Lost & Found: Drowning The Mermaid, and Our Collective Power

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This marks my third blog about ‘The Mermaid,’ a film by Italome Ohikhuare that is masquerading as some sort of (warped) ‘love story’ between a sister (Sirah) and her troubled brother (Deji). But this post isn’t really about ‘The Mermaid.’ (See the bottom of this post for a summary of the film and its many problems.) It’s about us. Me and you. It’s about us together. It’s about our power(lessness) as a community and a movement(?). It’s about my anger, and the anger I hope you hold, too.

We spend a lot of time in this community complaining about our lack of voice and power. We blame the news outlets and their coverage; so blind that it ignores our stories, and research that’s been readily accessible for years. We blame people like Representative Tim Murphy and his fear-fueled political agenda. We blame ‘Big Pharma.’ We blame ‘the system.’ We blame anybody but ourselves.

And that’s all very real. It’s so real that most of us around these parts have had a taste of it up-close-and-personal, and not all of us have survived to tell our stories. (And still more of us will die all too soon after we do.) But what of the power we are so quick to take from ourselves?

In December of 2015, I had an exchange with Harry Lynch, Managing Director of the Mental Health Channel (MHC). I shared with him (and a few other MHC Executives) several concerns about their channel that claims to be ‘changing minds’ about ‘mental health.’ (See my post here for more on the channel itself.) One of my central complaints was about ‘The Mermaid’; a racist, sexist, ableist short that plays on every worst stereotype one could imagine into a young black man diagnosed with Schizophrenia.

MHC OFF 2015 – Jury Award Winner: The Mermaid from mental health channel on Vimeo.

At the end of the call, Harry said that he wouldn’t consider taking it down just because of my complaints, but would contemplate taking action if he heard from more people than just myself. I ran with that, and wrote a blog on the ‘Campaign for Real Change in Mental Health Policy’ website. Several people wrote in. Many of them carbon copied me on the e-mails they sent, or posted in solidarity on Facebook once their letters had been successfully submitted.

I waited a month, and when I (shockingly) saw no action had been taken, I e-mailed Harry for an update. On Friday, February 12th, Harry replied as follows:

“We did receive a few emails about The Mermaid but not enough to consider taking it down.”

Now, clearly, Harry and I are operating on substantially different definitions of the term ‘a few.’ (I e-mailed him back to ask how many would be ‘enough’ to merit consideration, but have received no response as of yet.) A couple of conversations ago, I also told him that ‘how many’ shouldn’t really matter, if he’s true to his word of wanting to improve the overall state of things, and those primarily speaking up have been on the ‘oppressed’ end of oppressive systems, because it’s the responsibility of anyone who wants to be an ally for change to pay special attention to the voice of those they’re seeking to represent. (He loosely seemed to agree.) However, the truth is that he’s right about one thing when it comes to how many notes were sent his way: I feel confident that he didn’t receive nearly enough.

What do I mean? I feel confident that Harry received dozens of e-mails. But consider this: ‘Body Politics’ is the least read blog I’ve ever written for Mad in America and it currently has 714 reads. (Maybe it will earn a few more with this post?) But, if even half of the people who read my least read post were to write an e-mail to the Mental Health Channel, that would have been well over 300. Surely enough to make some sort of impression, I’d think.

My most-read post, ‘Born to Sense’, has over 9000 reads. Imagine if half of them were to send a quick note? (Maybe Harry would at least say he’d received a ‘handful’ rather than just a few?)

The truth is, my blogs rarely garner less than 1000 hits. My last blog (Suicidal Tendencies), made 1000 reads in less than six hours. What if even a fraction of them were willing to take some action?

But most of us don’t. Hey, I’m guilty of the same. We’re tired. We’ve got too much else to focus on, and some of it feels (and is) so much more immediately important than some ridiculous short film on yet another misguided website. Perhaps most of all, many of us are feeling at least a little bit hopeless and reluctant to bother, because, well, what’s the point? Who wants to try when they’re sure they’ll just be ignored again? At some point, even the smallest rebuke or dismissal begins to feel huge.

Yet, I have to wonder how much we could change if we truly did stand together on something. Personally, I wonder not only about what we could change, but what we’ve already missed out on affecting because we’ve assumed ourselves into even more powerlessness than we ever truly needed to own. Apathy may just be our own worst enemy.

I have no proof or way of guaranteeing what we could accomplish if we all stood together in some more cohesive manner. But I I can tell you this: Locally I see projects by the same names and under the same funding sources regularly claim that they ‘can’t do’ certain things because they are powerless under the thumb of those that drive them. Yet, the only difference between them and the groups that are doing precisely those supposedly forbidden activities is often that they simply didn’t stop to ask permission, and never dreamt that what they were doing was anything but exactly the right thing. I certainly know that the community of which I am a part (the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community) wouldn’t be half of what it is today, if we did not operate in exactly that way.

‘The Mermaid’ is just some little film made by a misguided woman that at least claims to have meant well. It’s hardly the most important battle we have before us. Yet, every bit of propaganda that re-enforces damaging stereotypes and myths about psychiatric diagnosis, or serves to push any brand of force should be addressed as fiercely as the next if we are to have any hope for real change.

And perhaps most importantly, this seems an important testing ground: If we can’t stand together long enough or loudly enough to send a clear message to the Mental Health Channel to take down a film that so blatantly pushes racism, sexism and psychiatric oppression then maybe we don’t deserve to be heard(And, by the way, what sort of momentum might we gain if we were successful?)

