ASHLAND — A Canadian investigative journalist and author shining a light on a “chaotic” mental health system in North America read from his new book at Ashland Public Library on Tuesday.

Rob Wipond, author of Your Consent Is Not Required: The Rise in Psychiatric Detentions, Forced Treatment, and Abusive Guardianships, shared stories of people he’s interviewed over the years who have experienced forced treatment after utilizing the 988 hotline.

The 988 hotline, founded in the U.S. in 2005 and also known as the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, provides 24/7 service to anyone dealing with a suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

Wipond said the 988 call centers breach the anonymity of some callers by tracing calls and often sending police or ambulances to the callers’ location to transport them to psychiatric hospitals against their will.

He read about David, a veteran from New York, who after calling the hotline one day from work was then transported by police against his will to a veterans hospital — all because the person he talked to on the hotline believed David was suicidal. He wasn’t.

Wipond also read about Holly, a law student. In 2018, she had moved to Ohio after leaving an abusive relationship. With no health insurance and no one to talk to, she called the hotline because she was feeling depressed. Wipond said Holly described the call as awkward. The call attendant, he said, was reading from a suicide screening questionnaire without Holly’s knowledge.

“The call attendant suggested Holly go immediately to a psychiatric hospital, but Holly said she had a class soon. The attendant wanted to send police out. When Holly said that was unnecessary, the call attendant replied, ‘the police can determine that,’” Wipond said.

According to Wipond, police and an ambulance showed up to Holly’s location 15 minutes later. The destination? A psychiatric hospital, where Holly stayed for 12 hours in a small room and a doctor later diagnosed her with bipolar disorder. She was discharged two weeks later and eventually hit with a $50,000 bill that she negotiated down to $20,000 and a 10-year payment plan.

Wipond said he shared the anecdotes to highlight the chaos in which the mental health industry operates.

“It is an industry — and it needs to be understood in that way,” Wipond said. “I think if we talked about it more like that, we’d actually be closer to understanding some of the main mechanisms that are at work.”

Wipond also highlighted Ohio House Bill 439, which passed the Ohio House in 2022. The bill, currently in senate committee, expands state powers of involuntary psychiatric commitment and forced treatment. The author called the bill dangerous, saying the law would grant psychiatrists the power to involuntarily commit people to hospitals who pose a danger to themselves or anyone who might experience “mental deterioration” in the future.

“It’s a purely speculative, Kafka-esque kind of circular logic: you can be legally committed now if you could potentially become legally committable in the future. How can anyone prove they’ll never in the future mentally deteriorate? Essentially, the law gives much more discretionary powers to psychiatrists,” he said.

David Ross, executive director of the Ashland County Mental Health and Recovery Board, said Wipond’s book is a “tough read.”

“Rob had to go over the top to say these are not exceptions, unfortunately,” Ross said. “There’s story after story in different settings, in different contexts.”

Ross said the book serves as a red light — a warning — that makes people aware of the issue and hopefully leads to better oversight and more pushback from health professionals.

Wipond’s discussion at the Ashland Public Library came one night before Ashland MHRB’s annual Respect, Success, Value, and Purpose conference being held Wednesday at Ashland University’s convention center.

The conference featured Wipond as a speaker and also Dr. Joanna Moncrieff as its keynote. Moncrieff is the author of “The Myth of the Chemical Cure,” a book that questions the idea that psychiatric drugs work by correcting chemical imbalances.

The doctor also serves as co-chair of the global Critical Psychiatry Network, a group that offers “a broad critique of mainstream psychiatry that has emerged in recent years which challenges some of psychiatry’s most deeply held assumptions,” according to its website.

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