Michael Brown and the ‘Peer’ Movement


I’ve been arguing against calling this movement that I’m a part of a ‘peer’ movement for a long time. What has happened with Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri has helped me to crystallize that point. (Don’t even get me started on the whole ‘recovery’ movement idea. That’s a different post.)

Personally, I’m not at all interested in being a part of a ‘peer’ movement. If one actually exists, please count me out. Sure, there’s value in recognizing the power of being with people who’ve ‘been there’ too. Yes, I am a part of the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community and therefore a part of promoting the concept of mutual supports on a regular basis. But, there’s something more important that underlies all that, and it’s certainly not as simple as advocating for the highest number of ‘peer’ roles that money could buy. No, this is not about the industrialization of being human with one another.

I reject the idea of being a part of a ‘peer’ movement because – more than anything – I believe that when our views become so myopic and self-centered, we’ve lost our way. That things appear to be ‘business as usual’ here on Mad in America and there is not a single mention (at least, that I can find)  about what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri suggests to me that our vision of our true objectives has gotten a little murky. Just a few nights ago, as I watched the riots in Ferguson following a jury’s failure to indict Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown, I was stunned that my Facebook feed continued to spit out so many posts about the psychiatric system devoid of any connection being drawn.

If we do not see what happens to some of us in the psychiatric system as connected to what happens to others because they are black or because they are transgender or because they love someone else of the same expressed gender (or because they live in poverty, etc. etc.), then I’m not sure any of us really, fully understands what it is we are trying to accomplish at all. If race only feels like a relevant issue to us when it is boiled down to simple recognition that people of color tend to be more frequently subjected to outpatient forced commitment laws or more commonly diagnosed as ‘schizophrenic,’ we are missing several hundred pieces of a very large puzzle.

Consider the following handful of simple truths that seem to underlie the vast majority of posts here:

  • People are incredibly diverse and complex which means that the way that they interact with the world is going to be incredibly diverse and complex.
  • The way that we tend to understand others is often more a reflection of ourselves than it is of those others, especially if we fail to inject a healthy dose of genuine curiosity and a willingness to explore and learn within the context of that particular connection or relationship.
  • Labeling people in ways that are driven by systemic oppression, ignorance, and a sense of entitlement to be the ‘expert’ is generally harmful.
  • Approaching people with assumptions and a proclivity toward  control is generally harmful and likely to lead to violence. (And, that violence is often initiated in some way by those already in power, though equally as frequently denied as ‘violence’ because they also happen to hold the power to define what qualifies as ‘violence,’ ‘risk,’ and so on.)
  • People generally adapt and learn to survive in the environments presented to them, and those adaptations are then often misinterpreted, judged, disparaged and misunderstood by those in a position to define ‘the norm.’
  • We all deserve access to self-determination, choice, opportunity and a life without being profiled and subjected to harassment on the simple basis of what others merely believe us to be.
  • Most of us find strength and healing in feeling listened to, understood, believed in and connected to something beyond ourselves.

Presumably, most people will first read those truths through as they apply to those of us who have been labeled, hurt and oppressed within the mental health system.  However, now, please go back and read those truths through with the discrimination and racism experienced by people of color in mind.  And, now, go back and read those truths through with the experience of those who have been hurt and harassed because of their sexuality or gender expression. And so on.

Let’s try this game from a slightly different angle:

When I argue with people about the use of force within the context of extreme mental and/or emotional distress (a complicated and nuanced argument, to be sure), people tend to focus in on one situation and pick it apart. They tell me why force was unavoidable in this specific situation, or, even better, they offer up the most inventive ‘what if’ they can muster. They tell me why, in this one situation, there was (or would be) no other choice, and they point to what they feel proves that to be true. Evidence often includes how the person in question was acting ‘strangely,’ or was at fault in some way for whatever poor outcomes befell them.  They do this even (or perhaps, particularly) when the consequences are death, as is the case in so many situations due to police-related violence, restraints and/or forced drugging.

Many of these ‘what if’-ers are also the same ones who roll their eyes or otherwise demonstrate extreme discomfort when individuals who disagree with or want to challenge them come together to protest. They are often the ones who attempt to discredit those who yell in frustration and/or do other things that people deem ‘too extreme’ to be valid ways to make a point. They say that the yelling and screaming aren’t ‘effective,’ and that other more extreme measures feed into stereotypes, are too wild, and damage their ability to be heard.

Sound familiar? Inconveniently, the picture is hazy in many situations and there’s often some truth in assertions made in both directions.  But, these truths are mixed with perceptions and often layered in gray. Yes, there are lingering questions and competing needs around what happened between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, for example. It would appear that Michael wasn’t exactly innocently strolling along, and eye witness reports (including comments recorded at the scene) seem to conflict at times. Furthermore, the riots that ensued following the failure to indict were unquestionably out of control and a far less than ideal way to make a point.

But, while so many people are busy picking apart the details for ‘proof’ that everything is more or less ‘right with the world,’ they’re somehow ignoring that this is not an isolated incident. It is a particularly poignant and well-publicized one, yes, but one of countless numbers of very similar situations. (Check out this article in Mother Jones called, “Exactly How Often Do Police Shoot Unarmed Black Men?“)  And while others are busily discrediting community protests based on incidents of looting and arson, they’re conveniently forgetting to consider just how angry and driven to extremes one might get if they are consistently treated like their lives don’t matter and aren’t afforded much room to be ‘heard’ in other ways. Desperation and devastation drive people to funny places sometimes.

I can’t claim to have this all figured out. I, too, have found myself stuck in situations where someone seemed so hard to reach and so obviously and immediately doing things that were putting themselves in harms way that I didn’t know what else to do but support the idea of temporary hospitalization. I, too, have found myself grappling with the many complicated issues surrounding race. For example, at what point does appreciation for and exploration of cultural differences become cultural appropriation? At what point does one cross the line that separates speaking up in support (so that those experiencing the oppression most directly are not always the only ones tasked with educating the ignorant) verses speaking for (so as to once again participate in silencing another person’s voice)? And, although I identify as someone who is something other than ‘heterosexual,’ I still have plenty to learn about what it is like to be in this world as someone who is transgender or living a lifestyle that is more overtly seen as ‘different.’

But what is so very plainly obvious to me is that this is not a ‘peer’ movement. Nor is it a ‘cross-disability’ movement. (My own distaste for the language of ‘disability’ aside, that simply does not go far enough.)   This is a human rights movement. It is a movement toward recognizing all those simple truths listed above (and so many others) for all people.

I don’t know that we will ever see any real success without figuring out how to truly recognize and integrate that fact in all that we say and do. Of course, I say this without a whole lot of certainty about what such a goal looks like were it to be fully realized. I only know that ignoring the fact gets us nowhere, and that I could not post another blog without at least saying so ‘out loud.’


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.


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  1. Sera, I’m an old white man who grew up on black streets. I know a little about the threads of anger and racism that run through such places. And I mean this as I phrase it: “a little”. I don’t pretend to know how black people feel or how white people feel as classes. I’m unwilling to generalize broadly.

    That being given, I am still bothered by a frequent absence of certain words in discussions of human rights. I grew up understanding that rights and responsibilities are inextricably bound up together. We can’t have one without the other, and the relationship is truly two-way. Taking on responsibilities gives support to our rights, just as our rights inevitably generate responsibilities.

    What in your view are the responsibilities that people should feel toward each other in discussions of human rights? If we are not peers, then how can we truly relate to one another?

    Richard A “Red” Lawhern, Ph.D.

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    • Richard, I agree with you that personal responsibility is key. That is a conversation we’ve been having quite a bit in our own localized community and I actually wrote in ‘personal responsibility’ in one of the bulleted points that included ‘self-determination’ and deleted it because I thought it merited more conversation/explanation and it wasn’t central to the point here. (I.E. I try to remind myself sometimes that I can’t address every point that comes to mind each time I blog without watering down some of the central ones I’m trying to make.) I don’t know if that was the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ decision, but point being I do agree with you that personal responsibility is wrapped up with many of these other values, so thank you for bring it up.

      On another note, by saying I don’t believe in the concept of a ‘peer movement,’ I am not saying that I don’t think we are ‘peers’ in some way or that there isn’t value in that concept. However, when people refer to a ‘peer movement’ they are almost exclusively referring to those who do ‘peer work’ in or alongside the mental health system. The places I hear that frame used most frequently in are the same places that seem to be most focused on increasing the number of ‘peer’ jobs, more than anything else. As someone who trains people in ‘peer roles,’ I am forever being frustrated by people interested in (or already working in) peer roles in the mental health system who roll their eyes or outright say they’re not interested in all the ‘political stuff’ and just want to get back to the business of providing ‘peer services.’

      Were we to truly take time to see each other person as human and as having responsibilities to ourselves and to each other to treat each other as such and be curious about one another within the ‘peer movement,’ than I could get behind that.

      Hopefully that answers your concerns, but if not, let me know! Either way, thanks for reading and posting.


