Click on the image below to read this piece published by Mad in America.
Click on the image below to read this piece published by Mad in America.
Suppose, for a moment, that Stephen Paddock, the man responsible for the massacre in Las Vegas, was a suicidal suicide prevention activist, committed to transforming the gun debate. Imagine if what you see below was his suicide note.
Any reasonable person who spends even a modicum of effort to try to develop a plan to reduce the number of Americans who die every year from gun violence would focus on preventing suicides by firearm.
Even a child in grade school, given a handful of statistics, can quickly surmise that the people in power in Washington are more focused on remaining in power, and enriching themselves financially, than reducing the number of people who die by suicide by gun. What I have done here in Las Vegas was aimed at highlighting the facts that I just pointed out.
I predict that media organizations in this country will repeatedly play video recordings of the terrifying fish-in-a-barrel massacre that I just perpetrated. They will sensationalize the horror I rained down on the unlucky people caught up in my plan to make a meaningful difference in this world before I die. Details about the modifications made to the weapons I intend to use will be seized upon, and may even inspire talk from some pols about banning such devices. When they do, be sure to ask them, “How many of the 60 Americans who die by suicide by firearm, every single day in the U.S., kill themselves with a semi-automatic weapon that’s been legally modified to an automatic one?”
Make no mistake, this country’s problem isn’t gun control, it’s the love of profit over life.
Truth be told, I am suicidal. Why I feel this way is unimportant, but what is important to me is that people understand why I did what I did.
My dying wish is to transform the way the people in this country frame the gun control problem. May the lives lost in this massacre not be lost in vain. Let this event and these words be the one to inspire Americans to finally begin to realize that for-profit media concerns and self-interested politicians are the puppet masters pulling the strings of an all too amenable public. Americans must never forget that they live in the capital of capitalism.
As terrifying as mass murder massacres undoubtedly are, the loss of lives as a result of them, pales in comparison to the number of people who die by suicide. About 120 Americans die by suicide every single day in this country, and about half of those are suicides by firearm. Refuse to be distracted by the sensationalistic news coverage. Refuse to let politicians and for-profit media companies focus the gun control debate on these relatively rare events that claim so few lives compared to suicide.
Suicide Prevention Advocate
Do you think a revelation like this would make any difference in the gun control debate?
Dr. Tracy Gaudet is the Executive Director of the Office of Patient-Centered Care and Cultural Transformation at the Veterans Health Administration, and she is the person who invited me to participate in a plenary panel discussion about how her team’s Whole Health Model is helping to re-conceptualize healthcare within the VHA by focusing on what matters most to the veterans rather than what is the matter with them. This transformational approach to care delivery aims to improve the experience and well-being of veterans receiving healthcare services.
Our panel addressed the Secretary, and 600 other senior leaders from the VA, assembled for their annual leadership summit Monday and Tuesday of last week. It was an honor and a pleasure to share the dais with the veterans, and to contrast my journey through the civilian mental healthcare system two decades ago, while in the midst of a suicidal crisis, with the stories of veterans experiencing care based on the Whole Health Model. I was grateful for the opportunity to provide my insights to such an influential audience in service of helping veterans struggling with suicidal impulses.
A dear friend introduced me to Dr. Tracy Gaudet and her team’s unconventional approach for providing integrative, proactive, whole person-centered care to our nation’s veterans a couple of years ago. Reading a document that describes their Whole Health Model, and how it could help with the fight to reduce suicide, changed the course of my life.
I had all but given up on working to be an agent of change committed to reforming our current healthcare system, but learning about her team’s approach to helping people maximize their well-being gave me hope that change was possible. I was inspired, and within a year, I had left my full-time position as a project leader in information technology to focus on suicide awareness and prevention and mental healthcare reform. I became a board member of the Philadelphia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and a Zero Suicide Champion for the Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s life-saving paradigm for helping care providers vitalize their suicide prevention regime.
My journey through a mental healthcare system that had placed my care provider and my problems at its center, revealed obvious opportunities for improvement. The Whole Health approach places the healthcare consumer at the center of the care delivery model, and champions proactive measures to promote and sustain health and well-being, rather than reactive ones aimed at managing the symptoms of a malady. You can read more about how Dr. Gaudet and her team are driving cultural transformation within the VHA via “well-being innovation” in her own words here, and you can watch the entire Whole Health panel presentation from last Tuesday morning here. I believe Dr. Gaudet included me on the panel, in part, because of my public criticism of the mental healthcare system that treated me subsequent to nearly dying by suicide two decades ago. [“Mental Illness” is a Harmfully Misleading Phrase that Causes Suffering By Design ] It’s hard for me to express how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to share such unconventional ideas with such a powerful and influential audience.
I am always grateful when people in positions of power enable me to reach an audience. I was grateful when Michael Kasdan shared my writing with The Good Men Project audience. I was grateful, and honored, when someone at Mad in America was compelled to share my writing with their readership.
