Why Did 158+ People Attend an Antipsychiatry Book Launch? (A Reflection)

Bonnie Burstow, PhD
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Two weeks ago, on Friday September 18 2015, people assembled at Ontario Institute for Education of the University of Toronto for the last of the three international book launches for Psychiatry and the Business of Madness, preceded that same day by a press conference. While others also spoke, major scheduled speakers included the author (me), Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP) Cheri DiNovo, and leading Canadian mental health lawyer Anita Szigeti. There were many wonderful highlights of the evening. Ones that immediately come to mind are: the articulation of the findings of the research, all leading to the inescapable conclusion that psychiatry has no foundation and should be phased out (and while admittedly, it would be difficult under the circumstances, not a soul raised an objection). Member of Parliament Cheri DiNovo’s thrilling statement that while it was virtually impossible to move on “reining in psychiatry” before, “now we have the facts — and now there is no excuse.” Leading mental health lawyer Anita Szigeti declaring Psychiatry and the Business of Madness a must-read for  lawyers and professionals everywhere. ECT survivor Connie Neil bearing witness to the atrocity to which she was subjected. All good. All riveting.

That said, there are several astounding facts about the Toronto book launch that are not captured in this description. Half an hour into the launch, according to the official count, there were 158 people in attendance. I kid you not! 158! And an hour later, there were at least 15 additional people. This is an amazing turnout for the launch of any book, never mind something as far from the mainstream as antipsychiatry. And what adds to the triumph, well before the launch began, there was standing room only, with the Nexus Lounge at OISE (room where the launch was held) virtually packed to the rafters. “Bonnie, never in its history has any event in the Nexus Lounge drawn so many,” observed one excited OISE staff member in amazement. Moreover, people remained the full two hours, including the people who were standing. Which leads me to ask these questions:

How is it that such a huge crowd showed up? And how is it that so many people, who after all were only able to stand, remained without budging a full two hours?

Something of an enigma, though there are a number of possible answers. To touch on a few of these:

Answer One: All of the speakers were well known. Absolutely true. And without question, the reputation of the speakers was a factor. That said, reputation is clearly not the whole of it for we have had a number of  these speakers together on a stage before, with nothing like such a stellar result.

Answer Two:  The organizers did a great job publicizing. Again, true—and much thanks to everyone for the hard work. However, despite doing what was ostensibly a first rate job of publicizing before—at one point several years ago, note, we even had a professional publicist helping us—never have we drawn an audience of this proportion.

Answer Three: The book was known to be controversial: This is the least compelling of the answers for everything critical of psychiatry is controversial. And again, historically, such events have not tended to deliver anything close to this turnout.

Which brings me to a final answer—one that I am suggesting has considerable explanatory value: There is a hunger out there for a foundational critique of psychiatry—something that pulls no punches, minces no words. That is, there is a hunger for a reasoned antipsychiatry position. Something that explains how we ended up here, provides solid evidence that psychiatry should be abandoned, and begins theorizing what we might do instead. Moreover—and here we connect up with the first answer—people were acutely aware that this is exactly what this book and this launch were all about.

Elsewhere I have written that the tide is turning against psychiatry (see https://www.madinamerica.com/2015/09/yes-the-tide-is-turning-against-psychiatry/). May I suggest that the turnout on September 18th is yet another indicator that this is so.

What is, as it were, an accompanying indicator, besides that the audience were hanging on the various presenters’ every word, who was present was not just “the usual suspects.” In attendance was a clear cross section of society, from youth to the elderly, from survivors to professionals, from the mainstream to the counter culture, from the poor to the ostensibly well off. Again, all of which would have been unthinkable but a few years ago.

There is a change in the air. People have come to strongly suspect that the emperor “has no clothes.” A minority for sure, but a healthy minority are ready to start entertaining modes of living together and of approaching human distress in profoundly different ways. And indeed, the people in attendance could sense that change, additionally could sense that everyone around them could sense it too. Hence the high spirits.

The point here is, while social change agents often declare events historical moments which prove not to be, and oftentimes we are simply hoping that our words will be self-fulfilling, there was a palpable feeling in the room that we had genuinely arrived at one such moment. Only time will tell whether rightly or wrongly.

