Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Day Seven of the Fast for Freedom in Mental Health:

Scientific Panel Clashes With the American Psychiatric Association

PASADENA, CALIF: On the seventh day of a hunger strike by six psychiatric survivors to oppose human rights violations in the mental health system, the American Psychiatric Association faces a direct and unprecedented challenge from a Scientific Panel of 14 academics and clinicians.

The Fast for Freedom in Mental Health had requested that the American Psychiatric Association provide any specific evidence that "mental illness is biologically based."

Last week, the APA responded with a two-page letter that simply listed several textbooks and names of journals, but the Medical Director of the APA, James H. Scully, Jr., M.D., was apparently unable to locate even one specific study. The APA letter can be viewed here: Mind Freedom.


What happened next surprised and delighted the hunger strikers. Instead of simply rejecting the APA's letter out of hand, the mental health professionals and scientists on the Panel carefully examined the source material listed by Dr. Scully. What the Scientific Panel found were quotations in each book that backed up hunger striker accusations.

For example: "[T]here is no definitive lesion, laboratory test, or abnormality of brain tissue that can identify (a mental) illness" and "[T]he precise causes (etiology) of mental disorders are not known." In their reply to the APA [SEE BELOW], the Scientific Panel expressed dismay at "the contrast between the hunger strikers, who ask clear questions about the science of psychiatry and consciously take risks in the name of protecting the well being of users of psychiatry, and the American Psychiatric Association, which evades revealing what actual scientific evidence justifies its authority."

The six hunger strikers said they felt triumphant, and look forward to media asking the APA to comment on the Scientific Panel's reply. The fasters say they will continue to fast until they reach their goals.

Mickey Weinberg, who helped organize the fast, said, "The condescending and contemptuous letter from the APA is consistent with its historic behavior. The Panelists' response turns the screws on the APA. It's certainly the first time in my memory when psychiatry has felt forced to answer to the demands of psychiatric survivors."

Romi Sayama said: "We're pleased to see that the American Psychiatric Association has confirmed that they could not find any evidence either."

David Gonzalez said: "Dr. Scully's letter states that 'the answers to your questions are widely available in the scientific literature.If this is so why did he balk at providing the requested evidence?"

Krista Erickson said: "The Panelists provided a thorough and challenging response."

Vince Boehm said: "It's the lies that bother me. What makes me unable to sleep at night is to think about the psychiatric drugging of infants, even as young as three months. It's incomprehensible."

David Oaks, director of MindFreedom, said: "The only two things missing from Dr. Scully's letter are a blatant admission that there is no evidence, and a public apology to all psychiatric survivors. The Scientific Panel's response is magnificent and historic."

For more news and photos of the Fast for Freedom in Mental Health see: MindFreedom

MindFreedom is a non-profit that unites 100 grassroots groups working for human rights in mental health.


James H. Scully, Jr., M.D., Medical Director
American Psychiatric Association
1000 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1825
Arlington, VA 22209-3901

Dear Dr. Scully:

David Oaks, Executive Director of MindFreedom, has forwarded to us your reply dated 12 August 2003 to the hunger strikers involved in a "Fast for Freedom in Mental Health." We are a panel of 14 academics and clinicians who have agreed to review any such reply for scientific validity.

The hunger strikers asked your organization, as well as the Surgeon General of the United States, and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, to provide:

1. evidence that establishes the validity of "schizophrenia," "depression" or other "major mental illnesses" as "biologically-based brain diseases";

2. evidence for a physical diagnostic exam that can reliably distinguish individuals with these diagnoses (prior to treatment with psychiatric drugs) from individuals without these diagnoses;

3. evidence for a baseline standard of a neurochemically-balanced "normal" individual, against which a neurochemical "imbalance" can be measured;

4. evidence that any psychotropic drug can correct any "chemical imbalance" attributed to a psychiatric diagnosis;

5. evidence that any psychotropic drug can reliably decrease the likelihood of violence or suicide.

In your reply, no specific studies of any kind were cited with reference to any of the questions above. You cited three general sources, including the recent Surgeon General's report on mental health and two textbooks of psychiatry.

By Gate Keeper 26 August 03