A long-time advocate in mental health, Ed Knight, is calling for an investigation of the way a US federal agency has been controlling mental health consumer and psychiatric survivor activity. Ed specifically is concerned about the role of Risa Fox, a Public Health Advisor who often oversees mental health consumer grants for the huge federal mental health organization SAMHSA: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Systems Administration. [Update 29 Oct. 2010]

Ed Knight, PhD, attended the federally-funded conference Alternatives 2010, and is concerned about control by the federal funders, SAMHSA.


Who Cancelled Robert Whitaker and Censored Will Hall?

by Ed Knight,PhD, CPRP

The Alternatives 2010 annual conference, from 29 Sept. to 3 Oct. 2010, attracted over 1,100 participants, most of whom were people psychiatrically labeled. Robert Whitaker was a keynote speaker. 

The author of the recently released book Anatomy of an Epidemic, Whitaker had his speech canceled and then reinstated after protests.

The question is: Who canceled his speech in the first place?

His road to that speech was rocky indeed. His invitation by the National Empowerment Center organizer of the event was canceled by an employee of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Authority (SAMHSA), the sponsor of the conference. 

This led to a protest and then his reinstatement as a keynoter. Whitaker’s book and speech are tightly argued and based in scientific evidence and not simply a call for people to immediately get medications. Whitaker, as a matter of fact, warned people that his argument is about the well-documented long-term outcomes and not medical advice to “get off meds.” 

Will Hall, co-founder of The Freedom Center and co-coordinator of the Icarus Project, is the lead author of the Harm Reduction Guide To Coming Off Psychiatric Meds. Will was offering a workshop of the same title. At the last minute Will had the title of his workshop changed to Medication Empowerment: A Pro-Choice Harm Reduction Approach. Will is accused of talking people off meds. This is not the case as anyone knows who has heard Will speak or read his guide. 

Will issued a press release saying he would not accept the censorship and canceled his appearance at Alternatives. As in the case of Robert Whitaker, protests especially on Facebook led to his reinstatement. Again the question is: What SAMHSA employee made the decisions to cancel and to reinstate?

The SAMHSA Administrator, Pam Hyde, in her keynote – which was apparently spontaneous – said that as soon as she found out regarding both decisions, she reinstated Whitaker’s keynote and Hall’s workshop title. Both Dan Fisher and Pam Hyde apologized for the events that had made the road to Hall’s and Whitaker’s appearances so rocky. She said she did not know about, nor make, the decisions herself to cancel or censor. 

So who did?

Dan Fisher, Executive Director of NEC, would not talk of the events. The obvious candidate from SAMHSA is the contract manager of NEC Risa Fox. The talk of many recovery movement leaders was indeed consistently that it was Fox who had made the cancellation and censorship decisions. 

We talked to people inside and outside SAMHSA. The consistent message was that SAMHSA is “all about control.” Many said that SAMHSA is in the hands of the pharmaceutical industry. It was said that the situation of such decisions is “out of control.” It was also said to be consistent with Fox’s behavior over a long period of time. 

We do not know who made these decisions. Given the situation, which is serious, we call for an investigation and the reassignment of anyone who was involved to another less sensitive position within SAMHSA.

We also call for an investigation to see if there is possible pharmaceutical industry money influencing SAMHSA.

In such important decisions, SAMHSA and other government agencies must be transparent, which is of course a promise of the Obama administration. We the people have a right to know. We may disagree. We may protest. These are our rights. But we also have the right to know. We have the right to transparent government.

Dr. Knight is a mental health consumer, first diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1969. Ed received his doctorate in Sociology from the New School for Social Research in New York in 1979. He has experienced homelessness and was hospitalized a number of times, the last time in 1981. The turning point for Dr. Knight came when a young psychologist toldhim, “Don’t give up your delusions of grandeur. Those are your goals.”

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