Happy Earth Week! My Open Personal Letter about Mental Health Justice, Climate Crisis & Unitarians

Posted by on May 2, 2014 in Activism, Environment, Mental Health, Normalgeddon, Peer Support | 3 comments


BELOW you will find my open letter that combines my  main identities and interests: I am a survivor of abuse in the mental health system, a disability activist (labeled quad), environmentalist focused on the climate crisis, and spirituality: I am a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Eugene, Oregon, USA.

Please comment here. Whether you comment or not, please forward this open letter for anyone far and wide. Help it go viral. Thanks. If you wish to send me a direct message, please use the contact form on the right to reach my office. Because of quantity, I cannot always respond to everything but I try to read your vision.

If you wish, you can use my tweet as a model:

Your mental health justice vision? I’m a psychiatric survivor disability UU activist. 5 tips take on climate crisis

Everyone everywhere is welcome to share your ideas about mental health justice.

Please post your public comments here on this blog entry. I especially would love to hear personally from other survivors of psychiatric abuse, people with disabilities and Unitarian Universalists. You may also email me by using the Contact My Office form on the right of this blog.

Please forward this post to others. If you would like to print out my open letter you may find a PDF of it here.

To read the text of my open letter, simply click “More” below. Thanks.

Earth Week 2014: Are you ready to peacefully take on the Goliath of normality, the climate crisis?

Dear friend,

Your ideas for mental health justice are truly welcomed by me. For example, what briefly is your story or experience? What is your biggest issue regarding mental health? What is your vision for a changed mental health system?

Important disclaimer: I only speak for myself in this open letter. I do not speak for any church, corporation, or non-profit.

My story in brief: Loving Lithuanian-Americans raised me in working class South Side Chicago. I won scholarships, including from my father’s union, to attend Harvard. I experienced extreme mental and emotional problems that psychiatrists called severe mental illness including schizophrenia, bipolar and extreme depression. They locked me up in psychiatric facilities at least 5 times. There I was forcibly injected with powerful psychiatric drugs which I was told I would need my whole life. They were wrong.

Harvard could have thrown me out. To their credit, instead they placed me as a community organizer in a little known social change movement led by psychiatric survivors. I wrote about their peer support, recovered, and graduated with honors in 1977. For almost 40 years I have been an activist in mental health. I co-founded MindFreedom, which I ran for 25 years.

Then 16 months ago I had an accident that is testing my ideals. I fell, broke my neck, and have the new label of quad in a power chair. Even my voice is very disabled. I have tremendous family and friend support, especially my true love and spouse Debra. While I am retired I am still an activist. Debra and I, after years of thought, have chosen to officially join our UU church because of their love of free thinking and change

I would like to hear from you. Here is my vision on mental health justice.

My top 5 tips for peacefully taking on the Goliath of normality: climate crisis.

1. We are the 100 percent. Every person deals with extreme, overwhelming, even life-threatening mental and emotional problems.

2. There is no normality! I love much of what is falsely called “normal.” But much of what is called normal, such as human-caused climate crisis, is the worst behavior to visit Earth since that big asteroid 65 million years ago destroyed the dinos. Normal is not.

3. What is your creative maladjustment? MLK talked about this idea more then a dozen times over a decade. He called for an International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. You are a leader in this IAACM if you wish, and follow MLK peaceful principles. Yes, IAACM is real. Find us on Facebook! MLK’s main vision is for everyone to be in a Beloved Community.

4. The sound of silence may be your warm invitation! As an activist you often face a wall of silence. I have learned that silence is a message that is just hard to understand. Since it is a mystery, why not see silence as a true welcome?

5. You are the human spirit! When I was so-called crazy I had a vision of the human spirit. I was right. As an activist I have seen people survive poverty, electroshock, discrimination, psychosurgery, lock-ups in solitary, forced drugs. Yet many of these folks have peacefully forgiven the unforgivable, and are helping build a nonviolent revolution every day. Your human spirit is beautiful, unconquerable, and brilliant.

Let us hear your public comments on this blog entry. What is your mental health justice? You may e-mail me directly, if you wish, to davidwoaks@gmail.com. As I said, I especially would love to hear from other psych survivors, quads, and my beloved allies in UU globally.

Thank you very much,

David W. Oaks


After I handed out the above open letter at the mental health meeting at my church, I made some verbal comments which I will paraphrase here:

“Thank you very much for holding this meeting on mental health here. I have worked as an activist for human right in mental health for 40 years. To work on mental health well, you need to have deep welcoming. Many churches talk about being welcoming. But in mental health we need true welcoming. For example, many of the people here talked about their belief in a biological basis for mental problems. However, a few years ago with a number of people I did a hunger strike on this very subject. You may use any online search engine and look up David Oaks MindFreedom fast for freedom. We demanded that the American Psychiatric Association produce any scientific data or proof of a biological basis for any major psychiatric disability. The APA said it had none. But in the larger picture, so what? Consider our friends with head injury. A lot of brain damage is caused by physical problems such as a car accident. But many of our friends with head injury say the same thing as us. Do not over-medicalize us. We want choice and freedom. Many non physical things such as our friends and community, help our recovery.

“Some people here talked about mental illness. I do not use that phrase. Many people no longer use that phrase. I am more interested, for example, in spiritual illness. Everyone wrestles with spiritual challenges. The proof that we all have mental and spiritual problems is easy: The climate crisis!”

At this point, my friend David Rogers walked across the room and gave our minister a copy of my open letter.


Here are a few notes for those who are interested:

If you are local, in the Eugene/Springfield area, I hope you will work with me, possibly here in the local UU church. There is now no committee or initiative on mental health. The meeting I attended was organized by a different group. But I am on the accessibility group in my UU church and this committee hopes to do a public education event covering all disabilities , including mental health. I hope you will join us.

Also, if you are local, you will want to get news about the Opal Network. This is an important informal coalition, run by the group LILA, of local groups that seek to hear the voice of mental health consumers and psychiatric survivors. To get on their email announcement click here.





  1. Hi David,
    I am starting a change.org petition on having people not use the word “illness” in mental illness and you have a great article on this topic. I was wondering if I can have your article in the petition if it allows me to? And credit to you.
    Cindy Olejar

  2. Thanks for this blog entry David.

    I especially like these sentences in your post: “many of these folks have peacefully forgiven the unforgivable, and are helping build a nonviolent revolution every day. Your human spirit is beautiful, unconquerable, and brilliant.”


  3. I lately am making shape out of chaos in my mind, manifesting as characters in search of an author sort of situation, and I know I can not talk to my doc about it or more pills or something. I am maladjusted to medications and just saw about that program in Finland which is most successful at treating people compassionately without meds, anyways I have been on meds for too many years and withdrawals are like dmt for months tho, so I feel stuck on them. I have experienced some human rights violations in the mental hell system as well and recovering from these things, not really sure what direction I can go in…I wish I could seek asylum in Finland or something. It used to be Geel was the place I sought after with its St. Dymphna healing ways. Now it is Lappland in Finland where they have the best success in the world, treating without meds. The meds are hurting me it seems but I have chronic illness already. I am really inspired by your work David and glad you have some good support. I know it is not easy at all and you have such a good attitude despite this, it is inspiring and helps us all, lifts our spirits too. May you have many blessings, Lots of Love, Nancy