On Saturday May 16, 2015, there will be demonstrations protesting shock treatment in many cities around the world. This spontaneously-organized event has been endorsed by MindFreedom International, and as of this writing will include nineteen cities, fifteen of them in in twelve US states, plus four more in Canada, Scotland, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. More are pledging to demonstrate almost every day.
This will be a historic event for our movement for human rights in psychiatry. I don’t know of any other time our movement has carried out such a coordinated action on this scale.
It was initiated by three shock survivors, myself, Mary Maddock in Ireland, and Debra Schwartzkopff of Portland, Oregon. All three of us have experienced having parts of our lives taken away, our brains damaged, our memories erased of who we are and what we have experienced.
On January 21, I attended a memorial service to commemorate the life of shock survivor Leonard Roy Frank (who died January 15). Leonard was one of the most beloved and courageous activists in our movement, and I miss him terribly. At the memorial, there was some talk of having a demonstration in San Francisco at the same time as the one already being organized by Debra for May 16 in Portland. The idea caught on like wildfire, and there is more and more enthusiasm for it. I think it is an idea whose time has come.
Shock treatment is one of the most brutal practices in psychiatry, and ending it would not be just a little reform. A hundred thousand people every year in the United States are shocked, and there are millions of people here and around the world who have had it. An end to shock treatment would prevent the ruin of thousands of lives, and would be an important achievement for our human rights movement.
Furthermore, there is a lot of opposition to shock among the general public that we can encourage, and it is one practice of psychiatry that we have a fighting chance to defeat in the near future, even with our limited resources.
But more than that, from an antipsychiatry point of view, by emphasizing shock treatment, we are attacking psychiatry at one of its weakest points. This is a strategy that almost all campaigns of people without a lot of resources must use against much stronger opponents. This has been recognized for thousands of years, as far back as ancient China.
(For more on strategy to take away the power of psychiatry, please have a look at Bonnie Burstow’s excellent article in MIA, “On Fighting Institutional Psychiatry With the Attrition Model.” Bonnie will be one of the organizers of the event in Toronto.)
Let’s force psychiatry to defend shock treatment. It will make clear to the public the true nature of the profession. As we all know (or ought to realize), the power of psychiatry is largely based on the false belief by the public that our “mental health” system is benevolent and helpful. But I think few believe that shock treatment is benevolent and helpful. Let’s show the world the real face of our “mental health” system.
And let’s use this to build our movement. I am hopeful that the experience of working together will re-energize many of the groups that participate. It will also, I hope, help us to overcome a lot of the infighting we do that prevents us from getting anything done and drains us all of the energy we need. Let’s support one another, not tear each other down as we do too much of now. (And I admit that I have sometimes been guilty of this myself.)
Finally, I want to encourage new people to take leadership in this. If you don’t have much political experience , you may be thinking that you can’t do much to help. But it is important to realize that there is a lot you can do. Remember, there will be demonstrations like this in dozens of places. If you can get together six, ten, twelve people in your city, you will not be alone, but part of a much larger movement. Those of us who are psych survivors have been trained by psychiatry to think of ourselves as helpless and worthless. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Don’t be afraid to be a leader. We need you.
My first political activism was with the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. It really started with just four brave black students who sat down at a segregated lunch counter and refused to accept being treated as less than human. They didn’t have big numbers at first, but their courage soon led to a huge movement for liberation and social justice.
We can do that too. Let’s show the world that we will not accept the role of passive victims that the “mental health” system encourages.
Let’s fight back! We can do it!
(To find out where you can join in one of the demonstrations, please go to ectjustice.com. If you need more information you don’t find there, or would like to organize a demo in your area yourself, please write [email protected])
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.