Editorial: Should Advocacy Groups Take Psychiatric Drug Money?
UKAN members are voting on whether or not to accept donations from the psychiatric drug industry. UKAN invited David Oaks, director of MindFreedom International, to contribute an essay on the subject to their newsletter.
One of the main organizations in the UK to promote self-determination
and alternatives for people in the mental health system is UK Advocacy
Network (UKAN) founded in 1990.
UKAN is a national federation of councils, projects and forums that are all run by people in the UK who have personally experienced the mental health system, often on the "sharp end of the needle."
Government cutbacks are causing tough economic times for UKAN. Members are being asked if UKAN ought to change its long-standing policy and accept donations from psychiatric drug corporations. Other groups are facing a similar dilemma.
The December 2005 issue of UKAN's magazine _The Advocate_ features several articles debating the drug company funding controversy, including a guest editorial representing MindFreedom's position.
BELOW is the guest editorial.
Dec. 2005 -- UKAN Advocate
To Maintain Independence, Say "No" to Drug Company Funding
by David W. Oaks, Director MindFreedom International
Thank you, UKAN, for inviting me to comment on the question of whether or not to accept psychiatric drug corporation donations. For those who do not know, UKAN is one of 100 sponsor groups in MindFreedom International which works for human rights and alternatives in the mental health system.
First, disclaimers: I am in sympathy with advocates searching for creative solutions to funding problems faced by those seeking change in the mental health system. After all, our constituency is among the poorest and most marginalized in society.
I do not believe in turning down money for no good reason. Who does?
Turning down money is a kind of boycott, and I believe a boycott ought to be carefully researched, analyzed and discussed before adoption. There ought to be good strategic reasons for a boycott if for no other reason than that frivolous boycotts do not work. How long can poor people turn down offers of money without good reason? Not long!
I feel there are three good reasons for UKAN to continue its policy of refusing psychiatric drug company money.
DRUG COMPANY DOMINANCE OF THE MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM
We at MindFreedom International are pro-choice about the individual decision to take psychiatric drugs. A number of our members, with full informed consent and with a range of alternatives available, willingly choose to take psychiatric drugs as prescribed.
However, the psychiatric pharmaceutical industry is one of the richest in the history of the planet. Even psychiatric professionals and their groups lament the undue influence wielded by drug companies through funding of research, conferences, publications, lobbying and organizations.
I feel this drug company domination is not discussed enough in mental health advocacy circles. I can go to an entire conference dedicated to fine values such as empowerment, self-determination, recovery, choice, peer support, human rights, system transformation and advocacy, and yet not hear a proper discussion about the unfair power of the psychiatric drug industry.
The scarce availability of alternatives to psychiatric drugs, the fraudulent informed consent typically given to those prescribed psychiatric drugs, the routine cover-up of hazards, and the coercion often used to secure compliance all make the power of the psychiatric drug industry a human rights issue.
To repeat, the debate here is not really pro or con psychiatric drugs. The debate is whether or not the psychiatric drug industry tends to dominate today's mental health system. I feel the evidence is clear that it does. So what ought to be done?
CREDIBILITY FOR INDEPENDENT ADVOCACY
The word "advocacy" in UKAN's name is also one of its main goals. We are not discussing here whether or not the drug industry ought to donate to, say, employment, housing, drop-in centers or other social programs. In fact, I would like to see the drug industry fund de-toxification centers to assist those who would like to quit psychiatric drugs. Like the tobacco industry, the psychiatric drug industry owes billions of dollars in reparations for the damage it has done.
No, we are talking here about the wisdom of drug company funding of advocacy, which by definition means taking a side. The key issues we are advocating about are often opposed by the psychiatric drug industry and groups funded by that industry. Here in the United States we even have a family organization [NAMI] that promotes more forced psychiatric drugging but refuses to disclose, even to its own members, the outrageously large amount of psychiatric drug company money the group receives.
At this time the psychiatric drug industry is poised to globalize as never before. Literally millions of people in Africa, Asia, South America, etc. may end up on psychiatric drugs in the coming decades.
It is important for an advocacy organization to maintain both its actual independence, and also its perceived independence with the public and its own members. That brings me to my third and final point.
GO BACK TO UNDERLYING PRINCIPLES
I've talked to many people who run organizations for public betterment. A theme I pick up is that it is important to revisit one's core underlying principles and values. At a time of crisis like this, it may be crucial to return to those underlying values.
The historic start of the psychiatric survivor and user advocacy movement is linked to the rise of many other social change movements for peace, to end racism, for women's rights and more. These are our origins. Especially because of our link to the cross-disability movement, the psychiatric survivors and users movement is part of what used to be called the "poor people's movement." We need to be using terms like that again.
Of course groups in a poor people's movement have trouble with funding because that really gets to one of the roots of the problems, the incredible economic inequality in our world today.
Let's learn from other social change movements. Let's focus on building strength in numbers with thousands upon thousands of united members. This will help with dues and other fundraising plans and events. MindFreedom's board understands some people are very poor, but our board adopted a policy of "something from everyone." Strength in numbers may also help groups like UKAN lobby the government and influence more independent charitable organizations to come through with the funding that UKAN's programs deserve.
In conclusion, I understand these may be desperate times for groups representing our people who are routinely locked-up, forcibly drugged, tied down, electroshocked, humiliated with psychiatric labels, and kept poor and unemployed. But remember we psychiatric survivors never ever give up. Many of our people who have survived these violations have continued to support one another and advocate for change. It is an honor to watch the human spirit's resilience. Now is indeed the time for drastic measures, but none that would harm our cause, such as compromising a fine advocacy group's independence with drug company funding.
David W. Oaks is Director of MindFreedom International. E-mail: oaks(at)mindfreedom(dot)org