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      • oldhead, I agree that they don’t need to be earned, but I do think self-determination and so many other values we hold in high esteem are best held with a dose of personal responsibility. This is actually a conversation that we’ve been having a great deal in my local community… As with every conversation, there’s tons of nuance to be explored herein… But personal responsibility is often ignored for people who have been psychiatrically labeled, and to no good end. As much as I agree with you that human rights do not need to be earned, I also think this is a valid point to be raised.

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        • I think you need to look at the conext in which it is being raised and in my opinion here the intended implication here is disingenuous. This “rights as a trade-off for responsibilities” argument is pretty timeworn and threadbare. Since the author of the post manages to be general enough to avoid specific criticism, I can only say that arguing over platitudes is useless. But if we’re talking about Ferguson, I’ve heard this stuff from white liberals AND conservatives since the late 60’s who think it’s their prerogative to advise African-Americans on the “appropriate” way to express their outrage, and who make their own racist paternalism apparent in the process. Demanding “responsibility” on the part of the oppressed is often a red herring used to justify inaction, so I wanted to nip that in the bud just in case.

          Btw the above has nothing to do with the proclivity of psychiatry to encourage people to disavow personal responsibility for their actions, that’s a whole other level.

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          • Oldhead, Fair enough. Again, so many layers to these concepts. I recently presented at a conference where my talk was situated on the same day as some cop from Arizona who used terms liike ‘ambos’ (ambulances), and ‘obs’ (observation). And, when I said at some point that I was offended by the idea that people who do things wrong (i.e., assault people when not under threat of force, etc,.) aren’t held responsible because of their ‘SMI’ (another one of his fave abbreviations), he practically snapped at me (perhaps because I’d just recently told him how awful I thought all his abbreviations were in front of a sizable audience) about how the cops would never not hold someone ‘responsible’ for their actions just because of their ‘SMI.’ He said it ‘just wouldn’t happen,’ and the cops know how to ‘hold people responsible.’ Blah.

            On another note, as a local community, we’ve also struggled with people interpreting ‘self-determination’ to mean I can do just about whatever the hell I want without much regard for you. And it’s been really important and valuable for some of us to be able to say back, “Hey, actually, we’ve got a whole set of values, none of which exist in isolation from one another… and that means doing our best to consider them all, together.”

            None of that takes away from the truth of what you offer, however… that pointing to the supposed misbehavior of a group of people as a distraction or ‘proof’ that the rest of their statements can be disregarded is ridiculous and offensive…


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  2. Sera thank you so much for raising this point on Mad In America! This is a great beginning to what I hope will be an ongoing conversation. I am in the process discussing this topic with others in the Western Mass RLC recently, especially others who are anti-racist activists, and I think there is so much to explore here. I don’t have my thoughts completely put together yet, nor is a comment the best place to share them, but I’ll just offer a few brief thoughts:

    I agree that we need to broaden our perspective to a wider human rights movement. Although, sometimes when I hear “human rights” within our communities I am actually saddened because it’s still spoken of as just something having to do mainly with people who experience psychiatric oppression. Racism and the ongoing genocide of the indigenous people in the United States is rarely mentioned, even though these systematic forms of human rights violations frankly have hurt far more people than psychiatry has.

    I hope what we can come to understand better together is that it is not merely happenstance that these various groups are targeted with violence and oppression. There is a historical and systemic connection between the logic of domination that drives racist systems and the psychiatric system, as well as sexism, homophobia, transphobia, income inequality, mass incarceration, and other forms of injustice.

    This logic of domination is what this country and other colonial projects were founded on, not that long ago. Straight, cis, able bodied white men committed genocide, slavery, rape, and other crimes against humanity at will on the land where we currently live, especially against darker skinned and indigenous people, but also against the misfits, women, religious minorities, and “witches” among their own.

    My understanding is that this legacy of white, male, colonial supremacy still lives with us today, and is a driving force behind our economy, our politics, and all the systems of world. For me, the more I grasp this truth, the more I see that fighting against oppression can never go very far as a local or single-issue struggle. I believe we need to put a finger directly on the heart of the matter: The very idea that some people – specifically socially-adjusted white men, but also others who are assigned privileges and power by the institutions that are run by those white men – are “better” than others and get to choose what is “best” for those beneath them – or to ignore their needs entirely.

    I think that to end oppression we need vibrant communities where individuals come together around best meeting their own needs mutually and respectfully. I am very happy to have recently become a part of the Western Mass RLC for this reason!

    Thanks again for posting.

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    • I would invite readers to examine this national vision and list of demands made by Ferguson activists, with an eye for how much these same demands would help the lives of those in our own movements. In fact, I think that with only a few additional specific words added, this list would cover all of our issues as well as the many others specifieid.


      Having spent time working with people in jail recently, I am particularly appalled to see how much overlap there is between forced psychiatry and the prison industrial complex. On the “therapeutic” pod for incarcerated men at my local jail, approximately 90% of the men are on some kind of psych drug!

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      • It is entirely unsurprising. Same goes for foster kids, native Americans and any other oppressed group out there. More oppression = more “mental illness -> more “treatment” which is mostly abuse and interventions design to keep one down.

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    • Hi Matthew, I agree that sometimes ‘human rights’ is still used in a inwardly focused way, but I have hopes that we can continue to broaden that view. 🙂 The overlaps in all of our various ‘movements’ are too blatant not to see, or so I believe. I will say that sometimes I think we are driven to become somewhat insular because the whole thing – when regarded as one big picture – can feel so huge and overwhelming, and yet to ignore it seems so very self-defeating in the long run.

      Anyway, still at home playing with the kiddos so not super articulate comments to add, but thank you for reading and posting!


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    • Matthew,

      I would suggest the autrocjties you speak of are not limited to whites, Europeans, this continent or any particular time or place. Spend a week – a full week studying conquests, slavery, mistreatment of women and minorities, political oppression. You will find that it is universal.


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      • Well if we are counting, I have spent somewhat more than a week studying oppression.

        I think we are talking here about the history and present impact of psychiatry and racism in the United States, which is framed, at its crux, by the paradigm of white male supremacy.

        I agree that dominator cultures have cropped up in other times and places as well, although none has been as successfully genocidal and oppressive as White European Supremacy, and none of the others are responsible for American Racism or Biological Psychiatry.

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        • Matthew,

          In this post you write:

          “I think we are talking here about the history and present impact of psychiatry and racism in the United States, which is framed, at its crux, by the paradigm of white male supremacy.”

          Earlier, you wrote:

          “My understanding is that this legacy of white, male, colonial supremacy still lives with us today, and is a driving force behind our economy, our politics, and all the systems of world. For me, the more I grasp this truth, the more I see that fighting against oppression can never go very far as a local or single-issue struggle.”

          IMO, whether you’re discussing psychiatry specifically, or the problems of civilization at-large, you point toward white males as the main source of problems.

          I think this is far too simplistic, and not real.

          I think if you spend some time really studying history, Matthew, you will find slavery has existed historically throughout the world: in Africa, where tribesman captured and sold one another to the Dutch; in this continent as well, as indigenous people warred against each other, taking slaves following battle into their own tribe… Slavery continues today, in many countries where young girls are captured and sold in the sex trades…

          There has been historic genocide for centuries throughout the world” in the Middle East; under shariah law, women are being stoned to death for adultery; also other autrocities: cutting off hands of thieves; a long list… white supremacists again?

          White supremacists are not the only people who have committed genocide. Pol Pot comes to mind. Murdered millions, if memory serves. Many leaders have committed massive murder and oppression against their own. Mao Tse Tung, hardly a saint… and hardly a white supremacist.

          Bring the subject back to US and psychiatry? (You were the one who broadened the topic, not me). Is psychiatry in this country, at this time the result of white supremacy? I think we could ask some of the practitioners who are not white (asian, black, latino, etc). Or some of the researchers of many racial and ethnic backgrounds.

          In short, please stop painting pictures of white men that conjure up images of hatred. You wouldn’t think of doing so with any other ethnic group. You’re a smart guy; and you’re better than this.


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  3. Very much in agreement about attaching the word “peer” to our movement, which leaves us with the vast language rift. Do we have a c/s/x movement? Do we have a patients’ right movement? Do we have a consumer movement? Do we have a psychiatric survivor movement? Do we have a “recovery” movement? Do we have a mental patients liberation movement? Do we have an anti-psychiatry movement? There is that diversity you speak of, and “peer” is just one more effort to skirt those differences, and to lump us all of us within the same general grouping.

    On top of this, now that the system is training its own paraprofessional elite, you have what are termed Certified Peer Support Specialists with the attendant corruption that such a hierarchical divide entails. I, for one, can’t ignore the ways in which this development represents another subtle way for the mental health industry to expand. What happens when the mental health system expands? The numbers of people labeled “mentally ill” (with mental health problems, mental health issues, mental health challenges, or however you want to define what is at base a social issue) significantly rises.

    Remember drop-in centers? Now some of them are calling themselves peer support or peer resource centers. Those CPSS workers I mentioned, in some places see their own struggles as part of a civil rights struggle when it comes to salaries and working conditions, further exasperating this situation, and widening the existing divide between peoples victimized by psychiatry, society at large, and the mental health service industry. The idea of a person spending their entire life as worker or victim in the mental health system is not one that appeals to me. The word we apply to patients in these instances is “chronic” while I believe the word that might probably be applied to professionals is something more like “dedicated”. An expression that might equally apply, in both instances, is “set for life”.

