Reviving the Spirit of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest!

At the end of the Eugene protest of human rights violations caused by electroshock, we posed for a photo.
At the end of the Eugene protest of human rights violations caused by electroshock, we posed for a photo.

Today, Saturday, 16 May 2015, a protest was held in Eugene against human rights violations caused by the use of electroshock, a psychiatric procedure involving the running of electricity through the brain. The protest today was one of about two dozen held in about eight countries. The speakers included:

  • Fred Abbe, 68, of Reedsport, OR personally experienced electroshock as a teenager. He said, “I survived 40 years of psychiatric oppression, including 15 bilateral electroshock ‘treatments’ totally forced against my will, every other day within a 30 day period in 1964, before I reached  the age of 18, in Jackson Park Memorial Hospital in Miami Beach, Florida.”
  • Chuck Areford of Eugene, a long-time mental health worker who once gave electroshock, spoke movingly about how he is full of regret.
  • Adrienne Bovee, a young-adult psychiatric survivor from Eugene and student at the University of Oregon who said, “I feel lucky to have narrowly escaped brutal psychiatric treatment like electroshock.”

    Electroshock survivor Fred Abbe is on the left, and he spoke first at today’s protest. Also shown is psychiatric survivor David Oaks, and Fred’s friend Sarah.
    Electroshock survivor Fred Abbe is on the left, and he spoke first at today’s protest. Also shown is psychiatric survivor David Oaks, and Fred’s friend Sarah.
  • Chrissy Piersol of Eugene, a young-adult psychiatric survivor who works as a peer mental health counselor, called for more humane alternatives.
  • David Rogers of Eugene, folk singer and songwriter, sung about empowerment and disability. He works as a mental health peer supporter. Find his music via his website
  • David Oaks of Eugene, psychiatric survivor who has worked as an activist for human rights in mental health for 40 years. He said, “The world today can cause a lot of despair, such as through global warming that threatens life as we know it. We can do better than just responding with jolting people’s brains!” Oaks called for a nonviolent revolution, and several of the listeners took up his chant of “Now, Now, Now!”
  • A speakout was then held and we heard from a massage therapist, Sid, who called for better approaches. We also heard from another psychiatric survivor.
At the end of today’s protest, several participants marched two blocks to thank Ken Kesey, the late author of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ who lived in Lane County. A statue of Ken is in the middle of Eugene’s downtown, informally known as Kesey Plaza.
At the end of today’s protest, several participants marched two blocks to thank Ken Kesey, the late author of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ who lived in Lane County. A statue of Ken is in the middle of Eugene’s downtown, informally known as Kesey Plaza.

At the end of the Eugene protest, activists walked to the statue of Ken Kesey in the middle of downtown to remember his literary resistance to electroshock.

Co-sponsors of the peaceful protest in Eugene included MindFreedom Lane County, International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment, Network Against Psychiatric Assault, Rethinking Psychiatry, and, which has more about the protests including a list of planned events. More info can be found on the facebook pages of MindFreedom Lane County and Network Against Psychiatric Assault. May is the annual “National Mental Health Month.”

For more information about the day of protest against electroshock, see For info about the Eugene protest, see Find on facebook Network Against Psychiatric Assault and MindFreedom Lane County.

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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. Just a few brief comments. First, I thank all the folk in Eugene Oregon for the important work which they did. I also want to note that Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest certainly dramatized ECT for people in important way, and so I will understand you turning to Kesey. That said, I did want to introduce what I consider a major problem with the the highlighting of this figure and this text. Something seldom talked about–the book is in many ways frighteningly sexist, with note, the horrible villain being “Big Nurse” and the psychiatrist in the piece coming off rather kindly. Moreover, the impression gotten that ECT is something that women force on men–when we are all well aware, the truth is the opposite–with shock doctors not nurses deciding on shock, with 2/3 of the victims being women, and with 90% of shock doctors being men. And as such, I think we would do well to think more deeply about which literary figures we upfront and how we represent.

