Psychiatrists and Policy Makers Meet on Concerns about Overuse of Medications

Author: Virgil Stucker, Gina Nikkel: Press release from the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care:

Psychiatrists and Policy Makers Meet on Concerns about Overuse of Medications

On February 11th and 12th, 54 mental health experts from 13 states, including 22 psychiatrists met in Portland Oregon to begin developing ‘medication optimization’ protocols and national and state policy reforms to help improve mental health care outcomes. Two days of discussion cited research from recent articles and books indicating that medications work well for some people, but that many who are diagnosed with bipolar, schizophrenia, and depressive disorders are not served well by medications over the long term.

Meeting Coordinator Gina Nikkel, Ph.D. states: “Attendees were clear that our systems of mental health care have become too medication focused, and it’s time for a broader approach. History will show that this national shift began this weekend in Portland, Oregon.” Gina is Executive Director of the Association of Oregon Community Mental Health Programs, an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Oregon Health Sciences University and Vice Chair of the newly formed Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care that sponsored the symposium.

Attending Psychiatrists embraced the broader approach. Maggie Bennington-Davis, MD, Chief Medical and Operating Officer for Cascadia Behavioral Health Care in Portland, Oregon states, “This Symposium helped me to remember why I love working with complex people. Serving them is not just about giving them a pill; we must think in broader terms and always hope and work for recovery.”

The gathering included psychiatrists with teaching affiliations at Harvard University as well as Beckie Child, Director of Mental Health America of Oregon and Dr. Daniel Fisher of the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery and international consumer activist Will Hall.

Robert Whitaker, science journalist, catalyst and author of Anatomy of an Epidemic was a guest of the Symposium. The Anatomy of an Epidemic compiles evidence showing that the number of individuals with disabling mental illness has more than doubled in two decades, despite the dramatic increase in our nation’s use of psychiatric medications by both children and adults.

Former Oregon state commissioner of mental health and addictions services Robert Nikkel stated, “Clearly something has to change. We are called to action by Mr. Whitaker’s work and are deeply appreciative for his courage and clarity of thought and analysis.”

The Symposium called for a “recovery model” that endorses the optimal use of medications as long as they are used in conjunction with other psycho-social supports. During the two days, Symposium attendees focused on developing improved protocols and policies for how psychiatric medications should be optimized during the recovery phase for individuals with depression or schizophrenia. Attendees cited the growing expense to Medicaid and Medicare billing of psychiatric medications, and asked whether this approach was as cost effective as other methods such as psychotherapy. Scientific papers defining these protocols will be forthcoming and published on the Foundation’s website.

The two day “Medication Optimization Symposium in the Service of Recovery” was convened by The Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care, which is chaired by Virgil Stucker. Mr. Stucker, Executive Director of the CooperRiis Healing Community in North Carolina and a national leader in the therapeutic community movement, states, ”We have run the course of narrow thinking that would reduce human despair to a permanent, bio-chemical imbalance in the brain. We are re-awakening to the wonderful and challenging complexity of the human condition. Compassion that fosters hope for recovery will be the hallmark of our new mainstream. Science is providing evidence for the effectiveness of this evolving broader approach.”

The Foundation will convene future Symposia and anticipates that its next gathering will focus on the increased use of psychiatric medications by our nation’s children. The Foundation invites inquires by volunteers and philanthropists who would like to help us with its work. Inquiries can be directed to or

1 The Foundation is a new national non-profit organization operating currently as a Fund of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation of Sheffield, Massachusetts. All donations to the Fund are tax-deductible.

Portland, Oregon – February 13, 2011

Contacts: Virgil Stucker, Chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care. Phone: 828-899-4673 and Gina Nikkel, Vice Chairperson of the Foundation at 930-0349.

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