Mad Medicine

A New Group for People Who Hear Voices Celebrates Mental Illness Diversity


It is interesting that different cultures interpret "mental illness" differently too. My sibling has had episodes of manic psychosis, both in the US and in Taiwan. Here, he is usually, eventually, committed to a psychiatric ward against his will and medicated until he acts "normal." In Taiwan, he wound up hanging out with a group of monks, practicing kung-fu, and having deep philosophical conversations until he naturally returned to our version of "reality." Which approach is more humane?
Typical Mercury article. Report on one unconventional approach and glamourize it. Does the author of this article even understand the term "strengths-based approach?" If you don't know what that means, then you have no business writing this dribble. Did you even think to talk to a progressive mental health provider before whitewashing this?

These extremists do help the SMALL minority of people whose only symptoms are eccentricity and benevolent voices. THE LARGE MAJORITY of people with schizophrenia suffer terribly and, due to their delusions, present a threat to themselves and others if they are not on medication. There are STRONG CIVIL RIGHTS laws in Oregon around holding someone against their will in a locked facility. It is more often the case that people are released who belong behind a locked door for everyone's (most especially their own) safety.

You do harm to everyone when you downplay the importance of medication. So many lives are saved when people with schizophrenia accept that they need it to stay safe. Go talk to an emergency room social worker to get your perspective out of your ass.
I agree that the mercury can produce quite fun or "glamorized" articles, but I personally was drawn to this article because it introduced me to a group of people who have found a way to manage their mental issues and still attain a sense of self. I feel America and western medicine often use too aggressive of techniques. "Mental illness" doesn't even seem like the correct term. A cold, the flu, these are foreign to our bodies, but neurological attributes are connected directly to who we are or how we understand our existence. If hearing voices doesn't make a person harm themselves or others, than these (lucky) people should feel accepted in society. Wouldn't reality be a much better place if we could embrace new ideas on exactly what reality is allowed to be?

If one of these "lucky" people was walking behind you talking to their imaginary friends, you would not be drawing on your "embrace of new ideas." You would be trying to get the fuck away from them.

Your analogy of a flu is flawed; most health problems involve dysfunction of internal systems. We don't call MS or diabetes or fibromyalgia illnesses that help to understand our existence. They are misfortunes that make people suffer and sometimes, with treatment, help them to gain insight and overcome adversity.

I am not addressing the stigmatization of MI; that is a historical tragedy to be unlearned like all the other prejudices. My point is that for MOST people with psychosis medication is essential for survival. Short-sighted tripe about people flourishing without meds serves to perpetuate further a paranoia about meds among individuals who are already paranoid enough.
Nattyp said: "Wouldn't reality be a much better place if we could embrace new ideas on exactly what reality is allowed to be?"

This was a key idea of the Bush administration, "we make reality."

Being open-minded is a virtue because it is crucial to the process of critical thought which leads us to a provisional yet substantially accurate vision of reality.

Keeping reality real fights oppression. Losing those standards opens the door to so many of the perversities our society and other societies have suffered from.

Remember, the Enlightenment philosophers and their beliefs in rationality, empiricism and common sense paved the way for the overthrow of the "Divine Right of Kings" and aristocracies.

If reality is oppressive, changing what we call real, i.e. escaping into romantic fantasies, will only numb us, like we're giving ourselves drugs. The only way to overcome the oppression of reality is through action that changes reality itself, objectively, not just our definitions or stories.
What is glamorized is the use of mind-altering drugs as a panacea for so called mental illness. Billions of dollars are spent by the pharmaceutical industry to 'scientifically' whitewash the theory that those who suffer are living with a physical illness like diabetes, when in truth, those claims are dubious. Certainly the brain, in times of conflict, changes physiologically thus producing symptoms, but this does not mean that it is an inherent biological flaw. People who experience mental discomfort should be told the truth about the theories of, i.e. they are not proven and seem increasingly unlikely to be, and also the truth about the dangers of taking psych drugs, which reduce life span by an average of 25 years.
Thank you for this story. The Pfeiffer Clinic in Illinois has run over 600,000 lab tests on its "mentally ill" patients (suffering from schizophrenia to ADHD to Alzheimer's) and has found that all mental illness is caused by some type of environmental insult and the body's inability to cope with that. The average adult in the US harbors over 700 toxins; cord blood in newborn infants contains from 250 - 350! James Huberty, the "McDonald's shooter" was found to have Cadmium poisoning (he was a welder). Why are doctors so quick to prescribe psych meds and so slow to run any lab tests? Why do they prefer drugs which only mask the symptoms? The drug companies apparently own this country's airwaves and print media (watch TV or pick up any magazine for proof of this). Our collective health is being destroyed by toxins and we are choosing to eat foods full of chemicals without nutrition - and we wonder why so many people have some type of "mental illness"????
RE "You do harm to everyone when you downplay the importance of medication"

You do harm to everyone when you lie about medication.