  2. Thank you, people of Eugene, of all sexes and creeds, who managed to soar over the cuckoo’s nest at this years protest. If I”m going to fault Kesey for a few things, I’m not going to fault him for the title of his book. I doubt anybody could have come up with a better one.

  3. I saw the Michael Douglas produced movie “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest ” at it’s world premiere at the Granada Theater, one of the atmospheric movie palaces of the day, down the street from Loyola University located in the north side of Chicago 2 blocks from the shores of Lake Michigan. It was 1975 and Jack Nicholson was supposed to attend in person. He was already famous for his role in the film “Easy Rider” . He’d also starred in “Five Easy Pieces”.
    I bought my ticket and there he was, I saw him up in a curtained balcony alcove , over looking the lobby sticking just his head out through the red velvet curtains smiling that smile as if he wasn’t seen and watching as the crowd of people were filling the theater walking through the lobby , buying refreshments , anticipating a great movie.
    Watching the premiere of the movie I was a 12 year veteran of psychiatric Torture already labeled The S word plus ,then the manic depression word, and then the bipolar depression word. I’d had 15 electro shocks, and I had still 15 mercury laden amalgam dental fillings installed in my teeth ,with unbeknown to myself 32 more years of psychopharm merry go round to go before I could call myself a psychiatry free psychiatric survivor.
    Very much the McMurphy character reminded me of myself as someone who fought the system from the inside and paid the price in extra retaliatory torture, and who tried to make other inmates laugh at the authorities,and their rules , whatever their title , creed, gender ,or color, always escaped whenever possible or aided others to do the same, injected humor in all talking circles and was tossed out of a lot of them.
    The Psychiatrists did rounds in the mornings . We patients saw them rarely for usually at the most around 3 minutes only enough time to beg them to let us out of there and never getting a straight answer except in the form of “meds adjustment”. The head nurses were in charge of daily going ons on the floor and had much power over our inmate lives . Orderlies and nurses aids followed head nurse orders.The kindest words I heard from staff I remember were from a female aid that reminded me when I was admitted not wanting to live , after sleepless insomniac nights, and recognizing me by name from other previous hospitalizations smiled knowing I was harmless and reminded me cause I forgot I could feel different, ” don’t worry you’ll be feeling better in a few days you always do”.
    The psychiatric system in hospital is a finely conceived coercive machine with replaceable parts including psychiatrists on top but rarely talking to you or appearing to do anything when not prescribing meds or in charge of shock process. Then nurses at least one on duty most all the time next in power then aides following their orders. There is opportunity for individual employees to allow any of them to add a measure of torture or kindness if they pick their spots and so choose.
    The movie was close to home for me and after it ended I made my way to the stage below the big screen and was able to ask Jack Nicholson a question about his last movie Five Easy Pieces which he answered and I left the theater thinking I saw a great movie. It inspired me to read Ken Kesey’s book and eventually realize that to me Chief is the” One “in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest .”
    The Eugene demonstration against Electro Shock was empowering and David Oaks is a brave inspiring and relentless warrior for our rights and a peaceful revolution .

    • If you google news, and then put “electroshock protest” at the top of the page, you will find a news item, television I think, about the event in Eugene.

      Also, Jim Maddock, Mary Maddock’s husband, got an article in some paper over there in Ireland. Don’t think it’s online though.

      The news media has a very convenient way of ignoring us, but if we keep at it, I think we can manage to make those connections and get stories in the mainstream media. I don’t imagine this is going to be the last International Day of Protest Against Electroshock, and so I guess that gives us something collectively to work on.

      • I think there are more complex reasons for lack of coverage than the media simply choosing to ignore us. It’s on us to create news that cannot be ignored. It’s on us to coordinate events centrally with fewer conflicts and create more generous planning timetables. In my twenties i committed civil disobedience with several thousand other individuals over the issue of nuclear test missiles in the Pacific that were making Pacific Islanders very sick. FYI that action took several years of planning time and involved a national coordinating committee. Per this protest as an example I had not heard about the international day of Shock Protest until after investing quite a bit of time on a steering committee for another MH event scheduled to take place in PDX on exactly the same day. Although i longed to be physically present at one of the local protest events. When i realized the conflict, i made the difficult decision to keep my prior commitment. David Oaks has long called for better coordination of events in Oregon and the nation. Which organization is best suited to create something like the student non violent coordinating committee of the civil rights movement?

