A selection of my articles published in magazines, newspapers, journals, and webzines.
Why Isn’t There a Popular Hashtag for Involuntary Commitment?
As uses of psychiatric force expand, can social media be better used to focus critical attention?
The most reliable data available suggests that millions of Americans from many walks of life have been subjected to psychiatric detentions and treatment against their will, and millions more have experienced unwanted psychiatric coercion under threat of commitment.
Where are all of these people? Especially with the massive growth of social media helping give voice and space to those who were previously blocked out of centralized news media, why don’t we see these millions constantly speaking out and sharing their perspectives on involuntary commitment?
I recently completed Your Consent Is Not Required, a book that investigates those numbers, people’s experiences of psychiatric detentions, and the science, economics, and politics of forced treatment today. Yet, despite so many people being affected—many in ways that they felt were profoundly unjust, unhelpful, and traumatizing—I found that focused, sustained discussions of wide public reach don’t emerge much or trend
In Andrew’s Honor: Attorney Elizabeth Rich’s Fight Against Unjust Commitments
Anyone detained and then formally committed under Wisconsin’s civil mental health laws can initially be held and forcibly drugged for six long months. Yet, for years, not a single person has been able to appeal the six-month commitments in court.
What’s the reason for this stunning abrogation of one of the few and arguably most important rights that ordinary, law-abiding, civilly committed mental health patients have? According to an internal review done for the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, between 2018 and 2020 Wisconsin courts apparently never got around to holding those appeals.
The report didn’t explain the reasons in detail, nor say for how many years it’s been going on, but it acknowledged that the problem was rarely or never the fault of the patients. Rather, it appeared related to the fact that, at that time, Wisconsin was paying public defenders a meager $40 an hour, the lowest rate in the nation. Even still now, it can sometimes take months for
Government Forum Reveals 988 Call Tracing Remains a Threat
Keris Myrick, Shelby Rowe and others warned of harms caused by crisis lines that covertly trace calls, but it may not be enough to turn the tide.
It actually wasn’t hyperbole when John Draper, the director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline/988 expansion initiative, said that America is “on the precipice of launching the largest mental health and suicide prevention service in this nation’s history.”
However, much else that got said at last week’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) “Forum on Geolocation for 988” was hyperbolic. Government and mental health professionals seemed to be doing a hard-sell to promote public acceptance that anyone calling, texting, or chatting through the new 988 crisis hotline number should be grateful to have their exact geolocation automatically exposed to within three meters. This, in turn, left many questions about government’s commitment to taking seriously the mounting public concerns about crisis lines that do covert call tracing and forced interventions—even as those concerns did finally emerge in
Roll-out of 988 Threatens Anonymity of Crisis Hotlines
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and others are lobbying the FCC and federal government to give 988 built-in surveillance and geolocation tracking.
Suicide Hotlines Bill Themselves as Confidential — Even as Some Trace Your Call
Every year US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline centers covertly trace tens of thousands of confidential calls, and police come to homes, schools, and workplaces to forcibly take callers to psychiatric hospitals. Some people’s lives get upended.
Public support for the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is soaring. In 2017, the rapper Logic released a Grammy-nominated song titled with the Lifeline’s 800-number that peaked at No. 3 on Billboard. Since then, call volumes have increased more than 25% as bloggers, vloggers, health zines, and news media from BuzzFeed to USA Today have run promotional stories. COVID-19 pushes volumes higher. Recently the federal government passed legislation mandating that, by 2022, all calls to “988” will be routed to the Lifeline—and some telecommunications companies have already begun implementation.
Driving much of this is growing awareness that calling 911 for issues of emotional distress can lead to deadly police interventions. Yet under-reported and under-investigated is the fact that
Will the Mental Health Industry Undermine the Community-based Climate Change Revolution?
As mainstream mental health ideas and approaches are increasingly incorporated by community resilience-building groups, critics warn about the dangers of pathologizing and medicalizing reactions to climate change.
Read the article on Mad in America.
Are Psychiatric Medications Safe? The FDA’s Answer May Surprise You
The Deputy Director for Safety at the FDA’s Division of Psychiatry Products answers my questions about how the risks of psychiatric drugs are evaluated by health regulators – and explains what you need to know to better protect yourself. Read the whole article or listen to an audio version of the interview at the Inner Compass Initiative website. (Note that while psychiatric drugs are the focus, much of our discussion generally applies to any other drugs as well.)
Reporting Flu Vaccine Science
Many news articles about a study of influenza vaccine and miscarriages raised good questions—but for questionable reasons, reports Rob Wipond.
(This article appeared in The BMJ (British Medical Journal), January 5, 2018.)
When reporting on medical studies, the popular press has a habit of sensationalising. So the muted response to a recent research paper reporting increased risk of miscarriage with influenza vaccines was at first sight surprising.
The study, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that women who had received an influenza vaccine containing the 2009 pandemic strain pH1N1 and who were also vaccinated in the next flu season had a statistically significant, 7.7-fold higher odds of spontaneous abortion within 28 days of the second vaccination. (Absolute risk increase could not be calculated because it was a case-control study.) The concerning odds ratio fostered extensive discussion in the paper. But the news media projected an air of calm, highlighting the observational study’s many limitations.
The headline on the
Escape from British Columbia
Some people say that our province’s strong mental health laws save lives. A constitutional court challenge says they lead to discrimination, abuse, fear and the flight of psychiatric refugees.
THE PSYCHIATRIC NURSE held out a paper cup with pills. Sarah clasped a handwritten note. Having learned not to protest loudly, the 24-year-old gave the nurse her note that read, “I have a right to my mind and my body.” Then, she reluctantly put the pills in her mouth.
Sarah knew that she had to execute her escape out of British Columbia quickly, before the drugs seized control of her mind again.
Sarah (she requested her name be withheld) is sharing her story to show support for a constitutional court challenge recently launched by Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS). The Vancouver non-profit is arguing that a key part of British Columbia’s Mental Health Act, called “deemed consent,” violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“At CLAS, we’re routinely told that people are either
Province to Rein in Police Chief Associations?
A surprise government announcement could lead to the resolution of long-standing controversies about police secrecy.
The British Columbia provincial government has pledged to pass legislation to make the BC Association of Chiefs of Police and BC Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police “public bodies.” The announcement came from Bette-Jo Hughes, Chief Information Officer and Associate Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services, speaking in mid-November to MLAs reviewing the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The amendment to FOIPPA could resolve many concerns about how the associations operate — concerns that Focus has been reporting since 2012.
“I will be prepared to celebrate when the ink is dry,” commented Micheal Vonn, policy director for the BC Civil Liberties Association. Vonn has reason to be concerned. For years, members of the associations have sidestepped transparency and accountability by ping-ponging between claims that they were acting as “private citizens” or “public servants.” For example, the BCACP