At least one person has already asked me why I’d ever expect the Mental Health Channel to listen to us, and the truth is that I’m not sure that I do. But what makes me most angry and hopeless is not that at all…  If I’m honest what makes me most angry (furious really) Is that I at least want to be a part of a community and a world that will loudly and clearly help me try.

Will you? (I ask this not just of those of you who identify as having personal experience with psychiatric diagnosis and the ‘mental health’ system, but also those of you who are professors, psychiatrists, therapists, and more. Share this with your students, your colleagues, and your friends. Demonstrate your allyship not just through the intellectual act of writing the facts and naming the research, but in taking action alongside us.)

* * * * *

Please sign the petition to take down ‘The Mermaid’ here, and don’t forget to share this blog and the petition on all of your social media accounts!

You can also e-mail Harry directly at [email protected].

#DrowntheMermaid

More about the ‘The Mermaid’ (originally posted on the ‘Campaign for Real Change in Mental Health Policy’ site here):

‘The Mermaid’ is a about a young woman and her relationship with her brother who is diagnosed with schizophrenia. It is reportedly based on Italome’s real-life experiences with her real-life brother, for whom she claims this piece is a ‘gift’.

The film is an unfortunate 13-minute advertisement for Involuntary Outpatient Commitment (aka Assisted Outpatient Treatment, AOT, or Murphy’s favorite pet), that attempts to paint itself as a “moving love story about a young woman torn between her blossoming relationship with her boyfriend and her chaotic but endearing relationship with her brother.”

‘Love’ is the furthest thing from my mind as I watch the main character (Sirah) interacting with her boyfriend (Jay) who’s attempting to manipulate her into bed, or her violent and erratic brother (Deji) who she screams repeatedly “just needs his pills.” In fact, this film is troubling at many levels both from a standpoint of racism and psychiatric oppression. Here’s a brief list of the whys:

  • The film re-enforces dangerous racial stereotypes: Deji is a young black man *wearing a hoodie* and is repeatedly painted as violent and frightening, particularly toward Jay (who is a white man). There is little that could make this film any less racially sensitive given today’s climate.
  • Except this: Jay (the white, professionally dressed lawyer boyfriend who is physically attacked by Deji) rescues him from drowning at the end of the film.
  • The film promotes significant misunderstandings about how psychiatric drugs work in both the short and long-term: Sirah screams (more than once) that Deji will be alright if he just gets his pills. However, unless we’re speaking of tranquilizer darts (or other heavy sedatives) and unless we’re defining ‘alright’ as ‘incapacitated by sleep,’ there is no pill that would have such immediate effect. Furthermore, Sirah’s screechy insistence re-enforces the erroneous belief that psychotropics are the key, ignoring all the research that now suggests that they often lead to little improvement and not infrequently can make things worse.
  • The film promotes the idea that people with psychiatric diagnoses like schizophrenia are scary and dangerous: Although there’s little real-word research to suggest that people with psychiatric diagnoses are at greater risk of violence than the average person, Deji has his hands around Jay’s throat three times within the first five minutes of The Mermaid. This is followed immediately by Jay yelling that he needs to be “Baker Acted” and suggesting that he’s going to “kill someone.”
  • The film promotes hopelessness and perpetuates the idea that people with diagnoses like schizophrenia will forever be tormented and dangerous: Hopeless statistics and propaganda about the schizophrenia diagnosis are tacked on to the end of the film, and the promotional website spouts this little gem at the conclusion of its ‘about’ section: “But the most unexpected moment comes at the end of the film, when they’re all confronted with…the tragic reality that this story, just like schizophrenia, can’t have a happy ending.” (See the film’s full website here: http://www.themermaidfilm.com )
  • The film perpetuates the idea that there’s psychiatric drugs and hospitalization or there’s nothing, and that force is an inevitability: Apparently, Sirah’s been trying to support Deji in almost complete isolation, and the film (however unintentionally) paints that and the forced hospitalization he experiences by the end not as two extremes on a fairly broad spectrum, but as point A to point B on a two-point scale. In fact, her boyfriend reassures her that she “did the right thing,” and had “no other choice.” The truth is, though, that there are many choices in how to support people who are going through extreme states, and great harm done through the use of force. Meanwhile, the use of force, while often an act of desperation by otherwise decent people, represents a failure of the system, and not an inevitability of some hopeless ‘brain disease.’ This film does a real disservice by failing to represent any of that.
  • As an added bonus, it paints women as shrill and helpless sex objects: Jay seems to be angling to get Sirah into bed at the start of the film. By its conclusion, as Sirah is once again helplessly screaming, Jay must come to her rescue not once (when her brother is drowning), but twice (when she’s crying inconsolably and invites him to spend the night as he’d clearly wanted to do right from the start). Sure, she also has a moment (after Deji is rescued from the ocean by Jay) where she slaps and pins her brother to the ground, but that moment is so unbelievable it’s just plain bizarre.

Special thanks to Leah Harris for the #DrowntheMermaid tag!

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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.

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55 COMMENTS

  1. I signed the petition.

    Maybe we need some action committees?

    Some time ago someone wrote a blog about online activism on this site. It changed my life. I now regularly give Rethink (UK mental health charity) a hard time on thier facebook page. Sometimes people argue back but often people like what I post and add thier comments too. Maybe a few committees looking at little actions and campaigns like this would build some practical solidarity and increase the strength of the movement?

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    • Thanks, John. I wish I knew the right next move. I see so many FB groups, etc. that just seem to be cycling the same information (e.g., I get 10 notifications that the same person has posted the same thing in 10 different groups that I was somehow added to by whoever set it up)… So, I feel a little stuck on what won’t just create another point of inactivity… But there must be something?

