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.


  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.

  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.

    • 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!

      • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.


  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.

  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,


    • 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.

    • 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?


  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.

        • barrab,

          I am also concerned. The problem when it comes to psychiatry particularly is *crony* capitalism. The cozy relationship with pharmaceutical companies, the FDA and NIMH…

          Pharmaceutical companies are involved in fraud, and their psychiatric drugs are causing injury and premature death. Their actions are criminal. But its the federal government who is failing to provide oversight in areas such as Medicaid, Medicare, VA programs. The states are getting soaked, and successfully fine theses companies to recover losses to their state coffers, but those injured have no recourse.

          The last I checked, the pharmaceutical companies cannot use *force* when it comes to these drugs. Only the government; and it is involved in unconstitutional court orders, routinely.

          There are a number of people on this site who like to blame capitalism for everything under the sun. I would like to hear some specifics (in the forum section, because it will be a *long* thread on political/economic theory) on what they would like to replace capitalism with exactly.


          • Yeah, who knows, I think people may not really understand the giant can of worms they’re really opening when they don’t just focus on the clear failures of the system.

            It could be a great exchange of ideas though, I honestly believe this is a great site, it’s great it exists. Sometimes I still open up Cohen and Breggins “Your drug may be your problem”, and it still blows my mind to think, damn this is actually how it is.

          • As for what you, Duane, call *crony* capitalism, is there another kind of capitalism?

            Taking up anti-capitalism in the forum section, as far as I’m concerned, and seeing as the question is coming from you, I just see as a matter of red baiting, and that is something we certainly don’t need to, as happens so often here, become hopelessly entangled in.

            The point, Barrab, is that many of the distressing circumstances that people are attributing to biology are actually social in nature. In fact, even the act of presuming to attribute to poor “mental health” biology involves a social relationship. When we remove familial relations, economic relations, and just social relations in general, from the person we are scrutinizing, well, we actually miss some of the most important things about that person. We no longer have a person before us. We have a transparency. We might as well be staring into space.

            Poverty, race, gender, educational background, friends and associates, as well as adversaries and enemies, privilege, and/or deprivation, there are so many things that go into labeling people. It would be remiss of us to ignore these many factors. I think it is quite possible in the vast majority of cases that people are attributing to pathology what is in actually a social construct, not biological.

  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.

    • 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!

  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.

        • 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.

          • So am I to understand that the peer movement that Sera refers to in her blog doesn’t attempt to speak for anyone other than the actual folks in it?

        • 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.

          • 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.

          • “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

  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.


    • 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.

      • 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.

  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.

  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.

  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 ?

  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.

    • 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.