Marianne Williamson’s Message Regarding the Overuse of Anti-Depressants Should Be Heard By All Americans

Self-help guru and democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson had a break-out moment at the recent CNN Democratic debate when she cut through the mind-numbing discussion about Medicare for All.  In her moment she reminded us that the 2020 presidential election is something completely different than the usual choice between policies and political personalities; instead, it is a battle for the American soul, as consequential perhaps as the 1860 pre-Civil War election of Abraham Lincoln. What has been lost or at least drowned out in the Democratic presidential debates to date is that the target should not be on the Obama Administration’s policies — which on its worst day was far better than the Trump Administration’s best day — but on the current White House incumbent. According to Williamson, Trump poses an existential threat not only to our democratic values, but also America’s moral infrastructure and collective psychic well-being. As Williamson put it at the CNN debate:

If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.

The audience responded with thunderous applause to Williamson, who also reminded us that “when we’re talking about health care … we need to realize we have a sickness care, rather than a health care system. We need to be the party talking about why so many of our chemical policies and our food policies and our agricultural policies and our environmental policies and even our economic policies are leading to people getting sick, to begin with.”

Following the debate, the internet practically exploded with viewer interest in Williamson and her views. Google trends showed that she appeared in the most searches after the debate in 49 of the 50 states. This increased interest immediately led to a mad scramble by mainstream journalists and opinion writers to try to drive a stake through the heart of Williamson’s quixotic campaign before it gained any more traction. Articles such as that by Brian Boyle of the LA Times predicting that “we’re all probably doomed” if Williamson were to succeed in her quest to drive Trump’s “dark psychic forces” from the White House. 

On Thursday night, August 1st, CNN’s Anderson Cooper had Williamson on his show in what could have been a very informative discussion on the massive over-prescription of antidepressants in the United States, possibly the most severe drug crisis facing the country today – with the possible exception of the opioid crisis. Instead, Cooper seemed intent on totally trashing Williamson’s legitimate message regarding the dangers of overuse of antidepressant and psychotropic prescription medications by focusing on one or two ill-advised statements that Williamson had regretted making in the past, including a reference to clinical depression as a “scam” and a statement referring to antidepressants as merely “numbing our pain.” Cooper also dredged up her promotion of an article on the death of Robin Williams that had been written by an arm of the Church of Scientology, which, strongly opposed psychiatry in general and almost all medications in particular. However, what Williamson was agreeing with in the article was the relatively non-controversial position that antidepressants are “helpful for some, but harmful for others.” 

To be sure, Cooper started the segment by noting that Williamson has been outspoken regarding the “legitimate” issues of over-prescription of antidepressants, the aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies, and their potential harmful side effects. However, he then spent the balance of the segment, taking Williamson to task for arguably suggesting that antidepressants may cause harm by “numbing” or “masking” emotions. Williamson denied promoting that message, but did articulate her core message that too many doctors are treating the “normal spectrum of human despair” with antidepressants, adding that, in her view, “We have lost our sense that there are times when sadness is part of life.”

Instead of blindly attacking and dismissing Williamson’s views as “kooky” or so outside the mainstream that they should not be taken seriously, it should be noted that there is growing recognition in the psychology and psychiatric fields that psychotherapists and other mental health professionals have been far too quick to view patients from a purely psychopharmacological perspective. Powerful antidepressants and psychotropic medications are often prescribed far too quickly, without a proper diagnosis and without taking into full consideration the potential dangerous negative side effects and addictive qualities of such medicines. 

In 2002, researchers at the Rand Corp. surveyed close to 700 adults who were taking antidepressants, but fewer than 20% had tested positive when screened for clinical depression, and fewer than 30% of those receiving medication had any symptoms of depression at all. Put another way, more than 70% of patients in the survey presented no medical need for antidepressant treatment, and an additional 10% had insufficient symptoms to warrant the American Psychiatric Association’s official DSM diagnosis of depression. 

In June 2012, an article in the American Psychological Association noted that a study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that “patients often receive psychotropic medications without being evaluated by mental health professionals,” and that that many Americans are being prescribed powerful antidepressants and other medications without a proper diagnosis. Often these patients are unaware of other non-drug treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, that might work better for them without the risk of dangerous side effects.  In 2016, the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published a study based on a review of 100,000 prescriptions for antidepressants written by about 160 doctors for 20,000 people.

