The following interview is part of a “future of mental health” interview series that will be running for 100+ days. This series presents different points of view about what helps a person in distress. I’ve aimed to be ecumenical and included many points of view different from my own. I hope you enjoy it. As with every service and resource in the mental health field, please do your due diligence. If you’d like to learn more about these philosophies, services, and organizations mentioned, follow the links provided.
Interview with Dan Stradford
“Alternative mental health” means different things to different people. For some people it signifies a focus on a nutritional or dietary approach to “treating mental disorders” and a related focus on what are seen as genetic and metabolic difficulties as root causes of mental distress. In the following interview Dan Stradford, president of Safe Harbor, presents this point of view.
EM: Can you tell us a little bit about Safe Harbor?
DS: Currently millions around the world take psychiatric medications, and a large percentage suffer debilitating side effects and/or the medications do not fully relieve their suffering. Millions of children are put on medication for behavioral issues, and one in four middle-aged American women is on an antidepressant.
Safe Harbor is a nonprofit founded in 1998 by myself. Our mission is to educate the public, medical field, and government agencies on safe, nondrug treatments in mental health. Our organization coined the term “alternative mental health” because, in 1998, there was alternative medicine but no equivalent in the mental health field.
Our web site – www.AlternativeMentalHealth.com – was created in 2000 to provide the web’s first online directory of physicians and practitioners who offered safe, nondrug mental health treatments. Our site grew rapidly and has now had more than 6 million visitors internationally.
We offer many articles, a bookstore, access to a self-help listserv, and a listserv for health professionals called Integrative Psychiatry. Daily we review journal articles to find recent advances in alternative mental health treatments and post the information to our listservs.
EM: Would you say that you have an underlying philosophy with regard to what helps people in distress?
DS: Very much so.
First, we are all very different so what works for one may not work for another. The one-size-fits-all concept of a pill for every symptom is not a realistic approach to genuine healing.
Secondly, many major mental disorders have a physiological basis. This does not mean that stress or environment do not play a role, but there is plenty of research to show that the majority of people with major mental disorders, and even lesser ones, have underlying treatable metabolic issues or medical problems that can be addressed to restore normal or near-normal function.
Therefore, we feel it is important to first understand what is driving a person’s mental issues. If it is obviously an environmental or psychological stressor, then one addresses that. If that does not fix it or there is no obvious stressor or the person is blaming the stressor but gets no relief from addressing the problem, then a likely underlying physical issue exists.
In this case, we recommend a full physical exam and, if nothing significant is found, then a full testing on what we call the Walsh Protocols (http://www.walshinstitute.org/biochemical-individuality--nutrition.html) – tests that detect about seven different metabolic issues most commonly found to contribute to mental disorders. All of these metabolic issues are treatable with nutrients. Physicians who test for these are listed at http://www.walshinstitute.org/clinical-resources.html.
It may take time to find the source of the problem and fix it so, in the interim, medication may be necessary if symptoms cannot be treated with alterative means – though it is healthier to go the alternative route if possible.
Most people who follow this sequence and apply the treatments will find some relief, often a full recovery.
EM: What are your thoughts about so-called psychiatric medication as it relates to the folks you serve?
The problems occur primarily in two situations. One, the person remains on the medication after the acute situation has passed. Secondly, psychiatric medication is used as a first resort for many things, when less harmful (and healthier) options exist.
In the first case, we again recommend the person be given a complete physical and tested on the Walsh Protocols. Until the underlying physical issue is treated, an effort should be made to reduce meds to the minimum needed or zero while employing safer, more effective alternatives for symptom reduction, such as nutrients, herbs, yoga, exercise, meditation, neurofeedback, time in greenery, better diet, etc.
In the second case, psychiatric meds should simply not be used as a first resort unless an emergency exists and/or no other treatment is available. For example, studies show that as many as one in four children labeled with ADHD actually have sleep apnea or other disturbed sleep problems. Many nondrug approaches have been found for ADHD in the past two decades (more time in greenery, for example). Yet the number of kids medicated continues to increase.
EM: How can people support “communities of care” like yours, either yours specifically or, more broadly, the concept of “communities of care”?
DS: Well, we are certainly open to donations! We are a fully recognized 501c3 nonprofit and all donations are tax deductible. Donations can be made through our web site at www.AlternativeMentalHealth.com.
We also have need of volunteers for specific tasks so we welcome inquiries about that.
I personally find that doing nonprofit work is very gratifying. It gives a great deal of meaning to our lives to work for a cause that is bigger than ourselves and that serves not only humanity but principles that will outlive us.
I am certain that what are now called alternative mental health treatments will, in fact, be commonplace in the future simply because they work. It just makes sense to use remedies that improve health and wellbeing instead of medicating people into a numbed state of “stability.”
Also, we have helped many thousands of people come off of psychiatric drugs and live healthier lives. These people no longer suffer and they are a positive force in their families and in society. They make contributions they would not have made when they lived a disabled life on medications. That is truly a beautiful thing to be part of.
EM: If you had a loved one in emotional or mental distress, what would you suggest that he or she do or try?
DS: I started Safe Harbor because I was surrounded by mentally disordered people growing up, and I saw what psychiatric treatment did to them. My father had shock treatments and was treated with heavy drugs most of my life and was hospitalized for half of my youth. Four women in my family have been hospitalized for bipolar disorder. My younger brother was treated psychiatrically in his youth. He died from alcoholism at 49.
I have helped many people in my family or close to me. And I am asked for advice regularly by close and extended family or their friends. One young boy was on three psych meds since the age of 4 for ADHD, including an antipsychotic. I’m happy to say that now, at age 9, he’s been med-free for a year and is doing great.
I recommend for those close to me exactly the same thing I suggested in the first question you asked. If there is not an obvious stressor, get physically examined and, if nothing is found, get tested on the Walsh Protocols.
“Undermethylation” is one of the metabolic conditions in the Walsh Protocols that can cause depression, anxiety, OCD, psychosis and other mental health issues. This condition is a genetic tendency to have insufficient methyl groups in the cells. Methyl groups are processed in the cells millions of times a second.
About 20% of the general society is “undermethylated” and about 25% of those people have serious problems because of it. In my family, of 12 people I have tested, 66% are undermethylated! This gives a HUGE clue as to why I saw so many mental problems in my family growing up. It also makes it possible for me to help family members (this is all genetic) avoid the same problems by getting tested and treated early.
Dan Stradford founded the mental health nonprofit Safe Harbor in 1998 and serves as its president. He is also a successful businessman, the author of the book The Men's Code of Honor: 66 Principles That Make a Man and he is lead author of a guide for physicians, Complementary and Alternative Medicine Treatments in Psychiatry, downloaded more than 30,000 times. He has published more than 250 articles and technical papers.
Eric Maisel, Ph.D., is the author of 40+ books, among them The Future of Mental Health, Rethinking Depression, Mastering Creative Anxiety, Life Purpose Boot Camp and The Van Gogh Blues. Write Dr. Maisel at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit him at http://www.ericmaisel.com, and learn more about the future of mental health movement at http://www.thefutureofmentalhealth.com
To see the complete roster of interview guests, please visit here: