Friday, December 7, 2012

Nothing About Us Without Us?

By Angela Cerio, CPRP
Not at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual conference
I went to the APA conference in Philadelphia May 5th and 6th 2012 as press, representing New York City Voices, in order to assess whether person-centered, recovery-oriented principles had filtered up to the psychiatrists. In my opinion, the answer is “no”—at least among most of the presenters. The only “consumer” presenter I am aware of was Dr. Kay Redfield Jameson. (See Melissa Farrell’s article in this issue.) I was reminded of the NY State Office of Mental Health Annual Research Conferences which I had attended over 10 years ago. Ken Steele, the founder of City Voices and the Mental Health Voter Empowerment Project was the only one of “us” among the presenters. Yes there was definitely an “us and them” atmosphere, both back then and at the APA.
One big difference between “then” and “now” is the reduction in value of the “freebees” the pharmaceutical companies are allowed to use to lure the psychiatrists to their displays. One workshop “Psychiatrists and Pharma: How Should They Interact?” addressed the issue of “samples” left by pharmaceutical representatives when they visit the psychiatrists. It was suggested that these samples should be “pooled” for use by all physicians within the practice or agency.  Press was not invited to the special “educational dinners” at swanky hotels in the area sponsored by the various pharmaceutical companies.
There was an “Ethics Tract” and I attended an interesting workshop: “Ethics and Diagnosis: The Medicalization of Predicaments.” It was sparsely attended compared to all the workshops on medication, diagnosis, and the financial considerations of psychiatric practice. I knew I was in the right place when the presenter stated, “Those of you who came to this session are probably not the ones who need to hear what we have to say.” They spoke about how distressing life events are often diagnosed in order to justify billing for medication and treatment, and how that diagnosis can lead to lifelong interaction with and dependence upon the mental health system.
I had originally planned to go to Mind Freedom International’s protest over the new DSM5. And I did. (See photos.) On Saturday, I marched with my peers from the “Society of Friends Center” to the Philadelphia Convention Center.  One marcher dressed up as a psychiatrist, complete with a huge hypodermic needle.  This protest was widely advertised as “Occupy the APA”, and there was obviously a lot of security in place at the convention center to prevent us from doing so.  The march included an event outside of the convention center in which people who had been diagnosed by psychiatry held signs in front of them with the diagnosis they had been given, tearing them up and holding up new signs with labels of their own choosing such as “human being”, “wounded healer”, “human rights activist”, “advocate”, or whatever words they wished to use to identify themselves. George Ebert of the Mental Patients Liberation Alliance in New York State, provided motel rooms for those who stayed over until Sunday to hear speakers Robert Whitiker, author of Mad in America and Jim Gottstein, Esq., founder of the Law Project for Psychiatric Rights from Alaska, a well known human rights activist.  An entire bus of protestors came in from Albany, so New York State was well represented.  Spearheaded in Philadelphia by Susan Rogers of the National Mental Health Consumers’ Self-Help Clearinghouse, this protest was widely covered on the Internet by Mind Freedom; Lauren Tenney and Dan Hazen on Youtube, and on websites and  Any event which brings together people who want to see change in the field of mental health, I find to be exciting and empowering, and this protest was no exception.

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