John Breeding, PhD: Texas Mental Health System and Legislature

On the Texas Mental Health System and Legislature — by John Breeding

I am a psychologist deeply at odds with my own profession. To a great extent, our mental health system—institutionalized psychiatry—is a colossal failure and a harbinger of hopelessness. It is believed, despite the utter lack of scientific validation and any sort of independent objective indicators in diagnosis, that “mentally ill” people suffer from an incurable brain disease—a chemical imbalance—that can at best be kept under control with psychotropic drugs. That these drugs are toxic, addictive, and brain-disabling is considered a regrettable, but necessary inconvenience. The backup treatment is electroshock. For the “treated” millions, there is no cure. Long-term psychiatric patients die on average 25 years younger than their fellow citizens.

Psychiatry touts a pseudoscientific belief system as if it were validated science. As if this ethical disgrace is not bad enough, the mental health industry is rife with other major overt ethical failures. Most obvious are the massive conflicts of interest currently being revealed in the press, in large part due to the investigative work of Iowa Senator Charles Grassley and his staff. Many prominent researchers and industry spokespersons are now fighting for their professional lives as the hidden monies they received from Big Pharma are revealed. Psychiatry department chairs Charles Nemeroff  ($1 million from GlaxoSmithKline alone) of Emory University, Martin Keller of Brown University (associated with a severely compromised drug trial), and Alan Shatzberg of Stanford (who was principal investigator on a drug developed by a company in which he owned $6 million of stock) have all recently resigned their positions as a result of Grassley’s investigation. Joseph Biederman of Harvard (largely responsible for the explosive 4000% increase in the number of children diagnosed and treated as “bipolar,” usually with the most damaging of all psychiatric drugs, the antipsychotics) received at least $1.6 million from Big Pharma in the first several years of this 21st century. Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed him and two of his Harvard colleagues.

Texas is infamous regarding mental health system scandals—the work of state Senators Mike Moncrief and Judith Zaffirini in the early ‘90’s exposed and held accountable National Medical Enterprises for their headhunting and fraud. In the first half of this decade, Representative Susanna Hupp and Comptroller Carole Strayhorn did great work exposing and challenging the fact that a very large percentage of our state’s foster children are being drugged with cocktails of various damaging psychotropic drugs. Austin television investigative journalist Nanci Wilson gets credit for exposing perhaps the most notorious ongoing scandal, the Texas Medication Algorithm Project, known as TMAP. She showed the connection between drug company contributions to the state and the placement of their most profitable drug products in the resultant formulary mandated for state use. TDMHMR medical director Steven Shon was forced to resign his position due to his own conflicts of interests in this project. Several other prominent doctors in the University of Texas system—John Rush, Lynn Crismon, Graham Emslie and Karen Wagner to name just a few—have been shown to have severe financial conflicts of interest from monies received via Big Pharma. The state attorney general is continuing to investigate.

The drug companies continue to amass huge profits despite billions of dollars in class action settlements. Children are targeted more and more; the latest is a big spike in the number of children forced to take the so-called atypical antipsychotics like Risperdal and Zyprexa. These drugs cause permanent neurological and metabolic damage in a large percentage of people who take them for very long. A person taking Zyprexa gains an average of 26 pounds a year, and often ends up with Diabetes; some people die. And we are giving these poisons to Texas children as young as 1-year-old!

My twofold current complaint is that most of my own mental health profession remains silent about this pharmacaust, and that the Texas legislature is largely unwilling to confront this state of affairs. Efforts to put small controls on the rampant prescription of the antipsychotics to children, sponsored as HB 2163 by Representative Sylvester Turner, are met with ferocious psychiatry lobbying, and legislators are for the most part unwilling to protect our children, unwilling to face the simple truth that our children are being poisoned for profit.

Senators Eddie Lucio (SB553) and Royce West (SB296) have sponsored bills that would require transparency of all drug company monies given to doctors and researchers. This is a simple, powerful step, but it appears as if it is more important to the legislature to protect the hidden influences of Big Pharma and those they pay off then the rest of us citizens. The Senators’ bills are being held without a hearing by committee Chairs Jane Nelson and Robert Duncan, respectively.

