Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fast Talk by NAMI Tennessee Executive Director

Sita Diehl, Executive Director for NAMI Tennessee, made a strong Valentine's Day pitch in The Tennessean for tax money. No doubt many readers will find her arguments persuasive. I'm not a Tennessee taxpayer, but I have a sister and brother-in-law who are.

People should question whether what Diehl calls "...the cost-saving value of mental health care for people with severe mental illness" is any more real than the "value" of drugging children for ADHD, which suddenly looks strongly negative with the results of a recent Australian study.

Diehl says 373,000 Tennesseans "have" a severe mental disorder. What she means is they were diagnosed according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) with schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar or PTSD. She does not mention that none of these diagnoses, unlike such medical diseases as cancer, heart disease or diabetes, can ever be confirmed by any objective medical test. Psychiatric diagnoses are essentially subjective, as evidenced by the facts that different doctors are often happy to argue for different disease labels in the same patient, and court appointed experts often disagree even over whether a patient has any mental illness. So nobody really knows how many Tennesseans "have" any mental disorder. Nobody really even knows what that means.

Diehl says, "Treatment works — if you can get it." (Again, she's obviously not talking about stimulants for ADHD anymore...) She implies that people seek out mental health treatment for themselves. The truth is that people generally try to get psychiatric treatment for somebody else, while the mental patients themselves often try very hard to avoid it. Saying treatment works basically means it's possible to drug someone into sufficient neurological disability that he or she won't seem to behave so badly anymore. It's also possible to quiet them down by hitting them over the head with a baseball bat.

Diehl goes on and on about costs of mental illness. She also repeatedly mentions thoughts of self harm. How exactly does it cost the public any money at all for someone to merely have certain thoughts? She cites a figure of $3,840 a month for confinement in prison, but neglects the fact that confinement in a mental hospital costs three or four times more than that.

The following paragraph is especially egregious:

More than 92,000 children in Tennessee live with a mental illness severe enough to impair daily life. Half of those students age 14 or older drop out of high school. Elementary school children miss 22 days a year. Despite availability of effective treatment, it can take eight years from onset of mental illness to treatment. Children lose their childhood. Families experience heartache, isolation and lost workdays.

What does "severe enough to impair daily life" mean? Does it mean that they can't eat or walk or breathe, or just that they often forget where they take off their shoes?

This is maudlin, meaningless nonsense. Don't all children lose their childhood at some point? The available "effective treatment" she's talking about is addictive stimulant drugs. Is it worse for a kid to be a speed addict, a couple inches shorter than he would have been, with a significantly higher chance of sudden cardiac arrest ... or to miss 22 days of school in a year? Are families who put their kids on drugs thereby immune to heartache, isolation and lost workdays?

Sita Diehl's pitch is cheap, deceptive, emotional propaganda. It's hard to know whether she believes the sob victim story, or just says it because she's paid by drug manufacturers.

It's a con game, Tennessee, don't fall for it.

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