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Three Parents Speak

Interviews with Wendy Shackley, Laurie Goldstein and Suzanne Beachy

eric maisel
Source: eric maisel

Welcome to Childhood Made Crazy, an interview series that takes a critical look at the current “mental disorders of childhood” model. This series is comprised of interviews with practitioners, parents, and other children’s advocates as well as pieces that investigate fundamental questions in the mental health field. Visit the following page to learn more about the series, to see which interviews are coming, and to learn about the topics under discussion:

Laurie Goldstein has been an engineer for a large semiconductor company for the past 40 years and for the past 20 years has worked to advocate for persons suffering from mental illness, both at the local level and recently at the national level.

EM: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey, and your child’s journey, in the mental health system?

Our son was diagnosed early as ADHD, but atypical ADHD. He was bright, but he didn’t follow directions and had social issues. Looking back, the doctors had him on drugs for psychosis, but they were hesitant to label him Bipolar or Schizoaffective while still a child. The stimulants made him very anxious and did little to help his impulsivity and concentration issues.

His anxiety escalated and by middle school it became apparent that his issues were of a more serious nature. By high school he was in special classes and had no friends; he began self-medicating with marijuana. Research shows that there is a 60% correlation between mental illness and drug use. By seventeen he had become too dangerous to live with us. He cycled in and out of hospitals and psychosis.

He would not comply with treatment since he did not believe he was ill. He was assigned an ACT team, but he still did not comply. So we took guardianship and began the slow journey towards stability and wellness. His recovery started after a long hospitalization (2.5 years). He is now working, involved in his recovery, has a companion Labradoodle, and is headed back to college.

Some additional thoughts:

+ If you find yourself in such a situation you should ask a lot of questions and be a strong advocate.

+ If you feel you need some help, request an advocate.

+ Ask about a social behavior component if your child suffers from social issues.

+ Find a support group that is geared towards the same mental illnesses. Ask others what worked and what didn’t with the understanding that each child is different.

+ Take a NAMI class to better understand the journey and evidence based techniques that have been shown effective.

+ If your child is on meds and appears to be worsening, Immediately contact the treatment team and give specific examples of what you are observing. Ask for an immediate appointment; if there is not an appointment available, go to a behavioral crisis center or emergency room of a hospital that has children’s psychiatric services.

+ Ask what are the goals of treatment and how will they be measured? Ask what is the long-term outcome of children with similar symptoms? Ask what changes in the family could benefit your child in their treatment (more structure, talk therapy, etc.)? Always ask questions!


Any diagnosis of mental illness results in a complicated and uncertain fate for those it strikes. When you lose a son as a result of such a diagnosis, it ignites a search for answers. In 2010, Suzanne Beachy took to the TEDx stage to share the truth about what she learned too late about recovery from the extreme mental state known as "psychosis." Here is a link to her TEDx talk TEDxColumbus - Suzanne Beachy - What's Next For The Truth

EM: How would you suggest a parent think about being told that his or her child meets the criteria for a mental disorder or a mental illness diagnosis?

SB: If you are told your child meets the criteria for a mental disorder diagnosis, don’t be alarmed. Be informed.

Take a look at how these so-called diagnoses have been developed. So-called mental disorders are voted into a manual by committees. For example, according to the American Psychiatric Association, until 1974 homosexuality was a mental disorder and listed as such in and its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It was excluded not because of a better understanding of science, but because of pressure from gay rights activists. Interestingly, Aspberger’s Syndrome no longer appears in the DSM. Were homosexuality and Aspberger’s EVER mental disorders?

Being labeled with a psychiatric “condition” is nothing like getting a real diagnosis for a bona fide medical condition. There is no science behind psychiatric diagnoses. Psychiatric diagnoses are nothing more than pejorative labels – descriptive labels with no explanatory value. Behavioral psychologist Philip Hickey does a great job of explaining this in this blog entry from his website:

EM: How would you suggest a parent think about being told that his or her child ought to go on one or more than one psychiatric medication for his or her diagnosed mental disorder or mental illness?

SB: I was so naïve about psychiatric drugs when my son Jake was struggling mentally and emotionally. I actually believed that like an anti-biotic or an anti-inflammatory, anti-depressants somehow targeted a “depressive” condition in the brain and by counter-acting that condition, it could improve mood. Likewise, I believed that anti-psychotics relieved psychosis.

What I have realized since then is that psychiatric drugs are not medications. They do not treat any “illness.” They do not target a physiological condition. Much like street drugs, they are psycho-active chemicals that have similar effects on anyone who takes them, whether they have a “diagnosis” or not.

Three major revelations I have experienced about psychiatric drugs follow:

A.) The psycho-pharmaceutical industry has merely created the illusion that these drugs are real medications for real illnesses – “just like insulin for diabetes” is the buzz phrase we heard repeatedly from those in the psychiatric trade.

But it’s a lie!