A growing number of therapists who are either not licensed to prescribe medications or choose not to prescribe medications for many of their patients believe that non-drug related therapy (Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) or “talk therapy” as it is often referred to) is the most effective and least dangerous tool to provide treatment to their patients. There are also many members of the clergy or spiritual healers, such as Williamson, who offer counseling and therapeutic services to individuals who are not taking antidepressants or psychotropic medications. However, these “non-drug” therapists are the exception, rather than the rule, and, as Williamson stated in the CNN interview, “We’re living in a society now where somebody is going through just a normal breakup, and somebody says, ‘You should be on something.’” 

As Anderson Cooper repeatedly pointed out, a patient who has been appropriately diagnosed with clinical depression may well benefit from a proper prescription of antidepressant medication as long as he or she is closely monitored by a qualified physician or other mental health professional. However, as multiple studies have shown, antidepressants and psychotropic medications are being over-prescribed for thousands – if not tens of thousands – of patients who have not been properly tested and diagnosed with depression, often with disastrous results. 

In one medical malpractice case that I handled for the family of their deceased son, the young man of college age was prescribed nearly two dozen antidepressant and psychotropic medications, even though the medical providers who were prescribing these medications to him never conducted any psychological testing to determine whether, in fact, he was clinically depressed.  It was later discovered through a comprehensive battery of psychological testing; he did not have any mental problems but, rather, may have had some organic and neurocognitive problem related to a bout with Lyme’s Disease that he suffered from as a young child. In other words, the massive doses and chemical cocktails that he was forced to take during several hospitalizations were wholly inappropriate and unnecessary, and caused classic side-effects, such as extreme agitation and severe akathisia (literally, inability to sit), extreme mental anguish, self-violence, suicidal ideations and, eventually, attempted suicide.  

Two of the drugs the patient was required to take – Celexa and Zoloft – carried “black box warning” on its label as required by the FDA. This warning cautioned that, based upon various studies, the drugs may increase suicidal thoughts and behaviors in children and adolescents (under 25). Nevertheless, the medical providers insisted that the young man continue to take these and other prescription medications with dangerous side effects. When the patient began making progress with a therapist who specialized in DBT “talk” therapy that did not rely upon any prescription medications, the other doctors who were prescribing the antidepressants for him ordered that such drug-free therapy cease since it was supposedly interfering with his pharmacologically-based treatment. 

Eventually, the young man’s downward spiral resulted in him dousing himself with gasoline and lighting himself on fire, resulting in severe burns over 90% of his body. He lingered near death for six months in a hospital ward before he eventually died. 

Tragically, this case that I worked on is not an isolated incident, and although some of Marianne Williamson’s rhetoric on the subject of the overuse of prescription medications is undoubtedly “over the top,” the topic deserves much more public attention and debate, since it is a crisis throughout our country as real as the opioid epidemic. 

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Kenneth F. McCallion is a former federal prosecutor and principal attorney with McCallion & Associates LLP, a law firm specializing in human rights and medical malpractice cases involving the inappropriate and overuse of antidepressant and psychotropic prescription medications.  

Storming the SCIF

On Wednesday, October 23, 2019, a day that will live in infamy, roughly two dozen Republican Congressmen led by Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida stormed the House Intelligence Committee Hearing Room, delaying the scheduled interview of Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper as part of the impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump. Ms. Cooper, who was about to begin testifying when the “storm-the-room” political stunt disrupted the proceedings, was forced to vacate the hearing room for about five hours before order was finally restored.  

Ironically, many of the Republican Congressmen who joined in this orchestrated chaos were entitled to participate in the hearing, which was open to all members of the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees. Republican members of those committees were also given equal time to cross-examine witnesses, even though they were in the minority and had less than 50% of the members of those committees.  

Most disturbingly, many of the Republican protesters breached the tight security restrictions surrounding the hearing room by bringing their cell phones and other electronic devices into this Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (“SCIF”), knowing full well that even when a cell phone is turned off, it can be turned into recording or surveillance device by an adversaries’ intelligence services. 

The disruption came one day after Bill Taylor, the U.S.’s top diplomat in Ukraine, gave devastating hearing testimony, confirming that the White House had specifically held up desperately needed military aide to Ukraine in return for a public announcement by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky that his country was investigating the conspiracy theories designed to exonerate Russia for its interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election and targeting Joe and Hunter Biden for alleged “corruption.” 

