Mouth asks,

What is your single most radical message?

Vicki SAYS
If it isn't voluntary, it isn't treatment.

Treatment is like sex. It has to be consensual. Both must be voluntary and freely chosen. If there's any amount of coercion or force, then let's call it what it is.




 photo of Vicki Wieselthier







an interview with Vicki Wieselthier by Josie Byzek
photo by Kuhlman + Associates, copyright 1999

This interview first appeared in Mouth magazine in July 1999.

Vicki Wieselthier is the organizer of MadNation, an active disability rights website. Check it out for yourself on the web at Her name is pronounced Weasel-theer.

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And they call it treatment today?




Let's say it clearly: that the state has chosen to do this because the state has police power and chooses to restrict all kinds of freedom from time to time.

Let's not call it treatment unless it is voluntary and freely chosen. Let's call it something else. Let's call it punishment and say we're doing it as punishment. People don't know their rights.

Isn 't there a big national push for forced treatment?

Psych survivors are being screwed big time right now.

There's this push to pass some incredibly repressive state laws -- all over the country -- laws that are to regulate the behavior of people with mental illnesses.
In the state of Minnesota, they passed a law that lets you register people, because they have a mental illness, with the court. Any family member, any neighbor, can go in and register you. You then have a treatment order written for you just in case you ever become non-compliant in the future.
They're trying to pass a similar law in New York, 'Kendra's Law.' There was a person with a psych disorder who shoved somebody named Kendra onto a subway track. Under this proposed law, you're registered like a sex offender, but you're a registered person with a psychiatric disability.
When they register you, they give you something called an 'outpatient treatment order.' If you're ever non-compliant -- say you skip a dose of medicine or who knows what -- you can then be put in a hospital. Maybe you're not showing any symptoms. Maybe you're not dangerous to yourself or anybody else. Maybe you're living peacefully in the community.
But if they then determine you're non-compliant with a treatment order, you can be put in the hospital for no other reason at all.
In Oregon, they've introduced legislation that while you're in the mental hospital, the state can seize your property and sell it to pay for the cost of your care. So you've got this combination of anybody with a psych disability being pulled out of the community at any time, for any reason... then once you get there, they sell everything you own.

But it's legal...?

Remember. Everything the Nazis did was legal.

They reclassified people based on disability, or ethnicity, and made special laws that applied just to them. Then, when they took it all the way to genocide, they weren't breaking any laws. They had changed the laws.
They had created a subclass of people that didn't have the same rights as everybody else. That's what states are doing to people with psychiatric disabilities right now. Right now.

Some crazy people do commit crimes...

If somebody's out there with a shotgun, then they need to be put someplace because I don't think anybody deserves to be shot. Jail. Jail sounds good.

But we need to have jails that are humane. Nobody should be treated like people are treated in our jails today. Whether they're murderers or pickpockets or persons pissing in the alley.
Pissing in the alley is a victimless crime. Crimes that homeless people, particularly homeless people with mental illness, get picked up on every day -- right now the leading reason for people ending up in jail is that they have a mental illness, and they're pissing in the alley.
No one pees in the alley because they like to water the weeds. People do that because they don't have decent housing, and they have no other place. Nobody dumpster dives because they like the food at the bottom of the dumpster. People do it because we don't provide the kind of resources that let people buy food.

When did your own moment of truth arrive?

A doctor wanted me to have shock treatments. I said NO. He looked at me and said, "It doesn't matter what you want. I can take you before a court, and they'll do anything I tell them to do to you."

At that time, I was married. I called my husband. He said, 'Well, they can't do it if I say no, and don't worry. I won't let them do it.'
I was thinking to myself, so I have to rely on my family to say, 'No, you're not going to put electrodes on her head and fry her brains.' I can't say that for myself?
So that was certainly a moment of 'aha.'

During the same hospitalization, the doctor didn't take me to court. What he did do, though, was say that either I would start to take the anti-psychotic drugs, or he was going to put me in restraints until I did. A nurse overheard the conversation. When the doctor left the room, I said, 'I want to fire this doctor and I want to fire him now.'
We got the hospital administrator involved, I fired the doctor and got a different doctor. The first doctor actually lost his privileges.
I had restraints and seclusion in prior hospitalizations. I'd had shock, and it did some real damage to me. But I didn't have that moment of I'm not going to take it any more. That didn't happen.
Something changed when I fired that doctor. That was twelve years ago... a long time.

