Alternatives, the mental health consumer/survivor conference with more than 1,000 participants annually, has withdrawn its previous approval for a workshop on coming off psychiatric medications.
The workshop, based in a pro-treatment choice, harm-reduction philosophy, was to share information about continuing, reducing, or coming off medications. After approving the workshop in June, the National Empowerment Center, which organizes the conference to be held in Anaheim California, made a last-minute decision to change the title and description to remove any reference to coming off medications.
Will Hall, an internationally-recognized schizophrenia survivor and radio host who was set to lead the workshop, decided that he could not go along with the decision and will not be attending the conference. “Coming off medications is a topic vital to wellness and recovery, and should not be censored,” he said.
The controversial move by the National Empowerment Center comes in the wake of a recent similar decision to bar Robert Whitaker, a Pulitzer finalist investigative journalist whose work spotlights medication dangers and growing evidence that non-drug alternatives work better for some patients. Whitaker was restored as a conference keynote speaker only after mental health advocates mobilized quickly on the internet to challenge the decision.
The annual Alternatives conference is organized by consumer/survivor groups and federally funded. With workshops ranging from wellness, youth, housing, employment, advocacy and diversity issues, Alternatives is the country’s most prominent gathering for mental health consumers, who attend from all US states and as far away as Guam. Medication issues, however, have consistently been excluded from the program.
Hall, who works as a therapist, says he is not anti-medication and does not give medical advice, but instead educates individuals, families, and health care providers to make more informed choices. “People are caught between pro-drug marketing by pharmaceutical companies and the anti-drug message of some activists. We need honest and unbiased information about psychiatric medications, including assessing drug risks and discussing how to come off drugs safely when they aren’t right for you. Many people find medications helpful, but there are huge dangers involved, and sometimes it’s better to reduce medication or slowly go off.”
After several hospitalizations and a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder schizophrenia, Hall has been medication-free for more than 17 years. He says a combination of holistic health, support groups, and spiritual practice nurtured his recovery from mental illness, but believes that “each person’s path to recovery is different. My work fills a great need for information, and it’s a shame this topic is censored at a national conference that claims to be dedicated to wellness and calls itself ‘Alternatives.'”
Hall is the author of the Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Medications, published by mental health peer groups The Icarus Project and Freedom Center. The guide, available freely on the internet, has been distributed to more than 15,000 people and is available in Spanish and German translations.