The disruption was apparently carefully planned in advance and had the full backing of President Trump, who had met with some key Republican lawmakers the night before and approved of their planned legislative assault the next day. Trump had been complaining about the lack of support and “push back” from Republicans on the House impeachment inquiry, and some physical demonstration by the Republicans seemed to be one of their few remaining options. 

After all, there is an old saying among lawyers that when you have the facts on your side, you pound on the facts; when you have the law on your side, you pound on the law; and when you have neither the facts or the law on your side, you pound on the podium. Trump and his die-hard supporters apparently realize that the factual record of the impeachment inquiry is quickly painting a starkly disturbing portrait of a president who is willing to sacrifice the national interests of the U.S. and the security of one of its staunchest allies on the alter of his own self-interest and political expediency. Republicans also know that this factual record of a massive abuse of presidential power is beginning to squarely fall into the “high crimes and misdemeanor” category that is, in and of itself, more than enough to result in a positive impeachment vote on at least one article of impeachment. With both the facts and the constitutional law lining up against them, Trump and his rabid Republican supporters in Congress decided that they only had one remaining option, which was to unleash the “pound the podium” tactics that have been used so effectively by fascist, communist and other authoritarian forces throughout history to destabilize democratic institutions.     

On February 27, 1933, the Nazi Party finally succeeded in its goal of destroying the last democratic bastion of the struggling Weimar Republic by burning down the Reichstag – the German Parliament — precisely four weeks after Adolph Hitler had been sworn in as the Chancellor of Germany. This was the culmination of years of escalating violence and intimidation both within and outside the Reichstag by Nazi political leaders and their thuggish “brownshirt” storm troopers, which eventually tore apart the fragile democratic German republic, consolidated all state power in the hands of one leader and his fascist party, and plunged Europe and the world into war and chaos. 

Trump’s MAGA rallies have increasingly come to resemble the massive Nuremberg rallies that Hitler and his Nazi party used to prepare Germany and its youth for another world war that would inevitably lead to a glorious Third Reich that would last 1000 years. The American Nazi Party tried to transplant this ideology to this country, and Trump’s recent rally in Phoenix attended by 20,000 of his true believers was eerily reminiscent of the 1939 Nazi Rally in New York’s Madison Square Garden, which also set record attendance levels for those who found the fascist message of hate and prejudice to be irresistible. 

More recently, Putin and his autocratic cronies have used state-sponsored violence and terror to silence the press and to neutralize and eliminate all significant political opposition both in Russia and other former Soviet states that are still in the Russian orbit. In Russia itself, physical altercations between and among members of the Russian Duma (Parliament) over the span of many years has served Putin’s purposes by bringing the entire institution into disrepute and further consolidated Putin’s unchallenged executive power. 

Similarly, in Ukraine, in what BBC has referred to as the “Rumbles in the Rada,” legislative debates over Ukraine’s official language policy and other matters have repeatedly devolved into fist-swinging, clothes-ripping brawls among sweaty, screaming members of parliament. During the presidency of pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych, pro-Russian members of the Party of Regions staged several legislative assaults on pro-democracy and western-leaning legislators who opposed the recognition of Russian as Ukraine’s second official language and who opposed Yanukovych’s heavy-handed attempts to deliver Ukraine back into the arms of Putin and his Kremlin cronies. After one particularly brutal confrontation, Volodymyr M. Lytvyn, the speaker of the Ukrainian Rada, expressed the common view that Ukraine was on the verge of a “total collapse of parliamentarianism in the country.” 

Indeed, the efforts by the pro-Russian president of Ukraine and his allies to destabilize Ukraine’s fledgling and beleaguered democracy may well have succeeded if it were not for the Maidan Uprising in February and March of 2014, where pro-democracy demonstrators in Independence Square in the center of Kyiv were able – after weeks of violence and tragic loss of life by dozens of democratic martyrs – to face down Yanukovych’s pro-Russian storm troopers and force him to flee into exile in Russia. Notwithstanding Yanukovych’s departure, however, fights in the Rada continued up to and including December 2018, undermining the effectiveness of Ukraine’s parliamentary democracy and further polarizing an already deeply-divided country that has still not recovered from the trauma of the Russian annexation of Crimea and a continuing bloody war against Russia and pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country known as Donbas.  