      -Sera

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      • They are also cycling through the same information, and until they no longer have any authority it will keep this happening. However, if they don’t have the authority, they will need a new tactic other than installing fear, and then they won’t have anything. Other than that the best is to get the majority to see what’s happening, especially people passing laws. They are only driven by fear as well right now.

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  2. Hi Sera,

    Thank you for your thoughtful analysis. I thought this film was well made. Yes, it works with extremes, but often art does. I’m confused about your saying it’s an advertisement for Involuntary Outpatient Treatment? Is that its true intention? I don’t really believe in censoring thoughtful art, but maybe I don’t have the whole story. Yes, the film irks me in some ways, but I like some of the messaging, and it was clearly thoughtfully made and feels more forward-thinking than many films I’ve seen on the diagnosis of schizophrenia. Also the words “drownthemermaid” feels very strong to me. Especially when in the film, the young black man calls himself a mermaid who can swim.

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    • Naas,

      I feel genuinely confused by your response. I’m not interested in seeing the film burned or re-edited which is what I think of when I hear the word ‘censored’. But it seems completely wrong to me that a film that portrays every worst stereotype of women, people of color, and people with a psychiatric diagnosis (and conveys the worst possible messages about the diagnosis both at the end of the film and on the website)… is given an award… by a white male jury of two… and posted and distributed by a website that claims to to be ‘changing the conversation’ on mental health. And that they continue to do so when many people (who are of color, female, and/or have experienced psychiatric diagnosis) have expressed that they find it oppressive.

      The ‘#DrowntheMermaid’ tag is directed only at the film. Not any of the people in it.

      I guess I’m not sure what else to say in response… You’re certainly entitled to your opinion.

      -Sera

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  3. Sera,

    Of course everyone deserves to be heard, regardless of whether or not they have the strength at a given time to stand up and denounce those who oppress them.

    In this case, I am not going to sign this petition. I already have done my part, having a website reframing Borderline Personality Disorder and speaking to many people who find it about how to reframe their suffering as an individual human experience that can be healed, not as a lifelong mental illness. And I feel that protesting and criticizing what others are doing is limited and will do little to stem the biological reductionist tidal wave.

    I think much better is to speak about one’s own experience and what is working to make one’s own life better; to be a positive inspiring example rather than to whine about how other people we don’t even know are labeling others we don’t know. With the internet being a nearly free resource; almost anyone can find hopeful non-reductionistic messages about emotional suffering and almost anyone who improves can publish online about what is working for them .

    But to follow in your lead, perhaps if people do not find these hopeful messages and do not improve, they don’t deserve to get better… just as animals that fail to find the necessary resources in nature perish in the brutal Darwinian struggle for survival.

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    • BPD,

      By statements in this blog, I’m certainly not suggesting that people who are too beaten down to speak up (or who simply aren’t being given the space) don’t deserve to be heard. My point is more geared toward those who just read but see it as ‘not their problem’ or who don’t see the point in taking any action and so do nothing instead…

      In any case, thank you for your contributions.

      -Sera

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      • I should add that I do find both important… Both adding positive messages, and demanding the negative ones be taken down (or at least become less elevated)… It’s hard to legitimately get the positive messages heard when the negative ones have so much more power and access to the public. That needs to change.

        -Sera

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  4. While this film doesn’t necessarily match my personal framework or experience, I find that, at the heart of it, it is about compassion, understanding, and love. We are all a work in progress. I don’t see how stifling the voice and art of others is conducive to progress in humanity by calling for deepener empathy for others and celebrating diversity of thought and beliefs. Quite the opposite, in fact.

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    • Alex,

      I honestly am at a loss for what else to say to you and others who are speaking up in defense of this film… I hope you and others will understand that it is not just the existence of this film, but the elevation of it that is a part of the problem.

      The messages come from a perspective that is riddled with racism, sexism, and psychiatric oppression. Excusing those things with good intentions (even in the form of compassion, understanding, and love) seems to me to be what has gotten this system in so much trouble in the first place.

      What if the film ended with a lobotomy? Or a forced marriage? Or something else that was easier for people to ‘see’? Would those other things still seem like they mattered as much?

      -Sera

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      • While I don’t believe in incurable illness at all, I do believe strongly that every voice and every personal story matters here, regardless of whether or not I agree with them. In fact, it’s really not up to me to agree or disagree–that’s more than likely irrelevant to others, since it is not my life that I am commenting upon–but it is up to me whether I choose to respect all voices or not, and I choose to do just that, regardless of the story they tell. It’s their story and I feel humble to that.

        The range of myriad realities and perspectives regarding mental illness and what that means and does not mean (and for some, whether or not this actually exists), and how to address it, is on such a wide spectrum and is so personal, that I have a hard time invalidating someone else’s reality, even though it may not be concurrent with mine. I think of the heart and courage that went into telling this story.

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        • While I can appreciate what you’re getting at, it feels misplaced here. This is not a story that is being told by someone who’s been through the experience themselves. It’s being told by his sister.

          And it’s not being told simply as a personal story, but within the frame of truth for everyone (as is the habit of those who so strongly support the medical model). Not only are there ‘facts’ about ‘schizophrenia’ in broad frame at the end of the film, but Italome makes statements like, “Just like with schizophrenia, this story can’t have a happy ending”… on her website.

          Moreover, I wonder if it totally makes sense to excuse racism, sexism and dangerous stereotyping because it happens around the centerpiece of someone’s story? At what point *do* we get to call someone on those points? Does even Tim Murphy just get to say, ‘Hey, this is my experience’ and be excused and being reproach for that while he attempts to force his oppressive laws on us? Where’s the line?