    I also agree that we have a human rights struggle and, therefore, a human rights movement on our hands, especially given the amount of unacknowledged injury that comes of mental health mistreatment. On top of physical injuries you also have the damage that is done to the US Constitution in the form of violations of civil liberties and civil rights. When we are treated like those human beings covered by law, rather than lumped into another ‘less than’ category, that truly will be an improvement.

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    • Hi Frank,

      You raise many other complex issues, some of which I’ve been thinking about a lot myself.

      Admittedly, the community I’m most directly a part of – the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community – offers resource centers. (We’d potentially drop the word ‘recovery,’ too, if it seemed like an obvious path to doing so… still something that gets talked about.) However, we’ve dropped the word ‘peer’ from any titles of just about everything. We do still talk about the value of peer-to-peer support, etc, at times, though.

      It’s a challenge to figure out what is good up close verses what is still good when looking at the big picture sometimes, but I can say that I do see value in our resource centers … though people don’t need diagnoses or to identify as having overt ‘mental health issues’ to take part. They just need to have a genuine reason for wanting to use a resource or support offered and be willing to take part in holding our values while there. Curious if you still see that as problematic?


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      • I have mixed feelings about the whole drop-in/resource center business, but then I know, too, that they are good deal better than what is offered in the mental health system proper, especially as the system’s outpatient programs often involve subtle, and not so subtle, forms of coercion you don’t get so much with peer-run alternatives. My sense is that the WMRLC tends to be ahead of much of the rest of the nation on these matters, and it is to be highly commended in that regard.

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        • Oops, there I go using that word “peer” again.

          I really don’t like it either, but what do you say? Consumer-run? Client-run? I like ex-patient run, but then you have those systemic issues. Where does a patient become ex-patient, and if people are consuming ‘resources’, ‘services’, etc., how do you get to ex-patient? On a more fundamental level, I think the issue is about getting people impacted by the mental health system off the failure track that it represents, and onto a success track.

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          • Ah, semantics. I don’t think “survivor” exactly nails it either.

            It seems to me that in the end all these efforts to create services based on self-identification with any sort of “mental health recovery” mindset are inherently self-defeating and contribute to defining ourselves as “other.” (The latter also results from the population at large being in denial about our collective oppression and traumatization, and a need to dismiss those who in one way or another are shouting their despair from the rooftops.)

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          • I don’t mind psychiatric survivor so much. It helps distinguish me from people who “consume” mental health services, especially non-coerced mental health services, and, among harmful substances, prescription poisons. I don’t, in other words, advocate compliance with (mis)treatment plans. By psychiatric survivor I mean psychiatric (mis)treatment or psychiatric oppression survivor.

            While I say that, to jump to the point, human being works better. There is no ‘us and them’ dichotomy in human being. Human being doesn’t identify me as a survivor of horrors, but, all the same, human being wouldn’t confuse me with a species that is somewhat lower on the evolutionary tree. It seems a great many people find themselves confused about this matter when it comes to people who experienced the mental health (mis)treatment system.

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          • Oops, there I go again.

            In the above:

            It helps to distinguish me from people who consume mental health services, especially non-coerced mental health services, and, among harmful substances, psychiatric poisons.

            Should instead read:

            It helps to distinguish me from people who consume mental health services, especially coerced mental health services, and, among harmful substances, psychiatric poisons.

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          • I do sometimes fall into the trap of saying ‘peer run,’ but usually that’s about lazy short hand and not having totally figured out the right alternative, indeed. However, the vast majority of the time we steer clear of all these one word (and two-word masquerading as one) labels. In my opinion, they’re pretty much all silly and missing the point. We usually just refer to people… For example, when we talk about our respite house, we typically talk about ‘people who are working or staying’ at the house. When we try to define the make up of our community, we often say things like ‘people who have personal experience with psychiatric diagnosis, extreme state, trauma, addiction, homelessness and other significant challenges in life’… etc. etc. etc. We attempt to describe people’s experiences, rather than describing the people. It can get wordy, but very rarely is it a problem to do and pretty effectively bypasses the issue of ‘what do we call them.’

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          • Oldhead, it won’t let me reply directly to your comment so here’s the best I can do…

            So complicated is all this… Overall, I agree with you… This whole participation in separating ourselves out is less than ideal, but I also think it *is* a step. Pretty much every movement I can think of has a point at which those who have been oppressed DO participating in separating themselves out… creating spaces where they can gather their strength and fine tune their voice… I do not think that is so much the problem. I think the problem comes when industrialization happens and money comes into play and suggests that those points are are THE END POINT, rather than just one point along the way. This also has happened in many – if not every – movement. We’ve got to keep moving ahead… with not separating ourselves as a clear bigger picture goal.

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          • Sera — I had meant to add to my comment that it was on the idealist, theoretical level I was speaking; I wasn’t making the anti-psych equivalent of some detached, ultra-leftist pronouncement. All steps towards achieving a such worthwhile end are important, and via dealing with the contradictions engendered in the process we will achieve greater strength and clarity. We just need to speed up the process, and expand the consciousness-raising.

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          • To Sera again — I just realized after re-reading your last comments that maybe you thought I was criticizing the idea of separatism (or whatever you want to call it) in terms of the “survivors” movement; I most assuredly am not and in the MIA comments archive may be found many examples of my support for a survivor-led anti-psych movement. It is absolutely necessary for us to draw a line between ourselves and the oppressor, and to understand the contradictions between us and the oppressor (in this case psychiatry). Having our own spaces, literal and psychic is a right and at present a need. Though as Frank points out, in the end we are all human beings, not merely survivors of psychiatric oppression.

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          • Simplicity is still a virtue with me. I have a problem with long hand when it makes things more complicated than they reasonably need to be. I’ve gone to Alt conferences where I felt out of place because playing “disabled” was not my thing. I know it can help some careerists get ahead in life, but it’s not for me. How, after all, do you get past the denigating parenthetical? I don’t like “peer” because I think it’s a lie. I don’t belong to the same group as those people who can’t question authority, who take prescription pills, and who consider themselves “sick” because some professional stooge told them they were. I mean you’ve got gulls, and you’ve got gulls, and I’d like to think of myself as wiser than all that. Let the gulls of a feather flock together if they want to do so. I’ve got better things to be doing with my time.

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        • I have mixed feelings about so many things, too, and I wasn’t just asking so you’d feel obligated to tell me what I’m doing is okay, so I hope you didn’t feel obligated in that direction. I will say, though, that I *do* think that gathering points and places to support one another *are* important within communities… But how those places and points are constructed and their limitations vary tremendously. We’re definitely doing our best with it all.

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          • I see the need for respites, and I see no need for them. This is a matter that maybe time will help resolve. I have issues with the conventional mental health system for sure. Alternatives, as a rule, are generally too close to that conventional system. My idea of a healthy community is not the peer support specialist movement some people envision. I may not know the answer, but I do know the answer is not another question. These alternatives are often less essential than they are taken to be, but they do keep the mental health/mental illness industry in an expansive mode. They are certainly not so essential as establishing that tolerance which would end the hospital system. Alternatives won’t end the hospital system, only physical resistance, and toleration of difference, can do that.

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  4. Dear Sera and all,

    Thanks for this post. I hear you being deeply affected by Ferguson and also by ways in which our own movement, or some sectors of it, may resist becoming politicized or human rights-oriented.

    I heartily agree that we are a human rights movement. But I don’t think that anyone can afford to just invoke the concept of human rights without defining particular content. Until we created the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with standards that call for the abolition of the particular kinds of discrimination that have done the most to harm people who experience altered states or have been labeled psychiatry, human rights legal standards excluded us no matter how much we thought of ourselves as a human rights movement. (And we did, we had the “international conferences for human rights and against psychiatric oppression”.)

    Using the CRPD does not mean that we are limiting ourselves to being a cross-disability movement or a peer movement – it means that we bring something to the human rights movement as a whole, that others without similar lived experience don’t bring. So, the demands from the Ferguson protesters while I agree with them don’t encompass all of what we need. In particular:

    – Right to legal capacity: right to have our decisions accepted even if a doctor, lawyer or banker doesn’t think we are exercising good judgment. An end to the ability of psychiatry to force treatment or hospitalization on anyone because “they lack capacity” since there is no such thing under the CRPD. (See Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities General Comment No. 1, an authoritative interpretation, if the text of the CRPD itself leaves room for doubt in anyone’s mind.)

    – Right to not be locked up based on psychiatric profiling as being dangerous, or based on anyone’s belief that we need “treatment” or can’t take care of ourselves. There is never any valid reason to hospitalize someone in psychiatry against his/her will.

    – Absolute ban on forced psychiatric “treatment”/interventions, or treatment without the free and informed consent of the person concerned.

