Why SAMHSA Should Have Nothing to Do with the Alternatives Conference
Bipolar Bites
Bipolar Bites

Bipolar blogger Natasha Tracy offers exclusive insight into the world of bipolar disorder.

See all posts »

Why SAMHSA Should Have Nothing to Do with the Alternatives Conference

I have bipolar disorder—a serious mental illness. In fact, I have a particularly hard case of bipolar disorder to treat. I am among the mentally ill people that many organizations are created to help.

And one of the organizations that claim to want to help people with mental illness is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which is a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In other words, it’s an agency funded by the U. S. taxpayer that should be helping people with mental illness and substance abuse issues.

Sounds good, right?

You’d think so, but they are a highly underwhelming bunch.

SAMHSA seems to care about evidence-based treatments and has a section of its website devoted to data, outcomes and quality of evidence for treatments. But they blow this all away by putting on a huge conference called Alternatives.

It’s too bad they don’t act on the information they have on their own website.

Alternatives Conference

According to their website, Alternatives will, “serve as a catalyst for reenergizing our communities by providing opportunities to share skills and information about innovative peer-delivered supports, community-building initiatives, mental health recovery, wellness, and systems change.”

That’s the kind of wishy-washy double-speak I’m very suspicious of. And note its lack of the use of “evidence-based” anything. That’s not surprising seeing as the whole conference seems to be based on a complete lack of evidence and a bunch of “feel good” ideas.

They offer what they call “wellness practices.” Well, who is supposed to be helped by “wellness practices?” One such practice is “Dance Your Way to Wellness and Recovery.” I would like to know who this benefits, exactly. Does it benefit people with depression? Schizophrenia? Bipolar disorder? Do floridly psychotic people find dance somehow useful? Do people who are suicidal feel better after being forced to tango? Aren’t these the people we’re supposed to be helping? Meditation and yoga are other parts of these practices.

There’s also a lot in the conference on mental illness peers—how to be an advocate, how to talk about suicide, and so on. While I have no problem with peer support, suggesting that peers can actually treat people with bipolar disorder is beyond ridiculous. Peers have their place and it’s in a supportive role. It’s not in a treatment role. People with serious mental illnesses need actual treatment not a friendly ear. That friendly ear can be helpful, but not induce recovery.

Then there’s the Hearing Voice Network. This network believes that hearing voices (such as in a psychotic mania or schizophrenia) is “normal.” According to their session description, “The Hearing Voices Network (HVN) believes that hearing voices is a part of human experience. The presenters are voice hearers and trained HVN facilitators who find support through community created around the HVN principles of inclusivity and non-pathological, judgment-free connection.”

Give me a freaking break. If there’s any evidence that this program would work for any florid psychosis in bipolar or schizophrenia, I’d love to see it.

And how about this workshop: “Move toward the possibility of lives full of rich texture and joy through intentional living. The experiences of extreme states and intense suffering are very real, but they are also sources of strength, talent, and uniqueness. Entertain the possibility of overcoming emotional distress instead of just managing it or perpetually responding to it.”

If that isn’t dismissive of people with serious mental illnesses then I don’t know what is. As I have said before, I do not suffer from “emotional distress,” I suffer from a brain disorder. And yes, that needs to be managed. Similarly, another session claims to heal people by healing trauma. Just as I don’t suffer from emotional distress, my bipolar disorder is not trauma-based either.

Government Funds Going to Non-Evidence-Based Treatment Practices

And while I would be galled at this conference no matter who put it on as I consider it to be anti-science, anti-psychiatry and possibly very dangerous to people with serious mental illnesses, I am particularly ticked off that the U. S. government has decided to use taxpayer money to pay for the dissemination of this falderal.

If you want to dance and chat your way to a recovery that involves you continuing to hear voices that aren’t there, that’s your prerogative, but as far as the average person with mental illness, they need science, not fuzzy, feel-good, made-up nonsense. And any government that truly represents the people and truly wants to help people with serious mental illnesses should be backing and promoting science-based initiatives and taxpayers should demand the same.

  • 1

About the Author

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer who specializes in writing about bipolar disorder.