Weeks before I shared some of my status quo-challenging ideas about mental healthcare with Secretary Shulkin and the senior leadership of the VA, I submitted a slightly modified version of the aforementioned article to The Mighty – a for profit media company aiming to help people “face disability, disease and mental illness together.” They declined to publish the article.
In May of this year, I co-wrote an interview article entitled What is mental illness? with author and Guggenheim Fellow Christopher Lane, who wrote Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness a decade ago. You can read an excerpt from that piece on my blog here. I was in contact with an editor from The Mighty about the article via email while Chris and I were writing it. I sent the editor a draft of the piece during the first week of June, and I have never heard back from her since. I attempted to connect with her publicly about the article on Twitter, where we have communicated in the past, but she remains unresponsive.
I suspected that the reasonable criticisms of the biomedical narrative of “mental illness” throughout our What is mental illness? piece might not be well-received by The Mighty. Reading article after article, on TheMighty, written by well-meaning, but arguably misguided advocates touting the validity of the biomedical narrative of “mental illness” convinced me that the media company’s leadership may be positioning themselves to profit from advertising psych meds to suffering people. It concerns me that more people may be misled, like I was twenty year ago, to believe that their suffering necessarily stems from an impossible to pinpoint disease of the brain that is certainly responsible for their suffering.
It’s hard to believe how lucrative simply marketing pharmaceutical medications to people in psychological and emotional distress has become in this country. The thriving multi-billion dollar direct to consumer (DTC) psych med advertising business increased almost 10% in 2016 to $5.6 Billion according to data from Nielsen, and that figure doesn’t even include money spent on digital advertising. The impact of this reductionist narrative propagated by the manufacturers of psych meds is evident in many stories you’ll find on The Mighty. Article contributors prone to blaming or scapegoating their ostensibly malfunctioning brains for their suffering are commonplace. In fact, particularly eloquent advocates are celebrated and awarded for their activism.
I've worked in Quality Assurance in finance off & on for over 2 decades. The "support group" nature of the MH advocacy mvmt is problematic. pic.twitter.com/yVHRTQKCZf
— Francesco Bellafante (@iameinstein) May 26, 2017
Unfortunately, more often than not, stories published by The Mighty downplay, or completely ignore, evidence pointing to the complex interplay of biological, psychological and environmental factors that lead people to experience the symptoms commonly associated with the condition descriptions found within the American Psychiatric Association’s bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Sadly, it’s not hard to find evidence that giving people powerful psychoactive drugs often serves to increase people’s suffering in many cases. See the chart above for billions of reasons why suffering people continue to pay for treatments that may harm them instead of help them.
I don’t know why the editorial staff who work for Megan Griffo, The Mighty’s editor-in-chief, were not inclined to publish the two aforementioned articles that I submitted, but I stumbled upon a Mad in America post by Twilah Hiari yesterday that may offer some insight.
There are three reasons why Upjohn is here taking an interest in these diagnoses. The first is money. The second is money. And the third is money.
This YouTube video from Sarah Acree came to my attention a few minutes ago…
Top 5 Things to NEVER Say to Depressed People
I wrote this in response to Sarah:
“It’s a mental illness, it’s a disease of the brain…”
Have you ever considered that this claim increases stigma for people suffering with feelings of hopelessness and despair Sarah? There’s evidence to suggest that it does.
I agree that education is very important. Working to increase people’s understanding about what we don’t understand about the brain is critical in dispelling disempowering narratives about the causes of different types of human suffering and distress, I think. Isn’t it bad enough that some people are unlucky enough to feel as terrible as they do? How is forcing suffering people to take on the “sick role” in society in order to receive professional help in reducing their suffering not patently insulting?
There is a lack of evidence to back up the claim that you’re making about depression, mental illness and the brain Sarah. Are you aware that the former director of the National Institute of Mental Health refocused the NIMH’s research away from the “mental disorder” categories in the DSM four years ago. You can read what Dr. Thomas Insel wrote about this seminal event in mental healthcare here.
Definitive claims about the brain’s role in a “disease of the mind” are best viewed skeptically, especially when powerful entities in a multi-billion dollar business are actively promoting them. You believe what you believe about “mental illness” because of the vast sums of money spent on trying to cause you to believe what you believe, I believe. Moreover, I think you believing what you believe about depression and the brain is more beneficial to your care provider than it is to you.
I implore you to consider reading accounts about “mental illness” not propagated by pharmaceutical companies Sarah. Please consider reading Christopher Lane’s Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness or anything by Robert Whitaker. There’s plenty of evidence in your video to suggest that you’re making the same mistake that I made back in 1998 after nearly killing myself. You can read more about that here.
I applaud anyone trying to make a positive difference for others, and that definitely includes you Sarah… so kudos to you for your courage and for sincerely working to help others in pain. With that said, I still sincerely hope that you’re open to considering some of the ideas that I’ve written about here.
