Healing Voices Film Event
By Lisa Roma, Reginald Coleman and Dan Frey
Informed Decisions to be Made by The Individual
Note: The film here reviewed deals in part with the subject of coming off of psychiatric medications. This is a controversial subject as, on the one hand, psych meds can do harm to the body. On the other, being without them can lead to poor judgment, psychological pain and dangerous situations. The staff and volunteers at City Voices strongly encourage you to do the research, talk to your doctors, your family and friends before deciding about whether to stay on meds. Do not attempt to get off meds on your own. This action requires a strong support system to buffer you in case of crisis. You have the human right to choose what goes into your body. However, we do not live in a supportive and understanding society. In the U.S. people who have shown signs of mental illness have been marginalized, feared, incarcerated and basic human rights have been taken away. If you do decide to ween off of medications, do it slowly under careful supervision even if it takes years. Maybe you will find that remaining on the medication is best, perhaps at a more comfortable dose.
On April 29, 2016 we viewed Healing Voices, a documentary about people who experience extreme states of consciousness usually labeled as “psychosis” or “mental illness” by the medical establishment and the effort to preserve their human rights and dignity.
For many people hearing voices is a part of their life experience. The film offers a fresh perspective, exploring how to accept and love people who experience extreme states, rather than stigmatize, label, and medicate them, which can do more harm than good. Hearing voices is a normal human experience, a “dangerous gift” that many of history's movers and shakers experienced. It is how people respond to the voices that brings them into contact with services and not the fact that they hear voices.
“Mad in America” author Robert Whitaker chronicled society's shifts in perspective of people diagnosed as mentally ill. Each shift led to a different type of treatment. In the colonial days of the late 1700s, the Age of Reason, those who lost their reason were seen as less than human, abused, and treated like animals. Then came reforms in treatment led by the Quakers who viewed the mentally ill as brethren and were compassionate with their care-giving. In the late 1800s there were eugenic attitudes, forced sterilization, marriage prevention and long-term hospital stays. In 1950, Thorazine was introduced, which was essentially a straight-jacket in pill form. Today, pharmaceutical drugs dominate treatment. Mr. Whitaker said, “What we are really treating is our own desire to be safe. Madness is a mystery. If you conceive of people as brethren, that's a great starting point.”
The film follows three subjects over a five-year period—Oryx, Jen and Dan—each of whom are learning to live with extreme states of consciousness, hearing voices, etc. without psychiatric medications. They all belong to loving families and have steadfast friends in their support systems. Oryx and Jen are both married with children and have been there for one another through times of crisis. Dan's mother and friends have been his constant support. Dan said he feels more alive and vibrant without psych meds.
In 2013, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Thomas Insel, M.D., concluded that people diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychoses are a diverse group who need diverse approaches. Dr. Insel acknowledged in his Director's Blog, “For some people, remaining on medication long-term might impede a full return to wellness.”
Healing Voices declares that psychiatric survivors have the right to choose what is best for themselves in their own recovery, encourages people to share their stories and support one another. Judi Chamberlin, mental health advocate and activist, says, “People have a story to tell. Support each other by listening to these stories. Trauma exists. People should have a choice in their recovery.”
There are significant cultural factors that influence one's decision to stop taking psychiatric medications (and society's response to this decision) that are not adequately explored in the film. However, projects like Healing Voices are needed to push boundaries and create opportunities for ongoing dialogues.
DVDs or streaming video can be purchased at healingvoicesmovie.com/store. Other online resources include www.facebook.com/alternativesconference, www.mindfreedom.org, and to find a hearing voices group: www.hearingvoicesusa.org/find-a-group.