    • I agree with others here, thanks to all who organized and participated in this event. Perhaps I will try to participate in the future, but I am still somewhat new to the area in which I currently live, so did not feel I could organize anything this year.

      But I am working on my story, and hope it might become a movie some day – since I can tell basically my entire tale in the lyrics of music. Bizarre, but true, so it should be a movie.

      As I was going through my old journals, I came across something my brother had said to me, just after my family’s medical records had been handed over. He told me there was a term for what happened to me. He called it gas lighting. At the time I couldn’t find this term in any of my dictionaries. But it is now on the internet. This is what Wiki says of it:

      “Gaslighting or gas-lighting is a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser, or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.[1][2] Instances may range simply from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.”

      Isn’t this basically a description of much of what today’s psychiatric industry does? Only, they actually create the symptoms of their mental illnesses with their drugs?

        • And ‘Anatomy…’ points out the antidepressants and ADHD drugs create the bipolar symptoms. And this diagnosis often gets patients a prescription for one or more of the neuroleptics.

          And the neuroleptics create both the positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia via both the central symptoms of neuroleptic induced anticholinergic intoxication syndrome and neuroleptic induced deficit syndrome:

          “neuroleptics … may result in … the anticholinergic intoxication syndrome … Central symptoms may include memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, hallucinations, psychosis, delirium, hyperactivity, twitching or jerking movements, stereotypy, and seizures.”

          “Neuroleptic induced deficit syndrome is principally characterized by the same symptoms that constitute the negative symptoms of schizophrenia—emotional blunting, apathy, hypobulia, difficulty in thinking, difficulty or total inability in concentrating, attention deficits, and desocialization. This can easily lead to misdiagnosis and mistreatment. Instead of decreasing the antipsychotic, the doctor may increase their dose to try to “improve” what he perceives to be negative symptoms of schizophrenia, rather than antipsychotic side effects.”

    • There should be sequel to International Day of Protest Against Electroshock 2015, and it’s called International Day of Protest Against Electroshock 2016. Then there is International Day of Protest Against Electroshock 2017.

      The problem now is that the truth of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is being supplanted by pieces of bio-psychiatry and mental health movement (“mental illness” industry) propaganda that calls itself literature making it ever more important to remind these bozos that people are being killed by psychiatry Monday through Sunday.

      Yes, if there’s anybody out there who wants to tell the truth rather than regurgitate the lies, well, I’d love to see that happen. In the interim, both before and after, there is still this battle to be waged.

    • How about ” McMurphy’s Underground Railroad” takes up the story following Chief Bromden’s escape to a reservation where he reunites with wife and young son . He tells em about the white mans cuckoo’s nest and how the only sane white man he ever met, McMurphy fought them till he fell.
      By the time Chief ‘s son is grown things have gotten worse on the reservation and in outside society. Too many youths are suicidal , there’s an epidemic of psychiatry prescribing neuroleptics even to toddlers , children , babies , women more then men , and seniors in nursing homes . The Pseudo- Scientific -Electro-Psycho- Pharm -First -Harm-Medical- Therapeutic- Archepeligo is expanding and becoming even more deadly . Chief connects with MIA and anti psychiatry people , talks to his son and they bring a proposal to the First Nation Peoples Leaders to construct an underground railroad along routes linking various reservations across the country . They intend to break innocent people out of cuckoos’s nests, nursing homes, and help families whose children are being coercively drugged , electrified or locked away. Also to upset business as usual within the pharma cartel besides joining demonstrations.
      Sadly Will Sampson the actor passed on a few years ago but maybe Jack Nicholson would be willing to play a part as a retired supportive psychiatrist and even financially back such a movie if things were presented to him . Maybe Kevin Costner would also be interested in financing this movie. There would be leading roles for First Nation actors and some roles for us at MIA. Maybe I’m dreaming or maybe it could be done. I know I can’t do it alone . Maybe any money made could be used to free captives.