          And, once again, ultimately this isn’t about telling Italome she can’t make the film… It’s about telling the Mental Health Channel that they’re doing damage by promoting it. Isn’t there a difference there?

          -S

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          • Well, like I said, I don’t share this perspective in the film, but it seems to me that the sister is trying to work something out for herself in a confusing and distressing situation, where really there is not consistent information, and in fact, the literature is rather messy on all this.

            I get it that your objection is not the making of it, but more so the promoting of it on this channel, but when you say, “It’s about telling the Mental Health Channel that they’re doing damage by promoting it,” I’m just not sure about that. It’s a powerful accusation. If it turns out that this is true, however, then more power to you.

            While promoting ‘incurable illness’ does create hopelessness, for some, that has been the reality. I certainly challenge this exact notion in my film and also in my healing practice, but some people insist on this as their belief. That would dictate their reality, not that of others. So I don’t know. Humanity is humanity, in all its diversity. Hard to say what actually does and does not do damage, but I’m not a big fan of sabotage.

            Still, I’m in empathy with the artist, being one myself. I know I’d hate to know that someone sabotaged my voice–or platform for it–because they disagreed with what I was saying. That would be rather confounding to me.

            I can see both perspectives, here.

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          • Alex, I am sorry I was absent from this conversation yesterday… But honestly, I’m still not sure what else to say today.

            I simply do not – and will not ever – feel compelled to stay silent about force, racism, sexism, and/or psychiatric oppression in the name of ‘art’. I just can’t.

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          • I would respect that as your personal choice, Sera. Although from where I come, that is censorship. People do have prejudices, we all do, and we’re all entitled to them, and to express them artistically.

            What this woman has explores through her art is perhaps one way to address them, work through them, even maybe as a community, I don’t know. Besides, many of these are opinions and perspective–what is racist to one is not necessarily racist to another, there is a lot of gray area here in many cases.

            We’re bombarded with all sorts of perspectives and opinions, I feel people sort through them in their own way to come up with what works for them. And if not, then they should focus elsewhere.

            In any event, to me this is about an individual’s voice, and sabotaging their platform boils down to censoring their voice, from my perspective. Society is in a learning process around these issues, all voices matter, to my mind.

            I’m fine agreeing to disagree. Thanks for the hardy dialogue.

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  5. Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl) was great art but no one (or few viewers anyway) would feel compelled to become a Nazi after viewing it. This is one enormously sad video. There has to be a back story to many of the lukewarm or contrary responses you’ve been getting to this blog. For some reason it seems that many people have a profound investment in being diseased. Although the stigma can be annoying at times, the fact that our disease brings our friends, brothers and sisters rushing to our aid when we ‘decompensate,’ hell, the fact that we decompensate at all, our political and social identities as ‘mentally ill’ and our ability to insist that society give way for us; all these give us substance that we might feel lost without. This misunderstanding of our varying mentalities and insisting that those mentalities are pathological is what we must all be fighting. We cannot have it both ways!

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    • Thanks, howard, for taking the time to read and comment! I’m not sure the back story myself… But I do feel people may be confusing the issue of censorship with our right and responsibility to ask certain types of material to not be *actively promoted*.

      Thank you again 🙂

      -Sera

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  6. This is a sad story about a loving sister “gaslighting” her brother with a false diagnosis of a “mental illness.” She may love her brother but she lacks any appreciation for the distressful experiences that cause his painful emotional suffering.

    Best wishes, Steve

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    • Thanks, Steve. I don’t doubt the character (or filmmaker’s) love for her brother, either… but the lack of understanding or appreciation for the underlying issues and harm she might be causing by portraying the subject matter in this way can’t be justified by love! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment 🙂

      -Sera

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  7. Sera,
    I agree with you 100% The LGBT movement succeeded because they spoke with one voice. There were movies and books and articles that supported their point of view and they didn’t let any media get away with denigrating them without a powerful response. I’ll sign the petition. We need boycotts. But good luck getting your message across–I think there are a fair number of plants on this site (ooh, she’s paranoid! no, I went through the sixties and got educated about plants and other tricks) who will always shoot down any attempts at unity or action.

    Have you read Aurelio Campanillo? He’s the only writer out there tackling the m.h. establishment and pharma with hard-hitting prose in his novels.

    Keep up the good work. If you organize a boycott of some kind, I’ll help.

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    • “I think there are a fair number of plants on this site (ooh, she’s paranoid! no, I went through the sixties and got educated about plants and other tricks) who will always shoot down any attempts at unity or action.”

      Perhaps we are of diverse opinions? Saying that “either you’re with us or you’re a sabotaging plant” is a classic double-bind. Where is their room for genuine differences of opinion and perspective, diversity in thought, not to mention neutral discussion?

      With all due respect, you are accusing people of something pretty harsh–of being saboteurs–without dialogue or exploration, which is exactly what people complain about in the mental health system. To me, that’s the essence of stigma, in general, which is what creates negative myths about people, setting them up to be marginalized from the community. Precisely what we are looking to reverse, imo.

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      • She didn’t accuse you specifically, and she didn’t accuse “people” collectively. So what are you reacting to?

        Unless I’m being naïve I can only think of one or two people here who might qualify (none are part of this discussion). But to act as though the possibility (and, as we get more popular, the probability) doesn’t exist is to ignore the history of this system.

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        • Alex makes a good point. I also think this will take many angels. Although, these statements are pretty broad, so I’m not sure what you are referring to. Psychiatry, has many conflicting opinions, and are always at each others throats about something. If you question someone’s motives then the best anyone can do is continue to spread the truth, and encourage others to. Psychiatry puts a lot of emphasis on a unified group, and with all their power it even costs them. If there one known way to end psychiatrie’s oppression, then I’m sure many would be on board. Till, then I think everyone’s just doing their best. If someone’s on the fence about anything, it would be best not to make the same mistake as them, and throw them under the bus. Not saying you were, but a lot of people in this movement were gained from being ostracized simply by questioning psciatry.