What kinds of in-home services does a person with a psychiatric disability need -- so that they don't have to go into an institution?

Somebody may need company while they're cleaning their house. Or they're going to work and they're taking heavy drugs, they may need somebody to make sure that they actually get up in the morning, and get morning routine done.

When I get severely depressed, and I do, I lose the ability to do some simple self-care kinds of things. I don't do my dishes, or I don't take in the mail. Pretty soon I'm surrounded by such a mess that I don't even know how to get myself out of it any more. If, when things are falling apart around me, I can get a little bit of assistance, it would be a lot of help. I'm employed, I'm competent, and I'm good at what I do. Fortunately now, I can hire somebody out of my own pocket to do that.
We tend to think of the services that people need to take care of the physical body. People with psychiatric disabilities are excluded from MiCassa because that bill deals with Medicaid. [For the most part, psych services are paid from state funds, not federal.] It's a shame, because there are a lot of people with psychiatric disabilities who could live more independently, and in the community, if they could hire somebody to help them with some of these basic things.

What is Mad Nation?

Mad Nation is just a web page that's got about 500 pages on it.

There's two parallel sites: one that uses Java script, and graphics, and then there's one for text only. It has everything from poetry written by people with psychiatric disabilities to cutting-edge political rhetoric. Arguments, essays. If there's news breaking that's important to the psychiatric community, you will find it on Mad Nation. []
I also do a daily -- well, almost daily -- Ezine, called MadZine. It has breaking issues, ongoing themes.
I got started on it when I decided I wanted to do a web page. I knew I had the skills but I wasn't sure what I wanted it to be. And the more I learned, the more radical I became -- because of the stories of the tremendous abuse. Like about people being tied down and drugged. People being discriminated against in employment and housing. People getting terrible, disrespectful treatment from the professionals who were supposed to help them.
There are a number of survivors who believe there's no such thing as mental illness. They reject any kind of idea that there might ever be something wrong with a person's brain. That's not my belief. I think that actually there are things called mental illnesses, that medicine is not necessarily the treatment for it, but for some people medicine is an option that works.

So when I said I was getting radicalized, yeah, I was getting radicalized. But that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm anti-psychiatry. But I am one of the most outspoken anti-force people on the web.
There's a lot to do. We look forward to not only doing our own issues but to working with Adapt, and the various Centers for Independent Living, because we are in the same boat. We're being impoverished by our disabilities, we're being denied full inclusion because of our disability, we're having our human rights taken away.
There are an awful lot of people who are labeled psychiatrically disabled who do not believe that what makes us different makes us disabled. I've got to tell you, I'm among them. I have no trouble respecting the fact that my brain is wired differently than a lot of people. But I don't see it necessarily as disabling.
Do I have to make accommodations for it? Damn straight. Does it mean that I'm any less of a human being, or that there's something I can't do because of it? No. Give me the kinds of assistance I need, and I can do anything anyone else can.

What do you say about Goodwill and other sheltered workshops?

I don't know what the current pay rate is for slave labor, but I don't know anyone who's made enough to buy groceries.

You don't fit the mad stereotype.

It's akin to the situation I see all the time, where I'll be walking down the street with a friend of mine who's in a wheelchair and when somebody talks to us, they'll speak louder to the person using the wheelchair. There's no sense of the person behind the disability.

How many times do you have to be shown some sort of evil villain on television who is portrayed as a person with a psychiatric disability before you make that connection? When they decide that people who are sexual predators belong in psychiatric hospitals? You put them all in psych hospitals, whether they're somebody who's a baby raper or somebody with schizophrenia.
When there is a crime so outrageous and it horrifies us so much that we can't comprehend anybody doing it, the safest way to think about it is to say the person must be crazy. Because if we actually have to hold in our own heads the idea that human beings treat each other so horribly, that we have the capacity to do that to other human beings, it would drive us crazy. It's much easier for people to say, 'Oh that was so horrible, that person must be crazy.'

The entire text of this interview can be found at the Stop Shrinks website. To read it, click here.

To go to the MadNation website, click here.



Do you have something to SAY? Click here.


At right is the cover of the Moment of Truth issue where Vicki SAYS appeared. Click here to link to it in our online Attitude Catalog store.


Or maybe you want to hear from another Mouthy woman, Paula Caplan. She produced a play, "Call Me Crazy," which we sell on video. Click here for a link to it in our Attitude Catalog store.

cover of the Moment of Truth issue of Mouth