We do not know what mental illness is.
If they did know what the correct brain chemistry is, mental illness would no longer exist and this illness would then be a physical neurological illness.

The mentally ill have 25 year shorter life span.

Medication is for disease. Medication for mental illness is an euphemism.

People are either criminals or law abiding citizens. For criminal actions you put people on trial and if guilty jail.

To force the law abiding mentally ill person to consume meds- chemical treatment, where their illness is subjective and not lab test detectable is preventive justice. You presume the mentally ill person will be criminal without meds-chemicals.

A person must commit a crime and a trial, jury, etc, before being found in fact to be a criminal.
In psychiatry the person is presumed guilty, with one judge the psychiatrist, the opposite of the justice system.

Once on, or taking the medications (that inhibit thought), the mental patient will likely be unable to do anything GOOD or productive (to perform work takes thought ), fulfilling their mental illness judgement-prediction.
The drugs-meds-chemicals make billions for the Pharma Co.s every year.
Re: "These extremists do help the SMALL minority of people whose only symptoms are eccentricity and benevolent voices."

INTERVOICE, the international organisation for the advocacy of people hearing voices. There are now hearing networks and support groups active in twenty-one countries. An increasing number of researchers, practitioners, people hearing voices and family members have adopted our approach to voices with great success.

We understand "voices" to be real and meaningful, something experienced by a significant minority of people, including many who have no problems living with their voices. Our research shows that to hear voices is not the consequence of a diseased brain, but more akin to a variation in human behaviour, like being left-handed. It is not so much the voices that are the problem, but the difficulties that some people have in coping with them.

Whilst one in three people who hear voices become a psychiatric patient - two in three people can cope well and are in no need of psychiatric care. No diagnosis can be given because these 2 out of 3 people who hear voices are quite healthy and function well. It is very significant that in our society there are more people who hear voices who have never been psychiatric patients than there are people who hear voices and become psychiatric patients.

In research concerning people who hear voices it was found that 77% of the people diagnosed with schizophrenia the hearing of voices was related to traumatic experiences. Many people who hear challenging voices have found that a turning point in learning to cope with this experience has been finding different ways of talking with and understanding their voices. Learning to understand the motives of your voices and different ways of talking with them can help the relationship to change between the voice hearer and the voices.
I wonder about the "mental health provider" response to this article. It is one thing to have a different opinion, it is quite another to come with such a righteousness rant and mean spiritedness of your opinion to demean others. Contrary to this person's comment, the article states clearly that medication IS a path for many. It also gives an alternative view, one that has enriched many lives. For me this is part of the problem -- the polarization between these different views. Each individual will find their own way through their own experiences and finding value in altered states of consciousness has given deep meaning for many.
I appreciate your comment jamdox. i think when i was using "reality" i was thinking more internally and of how our culture accepts the ways people lead their lives. Myself, young and godless, find stories like this intriguing, in that it brings up a new way to cope with the very idea of my existence and how i can help bring more to this world. I know what I'm saying isn't quite clear or addressing what the article was getting at, but i just enjoy seeing new ways people can find mental peace and it gives me hope.
Thanks nattyp.

I agree with your sense that our society does a horrible job of getting people to truly engage life, and instead passes off an illusion of comfort and consumption. Self-righteous scorn is often used to discourage nonconformists, even though their nonconformity is just as (un)reasoned and (un)wise as the conformists'.

However, the scorn health professionals have for "alternative" medicine is often much more reasonable. A great example is the poster who claimed that all mental illness is linked to "environmental insult," i.e. toxins. This is absurd. First, mental illness was with us long before the rise of chemistry. Second, it is very hard to do epidemiological studies that can find any cause for these problems, genetic or environmental, as the case of autism has shown. So the idea that some alternative medicine "institute" has solved mental illness is absurd, and incredibly frustrating to those of us who see in such claims either reckless ignorance, or the worst kind of taking advantage.

Ironically, mental illness, more than any other area of medicine, is where the silly naturopathic saw that "western medicine only treats the symptoms and not the causes" is really, tragically true.

As the recent death of David Foster Wallace shows, medication can save lives by suppressing the symptoms of mental illness. And we can assume his doctor was being marketed to by Big Pharma. Would he still have suggested, fatally, that Dave switch medications if those sales reps weren't coming around?

