Activist Strikes over Psychiatrists' Faith in Drug Therapy

Article excerpt

Byline: Tim Christie The Register-Guard

Since 1987, David Oaks of Eugene has been leading a quiet war against the psychiatric establishment and its reliance on pharmaceutical drugs to treat mental illness, sometimes against the will of patients.

Now, Oaks said, he and his organization, MindFreedom Support Coalition, are turning to direct action, in the form of a hunger strike, to turn up the heat on psychiatrists and drug companies.

"It's time for our social change movement to move to bolder actions, from patience to passion," he said Monday from Pasadena, Calif., where he and four other activists have gone without solid food since Aug. 16.

A sixth member of the group dropped out of the strike Sunday because she had lost too much weight and was starting to suffer health problems. But about 17 other people in other parts of the United States and Europe also began hunger strikes in solidarity, Oaks said.

At issue is the notion that mental illness is the result of a chemical imbalance in the body that can only be corrected with drugs, he said.

Oaks became an activist after his own experiences with the mental health system. When he was a student at Harvard, he became depressed and overwhelmed. He said he was locked into a cell in a psychiatric unit and forcibly injected with psychiatric drugs.

He describes MindFreedom as a coalition of 100 groups in a dozen countries "working for a nonviolent revolution in the mental health system."

Oaks said his group isn't opposed to the use of psychiatric drugs, but believes that they shouldn't be the only option for mentally ill people.

"We feel choice is being squeezed out by the psychiatric drug industry," he said. "When a family has a member in crisis ... there needs to be a range of options: jobs, housing, counseling, peer support."

Oaks contends that there is no scientific evidence to support the assertion that mental illness is the result of chemical imbalance.

The hunger strikers are demanding that the American Psychiatric Association produce scientifically valid evidence that mental illness is biologically based. …