A different version of this post was published by The Good Men Project where it has been shared almost 400 times so far. Subsequently, this article was republished by Mad in America where it has been viewed over 1100 times. I recently submitted it to The Mighty. I received an email from them explaining why they would not be publishing it which included the line below.
Right now, we unfortunately don’t have the capacity to publish every story on our site.
I sincerely doubt “capacity” had anything to do with The Mighty’s editorial decision regarding this piece.
I’ve spent close to twenty years looking for reasons behind why I was compelled to think and act suicidally when I was twenty seven years old. While my search has yielded more questions than definitive answers thus far, I’m convinced that sharing what I’ve learned so far will help others.
Events happen, and then people think and say things about those events—let’s call those stories. No matter how accurate or truthful a story is seen to be, events that have occurred and the stories that people tell about those events, are never the same thing. They can’t be because one is an occurrence in reality while it’s happening, and the other is an after the fact symbolic representation meant to describe a prior real occurrence. I’m no linguist, but this is the nature of language, right? We use language and stories to encapsulate and communicate meaning about our reality and our conscious experience of that reality—every word is a story unto itself making sense of existence. Every diagnosis of every “mental disorder” relies on a translation of stories. A person tells a psychiatrist a story, and the psychiatrist maps that natural language story onto a “mental disorder” language story from a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Millions of people assigned a “mental disorder” story or a “mental illness” diagnosis end up failing to see the basic event-story distinction I just pointed out. They confuse their DSM diagnosis or “mental disorder story” with reality itself. Unfortunately, many patients are also systematically misled to necessarily attribute the issue that prompted them to see a psychiatrist to a supposed specific brain pathology that mysteriously eludes accurate definition and explanation.
I made these mistakes after nearly killing myself nineteen years ago, in part, because of the forces of institutional corruption at work within our mental health care system written about by Robert Whitaker and Lisa Cosgrove in Psychiatry Under the Influence. I share this true story as an anecdotal example of those corrupting forces in action. It is my hope to decrease the likelihood that other people won’t be misled like I was. I also hope to inspire the many well-intentioned but misguided “lived experience” mental health advocates who are confused like I was to think differently. They are unwitting participants in this harmful confusion’s perpetuation.
A few days after I nearly killed myself a psychiatrist told me that I was suffering from a “mental illness” called Major Depressive Disorder after talking with me for less than fifteen minutes. That’s all the time it took him to gather enough information to know which “mental illness” was plaguing me and how to treat it. He prescribed me an antidepressant as he mentioned something vague about the amount of a neurotransmitter in my brain called serotonin and selective reuptake inhibition. I also began seeing a psychologist for talk therapy twice a week. In just three or four months I was feeling like my old self again—the same amount of time it had taken me to go from feeling fine to almost killing myself. I believed the story my psychiatrist told me about the cause of my despair. He gave me the name of an apparent disorder with my brain, and a pill to fix the problem. Back then, it seemed to me that the medication I was taking did more to help me than anything the psychologist and I discussed. That assumption was a costly one for me, and my family. It led me to make two consequential mistakes that millions of other people diagnosed with a “mental illness” also make. First, I failed to see my diagnosis as a view of reality, mistaking it for reality itself. I conflated a series of actual events from my life with a boilerplate story about a “mental disorder” from a big book. Doctors are trusted authorities. When you’re unquestionably hurting, it’s comforting when a trusted authority gives you an officially-sanctioned medical reason for why you feel so horrible, and better yet, a remedy to help you. My mistake was compounded when I came to believe that my diagnosis mapped onto a specific brain pathology necessarily responsi
A deeper examination of my suicidal crisis subsequent to receiving my “mental illness” diagnosis revealed how childish, fearful, egocentric thinking and bad luck led me down a path towards self-destruction. To clarify “egocentric” I’m not talking about arrogance, narcissism or even self-preoccupation. At the heart of my egocentrism in my younger years was the failure to readily recognize that my view of reality, was a point of view at all. Growing up I prided myself on being right. I prided myself on objective, quantitative measures of just how right I was. I was especially proud when I was deemed 100% right. Egocentric people become attached to being right, and they often are. I became so accustomed to being right, that I confused my view of reality with reality itself. I almost killed myself, in part, because of this confusion, this conflation of what I thought was happening with what was actually happening. There were four other types of childish and/or fearful thinking that led me from being involved in an awkward exchange during a routine business meeting in Toronto to genuinely believing that I was an unintelligent, overcompensated fraud of a human being destined to disappoint my father and myself. Those types of thinking are called catastrophizing, overgeneralizing, black and white thinking and past counter-example blocking. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective way to address these often disempowering ways of thinking. This other narrative that describes the conditions and events that led to my psychological and emotional struggle is patently more accurate and more practically useful than anything my psychiatrist told me about my ostensibly malfunctioning brain. Nineteen years later, it’s evident that me believing that my suicidal behavior necessarily resulted from a “mental illness” was more beneficial to the psychiatrist who told me that than it was for me. I’m not claiming that this was a fault of my doctor or a sign of bad faith or ill-intent on his part. His profession trained him to look for different nails to hit with different hammers, and I was a perfect fit for a hit from an antidepressant. He was just doing his job—playing his role in a system. Unfortunately, like millions of other people who are given a “mental illness” diagnosis, I came to see my diagnosis as a defining part of my identity because of my respect for my doctor’s authority, and my belief that my problem was necessarily in my brain. This belief led me to seriously entertain the fallacy that I was biologically destined to suffer from despair over and over again.