Complex issues. I'd like to finish by observing that people in the grip of psychosis, and I've know a few, are usually bad judges of how bad off they are, real bad judges.
re"mental illness was with us long before the rise of chemistry" by jamdox
"Mental illness" of the past was likely a real lab test detectable disease. A disease such as syphilis , alzheimers , Parkinsons, multiple sclerosis, Epilepsy, Mad Hatter syndrome, Plumbism.

It is not absurd to blame pollution as a cause for mental illness.
We have noise pollution of cars going beep, and trucks backing up beep, with sirens 24/7 in an urban environment.
We humans are not robots or machines, feelings (stress) can not be successfully fixed with forced chemical manipulation of the brain. Ask any street junky how the drugs are working out in the long term.

It would be nice if articles about psychological disorders could be more informational and less sensational. Are people aware of the fact that suicide is the second leading cause of death in teenagers? Last year in Oregon, more veterans died at home by suicide than in Iraq at war. Does the public know that Borderline Personality Disorder has a higher rate of suicide than depression and schizophrenia combined? Why is research and education less explored than experimental drugs? Why don't medical doctors receive the extensive training in psychological disorders and drug addiction as they do in other areas of health? Why is brain health treated apart from the rest of the body? Do people realize that by the year 202 Major Depressive Disorder is predicted to be the leading cause of disability in women and children the world over? Why is the state contracting services with procurers that are not qualified to hold their positions and not investigating complaints made by consumers? Is there any hope for genuine concern from the public? Does the term Mad Medicine raise awareness or perpetuate stigmatizing misconceptions?
There is a big difference between adjustment disorders (and the over-prescribing of SSRI'S FOR "depression") and psychotic disorders.

Again I say to those who want to "embrace" a world of alternate realities, spend a day in an emergency room with the unmedicated mentally ill and see what you think about all of this tender love and diversity.
Thank you for publishing this important article. Thank you also to those who took the time to read it and also to those who commented on it. I only recently heard about the movement of people who hear voices coming together and supporting each other outside of the traditional western psychiatric approach.

I am very excited that this type of group exists and I hope more support groups will choose to take more of an activist role in supporting and presenting Mental Diversity as an alternative to mental health and illness. Mental health is something that I have always felt a strong desire to involve myself in. For people to be stigmatised due to their mental illness is prejudice and needs to become a thing of the past.

As a society we have been bombarded by the negative portrayal of individuals during the lowest times in their mental health just for their entertainment value. It's unfortunate that we are so easily entertained by gawking or making fun of others. I would like to see media step up and show the stories of people overcoming their mental illnesses just as movies of the week about people overcoming cancer have been popularised.

When it comes to health, there is no difference between mental and physical illness. The symptoms maybe different but the result is the same, you are sick.

On the other hand when looking at physical, mental, spiritual health we should embrace the reality that there are many different forms. For that reason I support the idea of promoting Mental Diversity.

It was not long ago that people who were not heterosexual were also listed in the DSM. I find it interesting that diversity in this case has been accepted and even celebrated. Maybe in 30 years the public will understand that Diversity is inclusive of mentality too!

This article is a bit glamourous, but it does make these groups known to those who read these columns, so it is beneficial to some extent. Who knows, maybe someone will be able to manage thier "illness" with help from these groups that they discovered via this article.
I had imaginary friends as a child and my family saw it as a sign I was horribly ill, so I was put on medication for 8 years between the ages of 11 and 18. I was prescribed more pills as the medicated years progressed because the first medication, an anti depressant caused me to go into manic episodes. I was prescribed a "mood stabilizer" to counter act the mania. The "mood stabilizer" that was supposed to cure the mania was causing me to go into deeper depression, thus having to go on another anti depressant which caused me to continue to go into hypo manic episodes and then fall back into the lows of depression. The pill salad I ended up with caused me many health problems, including my thyroid becoming dysfunctional, causing hospitalization, a prescription for synthetic hormones and the risk of the condition becoming worse, which would have resulted in the possible of my thyroid. After discontinuing the twice daily doses of 2 different anti depressants, 1 mood stabilizer, and a sleeping pill that pulled double duty as an anti psychotic, with the doses being raised as time went on because they "should be working but must not be at the right level", my health dramatically improved, I lost weight, regained my energy and my thyroid recovered so I did not have to take the synthetic hormones.