Take the class of drugs dubbed “anti-psychotics,” for example. “Anti-psychotic” is simply a marketing term. Before this class of drugs was called “anti-psychotics,” they were called “neuroleptics,” meaning roughly “nerve-seizing.” Not very appealing, right? And before “neuroleptic,” the name for this class of drugs was “major tranquilizers.” These drugs dull or deaden thoughts and feelings. That’s basically what thorazine and haldol did as major tranquilizers 50 years ago, and that’s basically what Abilify and Risperdal do as “anti-psychotics” today.

Unfortunately, not only are so-called anti-psychotics being marketed today for so-called psychotic disorders, they are being touted for all kinds of mental, emotional, and behavioral “problems.” They’re being pushed as an “add-on” to anti-depressant “treatment.” They’re being pushed for all kinds of behavioral issues from tantrum-throwing toddlers to “difficult” geriatric patients in nursing homes.

B.) Another important fact about psychiatric drugs that is important to know is that once you start taking them, quitting them can be extremely difficult and for some people, impossible. From our own family’s experience, we learned that psychiatrists are largely ignorant of this fact. Withdrawal effects from psychiatric drugs are often mistaken for “a return of the illness,” and quitting cold turkey can be quite dangerous, even deadly.

C.) The benefits of psychiatric drugs are usually exaggerated, and the risks minimized or completely dismissed. For example, a low dose of olanzapine (Zyprexa) landed my son Jake in the emergency room because one entire side of his body became paralyzed in a painful state of muscle contraction. We were never warned that such a reaction could occur, so we had no idea that his prescribed drug was the culprit. It was terrifying. I was afraid he’d had a stroke. Fortunately, the emergency room physicians (real doctors!) figured out the problem. The condition Jake was suffering is called “dystonia,” and it’s a common adverse effect caused by neuroleptic/anti-psychotic drugs.

EM: What would you like to say to a parent whose child is in difficulty and who would like to put her trust in the current mental health system?

SB: Don’t do it. Unless you find an empathic counselor or therapist who instills confidence that your child will again experience robust wellness, improved relationships, and be able to live a full life, steer clear of the mental “health” system. It’s more of a mental illness system, creating chronic mental patients by “managing” chronic mental “disorders.”

EM: As a parent of a child who received a mental disorder diagnosis, what do you wish you had known at the beginning of that process that you know now?

SB: I wish I had been armed with the knowledge I acquired from reading Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic. Unfortunately for us, Whitaker’s book was not published until 2 years after my son Jake died. It’s now available in paperback. Anyone who has a family member at risk for entering the system would find life-saving information in Anatomy of an Epidemic.

I also wish I had known that what empowers people in severe mental distress is HOPE – hope that they will be able to get their full life back. I wish I knew what I shared in my TEDx talk presented 2 years after Jake died. Here’s a link:

Had I known that psychiatry and its “diagnoses” are complete quackery, I never would have allowed my son to be bullied into believing he was some sort of permanent “mental defective.” Armed with that knowledge, he might have had a fighting chance to reclaim a life worth living.


Wendy Shackley is a Gold Star Mom. Since her son Joel Alan McNeil's death by suicide due to PTSD almost three years ago, she has committed her life to educating the community about the problems with the reintegration process for veterans and their families. She has since founded a non-profit The Ripple Effect - Helping Veterans and Families Heal.

Her website is:

EM: How would you suggest a parent be told that his or her child meets the criteria for a mental disorder or a mental illness diagnosis?

WS: A parent should be communicated with during the entire process. The parent lives with the child, the doctor doesn't. They need to be proactive and do their research. I was told 30 years ago that my three-year-old son needed Ritalin for one seizure. Upon research I gave him Magnesium which kept him from having any additional seizures.

EM: How would you suggest a parent react to being told that his or her child ought to go on one or more than one psychiatric medication for his or her diagnosed mental disorder or mental illness?

WS: They shouldn't be told, they should be consulted with and given a choice. They need to be educated about the drugs and the side effects that go along with them.

EM: What if a parent currently has a child in treatment for a mental disorder? How should he or she monitor the treatment regimen and/or communicate with mental health professionals involved?

WS: They need to be their child's advocate. They need to do research and stay informed. They should think about support groups with other parents in similar situations so they know that they're not alone.

EM: What if a parent has a child who is taking psychiatric drugs and the child appears to be having adverse effects to those drugs or whose situation appears to worsening? What would you suggest the parent do?

WS: Contact the doctor immediately. Do not stop the medications without a plan of action coordinated with the doctor.

EM: In what ways might a parent help his or her child who is experiencing emotional difficulties in addition to, or different from, seeking traditional psychotherapy and/or psychopharmacology?

WS: Play therapy with children is priceless. Children do not process emotions in the same way that adults do.

EM: What would you like to say to a parent whose child is in difficulty and who would like to put her trust in the current mental health system?

WS: Be the advocate for your child. Research, research, research!

EM: As someone who works with families in distress, which sorts of things seem to help the most?

WS: Listening. Letting them know they are not alone, referring resources and sharing personal experiences.

EM: What sort of work does your organization do?

WS: My organization The Ripple Effect - Helping Veterans and Families Heal does suicide prevention workshops for veterans, families and the community. It’s a veteran-on-veteran mentor program.


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