The use of force and coercion in all its forms has no place -- and ought NOT to be tolerated or supported -- in health care treatment in any setting or for any reason.
In the words of Justin Dart:
-- Justin Dart, Jr. is a Disability Rights Movement Leader For more information about Justin Dart, visit:
Self-determination and independence versus force and dependency
By Morgan Brown
For some time now, there has been much written
about and even more talk concerning the
"restructuring" supposedly happening in various
mental health systems. So far, everything I have
read or heard of, indicates to me that all this
"restructuring" is nothing more than an attempt
to find new ways to do much of the same old
thing within these systems and within the
societies which foster and embrace them.
The use of force within these mental health
systems needs to be completely done away with
before these systems can truly become ones of
"empowerment" for everyone involved. This
would be real change, because it is what is
needed and because it is also very long overdue.
Whether on an inpatient, outpatient, or
"community" basis, the use of force or coercion
in mental health treatment is clearly wrong.
Force and treatment do not go or work together.
In fact, each works in opposition to the other.
Force fosters dependency, victimization, anger,
violence, helplessness, and irresponsibility.
However, treatment which is free from the use
of force or coercion embodies what is essential
to what often becomes termed as "recovery":
personhood, self-determination, hope, faith,
responsibility, and independence, as well as
interdependence. Force does not ensure safety
or security; rather, it is the use of force
that destroys them.
Using force is easy. Choosing alternatives
to force may be difficult, or seem so, but
it need not be impossible. Many options are
available which are not possible when force
is the governing paradigm.
If the force/coercion paradigm were no longer
in place, the power imbalance that currently
exists would cease, or at least its base would
lose its authority. Resources which are
currently being employed to bolster the force
paradigm could be used instead, to meet the
basic needs of individuals-needs now not met
in a way of their choosing, or not met at all.
These needs include: non-segregated,
non-congregate housing, home ownership programs
(designed by persons they are meant to assist
and packaged to assist persons living on very
low incomes), tenant-based rental assistance
programs, income, food, support, training,
employment, healthcare and transportation.
Meals on Wheels, personal assistance services,
and Part B-Independent Living Services can
play meaningful and vital roles in supporting
individuals labeled with psychiatric
disabilities to live independently. However,
it would take a major shift in resources to
fund these much- needed programs. In Vermont,
information regarding these programs and
access to them, can be gained through the
Vermont Center for Independent Living
We must do several things, including these:
End civil commitment and abolish the
insanity defense for persons labeled with
psychiatric (or emotional) disabilities.
Hold people fully accountable for their
actions if a crime is committed and then
proven within the criminal justice and
correctional systems, regardless of whether
or not an individual is labeled with a
Shift resources to fund a system that
helps to meet the needs of individuals
labeled with psychiatric disabilities in a
way of their choosing and make mental health
systems completely voluntary.
Use vouchers to allow people real choices
both in selecting care and/or service
providers and the actual care and/or service
that they may choose to receive.
End the preferred-provider status, sponsored
by state statutes, currently in place within
community mental health systems across the
Often, there are concerns raised about what
should be done if someone is "out of control"
or "troubled" or "in need of treatment" when
their state of mind and/or behavior is being
questioned. While the issue appears to be
complicated by several factors, including
current constitutional law regarding an
individual's rights in criminal proceedings,
it is my belief that people can be held more
accountable by changing how they are treated,
by abolishing the insanity defense, and by
ending civil commitment of individuals
labeled with psychiatric disabilities.
Being "out of control" or labeled with a
psychiatric disability should not be an
excuse and should not be tolerated if a
person is proven to have committed a crime.
If no crime is committed, but the person
appears to be "out of control" or "troubled,"
they should be offered voluntary assistance
only or otherwise be left alone. More
tolerance in this manner is actually needed,
not less of it. If an individual is not
committing a crime, but her or his actions
are annoying others, then they should not be
detained or interfered with-just like anyone
else. Being annoying, a jerk, or "out of
control," or being labeled with a psychiatric
disability in itself should not be grounds
for imposing society's will.
We shouldn't be able to hold people
accountable for actions that we think that
they might do. People should, however, be
fully accountable for proven criminal
violations of the law.
I do believe that it is possible for us to
finally rid ourselves of the terrible burden
of force and coercion within mental health
One of my favorite quotes which I need to
constantly remind myself of and which I use
often in this charge of work is this one:
"Some men see things as they are, and ask,
Why? I dream of things that never were and
ask, Why not?"-Robert F. Kennedy. These
words help carry me through many tough
times-both personal and political. I
encourage everyone to dream and then to ask,
"Why not?" This can be very liberating to
one's mind, body and soul, especially when
sharing with and supporting each other-as we
journey into the unknown together.