Doctors need to go easier on prescribing pill combinations, study up on how some medication can cancel out or even aggravate a symptom that another medication is prescribed to relieve. You'd think all doctors would keep up on this sort of thing but they do not. They, those who do not do this already, need to listen to the patient as well as their care takers(minors and those adults who need assistance), they can learn more by actively listening to the patient instead of nodding, taking notes and then talking over their head to their parent or guardian without seriously taking into account what the patient has said. Even if the patient isn't telling everything, or perhaps purposely contradicting what their care taker is telling the doctor, it's good to get both sides and see what correlates, for better over all treatment. Not all care takers, parents or assistants as well as health care providers realize that they may be wrong.

Fortunately or unfortunately these medications are for treating symptoms, not curing the "illness". Sometimes it's like taking over the counter cough syrup for pneumonia, you may feel a bit better and be able to go to work without being completely miserable but the pneumonia will still be there, and could even worsen. If you insist on only treating the symptoms you'll never be "cured".

Sometimes the medications do what they are supposed to, help the person be able to take a step back and take into account what is addressable and "Real" and what is not. Thus helping them go about the daily tasks they are required to do to live "normally".

Who's to say the "chemical imbalances" are wrong anyway? How can you test every person in the world to determine what is balanced and what is not?
I hope those interested in this topic find out more. One of the first USA psychiatric survivor groups started in Portland 40 years ago, with the provocative name "Insane Liberation Front." For the last four decades there has been organizing -- often under the radar of the culture or media -- of, by and for psychiatric survivors and mental health consumers. Oregonians who would like to find out more, should google some of these words: Google MINDFREEDOM, you will find that the nonprofit I direct is in Eugene, and we do a lot of state-wide work. Google OREGON CONSUMER SURVIVOR COALITION, you'll find there is a state-wide coalition of more than a dozen groups run by people diagnosed with psychiatric disabilities. Google OPAL NETWORK NEWS, and you'll find a gate-way to a model here in Lane County that combines cross-disability and mental health consumer/psychiatric survivors. Folks can also contact our MindFreedom office at 541-345-9106 or Thanks,

David W. Oaks, Director, MindFreedom International
Unite to Change Mental Health Care
A great deal of the suffering of mental illness is related to the struggle to be "normal." This is not so different than the hell that a closeted gay can endure. Society is learning to welcome everyone, whatever their issues, but it still has a long ways to go. The Mad Pride movement is an important step towards the inclusion of people with mental illness. They may not offer a cure, but they offer some hope of the peace of acceptance.
this spartan friend sounds of the pro mental health nazis who would know what's best for us because of all the terrible things hiding under our beds [not to mention, in the heads of wierdos] that you should seriously fear and incarcerate (along with the other terrors) because they could seriously damage your ability to enjoy your latte in comfort. in many more civilized and less developed cultures [like were here before the euros trashed it], the mentally different were often held gifted as messengers of dreams or other realities. now, we're all just too hard pressed against the pavement and the deadline to give a fuck.
From what I understand about the mental diversity movement from this article, there is not a "meds are bad" attitude at all. The aim being no judgment one way or the other as regards people's decisions to use or not use medication.

Offering alternatives to those who have not come across them before is always a good thing.

Spartacus' comment about "short-sighted tripe" doesn't sound very respectful, and this article was nothing but respectful.

It seems to me that he is one of the "public that not only tends to associate voice hearers with a higher potential for violence, but also habitually treats these people by snuffing their irregularities into silence with potent medication," and thus exactly who PHV seeks to re-educate. I wish them well in their endeavor.
A man as sane as Socrates heard voices. There's growing evidence that at one time we all did. Read Julian Jaynes or check out my book at Chapter 16 in Galway I find a meeting of the Hearing Voices Network. Through their simple approach tens of thousands of "schizophrenics" have been reclaiming their lives in Europe over the last twelve years. Here in America, where doctors are finally relenting to engage the voices actively, to accept "dialoguing" as legitimate therapy, as opposed to just waging war on the voices with obscene levels of psychotropic thought stoppers, we're about ten years behind the times. I'm not surprised to see that our more progressive Americans in the northwest are finding out about this kinder, gentler and much more effective approach sooner. I have a family full of voice hearers, so for us on the front lines it's all about waging peace with the voices in our heads. This goes for all of us. Mental wellness is for everyone a matter of managing our voices rather than being managed by them, regardless of whether these are the first-person voices of the superego that we all hear or the third-person voices that so-called schizophrenics, with their extra set of speakers, seem to hear. We have much to learn from each other. Read my book, Stalking Irish Madness: Searching for the Roots of My Family's Schizophrenia.