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A supporter of MindFreedom International, Gordon Sturrock, has helped create a web forum for military vets who support peace and social justice. Gordon asked MindFreedom director David Oaks to ‘kick off’ the particular forum on vets and mental health issues. Here’s David’s response.

On Military Veterans and Mental Health: Go Deeper

Date Published:

Oct 23, 2009 12:00 AM

Author: David W. Oaks

Source: MindFreedom International

Gordon Sturrock is encouraging people to join their new web forum “Veterans for Justice” and participate in web discussions on a variety of topics here:

Here’s a ‘welcome’ post in the mental health section, by David Oaks, Director of MindFreedom International.

Go Deeper

by David Oaks

Gordon invited me to post on the new forum about mental health and veterans issues.

I myself am not a veteran of war, though I am a survivor of the mental health system. This is my 33rd year working as an activist for human rights and alternatives in the mental health system. I direct one of the few totally independent nonprofits in the mental health advocacy field, MindFreedom International. Just google MindFreedom and you’ll find we do lots of grassroots work.

Just one initial comment on the intersection of vets and mental health:


The usual position of caring people on mental health for 200 years has been “More money.”

That is, when there’s a scandal in the mental health system, it usually ends with the conclusion, “The system needs more money.”

Don’t get me wrong, ‘more money’ for good programs is crucial, and we call for that all the time. Some of our 90 sponsor groups get mental health system money, and most of them need and deserve more.

But it’s time for democracy to get its hands on the mental health issue, and that means going beyond this two word position of “more money.”

More money…. FOR WHAT?

Go deeper.

In fact, real alternatives that work often go very deep indeed. For instance, consider “peer support.” We all intuitively know that good peer support can help. “It takes a village to heal a mind,” doesn’t it? But WHY? Well, one reason is that we are forming really deep and complex mutual connections between one another, and that can help with recovery and healing.

It’s really difficult for the current market system to supply that. You can’t “buy a village” off the shelf. Real healing may take really deep connections between people, real COMMUNITY CHANGE.

And there are countless other alternatives that people use effectively: Various types of counseling, but also nutritional approaches, exercise, art, music, nature (called ‘ecopsychology’), and so much more.

After all, we are talking about the MIND here. We shouldn’t get mystified by this, and defer to experts. But the mind is one of the more complicated things we know about in the universe.

So go deeper.

Maybe my point can be helped with a quick story:

I was watching this big round table on CSPAN last year about veterans and mental health.

They had congresspeople, vets, mental health professionals, researchers, all having a fascinating discussion on the topic.

I noticed that one or two of the main OPPONENTS of our social change movement were also on the round table, so I paid particular attention.

Now, in a lot of ways EVERYONE at that table said a lot of the same things we’re saying, such as that full recovery is possible, that people need a RANGE of a choice of services (counseling, peer counseling, but also jobs, housing, etc.). There was talk about the importance of listening to vets, etc. Now, a lot of this was just talk, but here’s my point.

One of our opponents — author Sally Satel — piped up. She said, to paraphrase, “Now all this is well and good, we all agree about the possibility of recovery, the need for alternatives. But I want to say that for SERIOUS diagnoses like ‘schizophrenia’ and ‘bipolar’ that is a totally different question. They mainly need to be put on psychiatric drugs, and kept on them.”

Now, I know I’m paraphrasing. But my point is SEGREGATION. Society is being a little bit nicer to the vets diagnosed with, say, PTSD or depression. There’s a little more common sense about the need for a range of services, including peer counseling, and that full recovery is possible.

But Dr. Satel made sure that everyone at that round table, and everyone watching, knew there was a ‘wall.’ And that wall was when someone had severe issues, then the ‘answer’ was mainly drug, drug, drug, drug, drug. Dr. Satel is one of the main pushers of more and more FORCED drugging, to bring in more laws requiring people to take their psychiatric drugs, or have their electroshock, including on an outpatient basis. She works for the extremist corporate think tank American Enterprise Institute that has even held a seminar endorsing more and more forced drugging. That’s right, these “get the government off our backs” folks are the same ones pushing more and more forced drugging, even in our own homes.

This can translate into unbelievable suffering and retraumatization for a vet with, say PTSD. Let’s say they’re still experiencing severe problems after a while. Well, the federal government is now funding experiments on using the super-powerful ‘neuroleptic’ or ‘antipsychotic’ drugs for PTSD.

We are pro-choice on people taking prescribed psychiatric drugs. Some of our members choose to take prescribed psychiatric drugs, other members hate them and avoid them like the plague. But we are UNITED in saying there should be a VOICE for people on the receiving end of mental health care. And there should be a range of CHOICES available for people, including those having really severe problems.

Making drug, drug, drug, drug, drug the answer, while excluding alternatives, and silencing the clients? That can have real life consequences of immense suffering.

Well, go ahead and google the words:

antipsychotic brain damage

You’ll get MindFreedom’s folder about lots of scientific studies that long-term high-dosage neuroleptic use can cause MEASURABLE BRAIN SHRINKAGE OF THE FRONTAL LOBES. In other words, and out and out lobotomy effect. Again, we have members who choose that course of medication, with their eyes wide open. But NO informed consent sheet we know of warns patients and their families they can have their FRONTAL LOBES shrunken with long-term use!

And hardly anyone is told that even for really severe problems — like hearing distressing voices — there are a lot of alternatives that work, that can minimize the use of drugs, or help people quit after a while, or even get through their crisis totally drug-free.

If you thought Bernie Madoff was unetihical, wait until you find out more about the kind of spin the pharmaceutical industry has been doing on some of these drugs.

So, when I watched that round table with Sally Satel…. that was what was NOT being discussed.

So, go deeper.

Thanks for listening, and I hope a bunch of folks get on the forum and talk about these important, neglected issues.

In support,


David W. Oaks, Executive Director

MindFreedom International

“Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”

– Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.