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        • I’m responding to the double-binding mindset of “either you agree with us or you will be accused and marginalized.” That’s just a repeat of the system, how stigma, discrimination, and alienation happen, and I see it in here very often. I find it to be cult-like, and terribly oppressive. I’ve seen groups of people in here swoop down in unison upon dissenters, pretty cruelly, imo. That’s not productive to change, and in fact, keeps everything stuck.

          I like what you wrote, Kayla, you understand where I’m coming from. Thank you, much appreciated.

          (And I think you were right the first time, it will take lots of angels to remedy all of this).

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          • I don’t disagree, on that point either, but meant angles to refer to the many sides it will take. Although I thought about that after I posted. The message there was a more concrete. I don’t see one foolproof way, and don’t think turning on someone will help. It caught me off guard. It did seem cult like. I thought one thing we were fighting for was to have our own voice. Plant? This site has such a wide range of opinions. What would that look like?

            I appreciate what you have to say too Alex. I find your comments to be diplomatic, and well spoken.

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          • I’m responding to the double-binding mindset of “either you agree with us or you will be accused and marginalized.”

            There are some mentalities which should be “marginalized,” or at least not promoted. Trump is a good example.

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  8. Watched the film and signed the petition. It is pretty disgustingly offensive.

    I’m aware that this kind of thing is what the mental health movement, and any channel taking its name from that movement, is all about. Scaring people about crazy people.

    Imagine the chant: suppress the crazy, suppress the crazy, suppress the crazy….

    What we need is an antidote, a Mad Channel, for instance. Of course, mainstream television is not going to go for it but, hey, I think one could probably get a larger viewership than the Mental Health Channel on the internet via YouTube if one tried.

    As for these mental health goons, who needs ’em? I sure as heck don’t.

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  9. Although the writer genuinely loves her brother, portraying him as “mentally ill” to a national audience has given her fame at his expense. I hope that he finds the voice to tell the same story from his perspective including his feelings about anosognosia and coercive therapies.

    Best wishes, Steve

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    • I don’t doubt this, as I believe anosognosia, was largely influenced by similar circumstances. I have mixed feelings about the Leap Program by Xavier Amador, as it’s largely about coaxing people into treatment, however I think a lot of it’s sucres was based on his care for his brother Henry. I even find it to a good tool in any conflict resolution, which it has also been expanded to. However there is much of a one sided perspective on medicine. It’s too bad, because I know I’ve benefitted by using it in situations that seemed hopeless. Seeing as psychiatrists are often insulted by simple questions, and will even threaten anyone who asks them, it can provide a bit of a safety net. Coming from someone constantly threatened, and acused of interrogating them.

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  10. Ah, contradiction!

    I both agree and disagree with different parts of what you’re saying. As an act of solidarity (also as a reaction to Alex’s typically irritating New Age rhetoric) I’ll be happy to send the guy an email in support of your position. But let me also ponder some of your other statements, to wit:

    Yet, I have to wonder how much we could change if we truly did stand together on something…wonder not only about what we could change, but what we’ve already missed out on affecting because we’ve assumed ourselves into even more powerlessness than we ever truly needed to own. Apathy may just be our own worst enemy.

    Hmmm…it’s true of course that there is power in unity, and we need more of the latter. But as a class of people we are politically powerless at the moment to make the most pressing changes that are needed. But this is due to more than our negative assumptions about the possibility of effecting change, although there’s that too. Nor do I consider apathy to be the problem, though frustration is certainly a factor. More significant is our failure to put the needed energy into drafting an anti-psychiatry “manifesto” or statement of our collective positions, which would provide the concrete basis for then expressing that unity in concrete ways, and investing it in concrete projects.

    If we can’t stand together long enough or loudly enough to send a clear message to the Mental Health Channel to take down a film that so blatantly pushes racism, sexism and psychiatric
    oppression then maybe we don’t deserve to be heard.

    So, a few things. While I have no disagreement that the “Mental Health” Channel is permeated with oppressive ideologies disguised as compassion, so is every other aspect of the psychiatric system and of the entire corporate dictatorship under which we live. So we have to choose the most strategic battles to undertake at any given time. In my view this “mental health” channel is a mouthpiece for corporate psychiatry and not something that we can ever realistically expect to be of any positive value to our struggle, so to make it a major focus is probably not an especially efficient expenditure of our collective energy. That doesn’t mean it’s not important or that I would discourage anyone from pursuing this, especially in lieu of an organized anti-psychiatry network which could democratically decide what our priorities should be. But I think it’s a stretch as well to say that not joining this particular battle is cause for us “not deserving to be heard.” We always deserve to be heard, even if we don’t always make effective use of opportunities for such.

    That said, to construe a demand that this film be dropped from the MHC as an act of “censorship,” or as not being “sensitive” to the filmmaker is absurd. All “mental health” stereotypes are a form of hate speech and should be exposed as such. As always, thanks for your efforts to uncover the “seamy underbelly” of such pseudo-“compassionate” propaganda.

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    • Well, asking anyone to take down anything would be a challenge if not forced. Lots of people request stuff to be taken down all the time, but it’s not censorship. As far as mental health stereotypes being a hate speech, I don’t disagree, but many came from the mental health feild. If there was no stereotyps like the ones in this field, it would be hard to keep the field from crumbling. That’s also why it would be hard to make something like this stick. However, people poising something, and giving counter information is the best they can do. Nothing can get changed, if soething doesn’t happen right away.

