Donald Leeper:


Saving Myself From Psychiatry


by Donald Leeper

I have been an alcoholic for thirty-five years. In the course of my life I have tried many treatments for my problem. AA. Therapeutic Communities. Counseling. Antabuse. In the past twenty years I have been involved in religion. I also sought help from the mental health profession. After years of effort I have been sober since June of 1988.

I went to Mt. Tabor Monastery in Redwood Valley at the beginning of Lent in 1985. I studied about the Church. And I spent a great deal of time walking the road to the top of the mountain to the end of the Monastery property. I did outside labor and with the daily uphill walking I was in good physical condition. I weighed 180 pounds.

On Easter of 1985 I was received into the Catholic Church of the Byzantine Rite of the Ukrainian Church as a layman. I lived at the Monastery off and on for the next fifteen months. I left a few times to drink. However I always returned and was welcomed back.There was a construction project going on and they paid me $5.00 an hour. I had a small trailer to live in and I had meals.

My drinking became worse and I was drinking at the Monastery when I could. I was going to town every few days to drink. I was functioning at a lower and lower level. I didn't feel as though I could continue. I went to town and rented a room at the Palace Hotel. I took thirty-two over-the-counter sleeping pills. I drank a quart of liquor. Waking up, sick, depressed, pissed off that I was still alive, I sought the help of the local Mental Health Facility. I was admitted to the Psychiatric Unit on 9-8-86. I was placed on a small dose of Laxitane and discharged.

Ford Street Projects, at 139 Ford Street, run by Mark Rohloff, just started a Mentally Ill Homeless Program to house mentally ill adults while they applied for SSI (disability benefits for mental illness). Buddy Eller is the Director of this program. I entered the program and I was housed at the Woodland Apartments.

I started going to the Mental Health Services at 564 Dora in Ukiah. On 9-23-86 I was placed on the drug Mellaril.To begin with I was placed on 25mg. This may be justified under the information contained in the Physician's Desk Reference (PDR).The dosage was increased over a short period of time until I was taking the maximum possible recommended dosage of 800mg a day.

Mellaril today is called a neuroleptic. It is similar to Thorazine. Here is what Doctor Peter R Breggin, author of the book Toxic Psychiatry, has to say about neuroleptics: "The neuroleptics are the most frequently prescribed drugs in mental hospitals, and they are widely used in board and care homes, nursing homes, institutions for people with mental retardation, children's' facilities and prisons. They are also given to millions of patients in public clinics and to hundred of thousands in private psychiatric offices. Too often they are prescribed for anxiety, sleep problems, and other difficulties in a manner that runs contrary to the usual recommendations. And too often they are administered to children with behavioral problems. Even children who are living at home and going to school." (page 51)

"Textbooks of psychiatry and review articles claim that neuroleptics have a specific antipsychotic effect, especially on the so-called positive symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations and delusions, marked incoherence, and repeatedly bizarre or disorganized behavior." (page 52)

"To grasp what the pioneers said about the neuroleptic effect, it is important first to understand the lobotomy effect to which it is compared. Lobotomy usually refers to the surgical cutting of nerve connections between the frontal lobes and the remainder of the brain. The frontal lobes produce the bulge in the human forehead, distinguishing our profile from that of other animals, and they represent the evolutionary flowering of the brain. The frontal lobes are the seat of higher human functions such as love, concern for others, empathy, self-insight, creativity, initiative, autonomy, rationality, abstract reasoning, judgement, future planning, foresight, willpower, determination and concentration.The frontal lobes allow us to be 'human' in the full sense of the word; they are required for a civilized, effective, mature life. Lobotomy basically knocks the frontal lobes out of commission."(page 53) "Most psychosurgey cuts the nerve connections to and from the frontal lobes and limbic system; chemical lobotomy largely interdicts the nerve connections to the same regions. Either way, coming or going, it's a lobotomy effect." (page 56) Mellaril is not the appropriate medication for Bipolar Illness (My diagnoses from my mental health records) .Lithium is the medication of choice for the bipolar condition. The use of large doses of Mellaril on a long-term basis to treat Bipolar Illness cannot be justified either by the manufacturers' Information or by the PDR.

Through the years I was treated with Mellaril I gained one hundred pounds. From the first dosage I never had so much as an erection or even a wet dream. I was unable to masturbate. I didn't have any feeling to speak of. I went to bed at 7:00 every evening. At the Monastery people thought that I had a highly developed spiritual life because I seldom became upset. Many people asked me to pray for them. I didn't read anything, and I lost my ability to think clearly and critically. I showered less than once a week. I ate one meal a day. I never got any exercise. I watched television and listened to talk radio. I wasn't able to have adult relationships.

