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by JuJuBe (Joanna)

I am so conflicted about this story. While it is great to see Ron Artest giving to charity, and sacrificing by giving away the ring he worked so hard for, there are so many problematic aspects of the current mental health system that I cannot help but be concerned.
LOS ANGELES (December 27, 2010) — Ron Artest has absolutely no regrets about giving away his Los Angeles Lakers championship ring to boost mental health awareness. In fact, it just encourages him to go out and get another ring.

Artest announced the winner of the charity raffle for his ring late Saturday night at a club across the street from Staples Center, where the Lakers were trounced by the Miami Heat 96-80 in the NBA’s Christmas showcase.

The ring was won by Raymond Mikkael, a father of four from Hawthorne, Calif.

“It’s a good feeling, because it got a lot of publicity, and that’s cool,” Artest said before taking on LeBron James. “I’m glad we can start over now and do some more work with charities.”

Artest came up with the idea to give away his first NBA title ring after putting a spotlight on mental health by thanking his psychiatrist after Game 7 of the Lakers’ triumph over Boston last June. While some laughed at another stunt by one of the NBA’s biggest characters, Artest’s candid declaration sparked an interest in normalizing mental health care, which snowballed into this unique charitable gift.

And when he officially gives away the ring in a couple of weeks, Artest feels he’ll be even more motivated to replace it with the Lakers, who are chasing their third consecutive title.

“I’m so anxious to get out at it again,” Artest said. “I get more fuel, I burn it all up. I’m motivated.”

Although he doesn’t yet know the final figures, Artest’s raffle has raised well over $500,000 for his Xcel University charity, which will work with high-risk youth on mental health issues. Artest said he already wrote his first $50,000 check from the proceeds to the charity.

Artest sounds overwhelmed by the support, praising everyone from his teammates to the Lakers’ fan base for participating in the raffle. Even Lakers coach Phil Jackson says he bought a few tickets, praising Artest’s strategy to funnel the money directly into a charity rather than through intermediaries.Source

My concern arises NOT from Ron Artest wanting to increase mental heath awareness. My problem is that all too often, no real treatment is provided for people with mental illnesses aside from medication. I think the psychiatric system is overly dependent on mind altering medications with dangerous side effects. I would like to see a system in place where behavioral therapy comes first. I hate to see people, particularly children and teens, automatically prescribed psychotropic drugs. I think we need to do more research regarding intervention strategies that are NOT based on the overuse of pharmaceuticals.

A perfect example is ADD. The school system wants to label so many children, particularly children of color, as “mentally ill”. Every time a teacher encounters a child with behavioral issues, the automatic assumptions is that the child has ADD and needs to be medicated. But there are so many other strategies than can be used to improve behavior. Medication should be a last resort, not the first option in order to make a child more pliable.

Life is often made more difficult for a person after psychiatric diagnoses. Once a label is affixed to someone, they are designated as someone who is “less than”. They are treated as disposable , having no worth. They are seen as being incapable of making their own choices in life. They are made into a villain, a person to be feared. And, unfortunately, the media portrayal of psychiatric patients is usually extremely negative, and being labeled as “mentally ill” can have a deleterious effect on an individual’s self esteem.

In adults, the mental health system relies almost entirely on altering brain chemistry with drugs. I believe that a person who does not feel the need to take medication should be given the option to try alternative therapies. But, often, people who have been labeled “mentally ill” have their choices taken away from them. They are often court ordered to take medications that have severe, debilitating side effects. I say the mental health system needs to treat patients, not just medicate them.

Raising awareness of mental health issues is a wonderful thing. However, I sincerely hope that Ron Artest donates a substantial part of the money to an organization that works to provide alternatives to medication for the mentally ill. Because the answers cannot all be found in a pill bottle.