Once a year, Patch Adams MD and the Gesundheit! Institute, in collaboration with the School for Designing Society at the University of Illinois put on a workshop focusing on redesigning the health care system. It’s attended by, healthcare providers, administrators, patients, students, musicians, cyberneticists, community organizers, and other dreamers, all of whom believe that we can design our future rather than just react to it.
My part in the program is to present a vision of mental health care that is a paradigm shift from the current disease-based model, which is based on declaring people mentally ill. We give sufferers an official diagnosis, which is the only way your provider gets paid.
The diagnostic bible of mental illnesses is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), a new one the DSM V will soon appear and will list over 500 “diseases”. The original DSM published forty years ago had less than 50. This diagnostic explosion is because psychiatry has declared unacceptable behaviors and feelings as mental illnesses, which is why 25% of all Americans now carry a mental illness diagnosis.
This epidemic rise in “mental illnesses” has come at the same time drugs have been discovered to treat these symptoms. The psychiatrists, who create these “diseases”, are distinguished academicians and researchers who get paid by the pharmaceutical companies for recommending these drug treatments. The pharmaceutical companies then, through direct to consumer advertising, convince the public that if they are feeling anything other than wonderful in every moment they could be suffering from this disease. If you’re shy, unfocused, fidgety, sad, anxious, or angry, you might have a disease, be sure to ask your doctor because there is a pill that can cure it.
Most of these so-called mental illnesses will go away with time, if faced directly and with some supportive therapy. But more than half of the millions of adults and children who are taking potent psychoactive drugs are not involved in any therapy at all; they only get refills of their medications.
My vision of mental health care is a community-based system that’s not based on disease intervention but on prediction and prevention; a community coming together to share their resources and helping face problems before being declared sick and/or disabled. People from diverse backgrounds sharing their experience, wisdom and healing strategies; it is by sharing our stories that we make sense of our lives, and they inspire our hope for the future.
Patch and I have shared such a vision for years; we call it the Patch Adams Fill Moon Festival (PAFMF), a three-day gathering where people reach out to support each other. For example, parents of kids who are inattentive, active and unfocused, will talk about effective alternatives to medications; Native American veterans who were welcomed home in traditional returning warrior ceremonies and among whom PTSD is rarely seen will offer their strategic intervention; adults taking care of their aging and infirmed parents will learn new strategies and find support.
At the PAFMF we will be clowning in hospitals, have ecological projects on the streets, music, theater, puppetry, story telling, and of course a colorful closing that features Patch’s favorite pastime, a record-breaking number of people mooning.
I ended my presentation by suggesting that the greatest impact we could have on the mental health of the world would be to outlaw direct to consumer pharmaceutical advertising. The room erupted into applause chanting Full Moon Fest! Full Moon Fest! This is my moonbeam dream.
P.S. If you’re interested in hearing more about this read my new book Kindling Spirit: Healing From Within, appearing monthly on Reality Sandwich. It’s free-of-charge and can be accessed directly from my website @ www.healingdoc.com.