I was on Mellaril for nine years. Most of it seems like a dream, and the memories of my life are very vague. I went to the Monastery a lot. I was accepted and encouraged there.After I sobered up I became an Aggregate Monk at Mt. Tabor Monastery. That's a monk who does not live at the Monastery itself but follows the Monk's Rule out in the world. I rose early in the morning. I went to daily mass at St .Mary's Church. I spent three hours a day doing special prayers and chants called Offices. I did the full Rosary (fifteen decades). I did the Jesus Prayer for an hour a day on a special woollen string with a hundred knots. I did an hour of spiritual study (I listened to tapes because I wasn't reading). My monk's name was Brother Sergius.

Everyone told me how well I was doing. The doctors at Mental Health. The Abbot and the monks and my friends at the Monastery. I was on SSI. My friends told me I was functioning at such a high level that I would have to be careful or I would lose my disability check. I lived as a monk for five years. I was a perfect monk. Nonassertive, obedient, uncritical, no sex drive, always calm, never making waves or asking embarrassing questions. In my medicated state I fit right in. (Now when I visit the Monastery being drug free all the monks seem as through they are taking some kind of medication).

I tried to get off Mellaril several times through the years. I would try by tapering off and I would always get withdrawal symptoms and I would return to the full dosage. The mainstream pharmacology literature says that Mellaril is nonaddictive and there are no withdrawal symptoms. Around Christmas of 1994 I convinced a new doctor, Dr. Rosoff, at Mental Health, that I was on the wrong medication and that I needed to get off the Mellaril. He tapered me off in three weeks. I got very sick. I had to cancel most of my social life. I had the cold sweats. I couldn't sleep. I couldn't eat. I could not think. I felt very sick. I made an emergency appointment with Doctor Rosoff. He said that Mellaril was nonaddictive and that because I was an alcoholic maybe I had been drinking and not owning up to it. I said that my sexual functioning was not returning and he said I should drink coffee before I has sex and that would help me solve my problem. That was the last time I saw Doctor Rosoff. I quit taking all my mental health medications and I divorced myself from the Mental Health Clinic. After being drug free the teaching of the church and the monks' life no longer made sense to me. So I no longer belong to the Monastery or to any other church or religion.

I am really messed up physically and sexually. I have a friend who is a doctor, Mark Luoto, and he says that I am sick and having physical and sexual problems because I took Mellaril for those many years. I have suffered serious and possibly permanent physical and sexual damage from taking these medicines. Men can father children into their eighties. I am fifty-one and the only way I can father a child is with the help of a turkey baster. What a romantic idea. The woman and me in bed. With the turkey baster. Maybe some Michael Jackson music. Every woman's dream of a perfect evening.

Since Christmas I have lost eighty pounds and I am returning to my pre-Mellaril weight. My mind is clearing and I am reading again. I am concerned about the issues of the day. I am involved with the Mendocino Environmental Center. Earth First! I do social justice work with the Spanish people. And I have given some support to the Indian people from Round Valley and their problems with the Sheriff and other law enforcement agencies. I am a member of the Allianza Justice Committee. I have taken an interest in life again and I have made new friends and I have a new life. I hope to be able to support myself soon and be through with SSI. Every time I look at my pale soft mental health body, and every time I fail at maintaining an erection, I get really pissed off about what they did to me at Mental Health. They messed me up good. And they are hurting people every day with their medicine. During my nine years of treatment for mental illness I have met not only those professionals who are employed by the Mental Health Department, but others who work in supportive services such as Ford Street Projects and Plough Shares, who all share the philosophy that the most effective treatment for mental illness is psychiatric drugs. When any mentally challenged person has life problems the first question asked is: are they taking their medicine? When anyone presents themselves with any problem that can be construed in any way (however vague) as having a psychiatric issue, the treatment of choice is drugs.

These drugs are dangerous and brain damaging. There are great hazards to your health that even the appropriate medications pose. From the back cover of Toxic Psychiatry:"[Dr. Breggin] asserts that psychiatric drugs are spreading an epidemic of long-term brain damage; mental illness like schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety disorder have never been proven to be genetic or even physical in origin, but under the jurisdiction of medical doctors, millions of schoolchildren, housewives, elderly people, and others are labeled with medical diagnoses and treated with authoritarian interventions [of drugs], rather than being patiently listened to, understood, and helped." Page 58: "The fundamental pinciple of psychiatric treatment, the brain disabling principle, applies to all of the most potent psychiatric treatments, neuroleptics, antidepressants, lithium, electroshock, and psychosurgey. The principle states that all the major psychiatric treatments exert their primary or intended effect by disabling normal brain function." Conversely, none of the major psychiatric interventions correct or improve existing brain dysfunction, such as any presumed biochemical imbalance."

