The psychiatric survivor movement (and our overall “movement,” some of whom don’t identify as psych survivors) is about as diverse and varied as the world itself. We are becoming perhaps the largest social justice movement ever to exist. Almost all women and queer people have been categorized by DSM diagnoses for being women (PMS, postpartum depression) or queer (homosexual, gender identity disorder), not to mention all the other groups who have been affected. Everyone is a survivor of the effects of the psychopharmaceutical industry on our consciousness.
Which is not to say there is not a vast range of suffering and marginalization within that, but we have all been harmed by the impact of the psychiatric industry on our world, just as we are all survivors of the Industrial Revolution. We are all survivors of strip malls, pollution and GMO crops even if we never shop at them, live in the woods, and aim to eat all organic, locally grown food. Some things are pervasive enough that they affect everyone, though they is a very wide range within that. I know a few people who have had minimal trauma in their lives and have been among the “advantaged” in almost all areas of life including gender, class, education, health, emotional response and childhood experience. These few probably would not automatically identify as psychiatric survivors.
Clearly this “group” of low trauma individuals is a shrinking number, and I can only think of 2 people off the top of my head who fit into that “category” and even they have plenty of stress and struggle at times. (They also have “minor” addictions to alcohol, sugar, work and television.)
There are also people within our movement who come quite close to fitting into that category. The purpose of making these distinctions is not to create separation in a movement that has grown from solidarity and inclusion. The purpose is to raise awareness about what each marginalized group within our movement might need to feel supported.
Just as we need a psychiatric survivor movement (and all other marginalized groups have needed their own movements to gain rights, voice, visibility, strength and respect), we need groups within our movement to support those still struggling with a wide range of issues. For every possible struggle out there, there are people in our movement who currently experience it on a daily basis, as well as people who experience it rarely or never. These include money, housing, basic needs, health, physical ability, gender marginalization, racial discrimination, education, extreme trauma, sexual trauma, violence and abuse, being queer in a hetero-normative world, isolation, addiction, dependence on psych drugs and/or trouble coming off (or staying on but having debilitating side effects) and many more which I am surely leaving out.
Our numbers are so high, there is a need for sub-groups. Again, not to create division or in-fighting, but to honor and acknowledge the underlying issues that are creating these things anyway, whether overt or in gossip, resentment and the more advantaged speaking for the less advantaged along a large spectrum of life experiences. Each specific type of oppression/trauma/marginalization has people who can be strengthened by solidarity.
This is already being done informally, and perhaps up until now that has been good. We are still, as a movement, targeted by an industry and a media that has far more privilege, clout and money than most of us combined and the importance of overall solidarity cannot be overstated. The supportive subgroups I’m seeing are to reinforce our strength and increase our solidarity while honoring our unique experiences and “clusters of similar experiences.”
Each of us, besides being part of this movement, are also part of other movements and/or social groups that reflect our current interests, struggles, class, race, etc. Some of us may be in womens or mens groups, groups for the vision impaired, writers groups, barter/alternative currency groups, groups experiencing houselessness, even groups that play golf together, go to bars together, eat raw vegan gluten-free food together, or happen to all be of our own race, class or gender. Just starting this list makes me aware of how endless it is. There are clearly infinite interest groups within our movement, showing just how diverse we are.
We need to be careful to create supportive subgroups without making assumptions. There are people who never got caught and have never been institutionalized who are homeless, broke, struggling with addiction, and frequently suicidal. There are people who were institutionalized decades ago and are upper middle class homeowners who live in luxury and relative ease. And everything in between. The former might be more likely to be institutionalized today and be at least as affected by issues in our movement.
I had a dream one night about a month ago of some of these “groups,” specifically around gender, race, class and sexual orientation, forming organized subgroups for solidarity and to ensure having a voice in the larger decisions of our movement. I recently created one for women called “Women Envisioning Change” which I invite all who identify as women to join on facebook. It is very new, yet simply creating it allowed me to breathe a sigh of relief. This is the description:
Since women were left out of so many basic decisions about how society operates that all still effect us today, I’ve had a growing sense that we need to have a women’s movement within every social justice movement, to help guide and direct activities back to a balanced place where we honor the body, the earth, feelings, beauty and wildness. Of course all men have these qualities as well and I know this gathering of feminine power will strengthen the men in our movement just as much.
What unique obstacles do women working for social justice in the mental health field encounter? How has the mental health field targeted women and what can be done now? What external and internalized oppression might hold us back and what can we do to make our voices heard? What historical implications of women’s roles are still affecting our ability to be seen as experts of our own experience? What stories do we have to tell that still haven’t been told?
What can we do in the face of being silenced/minimized or subtly ridiculed? Where can we go from here to organize nationwide and worldwide initiatives in the psychiatric survivor activist movement? Why is it important for women to write, speak publicly and tell our stories? What fears hold us back? How do we find the balance between honoring our privacy and speaking up about injustice?
Question to start you off:
As a woman, what specific needs do you have around mental health alternative conferences?
I want to know that all groups who are continuing to be marginalized due to the extent of their struggles are being supported by those with similar struggles. It can be hard to feel truly supported and like wholehearted allies with those who haven’t had our struggles (or successes for that matter), or don’t continue to. This doesn’t mean we are not allies. It means we often need deeper and more genuine ally-ship than such a diverse movement can provide without these subgroups.
There are people in our movement scraping by on food stamps, or struggling to survive in other ways and others spending a lot of their time traveling with relative luxury. Even this distinction is not necessarily one to create a solid division. I’ve had times in my life where I was doing both and other times when I was doing neither. Still, I’d love to see these differences in our everyday challenges supported with solidarity groups, so the less “abled,” less normative, more silenced people will rise up with strong voices that are born out of solidarity.
As a psychiatric survivor this movement has strengthened my voice. I feel confident speaking about the issues and my own experiences in virtually all situations now. Having spent less time engaging directly with the women’s movement and those blogging, speaking and teaching about women’s issues, I feel a lot shakier addressing the ways I feel silenced or oppressed as a female. And without having enough solidarity and support I often don’t use the most sophisticated language to describe my experience of gender oppression. So I feel much more oppressed and silenced as a woman than a psychiatric survivor. Though I am also incredibly sensitive and might relate more with highly sensitive men than less sensitive women. Being financially challenged is another issue I have had less support with and feel less confident speaking about, though this is changing.
When I first emerged from being psychiatrized, and got involved with the Freedom Center and the worldwide psychiatric survivor movement, I would sometimes snap at people. Once at a party a young woman was sharing a story that was demeaning towards a “schizophrenic” she worked with. “Whoa, watch out for those psych labels,” I interrupted pointedly. We ended up having a bit of a disagreement where she expressed believing in diagnoses and told me anti-depressants had made her feel more like herself again. I left the party feeling really upset. While I can’t guarantee I wouldn’t be annoyed by that conversation today, I know I am far less likely to be triggered by those things and to snap at people or respond out of angry reactivity. This is due to all of the support I’ve had from this movement. Ironically, now this young woman and people who would say similar things may be part of the movement.
If someone were to insult women in general or people who don’t have much money, the chances I would walk away un-triggered are much lower.
So, again, my intention with the idea for these groups is not to create solid supposed categories or to divide people into artificial identities. It is to create a stronger net of support for those who feel they are falling through the holes and being silenced by the default of historical and current disadvantages. Each disadvantage is also preserving important gifts and by supporting one another and being sure to have leadership from diverse groups, we are exponentially multiplying the capacity and strength of our movement, while staying unified in our common experiences, passions and concerns.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.