Was there any downside to the day? There was, and fellow old-timers in the movement may well be able to guess what–-the conspicuous absence of the media.

How many “regular” members of “The Fifth Estate” turned up? Despite a major effort on the part of the organizers, including reaching out to over 300 media people, in a word, none. But in this very conundrum or rather in our response to it lay part of the beauty and the brilliance of that day. We responded in the only way that made sense—proactively. Having been “around the block” enough times that we had more than an inkling that this would happen, we met four days prior to the event to strategize. We proceeded to create our own press—“The Peoples’ Press”—and that press turned up in full force at both events, asked insightful questions, and covered and indeed covered brilliantly several of the more stirring highlights of the day—of the press conference in particular (for highlights of the press conference, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjtJvjDG4uM).

So the bad news is, the mainstream media is still ignoring this book (Burstow, 2015). They are likewise ignoring Whitaker’s and Cosgrove’s (2015) book and indeed, all the leading antipsychiatry and critical psychiatry publications that have come out this year (for a discussion of why and for a number of suggestions about what to do about it, see https://www.madinamerica.com/2015/04/getting-anticritical-psychiatry-authors-read-case-book-activism/). The good news is the organizers did not rely on the traditional media (a default mode which ill serves us). We were proactive. And thanks to a combined effort, both the book and the event are literally “all over” the social media—and note, as long as this is the case, sooner or later the mainstream press will be forced to take note.

The power of the social media—herein lay the new reality. Albeit hardly everything—and we ignore its limitations to our detriment—it substantially alters the “playing field.” Moreover and more to the point, it works to the advantage of those of us involved in counterhegemonic struggle.

To end this article with one final highlight of that memorable day, that evening Member of Parliament Cheri DiNovo spoke confidently of our winning this fight—a note that we had not heard struck by a legislator heretofore. Correspondingly, she reminded us of the famous Gandhi quote: “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. And then you win.” (see http://philosiblog.com/2011/05/25/first-they-ignore-you/).

I would add, while we are still in the “ignoring” stage, there are distinct signs of fighting here and there (e.g., the special issue of Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica; see http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acps.2014.131.issue-1/issuetoc).

Moreover, 158 people plus from all walks of life turning up at a launch of this ilk is hardly being ignored!

 

(For this and related articles, see http://bizomadness.blogspot.ca/)

References

Burstow, B. (2015). Psychiatry and the business of madness. New York; Palgrave.

Whitaker, R. and Cosgrove, L. (2015). Psychiatry under the influence. New York: Palgrave.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. I hope I’m not too late to get your attention with a question regarding some of the contents of your writings. I am definitely now in the antipsychiatry camp, and I have read some of what you wrote about Canada’s violation of UN agreements about the forced treatment and incarceration of the mentally troubled. You seemed to suggest that the UN was very clear that such detainment of the “disabled” (I don’t consider myself disabled, but I guess we just have to deal with whatever language the agreements adopt) is illegal or unacceptable for the signatories of the agreement (I’m not sure what the exact language is) to engage in. What I did NOT find in your writing is what the alternatives are — i.e., rather than locking people up when they are, say, perceived to be unstable, what is done in other countries that are not in violation of the agreement? And how well does that work out for them? Even if you could simply point me in the direction of articles or books that might address that question, I would greatly appreciate it. I’m against the coercion, but I’m just wondering what is done in its stead by countries that do comply with UN standards of human rights.

  2. First of all congratulations!

    I trust your general analysis of the event, obviously I wasn’t there. Once again, I want to warn everyone that the corporate “mainstream” media ain’t all that. Movements are not started in the mainstream media; let me repeat that I never heard an antipsychiatry statement in the media or heard of any movement till I read The Radical Therapist in the ’70’s. When we begin to create a big enough change in consciousness, to the point of presenting a serious threat to the stability of the psychiatric system, everyone will get their names in the paper. 🙂 Meanwhile people need to stop evaluating the success of their demonstrations and events based on what the media says or doesn’t say, it’s demeaning to your efforts and the true importance and significance of the work being done.

