CooperRiis at forefront of national effort to re-evaluate pharmaceutical use in treating mental illness

Published 5:59 pm Thursday, March 3, 2011

The leaders of CooperRiis Healing Community in Mill Spring and Asheville are at the forefront of a national effort to re-evaluate the way pharmaceuticals are used to treat mental illness in the United States.
CooperRiis executive director Virgil Stucker has been elected as chairman of a new organization, the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care, which assembled 22 psychiatrists and other mental health experts from 13 states for a conference in Portland, Ore. recently to begin developing “medication optimization” protocols and national and state policy reforms to help improve mental health care outcomes.
Two days of discussion cited research from recent articles and books indicating that medications work well for some people, but that many who are diagnosed with bipolar, schizophrenia and depressive disorders are not served well by medications over the long term.
CooperRiis founder Don Cooper, also a foundation board member, and CooperRiis psychiatrist Dr. Ken Kallenbach were also in attendance.
Meeting coordinator Gina Nikkel, Ph.D., stated: “Attendees were clear that our systems of mental health care have become too medication focused, and it’s time for a broader approach. History will show that this national shift began this weekend in Portland, Ore.”
Nikkel is executive director of the Association of Oregon Community Mental Health Programs, an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Oregon Health Sciences University and vice chair of the newly formed Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care that sponsored the symposium.
The gathering included psychiatrists with teaching affiliations at Harvard University as well as Beckie Child, Director of Mental Health America of Oregon and Dr. Daniel Fisher of the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery and international consumer activist Will Hall.
Robert Whitaker, science journalist, catalyst and author of the “Anatomy of an Epidemic” was a guest of the symposium. “Anatomy of an Epidemic” compiles evidence showing that the number of individuals with disabling mental illness has more than doubled in two decades, despite the dramatic increase in the nation’s use of psychiatric medications by both children and adults.
The symposium called for a “recovery model” that endorses the optimal use of medications as long as they are used in conjunction with other psycho-social supports. During the two days, symposium attendees focused on developing improved protocols and policies for how psychiatric medications should be optimized during the recovery phase for individuals with depression or schizophrenia. Attendees cited the growing expense to Medicaid and Medicare billing of psychiatric medications, and asked whether this approach was as cost effective as other methods such as psychotherapy. Scientific papers defining these protocols will be forthcoming and published on the foundation’s website.
Stucker said, “We have run the course of narrow thinking that would reduce human despair to a permanent, bio-chemical imbalance in the brain. We are re-awakening to the wonderful and challenging complexity of the human condition. Compassion that fosters hope for recovery will be the hallmark of our new mainstream. Science is providing evidence for the effectiveness of this evolving broader approach.”
The foundation will convene future symposia and anticipates that its next gathering will focus on the increased use of psychiatric medications by the nation’s children. The foundation invites inquiries by volunteers and philanthropists who would like to help with its work. Inquiries can be directed to or
– article submitted

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