My stay at the private mental hospital subsequent to nearly dying by suicide was five days long. I spoke with my psychiatrist on three separate occasions during my five day stay. We spoke briefly on the day I was admitted. We bumped into each other once, and spoke for less than five minutes. And we spoke for about ten minutes on the day I was discharged. While reviewing my bill, after being released, I noticed that I was billed for “Individual psychotherapy” five times, one charge for each day of my stay. When I called the mental hospital to inform them of the obvious billing error, I was informed that every patient in the facility was charged in this manner. I explained how this seemed patently fraudulent and unethical to me given the literal definition of the word psychotherapy. The person I spoke with apologized but said there was nothing she could do, remarking something like, “That’s just how it works.” The first time I thought and behaved in a way that matched the diagnostic criteria for a “manic episode” found in the DSM occurred after taking an antidepressant. I’m aware this fact doesn’t prove that the antidepressant was the proximate cause of this development in my life, but given the wealth of evidence supporting the hypothesis that antidepressants often have iatrogenic effects on the people who take them, like inducing mania, for example, it’s reasonable to consider that my treatment for Major Depressive Disorder was a causal factor in me exhibiting behavior that led a different psychiatrist to diagnose me with Bipolar Disorder I.
I’m so grateful that someone was willing and able to inspire me to question the stories psychiatrists told me about the cause of my suffering. Powerful authority figures implying that brain pathology is necessarily to blame for the suffering behind “mental illnesses” increases the chances of people believing that they need to buy pharmaceutical remedies to be well. How else are psychiatrists who only prescribe psych meds going to their pay bills? Ironically and probably unbeknownst to the vast majority of people diagnosed with a “mental illness” the National Institute of Mental Health ceased funding research based on the categories listed in the DSM in 2013. When announcing that no more federal dollars would be spent on research based on the DSM going forward, Dr. Thomas Insel said that diagnosing a “mental illness” by asking a patient about her feelings was analogous to diagnosing a heart patient by asking her about her chest pain. I’m not arguing that people don’t experience emotional distress. I’m arguing that the words used to describe the causes of feeling a lack of ease or distress can perpetuate a person’s lack or ease, or worse, compound it. I am committed to changing the world by changing the words that people use when they talk about “mental illness.”
Here’s an example:
You have a “mental illness” or a “mental defect” resulting from a specific, yet somehow unidentifiable, brain pathology that is causing you psychological and emotional distress. You can treat your “mental disorder” with a chemical made in a lab that will hopefully mysteriously correct your brain pathology for as long as you can bear the undesirable effects of that chemical.
Learning more about yourself, the human condition and the many different approaches proven to help other people maximize their own well-being will help you to grow into a person who experiences less and less psychological and emotional distress over time.
Which is more empowering?
If I still haven’t convinced you, please consider this final example from history that hopefully more clearly illustrates my point that a “mental disorder” or a “mental illness” diagnosis is necessarily a subjective story about events, and not an objective description of a constellation of thoughts and behaviors that are necessarily caused by a specific brain pathology.
Imagine it’s 1972 and a man visits a psychiatrist because despite having a great relationship with his lover and a job he loves, he’s miserable. He’s been estranged from his entire family, and he is suffering a great deal as a result. He can’t sleep. He’s constantly anxious, and he’s feeling quite hopeless about things ever getting better. He explains that all of his problems arose when he admitted to his family, a few weeks ago, that his lover was a man. Shocked by the revelation, his family said they never wanted to see or speak with him again. The doctor tells the man that the source of his problem is a “mental disorder” in the DSM called Homosexuality. The man is the son of a southern Baptist minister, and he has been ashamed of his attraction to men his whole life. He respects his doctor, and his father too. In fact, he thinks they’re both right. He sees his love and sexual desire for men as sinful urges that he is supposed to resist, but he is incapable of doing so. He sees his homosexual acts as mortal sins, and evidence of brain pathology. Feeling utterly hopeless, lost and beyond redemption, a month after being diagnosed with the Homosexuality “mental disorder” the man kills himself.
Please consider helping me spread the idea that “mental illness” is a harmfully misleading phrase that causes suffering by design.
If you are part of the suicide prevention movement, you are likely aware of the fact that work to attach a suicide deterrent system to the Golden Gate Bridge commenced recently. While reading the piece about this seminal event by Samantha Schmidt published in the Washington Post, I found the exchange pictured below in the comments online.