In a supreme court case in Indiana in 1981, Judge Evan Goodman gave the following opinion: "At the heart of this case is the virtually undisputed allegation that a person medicated with antipsychotic drugs has a 50% risk of contracting tardive dyskinesia, a disease exemplified by twisting tongue movements, puffing cheeks, smacking of lips, sucking movements of the mouth, and face and body movements characterized by continuous rocking motions, tremors and bizarre postures, and other symptoms, and which at this time is incurable." These side effects are downplayed by psychiatrists, who never really inform their patients of the danger of taking these medications." During my nine years of treatment; every six months I was presented with information about the side effects of these drugs.This information was incomplete. Being drugged I don't remember the exact details of these reports. However, I was never informed that I would become sexually dysfunctional. I had to sign a form stating that I was given this information.

When I first realized that I was having problems because of the years I took psychiatric drugs I went to see a so-called friend of mine, Tim Easterbrook, who I worked for years before on his ranch before he went to work for the Mental Health Department.When I explained that I was having difficulties because of the medicines I took, and that I was thinking of suing the Mental Health Department, he thought I was being funny, and said that I could not sue because I had signed a consent to treatment form before I was given any medicine. He didn't give me any support. He said that he would look into my difficulties by asking doctors and other mental health workers and clients about my problems. He never got back to me. So much for friendship.

When I confronted my social worker, Ken Rauch, about what the medicines had done to me, and about being given the wrong medicine for my diagnosis, he offered me some feedback by saying that I was off my medicine and I was manic, because I was upset over my treatment. He seemed to feel that I was angry because I had an emotional illness. He could not seem to realize that I had a just, sane reason to be upset. There had to be something wrong with anyone who was upset with the treatment they received at the hands of the Mental Health Department. I have begun a medical malpractice suit against the Department. My list of damages includes: 1. Serious and possibly permanent physical and sexual damage. 2. Loss of sexual function. 3. Weight gain. 4. General malaise. I have filed the appropriate legal motions and claims myself to pursue my suit. However, as of this time I am not represented by an attorney. The attorneys I talked to seem to feel that I am a victim of medical malpractice. However, not having any money of my own, the fees for expert medical witnesses would have to be paid for by the attorney out of his own pocket. No one I talked to wants to become that involved.

I realize that pointing out what's wrong with the system that uses drugs as its primary treatment is only half the job. I must be prepared to offer some realistic alternatives to the established order of things.

There is a movement afoot known as Psychiatric Survivors Network. These are people who have survived, sometimes years of psychiatric treatment, many in institutions. They present one of the most exciting and radical alternatives of all and that is self-help. Judi Chamberlin is the author of the book On Our Own: Patient-Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System. This book is in the forefront of the movement to provide alternatives to the established mental health system. Judi Chamberlin describes how patients themselves are developing humane and effective methods of treating the mentally ill.

Also in this state is the California Network of Mental Health Clients, located in Sacramento. They have organized themselves on a state-wide level into a client-run, mutual and self-help network of individuals who have been or now are, or have been considered, "psychiatrically disabled." Through education, advocacy, information on client-run self-help groups, and a newsletter called Network News, the Network is a great resource for those people seeking alternatives to the system. The crowning jewel in the Networks' arsenal is a manual called Reaching Across: Mental Health Clients Helping Each Other. The book is divided into 24 different chapters covering all the areas of concern in starting and developing self-help groups.

There is also the National Empowerment Center, located in Lawrence, MA. This organization provides support through everything from books, audio and video tapes, and a 1-800 number. They are even on the Internet. They also have a lot of material on Low-Cost Holistic Approaches For Coping With Psychiatric Symptoms. Their drug-free anti-medication stance is reflected in the choice of books that they review and recommend. There is information about drug-free therapies for almost any kind of mental problem.

In conclusion, I would like to call for a reevaluation of the blanket policy of long-term treatment with psychiatric drugs; and call for a possibly more effective treatment ideal of therapy, empathy, and love. I feel that the most important mental health medicines are love and having people in your life who care about you.

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Created: November 16, 1996
Last modified: March 12, 1999
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