Although the U.S. Congress has been largely free of physical confrontations over the past several decades, the recent orchestrated and partisan disruption of the impeachment hearings are most reminiscent of the last time in American history when the  House of Representatives was disrupted on a regular basis during the late 1850s, prior to the breakout of a bloody Civil War. The most infamous fistfight there erupted on February 6, 1858, while member of the House were debating Kansas’s pro-slavery constitution. It was reported that more than fifty representatives participated in the melee. Within a few short years, America’s irreconcilable divisions boiled over into a civil war from 1861 to 1865, from which we have not yet fully recovered. 

Just to ensure that the racial and regional divisions of the Civil War will never fully be healed – at least while Trump occupies the White House – Trump went out of his way earlier this year to remind us that there were some “good people” among the tiki-torch toting neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, and that Confederate General Robert E. Lee was “a great general.” He then threatened another civil war if Congress follows through on its likely course of action, which is to issue Articles of Impeachment against him. He tweeted a quote from a Baptist pastor’s statement to the effect that impeachment would result in a “Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.” 

In 1858, then-Senator William Henry Seward of New York correctly predicted that the accelerating divisions and violence over the slavery and “states’ rights” issues were tearing the country apart and that an “irrepressible conflict” was inevitable. The election of Republican Abraham Lincoln as president on November 6, 1860 was the final catalyst for the 11 Southern and border states, along with most of their Congressional representatives, to refuse to accept Lincoln as the country’s chief executive and to withdraw from the Union. 

Are we now at a similar crossroads in our history? Are we on the brink of Civil War II? Trump and his most ardent allies seem to relish the idea that America needs another bloodletting. Are the upper 1% of America’s super-rich class who benefitted from Trump’s recent massive tax cuts going to stand idly by while Congressional Democrats pass articles of impeachment which may not lead to his removal, but will likely lead to a landslide election in November 2020 of an Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders or other progressive-leaning and audacious Democrat who is calling for the enactment of a “wealth tax” and other “radical” measures designed to remedy the growing chasm between the super-rich and the rest of us? And what about the racists, neo-Nazis, xenophobes, nativists, gun nuts, right-wing conspiracy theorists and other who irrational devotees who make up some (but not entirely all) of Trump’s base? Are they going to stand idly by when their Great Leader is impeached and removed from office or, more likely, resoundingly beaten at the polls in November 2020? Not likely. Trump followed up his earlier “civil war” threats by tweeting: “ I am coming to the conclusion that what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP, intended to take away the Power of the People, their VOTE, their Freedoms, their Second Amendment, Religion, Military, Border Wall, and their God-given rights as a Citizen of the United States of America!” Trump even went so far as to accuse Chairman Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee of “treason,” no doubt forgetting that the Constitution’s definition of “Treason” is the giving of “aid and comfort” to America’s enemies, which is something that Trump has been doing from day one in the White House. 

In other words, now that as a result of the ham-handed, amateurish and disastrous efforts of Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pence, a couple of Ukrainian-American mobsters (Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman) and a few rogue State Department operatives, Trump has finally been hoisted onto the “Ukraine Affair” petard and fully exposed for the narcissistic, self-serving and treasonous lout that he always was. He has no real options other than to (number 1): come to his senses, stand down, resign while the going is still good (a la Nixon), and grab a full pardon from Pence in the process as he boards the Marine 1 helicopter on the White House lawn after delivering a dark and angry non-apology complaining to the end that he was persecuted and driven from office unfairly by a “deep state” conspiracy and coup d’etat. This would be the smart move, which means that “double down” Trump is not even remotely likely to take it.

So, then, what is the only other “door” that is open to him? He will continue to whip his “base” into a frenzy, promoting acts of violence and, if necessary, an armed revolution. As Lawfare and other commentators have already noted, the internet chatter far right-wing militias about pursuing their “second amendment” options has been on the rise and is unlikely to abate.    

On June 27, 2018, a Rasmussen Reports survey of U.S. voters found that 31% said “it’s likely that the United States will experience a second civil war sometime in the next five years.”  Given the rancor engendered by the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings, the Mueller Report, the administration’s callous caging of refugee children at the border and the commencement of Congress’ impeachment inquiry, it is likely that the percentage of Americans psychologically (or otherwise) preparing themselves for a civil war has only increased.     

For 243 years, America has been the beacon of light and protector of freedom, democracy, inalienable human rights not only in this country, but around the world. Generations of Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve these values, but if we take democratic institutions for granted and think that Trump and what he stands for is just some aberration or bad dream that will go away once the fever breaks, we do so at our peril. Numerous once-vibrant democracies such as Hungary and Turkey have slid into “illiberal democracies” with a decidedly authoritarian edge, where the rule of law with truly independent legislative and judicial branches have buckled under the stress and wily maneuverings of strong authoritarian leaders. America could very well be next.   