Finally, another ugly face of the mental health system is that the prisons are having to deal with many people considered mentally ill. So it is understandable that judges and prison administrators are pressuring the legislature to remove these people. Senator Whitmire is pushing forward SB1505, which allows a judge to order a prisoner into inpatient or outpatient treatment, including forced long-term residency at a psychiatric facility, without even the minimal due process generally accorded citizens in a commitment or forced drugging hearing. This negation of fundamental American liberty and due process rights for the sake of institutional expediency is an egregious violation of human rights. Furthermore, the first rational action should be to ask why are so many supposedly mentally ill people crowding our jails? Given that  the state has been spending money to expand psychiatric emergency services, why is it not working? What is going wrong? Could it be that the ethically conflicted and scientifically void practice of using only drugs (and electroshock as backup) to deal with social and psychological problems is a failure? As a psychologist, I know there are much better ways. Could it be that the drugs, during use and during withdrawal, might actually exacerbate perturbations of behavior and criminality? The evidence says they do. Given the current mental health system, expanding or pushing citizens into psychiatric services—especially by coercion—is wrong. The only rational thing for the legislature to do is to investigate and rein in the damages.

11 thoughts on “John Breeding, PhD: Texas Mental Health System and Legislature

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  1. To Carmen: I am not defending psychiatrists but I have seen them get trained. Since “managed care”, the whole process of paychiatry has changed and the focus is on medication. It is what the insurance will pay for and what they pay the most money for. It is the insurance companies coupled with the pharm companys that have the power. Therapists, psychiatrists and patients are all pawns in the big money game.

  2. Is psychaitry the problem or is it psychiatrists? Psychiatrists are the least held accountable in any medical profession. We should not confuse misuse and abuse of medication with the fact that pharmaceuticals have saved and prolonged the lives of millions. Too much blame is placed on the pharmaceutical companies. The buck stops with the psychiatrist. The compainies only create it, no one has to buy it and it’s up to the psychiatrist to decide if it works or should be subcribed. As to jail commitment: balance, common sense and logic should preval. Since when is jail preferable to a hospital? What should enforced commitment accomplish. Let’s remember that many with mental illness aren’t of sound mind and therefore can’t make a reasonable decision. For most hospitalization should be used to stablize the patient, perform medical testing to eliminate phiciological causes, then release the patient. Hospitals should be made into pleasant experiences and staff screened with psychological and personality tests. As to those who have commited crimes such as asault or murder due to a mental illness; these need to be permantly commited. There’s no cure and the public needs to be protected.

    I believe the problem is psychiatrist. They are held to almost no standard. We should demand evaluation of each individual psychiatrist. What’s their success rate? What’s their failure rate? How many of their patients have died or commited crimes under their care? Only when we hold psychiatrists to a high standard will they treat patients properly. I have one las question; if mental illnes is a brain disease why don’t neaurologits treat it?

  3. Inez, that is a good point. I work with the developmentally disabled and have noticed that they are also prescribed a massive amount of pharmaceuticals. A person I began working with took so many meds that her pill box wouldn’t hold all of them. She died in her mid-thirties. I am convinced her death was caused by a combination of poor prescribing and poor support services from the company I was working for. I struggle in my work because I administer medications that I believe are harmful. I am there to support people in their preferred lifestyle, and the people I support trust their doctors.

  4. Another problem is the forced drugging of elderly people in resthomes, my father was given antipsychotics for dementia, which he didn’t have.

  5. >Psychiatry touts a pseudoscientific belief system as if it were validated science. My twofold current complaint is that most of my own mental health profession remains silent about this pharmacaust<

    DAMN RIGHT. While not a mental health professional, I am one who has had my own experiences as a patient. I want to know why they are silent as well. The only way – ONLY way – this type of information will come out is due people (bloggers, what have you) that continue to shine the light on the truth.

  6. I don’t know if you have the time, but there’s a great book out by Gail Hornstein titled Agnes’s Jacket/A Psychologist’s Search for the Meanings of Madness.

    It’s a great read, and touches on this subject matter heavily. The author is a professor of psychology @ Mount Holyoke, and despite what her (American) education dictates, she is profoundly interested in patient narratives. ‘Experts by Experience’ is what she terms them.

    What touched me was the fact that she was ‘converted’ as she LISTENED to the subjects of her book. She did not set out to champion the cause. I highly recommend it.

    She gives a shout out to Freedom Center many times, and delves deeply into the Hearing Voices Network based out of Britain. Cheers!

  7. Gianna,

    Texas has a lot of problems in this area – lots of ties to pharma money.

    Our current Governor, Rick Perry tried to get the Guaradisil vaccine pushed in the public school system – What a freaky thing that was!
    It’s like it came outta left-field….A call to have young girls vaccinated by Guardasil….

    This stuff is going on nationwide, but not sure any state has a tougher battle ahead than Texas….It seems like a lot of eyes are on Texas right now – to see if the Pharma lobby can be fought, and some sense of sanity returned.

    And, of course, John Breeding is just the best!

    Thanks for posting John’s piece – I hope some other bloggers run with it (hint, hint fellow bloggers), because it speaks to what’s happening in all fifty states, and what needs to change!


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