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.