I’ll grant that the claim about finding other means to die by suicide is contradicted by empirical evidence, but I’m curious what scientific studies you’re referring to regarding the other two claims. More than 1500 Americans die every single month due to suicide via a firearm – a death toll of over 1.7 million lives lost over 80 years. Claiming that $200 million is “too high a price” to pay to save hundreds of people from dying by suicide, when thousands or tens of thousands of lives might be saved if this money was directed to firearms means restriction programs seems like a reasonable claim. Unfortunately so too is the claim about life being too painful for too many people to endure.
If/when a suicide occurs at the Golden Gate Bridge after the net is completed, it will surely be the most sensationalized suicide in US history, won’t it? This event, if/when it occurs will also be the most demoralizing, and most costly, financially speaking, for the suicide prevention movement, I imagine.
I think spending over $200 million dollars on this net sets the stage for a suicide prevention movement calamity. The net will be 20 feet below the bridge, right? Imagine a suicidal person at the ceremony commemorating the net’s completion. Imagine this person has a ten foot metal cable concealed under her clothing. One end of the cable has a fastener capable of being quickly attached to the bridge’s railing, the other end is looped around her neck.
Surely, the installation of the net at the Golden Gate Bridge increases the chances of a horrifically tragic event like this happening. The only reasonable reason to spend over $200 million on this project is to create a suicide means restriction symbol.
It seems reasonable to claim that given:
1. the fungibility of money,
2. the relatively minuscule number of lives lost to suicide at the bridge versus suicide by firearms nationally (58 every single day) and
3. the patent increase in the likelihood of the most sensationalized suicide ever, occurring at the bridge, to ill-effect to the cause of reducing the suicide rate…
that a suicide prevention investment of this magnitude for this purpose is so myopic that it’s a moronic misappropriation of money.
Make no mistake, if I could snap my fingers, and cause suicide deterrent systems like the one being built at the Golden Gate Bridge to magically exist under every single bridge on Earth where a suicide has occurred, I would.
That said, surely a life lost to suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge is not more valuable than any other life lost to suicide, right? In the work of stopping suicide, it’s an absolute value numbers game, isn’t it?
The resources at our collective disposal to prevent suicide are scarce. For example, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the largest private national non-profit involved in the fight to stop suicide has an annual budget that’s only about $18 Million. The AFSP is going after reducing the suicide rate in a strategic way to make the best use of the limited financial resources it has at its disposal. They have a practical plan to reduce the U.S. suicide rate by 20% by 2025. A primary focus in that plan is to aggressively address lethal means restriction as a way to save lives. The most common way to die by suicide in this country is by firearm, and the AFSP has recently started working directly with the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Their collaboration has led to a breakthrough firearms lethal means restriction program.
The AFSP is working with representatives from local gun shops, shooting ranges and hunting clubs to educate retailers and the firearm-owning community on suicide prevention and firearms. The pilot program, involving community-based AFSP chapters in four states, is the first time a national suicide organization has collaborated with gun retailers, range owners and the firearm-owning community about suicide prevention and firearms. Many of the strategies of the pilot program will utilize co-developed resources through a new partnership between AFSP and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms industry. “One of the first areas identified through Project 2025, our initiative aimed at reducing the annual suicide rate 20 percent by 2025, was a critical need to reduce the number of suicides using a firearm. But, we know we can’t do it alone,” said AFSP CEO Robert Gebbia. “We will work alongside firearm retailers and range owners and the firearm-owning community to better inform and educate them on warning signs, and what to do if someone may be at risk for suicide.”
I will stipulate that there is a non-zero chance that if the suicide deterrent system at the Golden Gate Bridge is completed that not one single human being will ever again die by suicide at or on the bridge or the net. That said, given my personal experience with suicidal thoughts and behavior, as well as my experience with other extreme states of highly creative consciousness, I doubt that the net will be the end of suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge. It would surprise me if the completion of the net is not followed by a suicide at the bridge, assuming that its completion is not marked and forever marred by one.
Dying by suicide by jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most predictably sensational ways to die by suicide on Earth. Investing in a suicide deterrent system with a price tag of $204,000,000 is a sensational way to deal with a sensational problem. Not seriously considering how such a sensational act may presage the most sensational suicide of all time seems myopic to me.
I call on all of my brothers and sisters in this movement to save lives to consider thinking more critically and analytically about how we apportion the scant financial resources we have at our disposal to cause the suicide rate to go down as quickly as possible.
Revising Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation to propagate free will skepticism…
You believe in free will. You believe that you have the freedom to choose. Every time you make a choice, you believe you consciously decide the course that your life is going to take. You believe you are the conscious author of your thoughts and intentions. As a believer in free will, you believe these propositions not because they make you feel good, but because you think they are true. Before I point out some of the problems with these beliefs, I would like to acknowledge that there are many points on which you and I agree. We agree, for instance, that if one of us is right, the other is wrong. You have the freedom to choose or your don’t. You are constantly consciously deciding the course that your life is going to take or you are not. We agree that to be a true believer in free will that all free will skeptics are mistaken, and profoundly so. If believers in free will are correct, and I persist in my unbelief, I should expect to suffer derision for the rest of my days. Worse still, I have persuaded others, some close to me, to reject the very idea of free will. They too will languish in contempt. If the basic doctrine of the belief in free will is correct, I am misusing my time in a wasteful way. I admit this without a single caveat. The fact that my continuous and public rejection of free will since the end of 2015 does not worry me in the least should suggest to you just how inadequate I think your reasons for being a believer in free will are.
