Tuesday, August 2, 2016

To Congresswoman Jan Schakowski of Illinois

Dear Rep. Schakowski,

I am disappointed, although not surprised, that you chose to vote in favor of the Murphy bill (HR2646). Rather than just reflexively/reactively vote and campaign against you because of my fundamental disagreement with that political choice, I will try to communicate the basis of my original opposition and continuing advocacy regarding issues of mental health. I must presume an amount of patience on your part that may be inconsistent with your practical and simple time constraints. However, I invest my own valuable time in dialogue, as well. Perhaps it can become worthwhile for both of us.

"Mental health" first of all means a medicalized view of human thought, emotion and behavior. We presume modern medicine can add value to our problem solving in these realms of life. We look back over the past century and a half at apparent miracles: control or eradication of horrible diseases like smallpox and polio, success with ever more complex surgical procedures, big increases in survival rates for blood and other cancers. Why should we not want and expect such miracles to improve our rationality itself, our capacity for joy, and our social comity?

Our mental health "system" is based on one other presumption: M.D. psychiatrists, Ph.D./Psy.D. psychologists, licensed nurses and clinical social workers, and various other mental health professionals have special knowledge due to their education and training, which enables them to help people in general with problems in thinking, feeling and behaving. Whether or not this constitutes curing disease, and whether the brain is the entire substrate and ultimate explanation of all things human, are fascinating philosophical discussions, but well beyond my point here.

I have spent fourteen years working full time, almost entirely pro bono, dead center in our mental health system. By nine o'clock this morning I'd already had two half-hour phone conversations with individuals adjudicated unfit to stand trial on violent felonies. I've been attending monthly staffings for patients at Elgin Mental Health Center since before most of the employees out there were hired. When I attend the annual American Psychiatric Association conference, I recommend specific classes and seminars to staff at EMHC, encouraging them to attend. People at APA ironically call me "Doctor".

You refer to our mental health system as something that can be improved. My experience says it needs to be essentially abolished. It is an error, an absolute wrong turn by civilization, and it will ruin us.

I hastily qualify this statement to mean... not that we shouldn't strive for rationality and reason, not that we shouldn't help people in distress, not that we shouldn't regulate and improve behavior. These are all universal human purposes. They are frustrated rather than aided by everything that has been built up over the last century to become our "mental health system". In my opinion, human thinking, emotion and behavior are not medical issues at all. But regardless of that. it is clear to me that my taxes are more than wasted on the salaries and pensions of mental health professionals.

The so-euphemistically-called "Assertive Community Treatment" of HR2646 is in fact coercive psychiatry Tim Murphy, Fuller Torrey,  t he Treatment Advocacy Center (or Torture Advocacy Center, a name more accurately aligned with United Nations human rights standards, which still abbreviates to T.A.C.), et al, promote a cynical statistic of fewer people jailed. But I can refer you to a whole lineup of real individuals in Illinois who would prefer to be in an honest prison compared to the much more dehumanizing circumstances of state psychiatric control.

The only conceivable way a "treatment policy" could save public money and human lives over a "jail policy" is if treatment actually worked. It does not, and that is an increasingly recognized fact. The APA's "antipsychiatry" bogeyman and their "stigma" justification cannot obscure admissions by such as Thomas Insel, M.D., recent Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (in sum: psychiatric diagnosis is invalid, psychiatric drugs do not work). If you are not familiar with the emerging consensus in this field, you should ask yourself why.

Coercion and force inevitably bring covert resistance and violent revolt. Only education, in the sense of imparting real knowledge and practical skill, will open the door to collaboration and social order. The psychiatric views of Murphy, Torrey and T.A.C. presume that honest education is not possible and coercion is thus necessary to deal with a certain class of "disordered" individuals -- defined only by Murphy, Torrey and T.A.C. without reference to objective scientific evidence. They degrade medicine and the law, catastrophically. I see this every day in courts and mental "hospitals". 

I would be more than happy to provide you with more specific arguments or counter-arguments, and any quantity of   anecdotal or controlled scientific  evidence, in connection with any statement I have made in this email. I only hope you may have some interest going forward.

I'll only conclude with a simple and specific, if apparently radical agenda, for you to easily recall my advocacy. 

1.) Outlaw all forms of involuntary "hospitalization" for mental disorder. (We already have prosecution and imprisonment; the distinction is fraudulent.)

2.) Abolish forced mental "treatment". (We already have police action and criminal punishment; the distinction is frivolous.)

That's all. If these two political targets were accomplished, any complex considerations about mental health systems would resolve. What the APA protests as "antipsychiatry" would disappear. (Perhaps psychiatry would as well, perhaps not, no matter.) "Stigma" of mental illness would disappear. People would be free to honestly help each other, and our dignity as human beings would no longer be under such withering assault.

Yours very truly,

Randy Kretchmar


  1. Amen! Amen! The length is necessary for the average person - me included, then ending with your two focus points is great work! You are my hero. Period!

  2. "An attempt to achieve the good by force is like an attempt to provide a man with a picture gallery at the price of cutting out his eyes." — Ayn Rand

  3. Sadly, as best I can recall, I never did receive any real acknowledgment, let alone a coherent response from Jan Schakowski.

  4. I'm sorry to hear that, SRK, but I'm not surprised.