ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN NAMI, TAC AND THE
A brief overview by
Families for the Ethical Psychiatric Treatment of Patients and Prisoners (FEPTOPP)
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) are two of the most dominant advocacy organizations within the U.S. in the field of mental health. As such, they play an important part in shaping public perception and debate over issues such as government policies toward mental health care, insurance coverage for treatment, psychiatric treatment modalities, legal initiatives, pharmaceutical corporations’ public image, and the ethical use of coercion for treatment.
These are not entirely new issues. About a century ago, the Eugenics Movement arose in the U.S., England, and Germany advocating a radical approach to the treatment of persons deemed to be “mentally defective.” Starting with a discussion of the proper way to develop public policy towards this sub-group of the population, a movement was cultivated that ultimately led to the sterilization and elimination of hundreds of thousands of these individuals.
In this paper, we briefly examine the historical connections between these two social movements and note their similarities. Then we pose a theory: That NAMI and TAC are part of a modern-day expression of the Eugenics Movement and represent a significant step toward the development of fascism in the U.S.
We will start by outlining a brief history of NAMI and TAC.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (originally the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) traces its beginnings to 1979, when a group of families with loved ones in the mental health system came together to form a nation-wide non-profit organization. Although not openly recognized then, the funding for that effort for NAMI came mainly through the pharmaceutical industry. At the time, under the Community Support Programs of the federal government, families were being organized to contend with a new development: patients were being released en mass from mental hospitals in a process called de-institutionalization. A number of factors led up to the move to remove most patients from public mental health hospitals. A major factor was new drugs coming on the market being hailed as the next modern advance in the treatment of mental illness. These neuroleptic (brain seizing) drugs held out the promise that persons with severe mental problems could be controlled outside of institutional settings.
Starting with Thorazine (Chlorpromazine) in the early 1950’s, huge marketing campaigns were launched by the drug companies to sell this new treatment modality notion to psychiatrists, asylum keepers, and state politicians. The idea that drugs could now be used to maintain mental patients in community settings, both cutting costs and reputedly helping to reduce violence, held great allure for state governments struggling with aging mental hospitals. Psychiatrists, who had been limited to warehousing their patients without any effective cures, were helped to realize this would be a boon for them as well. The promise of being able to prescribe drugs like other doctors also fed their professional aspirations.
The marketing campaigns carried out by the drug companies were bolstered by the film industry, which produced, among others, a sensationalized movie at the time, titled “The Snake Pit”, for which Olivia DeHaviland received an Academy Award. The film depicted the horrors of mental hospitals in graphic detail. Advocacy groups were encouraged to form and were given the same pitch. NAMI was chosen by the drug companies to be their standard-bearer in this shift to the new paradigm among ‘consumers’ of mental health services and their families. After all, families would have to be brought on board with this new idea, as the effort to support these psychiatric patients was now being shifted to them.
For almost two decades, NAMI concealed its financial dependence on the pharmaceutical industry. During that time, aided by the millions of dollars given to them by the drug companies, NAMI spread all over the country, establishing chapters in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, with more than 1200 local affiliates operating at the community level. Controlled by a national board of directors who initiated all campaigns, the organization quickly developed a strategy of lobbying federal agencies and the White House for money to pay for the drugs it was recommending for treatment.
In 1999, however, an investigative story published in Mother Jones magazine broke the news that the drug companies were manipulating NAMI successfully to help set national mental health policies in a way that focused on drugs as the primary therapeutic method of treatment. NAMI steadfastly denied this charge, but refused to open their books to public scrutiny. A decade passed in which suspicion grew about the nature of NAMI’s sources of income. Then, in 2009, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa conducted an investigation into the funding of NAMI, and ordered NAMI to provide previously hidden records of their financial support. The Senate Investigative Committee subsequently reported that NAMI was getting about 75% of its funds directly from the pharmaceutical industry.
Thus we have the story of NAMI: Essentially a drug company front group, masquerading as a family support group in order to build public support for the mass consumption of the products of the pharmaceutical corporations.
Now let’s look at TAC.
