World Health Organization Publishes Blog About My 40 Years in The Mad Movement

World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

The World Health Organization (WHO), based in Switzerland, has a project Mental Health Innovation Network that is publishing brief online blog entries to promote “dignity” of mental health system users and psychiatric survivors.

Below is the blog by me that MHIN distributed, in which I looked back on four decades in The Mad Movement:

Psychiatric Survivor Story: 40 Years Witnessing Mental Health User Dignity

By: David Oaks Posted: 29th October 2015
Credit: Valentina Iemmi/MHIN

Credit: Valentina Iemmi/MHIN

To mark this year’s WMHD, the Mental Health Innovation Network is running a month long series (#WMHD2015 Blog Series) highlighting dignity in four areas of global mental health where dignity is most often compromised and/or redeemed. This week’s subtheme is “Service User Advocacy”. 

Share this blog on social media using the hashtag #WMHD2015 and our Twitter handle (@mhinnovation), and join the conversation by commenting below.


David Oaks is a service user advocate with over 40 years of experience in the field of mental health human rights. He is also the former Director of MindFreedom International. Contact him through Twitter or visit his website: http://138.68.254.83

 

Last month I turned 60-years-old. Thankfully about 16 good friends, including my loving amazing wife Debra, made this transition fun. We gathered around a big table in a Sushi bar, drank Sake and ate chocolate cake.

This little party was very different from when I was 20, forty years ago, back in college. That is the year that I began to experience difficulties in my life that led to five stays in psychiatric institutions. About a dozen psychiatrists would diagnose me as psychotic, schizophrenic, clinically depressed, and bipolar (then called manic depression). More than once I would find myself in a solitary confinement room with just a bare mattress on the floor for a few days. More than once, about five staff would hold me down and forcibly inject me with a powerful psychiatric drug.

In my senior year, a college volunteer agency placed me as an intern for a mental health service user advocacy group. I wrote about this work for school, and this internship became my career for the next four decades. I have had the unique honor of watching thousands of other psychiatric survivors go through extreme and overwhelming states of mind, supporting one another as loving and equal peers, and thriving through the power of their human spirits.

Because of what many of us call “The Mad Movement” I have met with mental health consumer/user leaders in nine countries, poor and rich, who with allies in the mental health and legal communities, have reached out over and over again to anyone who would listen. While the details and exact perspectives of these service users are very diverse, I have heard some of these themes during my 40-year story:

1. Never giving up on reaching out for dialogue with mental health professionals.

In my own country, the USA, as well as many other countries, and internationally, I have seen psychiatric survivors and mental health consumers/users pull together and ask to have reasonable discussions with organizations representing psychiatrists and psychologists. Despite extreme human rights violations, including atrocities such as forced electroshock, unfair lock-ups for years, four-point and five-point restraints for days, etc., survivors have shown incredible self-discipline and resilience by successfully reaching out for dialogue with professionals.

Unfortunately, with some heartening exceptions, I have seen this outreach by consumers/users flatly ignored by national and global mental health professional organizations. Of course, only a percentage of mental health professionals engage in human rights violations. However, every single mental health professional has personal responsibility to make sure that groups representing them address human rights issues. I have had the pleasure of making friends with dozens of psychiatrists and psychologists who are concerned about our empowerment. But groups representing mental health professionals have been almost universally silent, from regional leaders to the top leaders.

2. Questioning the language that is used about us.

After attending hundreds of meetings of people who have personally experienced mental health care, it seems that many of our gatherings begin with a discussion about language. Some people might get a little frustrated because there does not seem to be any perfect words to describe us. However, this is not about “political correctness.” Instead, imperfect though this effort to redefine ourselves may be, our people are seeking their own empowerment and a first step is to address word issues.

People might accept or reject psychiatric diagnoses about themselves. People might accept or reject words the public assigns us. But we can have influence over the words we use for ourselves.

Are we psychiatric survivors? Mental health consumers? Service users? That is up to us to decide. In the meantime, how about we stop calling each other things like “normal” or “mentally ill.” Describing each other with unscientific, vague, disparaging labels can hurt our mental wellbeing.

3. We are the 100%!

One of the most effective ways to rob a group of their dignity is to segregate them and treat them unequally. As other advocates have shown, it is wonderful to celebrate differences between people in terms of color, culture, gender, background, etc. However, when differences are exaggerated irrationally and become walls, oppression can win.