To be continued…
Practicing a talk for my alma mater: the University of Notre Dame, aimed at reducing suicide risk. Please pardon the out of focus portion in the middle of the video.
Subsequent to un-friending and blocking me on Facebook you made the following comment about me:
Problem is I know the guy, he should have had the common decency to just call me, instead of this daily social media kevin bashing.
We have exchanged some tweets and emails, but we have never met. We’ve never had a conversation in person or on the phone, and I don’t have your phone number. Your statement to your Facebook audience is so misleading it’s very close to being a lie, if it isn’t already. Plus it also leaves out the fact that I have been attempting to engage in an actual conversation with you on this topic and others like it for months. I’m not suggesting you owe me anything brother, but the comments you are posting publicly on Facebook paint a patently misleading picture of how often and how long I have been sincerely attempting to have this conversation with you.
I asked you a reasonable question about a post of yours on Facebook, and you claimed that I was invalidating your personal experience with mental illness although I did no such thing. My words speak for themselves brother. As do yours Kevin. Last night, you leveled an ad hominem attack at me on Twitter, and then deleted it after I called it out as such.
To review the question I asked.
You wrote on Facebook:
Ben believes in the idea that we “live” with mental illness just as one lives with any other true disease.
Would you have told this to people diagnosed with the “homosexuality” mental disorder prior to 1973?
Here is your answer to that question:
I’m sorry Francesco Bellafante but I “live” with this every single day. Period. I live well with it most days. I work hard to stay mentally well. Often, I miss the mark. But you are completely invalidating my and Ben Higgs and others personal experiences by sticking so closely to the ideals of the (late) Einstein. Not everything he said, wrote down, or was quoted to have invented is gospel. I’ve read quite a bit of his work. In that regard (and in no way am I comparing myself to him) Neither is anything I’ve said. It’s really open to interpretation based on the individual and their experiences. You have not lived my life. This is the second article you’ve written while debunking words I say. Interesting…
The question stands unanswered. Worth noting here again, you don’t owe me a half a second of your time, let alone an answer. This is precisely why I have been so sincerely grateful and appreciative Every Single Time you have engaged with me. Except the ad hominem attack last night, of course.
I sincerely believe an interesting, potentially illuminating and valuable conversation could result from my question. My aim is to contrast the biomedical model of mental illness that you propagate with your language…
“Ben believes in the idea that we “live” with mental illness just as one lives with any other true disease.”
“I wasn’t on that bridge from an external issue”
“I was not on that bridge for reasons outside of me.”
“I found myself on the 25th of September in the year 2000 at nineteen years of age ready to cease my own existence because of my brain.”
“my brain was trying to kill me”
“my brain was trying to kill me”
…with the biopsychosocial model, and to point that out:
“Despite good intentions, evidence actually shows that anti-stigma campaigns emphasizing the biological nature of mental illness have not been effective, and have often made the problem worse.”
I was not just sharing my opinion or view with you here Kevin. I was trying to make you aware that scientists have studied how talking about mental illness the way that you do, and they have found that it causes harm. I sent you the article with evidence from studies supporting this claim.
Returning again to what you wrote about me, and more importantly about yourself on Facebook.
Problem is I know the guy, he should have had the common decency to just call me, instead of this daily social media kevin bashing.
I am assuming that you would characterize this Twitter post as “kevin bashing.”
Your words patently propagate the biomedical model of mental illness. Your words create a ripple effect that leads people to believe that mental illness is a brain disease. I genuinely believe that doing so causes harm by increasing stigma and not decreasing it as the aforementioned article clearly explains.
I’m not bashing you Kevin. I’m cogently explaining how and why the words you use to describe mental illness can cause harm in spite of your undeniably unimpeachable motives. I attempted to engage you in a conversation to ask you to consider to slightly tweak how you speak, so that you decrease the chances of unintentionally causing harm. Subsequent to that, I was compelled to create the provocative image above to summarize my view while simultaneously reaffirming my love of you/your work and the inspiration and hope you create in the world. You are my brother in the suicide prevention movement whether you acknowledge that fact or not, and regardless of what you think, say or write about me. Up to this point, you haven’t said or written a single word responding to my view or claim. For the third time, I do not claim that you owe me a response. You have every right to ignore me.
To say that my criticism of the propagation of the biomedical model of mental illness is “kevin bashing” is a telltale sign of having an egocentric outlook on life brother. Note the highlighted text in the image below.