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    • Hi Oldhead, I’m sorry you find me irritating. I’m a card-carrying psychiatric survivor and I was led to this website shortly after its inception because I was told there was a ‘movement’ about this, which I had not heard of before. I was relieved because I went through medical, social, and legal battles without knowing anyone else who had even come off psych drugs. I’d never heard of Robert Whitaker before this, others brought this work to my attention, when they learned my perspective and experience with coming off the drugs.

      I came off of nine drugs, many of which I’d taken for over 20 years while working full time, going to college, and then graduate school. It made me very ill as others describe on here, but I got my shit together eventually and healed from a lot of stuff, did a lot of extensive training which not only healed me, but certified me to help others, legally and legitimately.

      I’m also ordained as a non-denominational minister, which I take seriously in terms of a healing ministry.

      I also spoke publically all over San Francisco for a couple of years about what my illness was about, and how I healed. I also made a film while still on disability, with no resources of which to speak, which challenged the mental health field and which created positive changes in people’s lives. I bared my soul in that film, which has been my biggest act of courage so far in life. And I say this because people are not terribly kind, as we all know, but I felt it was important to do, and it began a healing dialogue in my family.

      I also went through a legal mediation which, in combination with sending my film through the system as I did, ended up taking down a corrupt agency.

      Currently, I’m making new film to be premiered locally in a couple of month, where I play with a band for an assisted living center, to bring healing through music, joy, and community.

      I know this is probably futile, given your negative opinion about me, and I don’t care one way or another about your perspective toward me, but still, just for kicks, feel free to check out my website and testimonials. They are 100% real and authentic, the two on top, just below the endorsement from one of my teachers, just came to me in the last two weeks. I’ve been in practice for over 10 years.

      http://www.embodycalm.com/Services-Testimonials.html

      I appreciate your honesty. I just don’t understand you. Maybe if you identified yourself for real, out of the closet, we could have a productive dialogue. Or perhaps that is not your cup of tea. Regardless, I appreciate that you have goals and intentions of your own. Although apparently, they do not match mine.

      At this point, I’m really not sure how this ‘survivor movement’ will ever survive.

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      • As we have never met I can’t have a “negative” personal opinion of you, only your words (sometimes) which I respond to for what they are, not who wrote them. You’re probably a nice guy one-on-one from what I can surmise; again irrelevant. I find it curious that you think identifying myself “out of the closet” would have any significance. The type of consciousness-raising/educational discussions we’re involved with here should not be based on the names attached but the content itself. When personalities get involved it’s almost always a diversion.

        Nor am I challenging your survivor “credentials,” etc. I’ll be happy to check out your website but again, what other people may say about you is less significant to me than what you say yourself.

        I appreciate that you have goals and intentions of your own. Although apparently, they do not match mine.

        My goal is to expose and defeat the psychiatric system, it’s not that complicated. You seem more interested in being some sort of healer or alternative “therapist,” which is fine but doesn’t seem to translate into the sort of activism which will be necessary to effect change on a political level rather than a personal one. Political struggle is largely based on confrontation, and while it’s true, as Che said, that a revolutionary is primarily motivated by feelings of great love, that love is manifested politically as a challenge to the material manifestations of oppression — in our case the disempowering ideology and practices of psychiatry — which will not be eliminated through flowery words, but through analysis and action.

        And for the record, there is currently no survivor “movement” that I can see, just the birth pangs of what will hopefully become one before it’s too late.

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        • Ok, thanks for sharing this. Being a healer just happened, it was the path that showed up in order for me to get out of that quagmire. I disagree with you that this is not the way to radical change. I believe it is exactly that. When we change ourselves, we change the world, and that is not just a platitude, it’s real. Internal change= external change. That’s physics.

          I have created tangible change, like I said, with my work, repeatedly. I had to learn these things, I did not grow up in a new agey type of culture or environment, my family was totally academic and political, as was I for a while. I realized wholeheartedly that it was this culture and dynamic that was draining me, it’s vampire-like, totally energy sucking, gaslighting, and double-binding. That was what I awakened to, to find my clarity and grounding.

          The world from which I came, which I believed in, was corrupt and wholly abusive, nature of the beast. So I had to learn new perspectives. That was not easy, but I focused and it did the trick, my life changed. I tell this story for others to consider, that perhaps shifting perspective is what will bring change in a more peaceful way than simply being focused on sabotage and destruction. If you don’t agree, you don’t agree, but why insult me repeatedly, which I do feel you do, whether you recognize this or not. It doesn’t hurt me, contrary to what one person has said on here, I’m definitely not thin-skinned, I’ve been in the public eye for over a decade now, including theater, which is extremely vulnerable making.

          I’m pointing out what I feel is an important and significant irony here, survivor to survivor.

          When we heal, we rid ourselves of the undesirable, it goes hand in hand, by definition. I call myself a peaceful activist, because I like to create change by creating, not destroying. Although most often, when we are creating what is good, it heals the bad, but the purpose is not to destroy, it just shows what a house of cards it all is. It’s like turning on the light, the dark goes away.

          It’s a matter of subtle perspective, but I do have experience in this, it’s what my life has been about.

          I condemn psychiatry as much as you and others do. I believe, however, we have differences in opinion about how this change is going to come about. Perhaps if we all work on our little piece of it–without making personal comments as you tend to do with me (I remember recently one where you started with “Alex you are so full of yourself” to which I did respond, and they were both moderated–gee I wonder why?)–then perhaps we can get somewhere.

