Beware the So-Called Mental Health “De-Stigmatization” Campaigns such as Make It OK and NAMI, for they are Front Groups for Big Pharma

Gary G. Kohls, MD

Here is a little known but extremely relevant fact: The first campaign to “Stop the Stigma of Mental Illness” was launched many years ago by the psycho-pharmaceutical industry (Big Pharma) that makes tens of billions of dollars annually by selling unaffordable, often highly addictive, brain-altering drugs that are then promoted by psychiatrists and family physicians as being necessary for the rest of the drug-taking patient’s lives. 

Why doesn’t that surprise anybody? The norm for all capitalist enterprises is to make money by hook or by crook.
With a seemingly altruistic agenda of understanding and compassionately dealing with unfortunate people that are somehow different than the rest of us, the fact is that the campaign is all about marketing a product rather than ending the “stigma” of so-called “mental illness”.
The campaigns have been going on for decades under different guises and each one (see a partial list of some of the others at the end of this column) has been begun and funded by greedy, sociopathic multinational pharmaceutical corporations that primarily want to maximize their profits by getting more and more patients labeled as having a mental illness (of unknown cause) and securely on potentially-dangerous, dependency-inducing psych drugs. 

The primary propaganda targets of drug company advertising are prescribing doctors and nurse practitioners. The secondary targets however are the obedient, drug-swallowing folks who are sitting in front of the boob tube most of whom occasionally feel sad or nervous and who are somehow willing to swallow whatever drug is prescribed to them. 

It is three easy steps from passively watching attractive actors on TV, to wanting to get a diagnosis for whatever disorder the actor had, and then finding a health caregiver to prescribe “whatever drug the actor on TV got better taking” 
The same drugs and “disorders” are also subtly and cunningly promoted in non-paid TV programming that never seems to discuss any of the negative aspects of drugs from Big Pharma drugs (or vaccines) from which the station had accepted healthy amounts of advertising money – with the old rule that “whomever pays the piper calls the tune” (meaning that a broadcaster never reports anything that might offend his paymaster). 

Among the first Big Pharma front groups that promoted ”mental illness de-stigmatization campaigns” were the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). Some of the deep-pocketed founding sponsors of NAMI’s, CHADD’s and the other so-called PAOs included Abbott Labs, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Glaxo, Janssen, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, SmithKline Beecham, and Wyeth-Ayerst Labs.

So next time you see an advertisement or a commentary article in your local newspaper or television station from an obvious PAO or some psychiatrist group that is promoting another “stop the stigmatization of the ‘mentally ill’” campaign, understand that the group is very likely a front group for a multinational psycho-pharmaceutical company that actually only wants to sell more product. 

Such blatant PAO promotions are no different than the “Just Get Your Damn Flu Shots” campaigns every fall and winter that are actually just paid-for advertisements from some of the Big Vaccine corporations and their partners in the CDC that have vested interests in unloading their supply of seasonal vaccines to an unsuspecting public, most of whom are totally unaware of the very high Numbers Needed to Vaccinate figures (meaning that a lot of people have to be vaccinated in order for just one vaccinee to benefit) or the vaccine’s very low Vaccine Effectiveness ratios (meaning that not a lot of patients respond much differently than those who didn’t get the shot) or the fact that the 3 flu viruses prematurely chosen for the next year’s influenza season were likely to be just another mis-match and therefore ineffective. 

Below are some of the facts about how Big Pharma not only paid for, but actually created the “de-stigmatization campaign PAOs for the so-called ‘mentally ill’”. A U.S. Senate investigation revealed that in just two years alone (2006-2008) Big Pharma companies funded NAMI to the tune of $23 million, representing about three-quarters of its donations. And one of the major Big Pharma corporations actually “lent” one of its high-ranking officials to NAMI during its infancy in order the “harmonize” its strategies with the company.

 Creating The Perfect Marketing/Lobbying Machine: Big Pharma’s Funding of “Patient Advocacy Organizations

Mental health-type PAOs are groups operating under the guise of advocacy for the so-called “mentally ill,” but, in reality they are just Big Pharma front groups whose major functions are to influence public opinion by offering “expert opinions” on mental health issues, keep mental illness at the forefront of the media, “support” patients who are already mired in the mental health system and to lobby legislators to pass legislation at both the state and federal levels. Their campaigns affect most of us, all the way from normally inattentive and active kids to normally sullen teen-agers, from the sad elderly in nursing homes to our stressed-out and traumatized military, from tired pregnant women to stressed-out nursing mothers and their babies, etc, etc, etc. 