As published in the National Empowerment
Center Newsletter -- NEC News -- and
available online via the NEC Web site at:
There are some among those who are proponents
of the use of force in psychiatry that seem to
make a big deal about people who are opposed
to the use of force, coercion and violence in
the name of "mental health treatment" as being
"nay sayers" or "no sayers" as if that implys
something bad about them or their message.
This, of course, is only a projection being
put upon them as well as an attempt in
negating them as people opposed to such use
of force, and their message, in order to
distract and reflect from what is the actual
topic and points at the heart of the matter
and being discussed by those opposed to the
use of force under any guise.
Since when did it become something bad to
oppose and say "nay" or "no" to the use of
force, coercion and violence in any form or
under any guise?
The fact is that this is really all about
power. It is about those people who have to
use force in order to gain power over
someone else in order to then control and
dominate that person or group. Of course,
as such, they do not want that discussed,
explored, exposed or taken seriously. They
have to blame or find fault in someone for
their use and support of violence.
Since when did it become a bad thing to
say "nay" to such oppression and tyranny
no matter how supposedly well intentioned?
I say "NO" to such dehumanization and
I say "NO" to the question posed by the
TV cable network A&E: "Should schizophrenics
be forced into mandatory treatment?"
I say yes to that which is better in all
of us if and when we choose to embrace it
and act upon it so we may rise above that
which should be left behind. In order to
do that, first - yes - we must say "NO" and
then act on it and move on.
I am saying yes to all the possibilities
that lay before us when we embrace life, hope,
responsibility, mutual respect, peace and
freedom toward a real state of holistic
I am saying "NO" to those forces and
people who would take those opportunities
away from us: life, hope, responsibility,
mutual respect, peace, freedom and holistic
For that, I am proud to be yet another
NON-compliant "nay sayer".
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Die gedanken sind frei, my thoughts freely flower, Die gedanken sind frei, my thoughts give me power No scholar can map them, no hunter can trap them No one can deny, die gedanken sind frei, No one can deny, die gedanken sind frei! I think as I please and this gives me pleasure My conscience decrees this right I must treasure My thoughts will not cater to duke or dictator No one can deny, die gedanken sind frei, No one can deny, die gedanken sind frei! And should tyrants take me and throw me in prison My thoughts will burst free like blossoms in season Foundations will crumble and structures will tumble And free people will cry "Die gedanken sind frei!" No one will deny die gedanken sind frei!
This German resistance song was made "popular" in the United States by Pete Seeger and is included on his album "Dangerous Songs." Originally sung by Prussian prisoners of war, it was banned by Hitler and became an underground anthem of prisoners of war and concentration camp inmates during World War II. Some people might recognize it from the sound track of a movie about a great escape from a German P.O.W. camp.
searching for flowers of hope within the snow and ice of a cold, indifferent and hostile world; growing impatient for life's endless winter to pass, since spring's warmth may not be enough to compel these expectant blossoms to rise and flower. like so many others mindlessly trampled, leaving the world barren; desolate of those whose faith, beauty, passion, strength and resolve would usually still be able to rise, had they not had that spirit carelessly plucked from them. by Morgan W. Brown ALL RIGHTS RESERVED March 6, 1999 White River Junction, VT USA
Dedicated to members of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) whose Safe Park Vigils inspired this work. Please visit their Web site:
Morgan W. Brown is a struggling, but "serious and persistent" writer, poet and activist. His life experience includes that of psychiatric incarceration, shock treatment (ECT) and also being homeless many times. Morgan advocates NON-violent NON-cooperative active resistance in various activism concerns including and especially for human rights and social justice for people who are "seriously and persistently" psychiatrically labeled or who are either homeless or formerly homeless. He urges that people STOP supporting or otherwise cooperating with any person(s), organization(s) or service provider(s) who either engages in, supports or is otherwise indifferent to forced or coerced mental health and behavorial health treatment. In turn, he advocates for fully funded services and supports which are fully directed by those who use them and that are provided by psychiatric survivors, mental health consumers, clients, ex-patients and ex-inmates -- which are true voluntary alternatives to the traditional forced and coerced medical model system of mental health and behavorial health treatment. Morgan believes that the current traditional medical model system of mental health and behavorial health treatment system needs to become totally force and coercion FREE.
No Force Across America