    These standards are expectedly under attack from global and US psychiatry, and there is controversy now in some of the other UN human rights treaty bodies that don’t want to accept the CRPD. Many of us think it is inevitable that they will accept the CRPD standards eventually but those standards need to be defended.

    So while I agree entirely that what is going on in Ferguson and around the country with racist violence and the militarization of police is relevant to those of us who have been labeled by psychiatry – and actually my FB feed is full of people making these connections, including the way the police treat psych-labeled people of all races, the “demonization” etc., though as a white person I really can’t in any way know what it is like to be targeted everywhere no matter what my behavior simply because of skin color and ethnicity – I think that the only way to come together for human rights is to contribute our own experiences and perspectives so that they don’t get left out.

    This is true of every group, class, sector of the population who is harmed by human rights violations. We have to not just add/aggregate, but create synergy among all of them and work for a common vision. I am so deeply moved and encouraged by what young Black people are doing in response to Ferguson and earlier in response to the killing of Trayvon Martin. Personally I am becoming very interested in working on restorative justice in a way that takes into account the perspective of people labeled/harmed by psychiatry, who (for example) may have extra barriers to being open and trusting anyone if this is put forward as expectation rather than choice, and who may completely reject the idea of having treatment professionals involved in a justice scenario. I think all of us are being challenged to make the connections in our own lives and create something new, in whatever ways we can.

    All the best,


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    • One more thing I think we need to add — or emphasize — is the right of psychiatric detainees to their Miranda protections, including the right to remain silent.

      Tina, thanks for everything you keep doing “behind the scenes” (unless one knows where to look) — I can name more than one situation where international pressure is what saved the day. You seem to be methodically creating an official international consensus defining psychiatric coercion as untenable, which should prove invaluable as the struggle gears up and faces reactionary attacks here and elsewhere.

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    • Tina,

      I’m not particularly disagreeing with you, not even in the post above. The thing is there are layers to every argument. For me, the bottom, most fundamental layer (at least that is occurring to me now) is what I wrote above. The similarities. The commonalities in what we all seek and what we are all fighting for and against. Then there are the differences – the pieces that are unique to what we are each fighting: That people of color can’t hide the qualities that bring the discrimination, that there’s a legal process in place to disqualify the voice of those are psychiattrically labeled… and within that layer are also some differences (along with the similarities) of how we will approach some of these issues.

      I think I said this in one of my responses above, but I try to be aware that not every blog can accomplish everything or hold every thought. For me, this blog was was about recognizing our most basic similarities and about expressing frustration at those who would separate us out on the most superficial and money-driven matters… There are many other blogs that could be written about the differences or at least the complexities and nuances that line in the space between the similarities… That’s much of what you are touching on.

      As much as I do not care for the language of ‘cross disability,’ I very much appreciate your work and all that you have and continue to contribute. See you in Denmark! 🙂


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    • Tina,

      Thank you for all you’ve done.

      I especially appreciate your laser-beam focus on the specific items needed to protect people from forced so-called treatment.

      The only issue, as I see it is enforcement/enforceability. I’m not impressed with the UN in this area.

      Which leads me to two questions:

      1) What are your thoughts about amending the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in such a way as to make certain people who have been (mis) diagnosed are given the same protections (least restrictive clause) as other people covered by the act?

      2) What are your thoughts about an act of Congress, guaranteeing civil rights the so-called mentally ill (with verbage similar to the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

      I’m all for universal rights protection, through the UN, but is it enforced? Is it enforceable?


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  5. Great article, Sera. My own introduction to progressive politics was through the civil rights movement of the Sixties. It was that movement that led to all the other human rights movements in America in the last half century, including ours.

    I just read that there have been demonstrations about Ferguson in 170 cities now. I hope this becomes a revival of the civil rights movement, which is badly needed. And I hope this means that our movement for justice in the “mental health” system will be strengthened by this too, and we will take our own movement seriously. I certainly am not in this to get a job helping run the system that nearly destroyed me, and no one else should be here for that either.

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    • Ted, Thanks for reading and commenting. I feel like I really missed out by missing some of the history it seems you experienced. Even looking back at old Madness Network News, etc, makes me wish we could connect even a fraction of all that fire. 🙂 Hopefully we do find our way back to at least some of that! Sera

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  6. Even the comments here seem more interested in stirring up which has, for me, become a tired debate about language — peer movement, consumer movement, ex-patient movement, human rights movement — fine. Talk about that.

    But don’t ignore the larger issues of intersectionality that Sera brings up here. Time and time again I see privilege ignored on this site — race privilege, class privilege, heterosexual privilege, gender privilege — and it irks. It is too easy to identify yourself constantly as the marginalized while conveniently forgetting to situate yourself, say, as a white, cisgender, lower middle class, US citizen, job-holding, bisexual woman partnered with a man (as I am).

    Let’s not forget how we wield power and yammer on endlessly about the evils of psychiatry and more radical ways we can call “the movement.” Let’s reflect a bit more about our duties to promote civil rights for all humans.

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    • Melodee, I’ve gotten a little lost in some of the comments – largely because I’m reading them in the gaps between so much ‘real life’ activity with kids, family and work. I would agree that some of the comment discussion has gotten a little bit further into language than what I, at least, would consider to be the most important parts of this post… So, I appreciate your bringing that up. *AND* I would still say that language is *eternally* important as it is often reflective of what people do actually believe *and* contributes substantially to how people learn to define themselves (often for the worse, in this system). In fact, I think there is a great deal of privilege to be found in the fact that many of us can even engage in this language debate, while so many others are still simply being told what they are and don’t know that this debate is happening…


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    • I think this post brings up an important point. I believe that MIA is a great resource and voice, and I am proud to have been a part of that. And I also believe strongly that the authors are sincere in their advocacy for human rights for ALL people.

      However, I have heard several comments on the web about the fact that a disproportionately large majority of authors here (and in some communities of ‘mental health’ activism – my term for it anyway), are white. Again, let me reiterate that I DO NOT believe anyone here is interested in discrimination; however, a look at the “Writers” link shows that out of at least 100+ regular authors, there are only about 3-4 persons of color. I think MiA – a most worthy enterprise – needs to be aware that there is an appearance of bias that could lead to division, and I have heard valid complaints that there isn’t diversity among the authorship of the blog.

      I’m not singling out this or any other posts on here, but I wonder if we’re losing support!

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      • Jonathan,

        I think the point you’re raising is one that MANY of us – myself included – have discussed. However, I think it’s a mistake to say it’s an issue of ‘Mad in America’ specifically rather than the larger part of this particular ‘movement.’ It’s incredibly white in most places I go, and I think there are several reasons for that that bear exploring.

        That’s not to say that Mad in America couldn’t do a better job reaching out to people of color to write here. I have no idea what their outreach efforts in that direction have been so far, but there certainly are far more people of color in the movement than are represented here, and I’m sure many of them would have great things to offer.

        Perhaps all of us, as a part of the ‘Mad in America’ community, could help by participating in that outreach and suggesting people of color to Mad in America or talking to those people ourselves and seeing if they’d be interested? I don’t know what the current process is for introducing new bloggers to Mad in America, but perhaps we can find out.


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        • Hi Sera and all, interesting and so relevent discusion.I wouls like to amke a cooment re lack of diversity on MIA and in the movement.When one looks at the hisotry of disability in our country the state institutions were very “white”.White mainstream families were much more uncomfortable with otherness then others and it was a socially approved act to place a family member in either an private – if you had money – or goverment institution. My mother an old time social worker pointed this out to me when I did my SS college field placement .She also suggested I observe the direct care workers race and ethnic backgrounds.
          Something to think about.
          Some of us are able to question things around us, some of us can only walk through the day. SES and background are key elements as to who has the energy to respond to this crisis.

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  7. Sera, I won’t waste my time telling you about my daughter who was in an unavoidable specific situation and needed to be forced into care, not will I waste your time telling you that the consequence that would have befallen her would have been death without medical intervention since you seem to not understand the reason people tell you these things. They use their family members as examples in an attempt to explain to you that your idea of no force and mental illness is simply distress or some kind of normal human condition that requires no medical attention unless the sufferer specifically requests it simply doesn’t apply to everyone. Other times we use our family members as examples in an attempt to get you to stop all the wonderful words you use to write with and tell us what you would have us do with a sick family member/adult child instead.

    I agree that your movement should not be called “peer”. My daughter, who had the condition which every member of the “movement” says doesn’t exist….no insight. When she finally gained insight (I know—tough to do since according to you she always had it), she tried to speak to her supposed peers and tell her story which was a very simple one. She was sick, she was forced to get medical care and she is grateful. Her “peers” that are in the “movement” argued with her and treated her like she had “no insight” into what had gone on in her life, she was too ignorant to understand what had happened and had been manipulated. Rather ironic when this is what the “movement” says psychiatry does. She has been in the behavioral system since 2004, 8 years involuntarily, and she noted that in all that time, no psychiatrist was ever as forceful, rude or mean to her as people in the “peer movement” were to when she tried to raise her hand and tell y’all that there are more voices than just yours that should be listened to.