The Treatment Advocacy Center began as an arm of NAMI, founded in 1998 by Psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey, who was an active advisor and financial contributor to NAMI. TAC is funded entirely by the Stanley Medical Research Institute (SMRI), of which Torrey is the Executive Director. SMRI is a non-profit founded by the Theodore Stanley, who made his money in direct marketing. After reading a book published by Torrey, Mr. Stanley contacted him and agreed to provide funding for TAC. Both TAC and SMRI are non-profit corporations. It is essential to look at SMRI in order to understand TAC.
SMRI claims to fund more than half of all research done in the U.S. on schizophrenia, and has a collection of more than 600 human brains,
the largest collection in the world. But, in a serious breach of medical ethics, it turns out that many of these brains were stolen from cadavers without the knowledge of the families of the deceased. Various lawsuits brought by families of the dead victims have been on file in several judicial districts for the past decade. SMRI has settled almost all of them out of court without admitting guilt.
In addition, SMRI has joined with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University Medical School to become part of the Broad Institute, an organization formed to study hereditary aspects of brain disorders and pharmaceutical methods of treating them. The Broad Institute (BI) is funded primarily by Eli Broad, a former accountant who became rich in the tract home building industry (KB Homes) and the insurance industry (Sun America). He eventually sold his businesses to AIG, the huge insurance company bailed out by the federal government during the 2009 financial crisis. AIG has long-standing ties to the intelligence community through the CIA. Mr. Broad has a fortune estimated at $6 billion.
Thus we see that TAC is funded entirely by a wealthy individual, Theodore Stanley, who, in partnership with an even wealthier individual, Eli Broad, spends enormous amounts of money funding medical research and advocating for psychiatric treatment. Because the funding of TAC is through a private donor, TAC can claim complete independence from the drug companies, and recently even came out and castigated NAMI openly for accepting drug company financial support. But this tactic appears to be strictly a smoke screen designed to conceal the still-existing ties between NAMI and TAC, as represented, for instance, by interlocking boards of directors. The synergy between the two organizations can also be seen when we look at their programs and ask the question: Exactly what kind of treatment is TAC advocating, and how does it dovetail with NAMI’s program?
As the founder of TAC and Executive Director of SMRI, E. Fuller Torrey is the very public face of TAC. He claims that taking neuroleptic drugs reduces the risk of violence, homelessness, and incarceration. Based upon this premise, TAC has been the leader in pushing for “Assisted Outpatient Treatment” (AOT) programs. The AOT programs are legalized forcible drugging programs in which persons with a diagnosed mental disorder who meet certain criteria can be forcibly drugged by mental health authorities, even though they are outpatients living in the community. AOT laws have been passed in 44 states, including Kendra’s Law in New York and Laura’s Law in California. As is evident by the names of these laws, in order to build public support for their passage, TAC organizes publicity campaigns calling for forced drugging whenever a sensational violent crime occurs and the perpetrator has a history of mental problems.
Fuller and the TAC leadership justify this tactic by claiming that the ends justify the means. According to them, although sensationalizing these crimes may be emotionally wrenching for the families involved, the resulting laws forcing drugs on mental patients is well worth the pain via the payoff in reputed “public safety.” While NAMI officially supports forced drugging, it takes no active role in sensationalizing crimes to push for legislation making it legally mandatory, at least openly. Together, then, TAC and NAMI work hand-in-hand to sensationalize the problems of people suffering from mental problems in order to then forcibly drug them into submission, all the while proclaiming compassion and concern for their condition.
In summary, we can see that TAC can be thought of as the operational arm of NAMI in terms of pushing for legalization of forced drugging. Since TAC’s method of sensationalizing crimes committed by persons who have a mental health diagnosis in order to achieve the goal of forced drugging may be offensive to families who are advocating for their loved ones, it is important for NAMI to distance itself from this tactic.
Hence it is necessary to create and maintain the fiction that NAMI and TAC are completely separate organizations. This ‘separation’ is made possible by the financial support of TAC by wealthy persons who support the idea that social control of persons with mental problems is necessary and attainable through mind-altering drugs. NAMI, on the other hand, receives its support directly for the drug companies. These two organizations, through the wealth of the drug companies and private individuals, have become the public face of mental health advocacy, and thus serve to contain and direct the dialogue regarding mental health care policy.