          I just don’t know why you insist on talking to me this way. The point of my survivor story is to emphasize that I’ve been through enough abuse and personal insults to last me 10 lifetimes, and I’ve gone to great lengths to heal this, while calling it out, in their faces, I’ve done it over and over again.

          It’s just sometimes mind-boggling to me that I have to continue to deal with it in here. Shouldn’t survivors, at least, be treated with respect in here, of all places? Otherwise, what kind of change exactly do you expect to make? That is most definitely more of the same.

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          • When we change ourselves, we change the world, and that is not just a platitude, it’s real. Internal change= external change.

            The converse is also true. External change (e.g. capitalism to socialism) creates the preconditions for internal change. It’s more yin-yang. Like I said before, one doesn’t trump the other.

            Gotta go but I’ll get back to this later.

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          • Yes, I believe internal change does trump external change, this is where true and real change begins, no backsliding. Internal change is real and authentic because it is change at the core, from which we create a different reality, one more desirable. That’s the essence of transformation–individual change leading to social change.

            When you change the external before making internal change, you are only creating another illusion through which you will repeat the same dynamics that you were trying to get away from, so you repeat, repeat, repeat social trauma. You only think that external change will bring relief, but when it is not accompanied by internal change, it will not, and the same strife will ensue. That’s happened repeatedly in history, and people keep falling for it.

            A socialist system can be just as power abusive as a capitalist system, it’s just a different economic framework. Dictators rise from the oppressed masses all the time, only to become oppressors, themselves.

            Only the illusion of change happens, in this case, because in reality, the people face the same oppression, it is felt internally. This is where we feel unstable, unsafe, and in perpetual mental and emotional turmoil, never-ending–aka social trauma.

            When we heal internal oppression (how we oppress ourselves and create our own suffering with our own inner voices of fear and judgment) then, we have a different experience of life, which leads to different thoughts, actions, and relationship dynamics, which leads to a new reality/society, one that is a bit more amenable to joyous living and flourishing creativity, rather than perpetual suffering.

            That is core change, and it begins internally, so there will be no repetition of old oppressive dynamics (either internal or external), and instead, a person will experience an entirely new and improved reality, inside and out.

            If each person were to take care of their own shit and not expect others to fight their fight for them, that would be mass core change that would transform society in the most awesome way, I’m sure of it.

            But we each choose how we fight our battles in life, and we can measure the effectiveness of our choices by the outcome of how we experience our lives. Is it joyous or miserable? Only we can decide for ourselves, and that is based on our beliefs, also internal. And beliefs are malleable, they can shift as we experience more and more of life, shaping and refining our reality as we go along…

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    • Oldhead, Oh, of course it’s due to much more than our negative assumptions about our own power… But I see that play a role all the time.. And when I speak of apathy as a problem, I don’t mean it in the sense that I believe people don’t care. But I *do* believe that apathy comes with many layers, and there are certainly many people in our world who aren’t taking action of any kind because they feel it’s just pointless… not because they don’t care at the root of it all. I guess you could say that the cause of that is ‘frustration’ rather than ‘apathy’… but either way, the end result is undercutting our own power.

      As to my statement on ‘not deserving to be heard’, I know that a number of people are finding that challenging, and here’s the thing… I agree both with what you (and others) are saying on that point… AND I still agree with what I said, too.

      I certainly would *never* say that people who’ve been beaten down by the system, or who are just standing on their own, or who have been abused, or who haven’t yet found their voice, or who don’t have the dollars and reach and privilege to be able to organize, or who are still too drugged to even begin to think about all this, or who have to worry about where they’re going to eat or live, etc. don’t deserve to be heard. They do. Without a doubt.

      *AND* I think there’s a huge number of people who are just choosing to look away because it’s easier, or because they now have jobs that depend on system dollars or not ‘stirring the pot’ too much, or who don’t want to spend time thinking about why it’s important, etc. It’s to that group I am mostly speaking…

      We’ve lost a lot of our fight to industry and so on… It’s very, very frustrating.

      And yes, in the grand scheme of things, this film and the Mental Health Channel itself are just a drop in the bucket… Yet, it’s something tangible and concrete, unlike so many of the other much more important battles (changing the overall paradigm, getting people to stop medicalizing our every experience, etc.). And, I guess I think that trying to accomplish something truly tangible and concrete – that also happens to be super easy and requires very little energy to take part in – would be a HUGE step in the right direction.

      In any case, thank you for your reading and commenting, as always, Oldhead. 🙂

      -Sera

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  11. I signed the petition. Art is always a reflection of our culture, but it can also react back on the culture at large in either a forward moving or backward way.

    This film reinforces all the worst stereotypes regarding so-called “mental illness” and the forms of compassionate support necessary to help people overcome extreme forms of emotional stress. This film is in clear contradiction to the supposed intentions of this television channel. Raising the censorship card is absurd in this context. Would it be wrong to challenge a TV station purporting to fight racism that was promoting “The Birth of the Nation” as a progressive film?

    I also agree with Oldhead’s comments directed towards both Sera and Alex. Yes, sometimes we all need to give ourselves a big kick in the pants to get off our asses and take on the “Beast,” but we must always remember how this System continuously (in a million ways) beats down and smothers any and all efforts to rise up against it. Nobody ever deserves their oppression; even some of us more “seasoned” activists are subject to various forms of “learned helplessness” when it comes to consistently “fighting the power.”

    Alex states: “So I don’t know. Humanity is humanity, in all its diversity. Hard to say what actually does and does not do damage, but I’m not a big fan of sabotage.”