  4. There was also a protest in Portland, and shock survivor Deborah Shwartzkopf was arrested in a peaceful act of non-violent resistance at the Kasier-Sunnyside hospital. There was no media coverage that I was aware of, except for KBOO Community Radio.

    —- Steve

    • I think if we think tactically and strategically we can eventually get the kind of media exposure that we we need, and that we aren’t getting at present. NAMI, for instance, in many places has connections with media people. NAMI has their walks every year, and these walks generate media exposure. The same can be said for community mental health facilities, and mental health lobbying groups, they have connections with the media. The thing is, every time NAMI, or a community mental health facility, gets in the news in a locality, someone should be giving the reporter covering the event a call. This is a matter of challenging a news media which prides itself on impartiality to practice what it preaches. When the stories that come out in the local media are biased, you’ve got an instance where you can say, “You’ve not got the full story. Listen to me, there is more to it than that.” Once the media starts talking to us, in this context, they are going to be less inclined to ignore us in a protest situation. Anyway, I think there is a way into the news, and that’s by reacting to those stories about “mental health” that do get into the media, and challenging it on the matter of partiality. Sooner or later, they have to listen, and that isn’t going to happen if we don’t put some effort into making it happen. The press is notorious for aggressively pursuing stories. You hear them referred to as news hounds. We must be equally aggressive in pursuing the news media, if they are ever going to listen to us because this is a matter of getting the news from another perspective, a perspective that they are getting all too rarely at present.

      • A few things about media. For one people should not be operating under the illusion that getting things covered by the media has anything to do with how just a cause one has, or how legitimate anyone’s arguments are. And, when the press do cover something regarding “nental patients’ rights,” more often than not the undercurrent of the story will be to snicker and make cute references to the lunatics running the asylum or whatever, and otherwise indulge in clueless, stereotypical “reporting.” This is sometimes a reflection of a failure to convey a clear and consistent message. But mainly it’s just their nature. Rarely should a demonstration be primarily motivated by the prospect of receiving media attention, or its success judged on the basis of such. The function of the media is to mystify and suppress information that allows people to make connections, not to promote nifty causes that help undermine the legitimacy of the system upon which it depends for its power.

        Aside from that, though, and on another level, there is a certain science to the writing & timing of press releases, press calls & other mundanities related to bringing out the press that can be researched and used with sometimes surprising success. These have changed somewhat as things become more & more digitized but I’m sure a lot of the basic principles stay consistent over time.

        One thing that generally won’t work is trying to browbeat or guilt-trip reporters into covering you; in fact, it’s important not to appear overly eager to know whether they plan to attend, or to convey how vital you may consider their presence to be. The attitude should be “here’s a story we have for you which is important for these reasons and which we are giving you a heads-up on; we’ll be there whether you are or not.” Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

        This is not meant to be cynical, just realistic. There’s always the well-motivated reporter who will consider what we have to say to be really important and will doggedly pursue the story to the degree her or his editor will permit, and is worth going to great lengths to educate, provide with more contacts, etc. But they’re the exceptions that illustrate the rule.

        • Basically, OldHead, I think if you can “browbeat” or “guilt-trip” reporters you should do so, especially when those reporters are guilty of literally biased coverage. This is to say, I think “doing” as a tactic much more effective than not doing, or doing nothin”. I don’t think it a good idea, or a necessary one, to let, say, NAMI, or the MHA, or your local mental health center, ‘have all the fun’. PR is very important to “them”, and we might be getting somewhere faster if it were important to “us” as well. When these organizations and facilities are getting into the news, but we aren’t, I’m not blaming them. Every time they get into the news it is because a reporter sees a story there. You, as a survivor, can either be part of the story, or part of the silence. I certainly don’t think suppressing the ex-patient/survivor experience a good thing. Maybe you do. If need be I could pick up the ducttape and restraints to suit you sometime, and to make the “mental health” drug peddlers and propagandists feel sufficiently triumphant in “winning” media attention. In a word, no media attention is no media attention, and we’ve been dealing with no media attention for some time, however, there is no reason not to give making the news a little bit of attention. Not to give making the news a little bit of attention is a sure fired way not to make the news.