    I see no connection between Michael Brown and the involuntary care my daughter received. The Ray Rice domestic violence story sounded familiar, however. There was a time when if a woman didn’t press charges, the man went free, no charges filed. Then folks decided that the woman could, in a sense, have “no insight” into her terrible situation, and needed the government to step in and file charges when as she was somehow unable to do so on her own. I watched as Ray Rice’s wife told everyone that she wanted to handle the situation between the two of them while domestic abuse advocates flat out ignored her wishes and went after him anyway. Meanwhile, even though there are people like my daughter who would ask you to not speak for her, you do so anyway. There’s something wrong with that.

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    • Kate,

      I have to admit that when I read your response, I feel that you are responding to something/someones that aren’t me. I feel a bit like I’ve become a lightning rod for some anger and frustration that you, and at least according to you, that your daughter has experienced. Perhaps I am wrong, but that’s how it feels. It feels that way to me particularly because it feels like you are seeing what I write through a lens that is colored by something other than my own intent and meaning.

      For example, I don’t say that there is no ‘illness’ or ‘biological’ factor for *anyone.* I personally take as much of an agnostic view with all this as I do with religion. In other words, I feel like it would be just as arrogant and ignorant of me to say that no one’s distress is the result of anything biologically based as it is for the current system to say that it’s all (or majority) based in disease. Granted, I speak critically of the disease-model, but not because I think it couldn’t possibly have any truth, but because I think it’s incredibly offensive and destructive for a whole system to be constructed around forcing a disease model as an absolute truth when no one knows it to be and the ‘treatments’ that are then forced on people as a result of that belief system have caused so many people incredible harm.

      In other words, I am not interested in throwing out the *possibility* of any particular model or approach for all. I *am* however very much behind the idea of being honest about what we don’t know and categorically ditching a one-model-fits all approach where even people who are on death’s door due to the medication being forced into their body are still being forced. I also *never* argue with an individual who says that their particular experience is a mental illness. I don’t see the point in doing so for many, many reasons. That said, as much as I accept that some people could be experiencing some sort of disease, it’s very clear to me that many people who first believe that come to a place in life where they no longer believe that and then their life gets incredibly better, and that some who continue to believe that they have a disease and engage in standard medical treatment never really seem to get ‘better.’ And then I’m fully aware that there’s another group of people that feel that they have a mental illness, and get standard medical treatment, and seem to have a much fuller life for it. And, most importantly, I’m fully aware that I can’t possibly predict who fits into which group. (Something that the system would do well to admit, but rarely does.)

      I think there are lots of interesting questions wrapped up in all that, including whether or not we’d be better off without the medical model of treatment of ‘mental illness.’ In other words, is our country able to use medical treatments responsibly? I strongly believe that we wrongly lose people to death (or seriously shortened lives) both in the absence and presence of a disease model with standard medical treatments… but in an honest cost/benefit analysis, if we were stuck with one or the other, which leads us to greater loss? (I personally do think we’re losing most *because of the medical system such as it is,* but you may disagree, but again, that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe it’s possible that the medical/disease approach could be true/helpful to some… This is more of a bigger picture question.)

      As to my language that you seem to have focused in on, it feels important to point out that I fairly intentionally choose much of my language so that it leaves the door open for people to have their own interpretations of their experiences and still ‘fit.’ In other words, when I say people who experience emotional/mental distress, at least by my understanding, those people could still say ‘I experience emotional/mental distress due to a mental illness..’ or… ‘trauma…’ or… etc. etc. etc. I speak in trauma terms for my own story because that’s what’s meaningful to me, but I do not ask or expect that everyone else does. My goal is to use language that allows people to still own their own story, whatever it may be.

      You may also have noticed that – when I spoke specifically about force within the psychiatric system, I said that that particular conversation is ‘complex’ and ‘nuanced.’ I *also* said right in this very blog that I myself have found myself in situations where I didn’t know where else to turn with someone who seemed so disconnected and so at immediate risk, but hospitalization. But there is a literal *ton* to that conversation that needs to be parsed out if we’re really to have it… From the difference between forced containment/detention vs. forced ‘treatment,’ to the frequency and standards by which that is allowed to happen, to so so so many other things. I can’t possibly judge your situation, especially without hearing from your daughter, and even then….

      What I can say – what I am largely saying in this post – is that when we look at the bigger picture of what has happened to so, so, SO many of us who have been psychiatrically labeled, we *are* a part of a human rights movement. Hundreds of thousands of us have been killed (both quickly and slowly) by police violence, euthanization, illegal testing, psychiatric drugging, restraint, and so on. So many of us have been given no choice but to be on psychiatric drugs that hurt us, including so many people who eventually were able to get off and then *got better.* A mountain of evidence has emerged contradicting what is still considered ‘best practice’ and thusly, so many of us are regularly still subjected to ‘treatments’ that hurt and/or kill us without too much consideration. Thousands are being traumatized right now while they’re locked up because so many people working in hospitals are trained to behave like prison wardens.

      I could go on, and there’s *so* much else to be said about all this and about the links between these movements, but I’m not sure there’s a point right here and now.

      I guess I’ll just conclude by saying this: What if we all accepted that some fraction of people who are given psychiatric diagnoses *actually* have a brain disease that causes many issues including lack of insight and they will only lead manageable lives if they receive medical treatment, by force or otherwise? What if we just accept that? But then, alongside that now accepted fact, what if we also have to accept that an even larger number of people who are diagnosed are hurt, made worse, traumatized and even killed by the treatment offered, but are nonetheless forced to continue to exist within that framework? What then?


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      • Sera-I have often opined that we should have two separate entities in the BH system. I have no desire to push a doctor or medication on someone if they don’t need it. And I have run across many people who have convinced me that no matter how desperate their situation appears, they don’t want involuntary care. If I ever thought my daughter was one of those people, I never would have advocated that she get care. So we need an entity that serves those who choose or have to use traditional medicine. I’m also convinced we another entity created by the “movement’ that is rich in whatever services y’all think are important for you. I’ve never had any “argument” against Open Dialogue, talk therapy, peer support, Yoga, or anything else that folks would want. As I stated earlier, my only disagreement is telling me and my family, particularly my daughter, that her needs should be the same as someone else’s. Peers that work in the system in my state have tried to “advise” her and she resented it so badly, she will no longer engage with anyone in the system..or online for that matter…that identifies as having a MI. I have to apologize for my assumptions in my response to you. I have never had anyone in the “movement” even suggest that we could accept the notion that some folks have a brain disease and just might possibly need involuntary treatment. Thanks for that recognition.

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        • Kate,

          Well, in fairness, I would likely stop short of framing anyone as ‘needing involuntary treatment.’ Again, it’s all so complex and nuanced, but I *have* sometimes felt like it was unclear to me what the hell else to do… However, it’s nonetheless felt important to me – even in situations where I was unable to *stop* forced hospitalization (to be clear, I’m not in a position to initiate forced hospitalization.. but have been in some positions where I didn’t know how to stop it and don’t know what anyone could have done to stop it, not because anyone involved was ‘evil’ or ‘force-hungry’ but because things were sooo out of control in that moment), that we continue to not necessarily look at it as an inevitable ‘need’ of the person, but rather a failure of society and better options. I believe this for a number of reasons, only one of them being that if society gets too comfortable with the idea that some people just ‘need’ it (which I very much think they have), then force inevitably becomes far more frequent and accepted. But that’s a MUCH longer, more complicated and nuanced argument then is necessarily relevant to my points above… More than anything, what I was getting at in my above comment is that I really do believe that we need to love room for all possibilities, including the possibilities of disease/illness that you hold, because I think our greatest power is in acknowledging what we *don’t* know, rather than pretending. Though, there’s lots of nuances to this, as well … including the fact that there are also a million nuances to this conversation that I’m sort of glossing over.

          Ultimately, I’m sorry that it sounds like your family has been approached by what sounds like a multitude of people who have attempted to tell you what is ‘wrong,’ and criticized or pressured you as a result of your beliefs. (I do find it a little uncomfortable to take your word for your daughter’s experience, but clearly you yourself have been seriously impacted, too.) No one who’s any good at what they do (in my opinion) comes into any support situation pretending answers and hurtling criticism, rather than offering questions, curiosity and a willingness to learn, be and explore WITH someone.


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          • Sera-I am my daughter’s legal guardian and am 100% responsible for accessing care for her as well as decent housing. As I stated earlier, she doesn’t take part in these debates as she finds them of no benefit to her wellness. It took a total of 4 posts by someone kindly and politely disagreeing with, and/or trying to tell her that she is wrong to send her into a panic attack in fear that she would lose the services that I have fought so hard for her to receive, the ones that allow her to retain her sanity. I find the discomfort in speaking with family a rather faulty premise, not to mention a way to marginalize extremely sick folks who have no voice. This is what my original post was about. The “movement” presumes to speak for everyone with a mental illness when it loudly proclaims that involuntary treatment is wrong. Tina Minkowitz is speaking for everyone with a MI by drafting and advocating that the CRPD be adopted, an effort you lauded in a previous post. But if I speak for my daughter–that’s “uncomfortable”??Excuse me?