The most difficult and the most valuable insight I have gotten from my four decades in The Mad Movement is that every human being, from womb to tomb, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, always wrestles with overwhelming, life-threatening mental and emotional challenges. Yes, we are all different. However, as the climate crisis is showing us all more each day, to be human is to deal with recovery from the mysterious, unknown difficulties of our minds.

Image courtesy of Valentina Iemmi

Originally published by MHIN.

 

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Follow Your Fish: The Logic Behind “Creative Maladjustment”

Follow Your Fish: The Logic Behind “Creative Maladjustment”

There we were on 14 July 2012, walking down the winding path of the Oregon Country Fair, where tens of thousands every July have filled crowded paths through a woods full of music, crafts and food booths, lovingly stewarding the spirit of the 60’s since 1969. I was ushering Patch with a bullhorn, calling out, “Here comes Patch Adams, to accept an award for lunacy promotion!”

Dr. Adams was in his clown regalia for the walk: Pants pulled up to his armpits, strange grimace on his face, holding a big fake fish in front of his face to help motivate himself for his slow strange walk.

For those too young to know, Patch is a psychiatric survivor, physician and clown, who was the subject of an Academy Award winning film named after him and inspired by his life, starring comedian Robin Williams. Patch is the most famous leader in our MindFreedom International community, and has a network of thousands who seek truly deep change throughout our health care system.

Here’s the award MindFreedom gave to Patch Adams on 14 July 2012 for ‘lunacy promotion,’ including lost marbles, loose screws and nuts. The award is by psychiatric survivor artist Tim Boyden, using recycled and found materials.

Patch and I were headed down the Oregon Country Fair path to a gathering to give Patch an award (see photo on left) for his leadership of a vision created by Martin Luther King, Jr. that few people seem to have heard about:

MLK, in many speeches and essays, said the world may be in dire need of a new organization that MLK called, “The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment” or IAACM. It was an laugh-line, but like many good jokes had logic and truth behind it. MLK said we all ought to be maladjusted to oppression, the question is can we be creative in our maladjustment, rather than self-destructive? Repeatedly, MLK said in a variety of ways, “the salvation of the world lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”

Well, in Patch’s hands that day was a fish.

Accompanying us on our walk through the Oregon Country Fair was Patch’s main leader for changing the mental health system, Carl Hammerschlag, a psychiatrist/author from Arizona. Carl called out occasionally on the path, “How many six-foot-six psychiatrists do you see in a pink ballerina outfit?” Because that is what Carl was wearing from head to foot, tutu included.

Does this kind of positive celebration of mental and emotional differences necessarily mean opposing rationality? As a leader for 36 years in what is often called the “mad movement,” I know some seem to assume that we are largely celebrating illogic and irrationality. I do not agree.

As a psychiatric survivor who has been through five institutionalizations, and quite a number of diagnoses, I can tell you that one of the tools for my own recovery was the use of logic, evidence, and rationality.

Today, here is a very simple and undeniable logic to consider: What is generally called “normal” by just about any common definition, is in fact causing a climate crisis, and countless other environmental disasters. I’m not saying all that is called “normal,” is bad, just that one of the worst spiritual illnesses to ever visit our planet Earth has that name: Normal.

Throughout human history, respected thought leaders such as Socrates have said the pursuit of wisdom begins by recognizing that none of us has a grip on reality, that we all know nothing with certainty. And now, the scientific jury is back, the evidence has been rationally considered, and the logic is irrefutable: Socrates was right. What is called “normal” may be guilty of Gaia-cide, the shredding of our precious planet’s web of life.

That’s why I have been saying that the slogan of the mad movement ought to be, “We are the 100 percent.”

So yes, when Patch and Carl and I navigate a crowded path of the Oregon Country Fair, bullhorn in hand, with Patch following his fish, and Carl prancing around in his pink tutu… Yes, it may look a tiny bit irrational. But logic is one of the strands motivating us, the logic that MLK brought to us all many times when he called for the International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment. (IAACM).

Please take the next logical step, and ask yourself: “How can I best exercise my own leadership in the IAACM?

David W. Oaks
Eugene, OR

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