On this day January 16 2012, we commemorate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and as such, many thoughts are running through my mind. Which of his speeches resonate with me and why, how old was I and where was I when he was assassinated, what images from the civil rights movement are etched in my memory?
Last year, I was a presenter at USC Law School’s Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy and Ethics focusing on the use of Mechanical Restraints in Mental Health Care. During that presentation, I showed pictures of police dogs gnashing at their prey and fire hoses exploding with force on its intended targets. The prey and targets were Black Americans marching for their civil and human rights during non-violent protests. Just as those images flashed before the auditorium audience, they flashed before me when as a citizen, I was aggressively approached by police for involuntary commitment and when hospital staff, “the 4 big men in the white uniforms” and/or the police forcibly restrained me because I was noncompliant with treatment. The experience of restraint is traumatic on its own, yet it was compounded by my memories of violence, hate and lack of power imposed on Black Americans. But now it was happening to me as part of my “care” as a psychiatric patient.
On September 1st 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King gave a keynote address at the American Psychological Association’s annual meeting. In that speech, he called on psychologists, who invented of the term “maladjusted”, to recognize that maladjustment is a normal and “adjusted” response to injustice:
“There are certain technical words in every academic discipline which soon become stereotypes and even clichés. Every academic discipline has its technical nomenclature. You who are in the field of psychology have given us a great word. It is the word maladjusted. This word is probably used more than any other word in psychology. It is a good word; certainly it is good that in dealing with what the word implies you are declaring that destructive maladjustment should be destroyed. You are saying that all must seek the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities.
But on the other hand, I am sure that we will recognize that there are some things in our society, some things in our world, to which we should never be adjusted. There are some things concerning which we must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good will. We must never adjust ourselves to racial discrimination and racial segregation. We must never adjust ourselves to religious bigotry. We must never adjust ourselves to economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. We must never adjust ourselves to the madness of militarism, and the self-defeating effects of physical violence.”
I will add that we must never adjust ourselves to inhumane mental health care that discounts the very essence of who we are as humans. And today I am honored to add my voice and opinion to the Mad In America site through this blog, to take this day of remembrance and celebration of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to highlight Dr. King’s call for “creative maladjustment” as synonymous to our work here of rethinking psychiatry. Together as consumers, providers, family members, policy makers, advocates, journalists and doctors, we refuse to accept the status quo by standing up against injustices in mental health care. Through “creative maladjustment”, MadinAmerica.com provides a venue for all who share a vision of justice in mental health care to engage in dialogue and action that will ensure that our care is compassionate, person centered, driven by client choice, and ultimately results in people leading independent and full lives. How are you engaging in acts of creative maladjustment to ensure justice in mental health care?
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” MLK