

Why is there a mental health “Abu Ghraib” operating before our very eyes?

Why does forced electroshock and forced psychiatric drugging continue in other states in the USA?

Why is forced electroshock growing internationally?

In my study of history, minor reform of psychiatry is not a solution, minor reform is one of the problems.

Minor reform fuels more of the same.

When you hear a simple call for “more money” for the mental health system — without addressing the required fundamental change, watch out!

Remember Ray.

Truly, we need a nonviolent revolution in the mental health system.

Historically, nonviolent revolution requires nonviolent protest.

So there is one question now:

Protest, or not?

Protest begins with a decision. I hope you make that personal commitment.

If you agree it is time for protest, please forward this to a colleague and add in your own words, “I agree, it’s time.”

Remember Ray.

– David W. Oaks, Director, MindFreedom International

For links to latest news, Ray Campaign blog, and frequently asked questions about the “No More Shock For Ray Campaign” go here:

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Open to the public, most members identify themselves as individuals who have personally experienced human rights violations in the mental health system.

MindFreedom is for activists who want to unite “in a spirit of mutual cooperation” as the MFI mission statement begins.

Benefits include MindFreedom Journal, special web and e-mail networking, discount on purchases, MindFreedom Shield, member services office… and a nonviolent revolution in mental health.

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