    While the first part of this statement comes across as complete agnosticism on the political content of the film in question, the second half leaves no confusion as to his critique of Sera’s efforts to challenge its presence on the mental health channel. Alex, the use of the words “sabotage” and “destruction” should be reserved for the descriptions of the leaders and proponents of Biological Psychiatry and their oppressive medical model. That kind of sniping within our own ranks is divisive and demoralizing.

    Alex stated: “When we change ourselves, we change the world, and that is not just a platitude, it’s real. Internal change= external change.”

    You have made similar comments before in other threads for which I never bothered to make a response. The emphasis is always on people doing internal work on themselves over more external political activism. Once again, Oldhead hits the nail on the head. I would only add this point.

    Between the two, “internal change = external change” and “change the world and we change ourselves,” I would definitely say very strongly that the latter is PRINCIPLE in that powerful dialectic of change.

    While we all have much individual work to do on ourselves, it will most certainly be the great future political upheavals (leading to major systemic change) and OUR ROLE in them, that will do the most to transform our consciousness and ways we interact with the world and all its people.

    Richard

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    • Richard,

      Thanks for signing. I do ultimately agree (as I noted above to oldhead) that everyone deserves to be heard, and that many people don’t speak up because of what’s been done to them, etc. etc. *AND* as also mentioned above, I also feel like I’ve seen so many people choose silence (or even blindness) because of where they work, and so on…

      Here’s the full scope of what I said to oldhead above:

      I certainly would *never* say that people who’ve been beaten down by the system, or who are just standing on their own, or who have been abused, or who haven’t yet found their voice, or who don’t have the dollars and reach and privilege to be able to organize, or who are still too drugged to even begin to think about all this, or who have to worry about where they’re going to eat or live, etc. don’t deserve to be heard. They do. Without a doubt.

      *AND* I think there’s a huge number of people who are just choosing to look away because it’s easier, or because they now have jobs that depend on system dollars or not ‘stirring the pot’ too much, or who don’t want to spend time thinking about why it’s important, etc. It’s to that group I am mostly speaking…

      We’ve lost a lot of our fight to industry and so on… It’s very, very frustrating.

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  12. Oh my god. I don’t know why I just did this to myself.

    I just sat through this entire film for the first and only time.

    All I can say is that the entire thing is so histrionically pathetic and amateur that it seems to protest it might be giving it more attention that it deserves. If anything it’s the Reefer Madness of the “mental health” world, but even that’s giving it too much credit. The characters are dazzlingly unbelievable. The main character is a sensitive violent manipulative asshole, his sister isn’t far behind, and the filmaker is also an asshole for making them both Black. The only one I found myself empathizing with at times was the white guy. And the fish. WHY DIDN’T ANYONE SAVE THE POOR FUCKING FISH???!!!

    I have a better idea. Maybe the focus of this protest is too narrow — why not make it the whole damn channel, not just this silly little film? And maybe invite PETA along.

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    • Hah, Thanks for the amusing review, oldhead.

      I do think the whole channel deserves protest, and my original blog on the matter was focused on the whole channel (http://www.madinamerica.com/2015/11/the-mental-health-channel-beyond-what-does-it-really-mean-to-present-a-well-rounded-point-of-view/), but again… I’m going for a real concrete little chunk to focus on, and this film is just so blatant it’s baffling to me why anyone fails to see the racism, sexism, and psychiatric oppression that it represents…

      I should add that the filmmaker is also black (the filmmaker… or the writer of the story, or whatever her official credit may be) is actually the woman who plays Sirah and this whole mess is supposed to be a ‘gift’ to her real-life brother. To be clear, I don’t think that makes the film’s stereotypes or impact any less racist, but I do struggle a bit with being a white woman critiquing a black woman for creating a film with such racial issues! Oy.

      -Sera

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      • It was a color-blind remark in that I didn’t know anything about the filmmaker’s background, race or sex. And while it may not reflect direct racism as it might have had the filmmaker been white, it feeds into and perpetuates racist stereotypes, which is think is valid for any well-motivated anti-racist person to criticize.

        Beyond the racism though is the cartoon-like portrayal of people labeled ‘”mentally ill,” as well as the atypical violent behavior. And while I don’t remember specific labels being mentioned in the film itself (though maybe they were in passing) suddenly at the end there’s a printed message about “schizophrenia” and who to call for treatment. So in other words, if people are acting violent and stupid call a doctor.

        The “message” such a film might be expected to convey, based on the content, is “beware, don’t make the same mistake as Sira and allow psychiatry to sell you a bill of goods, or to define your relatives as ‘mentally ill’ and drug them.” But somehow I don’t think that’s the filmmaker’s intention.

        As an aside, I couldn’t help wondering your reaction (whether consciously or subliminally) to a name so similar to yours being repeated over & over in this context. I know I might find it disturbing.

        And I’m serious about the fish!

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  13. I agree with you that this film is problematic since it has a sophisticated appeal while passing harmful messages hidden by sibling love.

    However, I believe that Harry Lynch was “shinning you on” when he said that he would remove the film if he heard enough complaints; the MHC is prominently awarding the film on their website.

    Best wishes, Steve

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    • “Sophisticated” is not a word I would ever expect to be used in the same sentence as this film.

      I think this “Mental Health Channel” could be a blessing in disguise — something kids could well turn into a subject of ridicule, and that the Onion could have a field day with. The message should not be hard to promote: “Psychiatric drugs aren’t cool, otherwise why would your parents want you to take them?”

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  14. I’m sorry I didn’t see this post sooner. And even more sorry that I watched that wretched little propaganda film! Then, yes, I signed the petition! Thanks, Sera! Ahhh, the lies of the pseudoscienec drugs racket known as “psychiatry”. Nothing but institutionalized human rights abuses for $$$$….

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