          • In other words, every time there is a local news story dealing with local “mental health” issues, we have an opportunity. We can either exploit that opportunity or ignore it. I’m for making the most of the opportunity. If we do make the most out of such opportunities, we are more likely to find demonstrations covered by the news media. It’s a matter of, for one thing, building a relationship with the press. Many people in the mental health business are paid to develop those connections with the media, and you can read the pay off in most papers and on the web. Demonstrations, on the other hand, aren’t put on by the “mental illness” industry in a bid to raise funding or to spread fund-raising propaganda/”educate”. Every time “they” get into the media, “we” can treat it like an opportunity, or “we” can let “their” noise down out any recollection or cognizance of “us”. I’m basically for treating an opportunity like an opportunity.

          • Frank, I really don’t know what you’re reacting to but it has little to do with anything I just posted, which was offered as helpful advice based on fairly considerable experience for people who are involved with media work. I’m not emotionally attached to it or compelled to argue about it; if anyone finds it helpful, fine.

          • Is this like having a discussion rather than taking action…again? I’ve heard complaints about how people are not getting into the media when they protest. I’ve also heard it said that the media doesn’t pay attention the way it did years ago. In this struggle we can, and do, make our own media. I’m all for doing so. Of course, it also helps to have some connections with the news. I think we should be able to reach the media in some cases. I don’t really think we’re looking for that exceptional reporter, as you put it, any more than the ordinary reporter, except in so far as that reporter is challenged to present all sides. This is not really about reporters pursuing us, this is about us pursuing them. Organizations and “mental health services” make an effort to court the news. I see that as invitation, albeit, an invitation to stir up the controversy they would wish to avoid. I’d like to see that controversy stirred up, and I’d prefer not to be pessimistic about our chances of doing so. One thing is for certain, your chances of winning a race are not substantially improved by shooting yourself in the foot at the starting line. I don’t think you get things done by talking yourself out of them regardless of whether you call that talk realism or cynicism.

      • I went on a NAMI walk to see how it went and it was surprisingly small. At seems even in my area funding is difficult. At times there have been many professionals who have not seen eye to eye with them but it is a great area of silence. The Kormen Breast Cancer walk on the other hand was literally massive. I really feel torn because folks are concerned with their own or other’s issues and they are just following what has been told to them. But then again when a new idea or perspective comes out fear creeps in or gets the door not just shut but locked.
        NAMI’s walk had poor publicity where a lot of the cancer fund raisers get good pr from all the social media outlets. As a person with family members with a lot of dreaded diseases and conditions sometimes I get sick because of the inequality of it all. How can one’s person suffering be better or more moral than another’s?
        I have found local social media to be unwilling or unable to ask or look into hard questions. Puzzling because in the 1980’s the local media was right in the trenches of investigating sex abuse and exploring the newest treatment. One now realizes it was as if it never happened. That was just when the sea wave of change to medication was coming.
        MAd Mom I am with you on the Civil Rights approach and long term planning. I keep on trying to learn from the folks around me but time and fear is a factor.
        Having a like minded group working toward the same goals would be so enabling. The anger comes and goes. I don’t want it to lead. But I understand the folks who use it as fuel and that’s okay. I feel more comfortable in a more analytic grass roots approach. And I am not uncomfortable with joining those that may not be completely understanding. So call me wishy washy but it’s me cannot not make bridges. I do it n my sleep!
        Then for me is the fear. I never ever want to have to deal with the inside of any hospital. If I could feel safe and organize I would be doing it all the time!