Is the new NAMI-Spawned “Make it OK” Campaign a Big Pharma Front Group?

The majority of the public may or may not be familiar with these so-called mental health advocacy organizations, such as NAMI, NAMI’s recent spin-off “Make It OK”, CHADD or the myriad of bipolar, depression or ADHD “support groups” that are inundating the internet, but they need to be exposed for the deceptive front groups that they actually are.

Presenting themselves as PAOs is disingenuous, but highly seductive to the propaganda targets and altruistic volunteers, many of whom have a sincere desire to help a loved one or a family member who might have emotional problems or are already struggling with the toxic effects of their cocktails of psych drugs. PAOs very successfully influence legislators, the press and the American public and have been very successful in getting legislation passed that benefits the sociopathic industries that fund them, under the guise of helping the patients they claim to represent and from whom the reap enormous profits. 

One would expect that any organization claiming to be for the rights of drug-taking patients would have as a primary goal the full disclosure of all psychiatric drug risks, the right to refuse treatment, and the right to know that psychiatric diagnoses are not medical conditions that can be confirmed by any known lab or radiological test. But they don’t. 

One would also expect that such altruistic-sounding PAOs would also provide patients with factual information about alternatives to Big Pharma’s unaffordable, poorly-tested, non-curative and sometimes lethal drugs – such as the many effective non-drug treatments that can be curative, affordable, non-addictive, non-harmful, such as talk- and brain-nutrient therapies. But they don’t.

An honest patients’ rights group for the so-called “mentally ill” would never endorse something as absurd and obviously dangerous as giving electroshock “treatments” to pregnant women, nor condone schools requiring children to take a psychiatric drug as a condition of attending school. But they do.
One would think that an honest PAO would never be opposed to the FDA issuing warnings that antidepressants are known to cause some children to become more manic, more depressed, sleep deprived or having new thoughts of committing suicide and homicide. But they do. 
One would think that an ethical PAO would never object to the FDA issuing warnings that so-called “ADHD” drugs are essentially amphetamine-based and therefore addictive with serious and even deadly side effects. But they do.
The following is an excerpt from one of the best Big Pharma whistleblowing organizations in the world, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights International. Their website if full of unimpeachable information exposing the members of the multinational pharmaceutical industry for their many illicit activities. Check out some of their powerful videos at https://www.cchrint.org/issues/psycho-pharmaceutical-front-groups/.

The Unholy Alliance Between PAOs And Big Pharma

In the late 1970s and 1980s, prominent American Psychiatric Association (APA) psychiatrists, directors and researchers with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) were in need of more government funding, and devised a plan to create a “growth of consumer and advocacy organizations” with the intention of getting these groups to help lobby Congress for increased funding for psychiatric research.[1] Several groups emerged first on the scene during that period, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI’s first name), Make It OK, CHADD, Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA), National Depression & Manic Depressive Association (NDMDA), now called Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), and National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD). 

In an incestuous relationship, many of these groups were formed by the directors or researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the very organization that needed mental health advocacy groups to make demands on Congress for increased funding. All of them had board or advisory board members with financial ties to Pharma and the majority of them were heavily funded by Pharma. So this was a brilliant marketing/lobbying strategy – Set up patient’s rights groups to lobby for the funding needed for psychiatry and big Pharma while claiming to be “advocates” for the mentally ill.

Perhaps this explains why these groups which claims to be patients’ “rights” groups would so vehemently oppose such important mental health reforms as:

• Black box warnings to highlight how antidepressants can cause suicide in children and young adults.

• ADHD drug warnings that the psychostimulants being given to millions of children should carry warnings that the drugs could cause heart attacks and strokes.

• A federal law prohibiting school personnel from forcing parents to give their children mind-altering psychiatric drugs as a requirement for their inherent right to education.

• Better informed consent rights.

• Banning the use of ECT on pregnant women, and instead endorse its use. 

• Rather, these groups—while raking in millions of Big Pharma dollars each year—frenetically lobby Congress and state governments to channel billions more taxpayers dollars into mental health programs that benefit the industry that funds them — not the patients they claim to represent. Among the issues these groups have supported include forced drugging of patients, endorsement and promotion of psychiatric drugs documented to be dangerous and lethal, mental health screening of all school children, drugging and electroshock treatment for pregnant women. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. These groups have also done all they can to suppress and/or minimize any workable alternative non-drug method (e.g. Soteria House, a proven and workable non-drug treatment for those diagnosed “schizophrenic”/psychotic) that threaten their multi-billion dollar psycho-pharmaceutical empire.

