David Oaks Talks the long and dirty history of mental health

David Oaks, executive director of MindFreedom International, gave a speech at Capitol Theater on March 4. The speech was regarding mental health and the over-medication of “psychiatric disorders,” the effects medications have for long term use, and the revolution that is springing up around forced medication. The event was sponsored by BRICK.

Most of the lecture was about individual testimonies of psychiatric survivors. The people Oaks mentioned were victims of forced electroshock therapy, such as Elizabeth Ellis, a 67 year old teacher living in Minnesota.

Electroshock therapy, according to Oaks, does not work for longer than a month or two and prolonged therapy causes severe brain damage. With neuroleptics (e.g., Thorazine, Navane, Clozapine, and Abilify), there are adverse effects which often outweigh the positive ones, including severe damage to the brain’s frontal lobe, seizures, pancreatitis, and diabetes.

Oaks proposed a global boycott of all medication on May 5, 2012 to celebrate diversity instead of adhering to normality. He and his organization are spreading the word, hoping this day will help “Unite for a global nonviolent revolution in the mental health institution,” Oaks said.

During the Q&A, the audience was able to ask a lot of tough questions anonymously. One of the questions asked was, “How do you feel about violent members of society being locked up in a mental institution?” Oaks responded first by addressing public safety, saying that it “beats us down.” He said that instead of bringing a psychiatric survivor into the mix to potentially level with these type of people, society “clinicalizes” them.

When someone is in danger of being put in an institution, it can feel like the entire world is against them, Oaks said. Bringing one of his people to the table can help build an interpersonal connection to ultimately build community.

MindFreedom International was founded in 1986 as a non-government organization, according to Oaks. Their goal is to “protect the rights of the people who aren’t able to protect their own rights.” Oaks claims that the group is pro-choice when it comes to medicating psychiatric disorders, but encourages individuals to know their rights and fight against forced medication.

Oaks went to Harvard University and confessed that while he was there, he was put into psychiatric institutions five times, and even put into solitary confinement. He said he had been diagnosed as a schizophrenic and manic depressive and he was given many medications over the years to help“cure” him. For Oaks, the cure was not found with neuroleptics (also called anti psychotics), but with fighting against them.

Now Oaks discourages psychiatric labeling because of its traumatizing nature. Labeling someone who falls short of the “norm” is discrimination and not everyone who suffers from depression, etc. need anti psychotics.

“These people are often dislabeled, not disabled,” Oaks said.

Oaks believes that it comes down to is defining “normal.” Medical researchers and scientists want to standardize everyone so that they have an understanding of how people should act. According to Oaks, that’s just not possible. The reason for over-medication of these (sometimes mild) disorders is to fit every brain in the same box. MindFreedom International’s main concerns are with coerced psychiatric drugging and lack of non-drug alternatives, such as meditation, said Oaks.

Most of the audience was aware of the problems that Oaks pointed out and were receptive to his proposed solutions. There were multiple times during his speech where the audience would start clapping and cheering in agreement with what Oaks had to say. David Oaks headed to Ghana the next day to give similar speeches, and plans to bring his insights to the rest of the world.