Egocentrism is something I am all too familiar with… it almost killed me in fact. Here’s the opening of my talk.
On the morning of March 2nd 1998, less than five years after graduating Magna Cum Laude from Notre Dame, I found myself inside of a completely pitch black space when I realized I had stopped breathing. As it was happening… I had no idea where I was. I couldn’t see a thing. And all I could hear was the terrified voice in my head… yelling at first… then screaming… before eventually wailing… as I desperately tried to breathe. I had unintentionally fallen asleep inside of a running car that I had intentionally turned into a makeshift gas chamber. Based on medical records I obtained a couple of years later, the near death experience I had occurred in an ambulance, en route to the hospital. Nineteen years later, I have asked for this opportunity to speak with all of you because I want a shot at decreasing the chances of you and anyone you love or know from either dying because of or ever having a suicidal impulse.
Putting myself in a position where falling asleep would likely result in my death was a desperate act arising from a twenty-seven year old, sleep-deprived, addled mind in the midst of psychological and emotional turmoil. For reasons I can only surmise, at 27 years old, I was compelled to view life through a childish, fearful, egocentric lens prior to nearly killing myself. To clarify egocentric, I’m not talking about arrogance, narcissism or even self-preoccupation. At the heart of my egocentrism was the failure to readily recognize that my view of reality, was a point of view at all. Growing up I prided myself on being right. I prided myself on objective, quantitative measures of just how right I was. I was especially proud when I was deemed 100% right. Egocentric people become attached to being right, and in matters of fact they often are. I became so accustomed to being right, that I confused my view of reality with reality itself. I almost killed myself, in part, because of this confusion, this conflation of what I thought was happening with what was actually happening. This talk is also about getting over and beyond your “self.” Fair warning, tonight I will be trying to slightly alter your conception of that voice in your head that you likely think of as you, in order to increase the peace within you and the world around us.
You, Des, DeQuincy and Leah Harris have all provided inspiration for me at key times in my journey leading up to truly dedicating myself to our cause. I’ll be forever grateful to you for helping to cause me to fully engage in this life-saving work. Every single word that I have sent your way is unequivocally aimed at doing just that brother: decreasing the number of lives lost to suicide.
I would love to have this conversation if you’re open to it. If not, then I implore you again to seriously consider slightly tweaking how you talk about mental illness as you continue to inspire hope and healing in the people you undoubtedly help, to ensure that you don’t unintentionally add to mental illness stigma.
Regarding my attempts to engage Kevin in this conversation…
Kevin Hines is a suicide attempt survivor who is partially responsible for the fact that I write and speak about my suicidal crisis. He’s a living inspiration. That said, we don’t always necessarily see eye to eye on the subject of the most empowering way to talk about the suffering associated with “mental illness.”
Kevin published the following post this morning on Facebook from Australia. (emphasis mine):
Sat down with me ol’ pal, I today consider a brother… the incomparable, tattoo covered man himself, Ben Higgs he’s been through a lot, and has triumphed over great adversity. It’s an honor so share a cup of tea with him and talk all things #MentalHealth and #BrainWellbeing Ben believes in the idea that we “live” with mental illness just as one lives with any other true disease. He spreads his message right across Oz and soon around the globe! Ben is a proud member of #TeamRippleWorld & #TeamRippleOz & will very soon have a featured episode in our forthcoming show… #HopeTheRippleEffect Australia a series about stories like Mr. Higgs From all walks of life in Oz. He’ll be headed to America soon with #TeamRippleWorld for the National Council for Behavioral Health 2017 conference, and we are excited!
I will let Kevin correct me if I am mistaken, but he also “believes in the idea that we ‘live’ with mental illness just as one lives with any other true disease.”
I replied with the following comment:
“Ben believes in the idea that we ‘live’ with mental illness just as one lives with any other true disease.” Would you have told this to people diagnosed with the “homosexuality” mental disorder prior to 1973? i.e., “Jim, You need to face the fact that your desire to have sex with Steve is a symptom of your diseased brain. These feelings are symptoms of your true disease called homosexuality just like your angina is a symptom of your heart disease.”
Can sharing a narrative about your "mental illness" that ignores the social or environmental factors of your disordered thinking cause harm? pic.twitter.com/V12Hqgw3JW
— Francesco Bellafante (@iameinstein) March 3, 2017
My concern is that you imply that the cause of “mental illness” is necessarily a brain pathology despite the fact that the DSM itself notes that the causes of “mental disorders” are believed to be biological, psychological and social or environmental. Leaving aside the fact that the NIMH stopped DSM-oriented research into the causes of “mental illness” four years ago, it seems clear to me that your message of hope about the nature of human suffering includes a potentially disempowering idea: you’re destined to live with this problem your whole life because your brain doesn’t work right. Your exact message or one like it propagated prior to 1973 undoubtedly led some? many? to die by suicide. I think it’s important to consider that it still can. Surely someone’s fallacious beliefs can lead them to engage in disordered thinking & behavior. No brain pathology is necessary. A person can exhibit the signs of “mental illness” with a brain that is functioning perfectly.