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          • Kate,

            This is where it gets complicated as with so much of what we’re talking about. You may *very well* be saying what she would say for herself. Others who claim righteousness may very well *not be.* *AND,* so very often, what we’re talking about is the bigger picture than than individual situations. Unfortunately, in the bigger picture it’s been a real trend to speak for and make decisions for people who’ve been given psychiatric diagnoses.

            Of course, when a group of people are being spoken for, some of what is said *will* be inevitably true or feel ‘right on’ for some of those who are on the ‘spoken for’ end of things… And yet, there’s still something problematic with the overall picture. That trend as a general practice (rather than as one based on a specific situation or request), is oppressive, regardless of any good intent.

            So, I don’t begrudge you your right to speak up (here or anywhere), and I don’t assume you’re saying things your daughter disagrees with… *AND* there is still some discomfort in it for me because I’ve seen sooooo many people feel hurt and silenced (either in the moment or in retrospect) by that general practice, and it’s impossible for me to know – when someone is speaking up for someone else – who is doing so accurately and who is not, or who is unintentionally doing harm or who is not…

            In general practice, I tend to err on the side of avoiding conversations about people who aren’t present for that reason, but not because I necessarily assume the parent (or whoever) is *wrong*, so much as that *if* they are, the likelihood of my contributing to harm by participating is greater than if I err on the side of caution.

            Anyway, it’s all very complicated, and no blanket approach held to stringently will ever meet everyone’s needs.


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        • Kate, with all due respect, it is about your daughter speaking for herself vs. you or I speaking for her.

          Like Sera has mentioned, I am just wondering why when you have posted here several times on her behalf, that she hasn’t chimed in to say what she wants no matter what her position is. Just like if someone had posted on a board about my issues claiming to speak for me without my having said anything myself.

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        • Kate, People have different approaches and different ways of being in this world. People are also at very different points in their own processes. Some people are focused more on expressing anger (most often quite justifiably), or fighting back against the predominant way of thinking, being and acting toward people with psychiatric diagnoses (also most often quite justifiably). True intent and the bigger picture are sometimes clearer and sometimes twisted up in a lot of other things.

          I can’t speak for everyone. I can only tell you that:

          * I, the community I’m most involved in (The Western Mass RLC), and many, many others that I know are aiming to create choice that BROADENS the options rather than eliminates any of them.
          * I, the community I’m most involved in, and many, many others that I know are aiming to support people to own their own stories (EVEN and INCLUDING if that story happens to be a medical one).
          * I, the community I’m most involved in, and many, many others that I know tend to come from the direction that it’s often less the option/frame and more the force and lack of choice around how that option/frame is applied that causes the most harm. (I.E., The medical model chosen freely with all its costs and benefits weighed is a very different animal than the medical model ‘chosen’ because there’s not only no choice, but not even any conversation around it.)
          * I, the community I’m most involved in, and many, m any others that I know are often fighting for it to be acknowledged what we DO NOT know, rather than trying to provide some other, alternate definitive, one-size-fits-all answer.

          We (those referenced above) see our roles as making sure information is accessible and that there are opportunities to support people in exploring information, ideas and resources within the context of their own lives, beliefs and desires. We absolutely do NOT see our roles as coming with the ‘new answer’ for all.

          That said, what complicates so much of this is that:

          * We still exist in a system where force and medical perspectives are the norm and all else is typically ignored.
          * We still exist in a system that’s ignoring the research on the concept of brain disease as a blanket or proven explanation, the harm of psychiatric drugs, etc. … and thus ignoring our trauma, pain and deaths and devaluing our lives.
          * We still exist in a system that’s prioritizing control over real choice and exploration of individual needs and wants.
          * We still exist in a system where, when one talks about alternatives, it’s so frowned upon that they quite frequently get immediately painted as ‘anti’ everything and unreasonable.

          There are inevitably unreasonable people on every side of this conversation. That’s just the way of life, isn’t it? I have no doubt that you’ve interacted with people who’ve come at you and/or your daughter in ways that have been harmful and pressured from both medical and non-medical directions.

          I am not interested in taking you or your daughter’s truth or story away from you. I *am* interested in continuing to be a part of putting information and ideas out there, though, that allow for people (no matter where they currently sit) to keep growing and learning and deciding for themselves if where they sit is where they want to stay.

          In a class where I was offering a training, a student offered the following analogy that I’ve been sharing with others:

          Some people – at certain points – are like a horse with blinders on in a giant field full of directions to go in. Thus, they continue to go straight only because straight is all they know and see. Our job is to take off the blinders, NOT to put a barrier between them and going straight. Then, once they can see the whole field, if they continue straight, they are doing so knowingly and we have done our job.

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        • If I take it that you really speak for her she’s was treated involuntarily for 8yrs and she is still not well (if she still needs a legal guardian and gets a panic attack from a simple disagreement with someone). But the “treatment” she got supposedly made her better. I don’t want to question her perception she’s better because it’s not my place to do so (in fact she is the only person to determine that) but I can question if what was done to her was really what has guaranteed the best outcome. She can only judge what she was subjected to and luckily for her it seems to have helped. It still does not make it right.
          MIA has been reporting on research into many psychiatric treatments, especially involuntary ones and the science is pretty clear: most of them have no benefit at all, especially one that cannot be achieved with much less brutal interventions. I cannot of course say this is true for each and every instance but any available science points to that. Giving psychiatry power to abuse, imprison and poison people in the name of helping them in case when these interventions have never been proven to actually help anyone is unethical and wrong.

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          • And by questioning the outcome of her treatment, are you not attempting to speak for her, not even knowing her, and not having any better solutions?

            I have had every voluntary solution thrown at me as I attempt t engage in these conversations, and not one of them would have worked when her symptoms were at their most severe. And now, she has no desire to take part in any of those voluntary solutions. She did take WRAP about a year ago. She found it demeaning and an insult to her intelligence. She showed me the material and I completely agreed. It was nothing more than common sense, something that if she were able to access when she was symptomatic, she wouldn’t have had any problems in the first place!!

            While I won’t post a laundry list of her symptoms so they too can be picked apart, I will say that compared to how she is when she is symptomatic and how she is when she is not (via medication), she is quite well. Being able to live in reality, enjoy one’s family and leisure activities is a level of recovery that should be applauded by those that promote recovery, rather than decrying as not enough when the person isn’t able to join your bandwagon that everything that was done to get them there was wrong or abusive. I will use your words and say that nobody has the right to “abuse, imprison or poison people in the name of helping them”. In her case, all that happened was a very sick young woman got medical care while she was too sick to know she needed it. She, and all of us who love her, are extremely grateful. And we ask, that the “peer movement” speak only for the actual members in it, not for your peers who have declined to join as their experiences are vastly different from yours.

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          • “by questioning the outcome of her treatment, are you not attempting to speak for her”
            No. I am not speaking for her. I am expressing my own doubts and suspicions.
            “not one of them would have worked when her symptoms were at their most severe”
            You know that without having tried? WRAP is one of the things some folks find helpful. One of many alternatives.
            “She has been in the behavioral system since 2004, 8 years involuntarily”
            Sorry, but being imprisoned and brain-washed for 8yrs straight will get anyone a Stockholm syndrome. Maybe that sounds arrogant to you but these are the “scientific facts” which the proponents of involuntary “treatment” supposedly love so much:
            – there’s no proof that involuntary treatment helps to prevent violence or suicide
            – there is no proof that long-term treatment with neuroleptics facilitates recovery or even stabilisation (in fact there is plenty of evidence it does the exact opposite)
            – Stockholm syndrome is a real thing and people do get attached and protective to their abusers

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  8. Sera

    Great blog and great discussion.

    One quibble I would have is with your use of a few words of description of what took place in Ferguson (Oldhead has raised a similar point in one of his comments):

    You said: “Furthermore, the riots that ensued following the failure to indict were unquestionably out of control and a far less than ideal way to make a point.”

    Given all the circumstances it would be more accurate to call the uprisings related to the killings of Black youth in this country “rebellions” as opposed to “riots.” This is what we called what took place in the major urban areas in 1968 when Martin Luther King was assassinated, and also in LA when the cops, who beat Rodney King within an inch of his life, were exonerated for their crimes. Their would have been no serious civil rights legislation in the 60’s without these “rebellions” that literally shook the American system to its foundations.

    Historically, significant uprisings of the masses against all forms of oppression are never perfectly conducted, nor without some excesses. Need I point out that the current order of things in the world, and the powers that maintain it, is engorged with daily “excesses” of violence and oppression that clearly dwarfs any forms of misdirection in Ferguson. Minor excesses, in no way, should detract from the overall importance of these events nor underplay the risks and difficulty of even initiating such actions. The word “riots” tends to focus on the minor excesses, or lootings, which does not represent the main character of what took place.

    True civil disobedience must occur when the current laws and order of things are oppressive to the broad masses, or a section of the masses. This means disrupting “business as usual” and/or breaking “civility” or certain laws in order to expose the oppressive nature of the status quo and galvanize a movement to both expose and eventually transform it into something more humane.