It is for this reason, and the disingenuous nature of many of these groups, that we are exposing their conflicts of interests because a patients’ rights group should be dedicated to patients—not the vested interests of the psycho/pharmaceutical industry. Big Pharma admits it gets more bang for its buck from funding these front groups than it does from spending on Direct-To-Consumer marketing (DTC).

Josh Weinstein, “a veteran pharma marketer” writing for the trade magazine Pharmaceutical Executive, in an article titled, “Public Relations: Why Advocacy Beats DTC,” said: “I have witnessed that the most direct and efficient tool for driving long-term support for [drug] brands has been, and continues to be, a well-designed, advocacy-based public education program….”

• “Unlike DTC, advocacy-based promotion brings with it a cadre of allies…This factor grows in importance as the pharma industry becomes more of a political target,” Weinstein says. In such a situation, advocacy groups “can be counted on to speak out for [the company]” and “the media will view them as more objective sources than industry spokespeople.”

• The pharmaceutical industry magazine Pharmaceutical Executive published a report by PR expert Teri Cox called “Forging Alliances, Advocacy Partners.” According to Cox, partnering with advocacy groups helps drug companies to “diffuse industry critics by delivering positive messages about the healthcare contributions of pharma companies to legislators, the media, and other key stakeholders.” And they help influence the decisions of policy-makers and regulators.

• Jeffrey Winton, vice-president of global public relations for Pharmacia is even clearer about the role of these groups. “Gone are the days when companies just handed out big checks to groups with no discussion afterward,” says Winton. “Now, we seek opportunities with groups that not only help them achieve their goals and objectives, but also help us move our business along.” 

• According to Dr. Peter Breggin, psychiatrist and founder of The International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology (ICSPP), the psychiatric-pharmaceutical company “advocacy” groups hold national meetings that bring together drug advocates to talk directly to consumers. They also put out newsletters and other information that praise medications. Sometimes they actively suppress viewpoints that are critical of drugs—for example, by discouraging the media from airing opposing viewpoints.”

• The psychiatric-pharma cartel is able to conceal its covert advertising and uses these groups to bolster its poor reputation.

• Sharon Batt of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, studied the behavior and funding of advocacy groups after years working herself in advocacy, where she noticed a general pattern. Organizations that accept pharmaceutical funding, she says, “tend to advocate for faster review and availability of drugs, greater insurance coverage, and they tend to see ‘direct-to-consumer’ advertising as a benefit to patients.” On the other hand, groups that maintain financial independence, she says, “emphasize safety over speed and are critical of direct-to-consumer advertising.”

• Weinstein adds: “working with advocacy groups is one of the most accomplished means of raising disease awareness and enhancing the industry’s image as deliverer of new and tangible value to patients.”

• Government agencies such as NIMH, NIDA, FDA and NIH should not have its officers or employee researchers sitting on the Boards or as advisers to any of these groups. All of these groups can and must disclose their pharmaceutical funding (of their own accord, not due to the fact that they are under Senate investigation as many of them currently are) they should also require complete disclosure of any vested interests of their board members and advisory committees. When you read each of their histories as we have provided, you will understand why.

And while several of these groups are now under Senate investigation for huge amounts of their previously undisclosed pharmaceutical funding, CCHR wants to provide the general public with more information about these psycho/pharma front groups, including some of the key players who formed them, advise them or sit on their boards. 

Below is a list of some other PAOs that might not have been mentioned above. 

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)
Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA)
Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA)
Center for the Advancement of Children’s Mental Health (CACMH)
Children and Adults with ADD (CHADD)
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)
Mental Health America (MHA - Formerly National Mental Health Association NMHA)
Mind of America Foundation (MAF) – previously NAMI Antistigma Foundation (NASF) 
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
National Association for Research on Schizophrenia And Depression (NARSAD)
Australian Psychiatrist Patrick McGorry’s Brave New World of Pre-Drugging Kids
Screening for Mental Health, Inc (SMH)
Signs of Suicide (SOS)
Suicide Prevention Action Network USA (SPAN)
TeenScreen National Center for Mental Health Checkups
The Texas Medication Algorithm Project (TMAP) a now-discredited algorithm to make more diagnoses of mental health “disorders”
The Jed Foundation