Kevin responded as follows:
I’m sorry Francesco Bellafante but I “live” with this every single day. Period. I live well with it most days. I work hard to stay mentally well. Often, I miss the mark. But you are completely invalidating my and Ben Higgs and others personal experiences by sticking so closely to the ideals of the (late) Einstein. Not everything he said, wrote down, or was quoted to have invented is gospel. I’ve read quite a bit of his work. In that regard (and in no way am I comparing myself to him) Neither is anything I’ve said. It’s really open to interpretation based on the individual and their experiences. You have not lived my life. This is the second article you’ve written while debunking words I say. Interesting… Margaret HinesLauren Kate Breen and others..thoughts ?
And I responded in turn as follows:
“But you are completely invalidating my and Ben Higgs and others personal experiences by sticking so closely to the ideals of the (late) Einstein.”
With all due respect Kevin, I didn’t write a single word that invalidates your personal experience brother, rather I am challenging the implications and/or claims that you guys are making based on your experience. This is an important difference. Plus, my comments made no mention of and do not rely on anything that Albert Einstein said, nor on my own free will skepticism. Words matter, and so do facts. I would respectfully disagree that facts are up for interpretation. Your messaging consistently implies that “mental illness” necessarily results from brain pathology. This claim doesn’t stand up to empirical scrutiny. If that’s not a belief of yours, then my confusion is important information for you, because that’s the message that I get from your communication, and as I said in my prior post… I think this is a potentially disempowering message. I.e., If you have a “mental illness” you need to accept that you are destined to live with this problem your whole life… because your brain doesn’t work right.
Events happen, and then people think and say things about those events—let’s call those stories. No matter how true a story is, events that have occurred and the stories that people tell about those events, are never the same thing. They can’t be. One is an occurrence in reality as it’s happening. The other is an after the fact symbolic representation. We use language, we use stories to encapsulate and communicate meaning about reality as it seems to us. Every word is a story unto itself making sense of existence. Every diagnosis of every “mental disorder” relies on a translation of stories. A person tells a psychiatrist a story, and the psychiatrist maps that natural language story onto a “mental disorder” story from a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM. I failed to remember the basic event-story distinction I described a moment ago when I was told my “mental disorder” story about my past after nearly dying by suicide.
I confused my DSM diagnosis or “mental disorder story” with reality itself. I conflated a boilerplate story from a big book with a story about a series of events from my life. When you’re suffering, it’s comforting when a doctor, a trusted authority, gives you an officially-sanctioned medical reason for why you feel so horrible, and better yet, a remedy to help you. I made another critical mistake when I was diagnosed. I believed that my diagnosis mapped onto a specific brain pathology that was necessarily responsible for my problematic thoughts, feelings and behaviors. My psychiatrist didn’t know enough about the psychological and social or environmental factors in my life to seriously consider them before diagnosing and treating me. It is no surprise that I mistakenly blamed my brain for my problems, like millions of other “mental patients” do. I was so grateful that there was a pill that could repair the problem in my brain, and help me feel like myself again. “Diabetics take insulin to fix diabetes. I take Paxil to fix my brain, and to avoid feeling depressed!” I thought. Essentially, I was told and believed, that I was a mentally ill person who would have to cope with my mental illness for the rest of my life.
Nineteen years later, it’s evident that me believing that my suicidal behavior necessarily resulted from a “mental illness” was more beneficial to the psychiatrist who told me that than it was for me. I’m not claiming that this was the doctor’s fault or a sign of ill-intent on his part. He was trained to look for different “nails” to hit with different “hammers,” and I was a decidedly perfect fit for a hit from Paxil. He was just doing his job, and playing his role in a system whose approach to solving the problem of human suffering has evidently been corrupted by profit-maximizing motives. (See Whitaker’s and Cosgrove’s – Psychiatry Under the Influence.)
Unfortunately, like millions of other people diagnosed with a “mental illness” I came to see that diagnosis as a defining part of my identity for a period of time. I didn’t think that I had or was exhibiting the signs of a “mental illness” — rather I thought, “I am a mentally ill person.” A respected authority led me to believe that I had a brain disease, and I saw no reason to doubt him at the time. My belief led me to seriously entertain the fallacy that I was biologically destined to suffer from despair over and over again, unless of course I continued to ingest the Paxil tablets. I’m beyond grateful that someone was willing and able to inspire me to question my psychiatrist’s explanation for the cause of my suffering. White coat clad authority figures (and world famous advocates like you brother!!!) implying that brain pathology is necessarily to blame for the suffering behind “mental illnesses” increases the chances of people believing that they need to buy pharmaceutical remedies to be well.
I’m not arguing that “mental illness” doesn’t exist or that people should never consider taking a psych medication. I’m simply questioning if the medical paradigm of “mental illness” is the best way for us to address the problem of certain types of human suffering.