    Some people carry out “civil disobedience” in an “orderly” fashion by informing the authorities ahead of time that they will conduct a peaceful sit in and allow themselves to be arrested. Others choose NOT to make it so easy on those maintaining order by NOT announcing their intentions for breaking civility or laws (like blocking highways) and making the cops work a lot harder to try to arrest them, if at all. While each approach has some effectiveness, the latter form of strategy, to my way of thinking, captures the most imagination and true spirit of the greatest freedom fighters that have preceded us.

    Sera, I know you are clearly standing with those who have stood up in these battles, I am only attempting to deepen the discussion regarding the significance of these events and how we should view the complicated nature of using dissent to challenge the present order of things.


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    • Richard, I agree with *most* of what you’re saying… particularly that the language of rioting and looting directs our attention to the ‘excesses’ rather than the many other things happening. That said, I’m a nonetheless a little reluctant to describe what happened on that particular night in some of the terms you suggest … I guess I’ll have to think on it more. Either way, thanks for reading and commenting 🙂 Sera

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      • Sera,

        IMO, there is right to protest in this country.
        And there is always room for ‘civil disobedience’ if needed.

        Martin Luther King practiced civil disobedience, and was tossed in jail for it, along with his followers.

        But what made the civil rights movement successful was that it was peaceful.

        Richard, you have referred to the Black Panthers as a group we should emulate. They used violence. So I’m out.

        Also, they came along in *1966* – TWO YEARS after the passing and signing of the Civil Rights Act (of 1964).

        In other words, the call for peaceful demonstrations worked before they even got in the game. Go figure.


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          • Let me correct myself here.

            It didn’t explode out of nowhere really. It was the result of the police treating black youth very badly for a long time. People got sick of it and it didn’t matter what colour or gender or anything else you were. As long as you were sick of seeing black youth being treated badly, and could throw a brick, you were in.

            Playing the race card though isolated the problem, and quite possibly stopped any white folk who were sympathetic to the cause of black youth from joining in.

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          • Boans, Thanks for reading and posting. The Notting Hill Riots are not something I’m familiar with at all, so curious to check out your link. I just want to add, though, that it was hard for me to read the phrase ‘playing the race card.’ Typically, when I hear that phrase I hear it from people are dismissing outright that race-based discrimination is a legitimate issue. From the rest of your post, it doesn’t sound like what you mean, but I just wanted to mention it as it did make me go back and read your post through a few times more to make sure I understood where you were coming from. Sera

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          • Hi Sera,

            I guess the only racial part of the riots was the way that police had been prejudice and discriminatory towards black youth for so long. For obvious reasons the majority of people ‘rioting’ were black youth, but nothing racial about their movement at all. It really was a case of no matter where your from or what colour you were, if you sympathised with the cause of black youth you were in.

            Funny, thinking back on it I realised it’s what I like about MiA. I’ve interacted with all sorts of people here and it doesn’t seem to matter one bit where your from or what colour, religion, etc etc as long as your throwing bricks of logic at the psychiatric system that is doing harm to so many people. Some of the people here are just so good at throwing those bricks of logic (yes Dr Hickey I’m referring to you lol).

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        • Duane

          The civil rights movement was anything BUT nonviolent. Many Blacks and a few white freedom fighters lost their lives in those struggles, and we can’t forget the thousands of physical beatings and other forms of psychological violence perpetrated.

          Clearly the main strategy of MLK was nonviolence, but that definitely did not prevent the power structure from using enormous amounts of violence attempting to suppress it. Within these battles “armed self defense” played a necessary role for those who felt most vulnerable to attack.

          Duane, I can’t imagine that if you were Black and living in the South during this period that you wouldn’t have considered arming yourself in some form of self defense.

          And Duane, as to the role of violence in history, are you saying that you would condemn those who rose up in the American revolution for independence?

          Would you condemn Spartacus, Nat Turner, Toussaint Overture, John Brown, and Harriet Tubman? After all Harriet Tubman consulted with John Brown prior to Harpers Ferry, and I read that she help recruit for the uprising.

          Strategy and tactics in any movement are critically important for achieving a victory worth fighting for. Standing on history’s side lines and repeating phrases such as …”they used violence. So I’m out.” shows no understanding or respect for the tremendous difficulties faced and the enormous sacrifices endured by those freedom fighters who have preceded us.


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          • Richard,

            I’ve always had enormous respect for any individual who considers themselves a pacifist for religious reasons (ie, a Quaker), along with any person who considers themselves to be a conscientious objector to war. This country shares the same respect.

            I do not consider myself to be in either category, however and believe that there is a time and place for war. But it must be just:


            I understand that the civil rights movement was comprised of many different people, with a vast arrays of beliefs on how to best overcome the oppression of the times. IMO, Reverend King was able to bring to the table what no other human being could have done, and for that reason I have deep respect and admiration for what he accomplished: namely, the greatest piece of legislation in American history. Period.

            The Revolutionary War is fascinating. I recommend 1776 by George McCullough, for anyone interested. I’m fascinated by people who use the term ‘colonizers’ to describe what took place in American history. The revolutionaries pledged their to revolt *against* the colony; the tyranny of King George.


            In regard to our movement.
            I think any form of violence will only dampen the cause. These are some reasons why:

            The public has yet to be fully informed about what’s taking place. The average person on the street believes “treatment” is the best option.

            This includes those on the left, who desperately want to help the person in distress, and those on the right who see this as law enforcement, and want to protect society.

            Both of these approaches do not work, but the public has yet to be fully informed as to why they don’t work.

            Imminent threat is used to justify the “treatment.” In other words, there is a misunderstanding, among (some are good and decent) people that the incarcerations, drugs, ECT are “beneficial” – helping not only the person being forced into treatment, but society as well.

            So if we have a movement that uses violence to get the point across – namely that people who have been falsely deemed to be an imminent threat are not a threat, we simply dig ourselves deeper into the ground.

            “S/he should have stayed on their medication.”
            “These people need to be locked up and stay locked up.”
            “We need to make sure these folks stay away from our kids.”
            And on and on.

            We have yet to define who we are and what we hope to accomplish. The public has no earthly idea of what is really taking place with this so-called “treatment.”

            So we start by really getting the word out. Not only to communities; along with political representatives, and we go from there… The long-term goal IMO: We need to either amend the ADA or get a bill passed through Congress (see comment to Tina Minkowitz, JD above).

            We haven’t even begun to get started. And violence of any kind will only set this movement back.


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        • Things were (and are) never as simple as they can made out to be, Duane.

          I would say that although Martin Luther King Jr’s reputation continues to grow with time, just how much of his vision remains intact is questionable. In this sense he could be said to have failed. We are, for example, still, given what’s going on in Ferguson, and elsewhere, by the way, fighting these civil rights battles.

          The Black Panthers did not promote violence. They promoted self-defense for communities from that violence perpetuated by the police. The same police that are still, as in Ferguson, shooting people of color.

          As Richard points out, non-violence doesn’t mean peaceful, people were mauled by dogs, and bonked bloody by billy-clubs. When they weren’t merely maimed and wounded, black people were killed by the KKK and the police. It takes a lot of guts to put your life and your health on the line.

          MLK Jr was counting on public opinion coming to the rescue eventually, as in, how can you allow this travesty of justice to continue? The black panthers were taking it on more directly. I’d say these militants had many aims in common with those protesters even if their tactics were at variance.

          It’s easy to make these pat judgments on the history, as long as it is seen as merely history, and the matter is looked at in a superficial fashion, but these struggles are more complex than that, and they are far from over, and the last word, if it is ever to come, is a long ways away from us now.

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          • Frank,

            I grew up in a mid-size town in Texas, and remember when blacks lived on the other side of the tracks. I later went to high school in Austin, shortly after a judge ruled that black students should be bussed into the school. It was violent in the school after that. I was however able to develop a better understanding of what it meant to be black in America, by seeing racism first hand.

            The very best friend of my entire life happens to be black. For the past 30 years, he’s not seen my skin color; he’s also totally blind. I’ve seen the discrimination he faces on many occasions, out in public. And I’ve witnessed the same from those who come across my wife, who is latina.

            But I must say, my friend has done well with his life. Has owned his own business for years. And my wife has been able to deal with the challenges she faces as well; not the least of which is living with me, with all my faults and shortcomings.

            I would just like to say two things about your comment:

            1) These problems are complex
            2) I don’t have all the answers



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        • “It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.” MLK

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    • The intent of my comment was simply to point out that it is not the job of uninvolved white people to offer “advice” to oppressed communities on how to conduct their resistance, even if that advice might be considered valuable when offered by someone more directly affected or involved in a particlar struggle. I wasn’t taking a particular position on the whole Ferguson issue or trying to engage in abstract discussions of “violence” — tho I can’t help pointing out that this is a scare word used by media, etc. and subject to varying definitions depending on the exact situation at hand. A completely noviolent action if attacked by police or others will be portayed in the press as “violent,” even if there is no physical resistance to the attack.

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      • Exactly. It’s the same tactics used for mental patients – no matter what happened it was always the “(potentially) dangerous” person who had to be restrained and drugged. You have to portray the abused as abusers and your abusive self as a well-meaning guardian of social order.