It must be noted that there are numerous other advocacy organizations throughout the U.S. that disagree with both the theoretical assumption of NAMI and TAC (i.e., the biochemical basis of mental disorders), and the tactic of demonizing persons with mental disorders in order to justify forcibly drugging them. However, these other groups are not politically favored. Without the financial means to broadcast their views, influence politicians and lobby government agencies, their views are seldom heard in the mainstream media or what passes for ‘public discourse.’
People who receive their news mainly from the corporate media would never realize there is a great divide in the mental health field. On the one hand, believing that brain chemistry holds the answer to understanding mental problems, we find:
- The pharmaceutical corporations;
- The psychiatric profession, as represented by the American Psychiatric Association, in concert with;
- The judicial system;
- Mainstream media with financial ties to the drug companies;
- The academic establishment (paid off by corporate contributions);
- State bureaucrats in the mental health and prison bureaucracies;
- Advocacy front groups, primarily NAMI and TAC.
On the other side are myriad (mostly) small groups and individuals, many who consider themselves ‘survivors’ of the current system, who believe that the biochemical model of brain disorders has no scientific basis. These individuals and groups believe the biochemical model holds sway in public discourse only due to the overwhelming financial resources of the beneficiaries of the existing system. Some of these dissenting groups are:
- The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), funded by the church of Scientology;
- Dissident psychiatrists, psychologists and academicians and authors;
- Support Coalition International (SCI);
- Alliance for Human Research Protection (AHRP);
- California Network of Mental Health Clients;
- Families for the Ethical Psychiatric Treatment of Patients and Prisoners (FEPTOPP).
THE EUGENICS MOVEMENT IN HISTORY
At this point, it is instructive to look at the history of the development of the mental health care system to put the present circumstances in perspective. Starting in the 16th century, treatment of the insane was provided by asylum keepers with no attempt at scientific understanding of the inmates (science was in its infancy). Treatment usually consisted of methods that today would qualify as torture. As always, the wealthy received considerably more humane treatment that the poor, who generally went untreated or were thrown into prisons.
With the coming of the 20th century, new scientific (and pseudo-scientific) methods began to attempt to explain what was causing mental problems. Under this guise there was an attempt to eliminate these problems by getting rid of the people who had them. This radical movement claimed to have a scientific basis. It was founded, funded, and advanced by wealthy individuals who sponsored academic scholars serving as apologists for their radical social agenda. The Eugenics Movement represents the theoretical backbone and historically most successful of these trends.
By claiming that mental patients and those who were born disabled represented genetically inferior people, the Eugenics Movement sought to sterilize and euthanize persons who suffered from these conditions. Within a few decades, the social policies resulting from these theories had sterilized and murdered hundreds of thousands in Europe and the U.S. and provided the ideological basis for the rise of fascism around the world. The world war that resulted killed more than 50 million.
What began as a debate over how best to deal with the problems of the “mentally deficient” ended with mass sterilizations, genocide and world war. The policies aimed originally at persons with mental problems spread to other groups and eventually engulfed the entire world in a paroxysm of violence and destruction.
Today, once again, we see this policy of social control through coercion gaining momentum – this time through the use of mind-altering drugs. It should not be forgotten that the drugs also have other physiological effects that cause great disabilities and result in early death. The drugs have, in reality, the same effect as the sterilization campaigns waged by the Eugenics Movement: The target population is unable to reproduce and suffers a shortened lifespan. The long-term effects of drugging large segments of the populace with these powerful neuroleptic drugs are unknown, but almost certainly will result in millions of casualties and deaths. In fact, it is now estimated that approximately 200,000 deaths per year in the U.S. are attributable to the effects of prescription drugs, and neuroleptics are now being prescribed for children as young as 2 years old. Most of these deaths go unreported, for reasons which can ultimately be tied to the same agents founding and funding the current wave of neo-eugenics. The wealthy and powerful, either directly or through the office of powerful corporations, have designated powerful drugs as the treatment of choice for mental problems, despite the effect of these drugs on the health of the patients. This is a policy of social control through coercion, and we know the historical result of such policies.
It is up to us to prevent another version of a deadly chapter in world history. It is time to mount public campaigns exposing the role of NAMI and TAC as front groups for economic and political forces in our society that are bent on social control through coercion – not just of persons with mental problems – but of the entire population. It is crucial for us to understand that by controlling the reputed ‘opposition’ or ‘consumer’ side of this public dialogue, these powerful forces seek to channel the course of events toward our enslavement and demise.