“Medicating Normal,” a new documentary about the widespread use and resulting harms of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications, ADHD drugs and mood stabilizers, highlights research by Social Welfare Professor David Cohen, an authority on the benefits and risks of psychoactive drugs. The film notes that one in five Americans take these psychiatric medications daily but many are unaware of their potentially debilitating side effects. In the documentary and in online resources published by the filmmakers, Cohen weighs in on misconceptions about mental illness as brain damage; the challenges psychiatric patients face in providing fully informed consent; and the severe symptoms associated with withdrawal from benzodiazepines such as Xanax. He also spoke about the intense pressure on parents to medicalize their children’s problems, a break from previous generations. “You didn’t go to the doctor before if your kid misbehaved. You went to your sister-in-law or you went to your clergyman or you went to the Reader’s Digest,” Cohen said. “It’s hard right now in the contemporary world, in the 21st century, it’s hard for a parent to know, what should I do with my kid? … You get 20 different views on the internet, you are surrounded by opinions, and you’re supposed to do the right thing, the perfect thing.” Swayed by peer pressure, drug marketing and fear of making the wrong choice, many parents conclude that their children have a disorder and turn to medication, he said. “Medicating Normal,” which argues that profit-driven drug companies are concealing the harms caused by their products, was recently screened at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
Social Welfare Professor David Cohen provided context and history in a CNN report assessing the veracity of President Trump’s comments linking gun violence to the closure of mental health facilities. “They closed so many — like 92% — of the mental institutions around this country over the years, for budgetary reasons,” Trump said. Cohen clarified that, since the mid-1950s, about half of the nation’s psychiatric facilities have closed and the number of residents in state mental hospitals has fallen from about 550,000 to about 100,000 today. The facilities closed in an effort to “deinstitutionalize” the mentally ill by placing them in less restrictive environments — not because of budget cutbacks, he added. But many patients were left with nowhere to go. “Society after World War II discovered a new passion to solve social problems and include the excluded, and all sorts of institutions — including orphanages, institutions for mentally retarded persons, homes for unwed mothers, youth detention centers, etc. — were phased out, with their residents often in effect kicked out from where they had lived for years,” Cohen said.
Laura Wray-Lake, left, and Jason Anthony Plumber are among the many from UCLA Luskin presenting at the SSWR conference. Photos by Laura Abrams
A contingent of 20 faculty and doctoral students from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs are representing the School at the 2019 Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) Conference Jan. 16-20 in San Francisco. Research is presented during symposia, workshops, roundtable discussions, and paper and poster presentations at the annual conference, which in 2019 is dedicated to ending gender-based, family and community violence. “We’re excited to see so many of our faculty and Ph.D. students presenting,” said Laura Abrams, professor and chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare. The presentations cover a broad spectrum of topics within social work and research, including mental illness, gerontology, child welfare, adolescence and parenting, racial and ethnic minorities, and civic engagement. Featured UCLA Luskin Social Welfare faculty are Abrams, David Cohen, Ian Holloway, Aurora Jackson, Leyla Karimli, Ayako Miyashita Ochoa, Amy Ritterbusch, Latoya Small, Carlos Santos and Laura Wray-Lake. Presenting doctoral students from UCLA Luskin are Skye Allmang, Donte Boyd, Ryan Dougherty, Shannon Dunlap, Jianchao Lai, Gi Lee, Carol A. Leung, Jason Anthony Plummer, Alex Recault and Rachel Wells. Holloway, associate professor of social welfare, remarked, “We are very proud of our doctoral students presenting at SSWR this year. They are advancing social welfare scholarship and representing UCLA well at our premier social work research conference.”
As part of the Mental Health and Public Child Welfare Lecture series, Laura Delano, founder and executive director of Inner Compass Initiative (ICI), visited UCLA Luskin on Nov. 16 to discuss her efforts to reclaim care from the “psychiatric-pharmaceutical industrial complex.” Through the ICI, Delano has worked to provide information and resources to facilitate more informed choices regarding all things mental health. Speaking to her experiences as an ex-psychiatric patient, Delano said, “I fully embraced the mental health system and my diagnosis when I was so hopeless for a solution to the pain. I thought maybe if I embrace this diagnosis and do everything the doctor says, I will be able to survive.” Delano suggested that the system must change the way it portrays mental illness as being in opposition to “normalcy” in order to put an end to patients feeling ostracized because of their medical diagnoses. Click below to view a Flickr album of photos from the lecture by Bryce Carrington.