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  9. RE : This is a human rights movement. It is a movement toward recognizing all those simple truths listed above (and so many others) for all people.

    I agree. Human rights. Psychiatry is an atrocity.

    On Ferguson:

    Police charged into a darkened field trying to arrest teenagers for consuming alcohol without government permission, and killed a young woman in the process.


    How municipalities in St. Louis County, Mo., profit from poverty


    Get Out of Jail, Inc.

    Harriet Cleveland’s troubles began with traffic tickets. When she couldn’t pay her fines, she was sentenced to two years’ probation with Judicial Correction Services, which added its own fees. Her debts soon mounted.

    And get much worse.


    These pages explain what the problem REALLY is. The police state is a for profit business.

    Ferguson Feeds Off the Poor: Three Warrants a Year Per Household

    How does a stop for jaywalking turn into a homicide and how does that turn into an American town essentially coming under military control with snipers, tear gas, and a no-fly zone? We don’t yet know exactly what happened between the two individuals on the day in question but events like this don’t happen without a deeper context. – See more at: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2014/08/ferguson-and-the-debtors-prison.html

    The justice industry has become like the psychiatric industry, for profit and in need of costumers.

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    • Copy_cat, Thanks for your post and all the links. I’m definitely no expert – or even particularly well informed on issues around police and profit. However, at least on the surface, it just sounds like another overlap to me in terms of the many issues that contribute to oppressive and discriminatory treatment of people in ways that are related to race, psychiatric diagnosis (certainly heavily influenced by profit issues!) and so on.

      Thanks again for posting. I will check out your links!


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  10. Hey Sera,

    Thanks so much for writing this intriguing analysis and starting a wide conversation. I’ve made it through a lot of comments, but wow, it’s turning into a novel on here! Good sign.

    I want to raise an issue that has been troubling me lately, and hopefully not fly too off-topic. I’m still working out my thinking on this, so I’m all-draft here.

    Here it is: I have a problem with acknowledging “human rights”. From my understanding, the idea of human rights has been historically wedded to religious ideas of creation. Hence, “inalienable” rights ascribed by our “Creator” in our constitution. To me, there are no inherent human rights. We’re born alongside all kinds of other life forms in an infinitely complex and connected world of competition, co-existence, and collaboration. I think what gives us rights are our social institutions. Not protects them, but actually grants them. In other words, I don’t believe we are born with a right to exist on this planet. Any life-form survives by death of another, so it’s always felt a bit awkward to me that “human rights” would be something that would be inherent just by the fact of existence, while every other life form would lack the same honor. Even animal rights activists that talk about natural rights that belong to both humans and sentient animals still rely on cherry-picking which forms of life deserve to be protected and which deserve to killed for that protection (in other words, the corn was once alive, too, and so was the bacteria on the corn, and so on). To me, we don’t all have an inherent “human right” to food, for instance, merely because that “food” requires death (and where’s its “right” to life?), unless we’re accepting that humans are somehow ascribed to be the privileged species on Earth. I do, however, believe that we have a “civil right” to food.

    So, I bring this point up not just for nit-picky reasons. My preference is to think of “civil rights” instead of “human rights” because that keeps the focus on the thing that can actually grant them–civil institutions. In other words, it’s a political orientation as opposed to a species one. It brings me back to believing that we are all creating the social forms that are making this reality possible. I think what ultimately creates change is advancement in civil policy, as least insofar as we exist in our current landscape of nation-states. So, thinking of a “civil rights” movement propels me to question the institutions that make all the -isms possible and functional, whereas thinking of a “human rights” movement leaves me feeling–though I certainly know this is no one’s intent who advocates for them–that humans are somehow the entitled species on this planet.

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    • Hi Steven,

      Good to see you here. 🙂 I hadn’t ever thought of ‘human rights’ in the context of religion. I’m not totally sure what to make of that, just yet. It doesn’t quite click into what resonates as ‘true,’ for me, but that could just be my lack of information on the history of it all.

      You make some good points here about human verses animal, and who *truly* has an inalienable ‘right’ to be. Truth be told, I actually *used* to use the language of ‘civil rights’ far more, and eventually got convinced to shift to *human rights*. I think arguments can be made for them both being ‘true.’

      However, here’s what I think makes at least some people uncomfortable about ‘civil rights.’ The definition of ‘civil rights,’ does indeed make them something society grants its citizens. Here’s what the on-line dictionary has to say about the term’s formal definition:

      “Civil Rights: Rights to personal liberty established by the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and certain Congressional acts, especially as applied to an individual or a minority group. ”

      But that begs the question of what if ‘society’ changes its mind, or hasn’t quite come far along enough yet? What is the basis for *arguing* for those civil rights? Is what underlies the argument for *civil rights* not perhaps ‘human rights’ to some degree? When we talk about ‘civil rights’ does that limit the geographical scope of who we feel has those rights? In other words, if we are horrified by the abusive treatment of people who have been psychiatrically diagnosed (or some other group) in other parts of the world that don’t necessarily afford the same rights to its average citizen as we do, does our whole basis for why we think it’s ‘wrong’ have to change? *Or* do we get caught in the ‘America’ defines civil rights for all place that seems to have led us down some difficult paths in the past?

      I haven’t fully fleshed out these early morning thoughts in response to what you’re writing… But, I think the challenge I’m feeling – and that I’ve heard from others when I was more inclined to use the ‘civil rights’ language (which I still do at times) is largely this: Do we truly want and believe our basic right to ‘be’ to be essentially defined by a government of some sort?

      Here’s the on-line dictionary definition of ‘human rights’:

      “Human Rights: Fundamental rights, especially those believed to belong to an individual and in whose exercise a government may not interfere, as the rights to speak, associate, work, etc.”

      Not that the on-line dictionary is the ‘end-all-be-all’ of sources, but note that the differences would seem to be rights that exist within verses beyond the law of a particular government or society.

      I also wonder if, when we speak about human rights, most of us aren’t actually speaking from a point of view of our rights within the context of interaction with other humans? I’m not necessarily sure that we need to say that our ‘human rights’ apply when we’re talking about our ‘human right’ to destroy a bird’s habitat anymore than we would say our ‘human rights’ were violated when we were eaten by a shark.

      On the other hand, it’s *all* a bit artificial, isn’t it? If ‘human rights’ aren’t determined by a ‘civil’ and societal process, then many would argue (I imagine) that the only thing left to be a ‘decider’ is some sort of religious figure (not a particularly appealing idea to me). I’m not sure I’m prepared to fall into that particular binary trap at the moment. But I’m also not prepared to give up on the idea that there is something substantial to be said for rights that are on a higher level than what a particular society has deemed.

      Anyway, there’s my early morning meandering, for what it’s worth!


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  11. I always look forward to Sera’s posts and the comments that follow .
    Religious or not it would be difficult to improve upon Hillel’s reasoning…….. Whatever is hateful unto thee, do it not unto thy fellow. Like I believe psychiatrists would hate to be electro shocked , chemically lobotomized, injected , etc, etc, etc. Or that pharma executives would not enjoy having their deadly products shoved down their throats on someone else’s say so and they would not love to be labeled etc. So what the hell do they think they’re doing and how do we stop them ?

    How can more of the population become to understand that medical and especially psychiatric oppression while it poses as something helpful is indeed something that is a dangerous Trojan Horselike threat to our very lives and to any freedoms we may yet have left ?

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  12. All of this got me to thinking about something that I think is a very subtle form of racism. Eighty percent of the population of people receiving “treatment’ in the state hospital where I work are African American. One percent are Hispanic. About nineteen percent are economically challenged White people. White people with money or insurance go to the private psychiatric “hospitals” in the city, they only time they end up at the state hospital is when their insurance quits paying for “treatment” at the private places.

    When you look at the people making up the “treatment teams” who are responsible for the things that are done to people while they’re held here you see something very interesting. The percentages are reversed when it comes to members of the teams. They’re almost all upper middle class White with a sprinkling of African Americans (usually the Social workers).

    There is no attempt to create and adjust the plans according to the culture of the person who is being “treated.” There is one cookie cutter approach and everything is based on White culture. Granted, we don’t have many Hispanic people but there is absolutely no attempt to understand their experience of emotional and psychological distress nor is there any attempt to understand African American culture and how its understanding of life situations in our culture affect the so-called “treatment”. There is only one African American psychiatrist on staff and a few African American social workers. Almost all of the staff making decisions about the lives of the people held in the hospital are upper middle class White, while most of the people they’re making decisions for are African American.

    I’ve raised this issue in meetings but get no results. Most of the time my questions are met with silence and then they go on to the next thing on the agenda.

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    • You’ve reminded me of another interesting piece of the picture: the 4th season of the Wire (warning: spoilers) deals largely with the kids who end up in a special educational programme for their disruptive behaviour. There is a scene when one of the workers lists all the different “mental disorders” the kids “have” including the infamous ODD. The way these kids improve upon getting their needs met and their stories heard and how they fall back into the hole when they get dumped again by the system is the best commentary.

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