    I’ve seen demonstrations of 100,000+ totally ignored. And some of the iconic media moments of the late 60’s were spontaneous actions by small groups of people which captured the mood of the times. Often there were no press releases or any forewarning at all. I’m not pushing for one tactic or the other, just sayin’ — we should define ourselves and not try to fit anyone else’s images of “respectability.”

  3. Bonnie,

    Congratulations on your success, and thank you for speaking the truth regarding the psychiatric system. After reading your book, my gut instinct that we’re fighting today’s paternalistic witch hunters, who learned to hide their evil deeds rather than showcase them, was somewhat confirmed.

    But we’re also fighting a psychiatric industry that is more informed and insidious, and / or more deluded by the pharmacutical industry. But one which has been given undue credibility and power by our governmental leaders and those who control them. Today’s psychiatric industry is seemingly controlled by the exact same banking families who financed and profited from WWII (since those families appear to be related to the recent leaders of the US government and those banking families that are in control of the Federal Reserve banking system). And for the exact same reason, to divide, with the goal of conquering all nations, and bringing about a NWO, which is the self professed goal of I think all US presidents since the first George Bush. Dividing a nation is, after all, what a book of scientifically invalid stigmatizations would aid in doing. Right? And this same tactic was used in Nazi Germany, by these same war mongering globalist banking families during that war.

    And the mainstream media is now also controlled by these same “evil banks and the corporation that grow up around them,” of which Thomas Jefferson forewarned the U.S. centuries ago. So you can’t expect those “evil,” consolidated, thus not longer free, mainstream media corporations to confess to the reality psychiatry is inately a system utilized to divide and conquer nations.

    Even if you’re not a Bible believer, it’s important to do research into Biblical prophecy and the history of banking / money control / the U.S. Federal Reserve system to understand what’s actually going on in our society today, worldwide. Because the Bible, and money creation, have both historically been relevant to the world, and it’s history.

    I see you as a wonderful activist working to right egregious wrongs, so I hope to encourage you to do further research into the truly larger picture, which includes the question, who’s actually profiting off all the injustices in the world, including the never ending “wars on terrorism.”

    I’m merely an intelligent, ethical American former bank president’s daughter, who knows this world’s been high jacked by the very same “evil banks and corporations” about which the founding fathers of my county (and apparently many of them were not as ethical as we were fraudulently taught in our history classes either) forewarned us. But at least they warned us of this day, as did the real Bible.

    Keep researching, and keep fighting for world wide justice, but research who the actual evil behind the evil of psychiatry is, too. It’s the same European banking families and rulers who caused and profited from WWI and WWII. And many online now see all that has happened since 9.11.2001 as a prelude to WWIII, as I feared in my gut on the morning of 9.12.2001. Truly it appears these Federal Reserve banking families are playing out biblical prophecy. As a fellow lover of all of humanity, please research deeper. And don’t ignore money creation or Biblical prophecy, irregardless of your personal belief system, since historically these are both relevant to history.

    • And as a Holy Spirit inspired, former US ethical bank president’s daughter, I’ll mention the wisdom that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. So, a US banking industry that trashed and ignored what’s written on the US money, “In God We Trust” decades ago, and has subsequently destroyed the value of the US currency, is not whom should be in control of a world economic system. But those are the banker’s in charge of the World Bank today.

  4. Bonnie – here in the states, the “mainstream media” is ignoring Bernie Sanders, hoping he will go away. So don’t feel bac.But with thousands upon thousands turning up for his events and donating in small amounts, he is NOT going away.
    The issues under discussion here are still under the radar for the general public. And, as I said on another blog, one way to draw attention is various forms of street theater – events that are dramatic that will draw selfies, television, and the like.
    Next time, wear a costume, bring your friends who are in a popular band, and use this sort of creativity (while informing every media outlet you know) and you may get more bang for your buck.

  5. That is great news, Bonnie! It added some inspiration to what has been a somewhat discouraging day so far. I also sense a shift in the social fabric – I do mental health trainings for our volunteer foster youth advocates, and I used to get a lot of flak for critiquing the dominant paradigm just 4-5 years back. These days, most of the class is already halfway there before I even start. “Anatomy” was a catalyst that came at just the right time. Both your book and Bob’s new one are on my short list of things I must read ASAP!’

    —- Steve