In 1778, Benjamin Franklin asked by a bystander outside the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia: “What kind of government will it be?” Without hesitation, Franklin replied: “A democracy, if you can keep it.” Also painfully aware of the fragility of liberty and any democratic form of government, Thomas Jefferson wrote from Paris in 1787: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants.” He also fretted that “lethargy … is the forerunner of death to the public liberty.”

So when our children and grandchildren ask us years from now about this watershed moment in our nation’s history, when anti-democratic and authoritarian forces occupied the White House, much of Congress, and tried their mightiest to shred the Constitution and silent dissent: “What did you do? Which side were you on?” Each of us should have a good answer to give them, because the storm clouds are forming, and it definitely feels like rain. 

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Kenneth F. McCallion is an attorney, former federal prosecutor and author of Treason & Betrayal: The Rise and Fall of Individual 1. He is currently working on his next book: Civil War Two.  Peter Borisow is a Ukrainian-American and film maker who has been active in the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine.     

October 23 was a stab in the heart, a blow to the very soul of America and all it stands for.  We must flush this evil before it destroys us altogether. 

Trump Betrayal of the U.S. Now Extends to the Kurds

The Kurds have been America’s staunchest and most effective allies in the war against ISIS in the Middle East. They have worked closely with U.S. Special Forces to drive out, kill or imprison thousands of ISIS fighters in the northeastern area of Syria that they effectively control. This has been one of the great success stories of America’s War on Terror since September 11th, and Kurdish forces deserve the undying gratitude for taking the brunt of the combat responsibilities and the casualties required to rid this area of the ISIS scourge. 

As the proud step-father of a Marine, and I am sure on behalf of the families of active U.S. service members in the Middle East and elsewhere around the globe, there can be no doubt that the loss of life by U.S. combat units in areas where they are fighting alongside their Kurdish brothers and sisters in arms would have been much greater but for the fact that Kurdish forces had their backs and could always be counted on when the going got tough.

The shame and frustration felt by U.S. servicemen and women in having a commander-in-chief abandon and betray our most trusted Kurdish fighting allies cannot be underestimated. On the battlefield or off, America’s word has always (well, almost always) been its bond, and while it takes a long time to build a relationship of genuine trust, whether on an interpersonal or state-to-state basis,  that trust can disappear in an instant when America betrays an ally in such a callous and surprise manner as was done with the Kurds. After a phone call with President Erdogan, Trump announced that U.S. troops in Syria would be pulled back from the Turkish order so that Turkish military forces could “clear out” a buffer zone along the border. 

Even Trump’s use of language, since terms like “clear out” or “clean out” have been used all too often in the past to justify ethnic cleansing, mass murder and genocide. The chaos and carnage involving the civilian populations of the area predictably ensued, as Turkish troops and allied militia groups rapidly advanced with indiscriminate shelling of civilian centers and the reported possible use of white phosphorous chemical munitions, which is banned under international law for use against civilian populations and causes horrific burns and injuries to anyone who comes into contact with it. 

    Not only have the Kurds been our trusted allies in the Middle East in the fight against ISIS, but there are more than 40,000 loyal Kurdish-Americans in the U.S., with about 15,000 in the Nashville, Tennessee area and many Kurdish-Americans proudly serving in the U.S. armed forces. I had the honor of representing some of these U.S. citizens who were victims or families of victims of the March 16, 1988 chemical attack by Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq against the Kurdish village of Fallabja. I also represented the Kurdish National Congress in the U.S., one of the U.S.-based organizations that was seeking to obtain compensation for the victims of the chemical attack and their surviving families. 

Having been subjected to chemical attacks on the Kurdish civilian population in Iraq, the Kurds once again appear to be the victims of recent chemical attacks in Syria, only now the perpetrators and violators of international law seem to be one of America’s own NATO allies with U.S. nuclear weapons stored there.

There are about 25 to 35 million Kurds that inhabit the mountainous region straddling Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Armenia. They have their own language and culture, and comprise the fourth-largest ethnic group in the Middle East. Indeed, they are one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without their own nation state, having had their hopes for an independent “Kurdistan” crushed by the treaties signed by the European powers after World War I.