Every year at this time, from Canada to Ireland, from Turkey to South Africa, both determined and not-so-determined folk make a very unusual list, known traditionally as New Year’s resolutions. They make resolutions about how to assert themselves at work. They make resolutions about how they will treat others, about doing something about their ever-increasing heroin use, about returning to school, about standing up to the class bully, about spending quality time with their loved ones. All good. This notwithstanding, although there are now a fair number of folk with a high degree of antipsychiatry knowledge and commitment, only but rarely do such factors figure in anyone’s New Year’s resolutions.
Aimed precisely at this population, this article is intended to help remedy that oversight. What follows, accordingly, are antipsychiatry resolutions—ones that people may borrow from at will.
More specifically, below are three sets — 1) a general set for everyone with a critique; 2) a set for survivors and “users” of psychiatry; and 3) a set for “mental health professionals”. Of course, everyone’s situation is unique (one size does not fit all). Accordingly, this is a pick-and-choose situation. If there are any that you find yourself wanting to include in your own Resolution List, with or without modification, just feel free.
A caveat: It is hardly a secret that the vast majority of New Year’s resolutions are never kept—or even seriously adopted. This is probably because they are vague inclinations to which people have no special relationship, with the making of them primarily a feel-good custom that people are following. I am hoping that we can do better with the antipsychiatry ones. My invitation, accordingly, is to thumb through the list and, insofar as you pick any, pick only ones that fit you, that are timely for you, that so resonate with your sense of yourself and your trajectory that you genuinely will be “resolved”.
That said, read, enjoy, and use at will.
General Antipsychiatry New Year’s Resolutions for All Critics of Psychiatry
I will worry less about damaging my credibility by endorsing an abolitionist position. Rather, I will aim at mustering up the courage to say what I know.
This year, I will stop just yakking about antipsychiatry activism and start putting it into practice (translation: “walk the walk”).
I will familiarize myself with social movement theory and become more strategic as an activist.
For every hour I spend responding to posts on the Internet, I will spend a comparable amount of time “doing antipsychiatry” in the material world. More specifically, I will do at least one of: a) spearhead a demonstration; b) respond to problematic legislation; c) create a new antipsychiatry organization; d) join Tina Minkowitz’s campaign for the absolute prohibition on nonconsensual psychiatry.
I will stop using “mental health” language entirely—will not use words like “medication”, or even ones like “symptoms” and “mental health”—for as Audre Lorde (1984) so astutely put it years ago, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
I will work with others at rewriting the woefully inadequate description of antipsychiatry found on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Anti-psychiatry). Minimally, I will correct the conflation between the mad and the antipsychiatry movements, and I will ensure that the entry is far less American-centric (oh yes, that is a problem).
I will do my homework, and by September, I will be able to distinguish effortlessly between “antipsychiatry” and “critical psychiatry”, between Thomas Szasz and R.D. Laing. I will likewise familiarize myself with the attrition model of psychiatry abolition (see Burstow, 2014), get a feel for how it works.
Whenever faced with a new initiative, I will automatically ask: 1) if successful, will the actions or campaigns that we are contemplating move us closer to the long range goal of psychiatry abolition?; 2) Are they likely to avoid improving or giving added legitimacy to psychiatry?; and 3) Do they avoid “widening” psychiatry’s net?
I will adopt at least one of the book activism strategies outlined in “Getting Our Anti/Critical Psychiatry Authors Read: A Case for Book Activism” (https://www.madinamerica.com/2015/04/getting-anticritical-psychiatry-authors-read-case-book-activism/). The point is, we need our authors to be read.
I will stop holding my peace when people mention that a loved one is considering starting a psychiatric “treatment”.
I will demonstrate for a total ban on ECT—I mean, shooting electricity through a person’s skull—like, what the fuck?
When asked for my advice regarding a psychiatric “treatment” that someone is considering, I will do everything possible to avoid falling into either of these common errors: a) soft-peddling what I know and b) being insensitive or disrespectful.
I will pay more attention to the plight of families.
I will be conscientious in my attempt to integrate feminism, antiracism, anti-ageism, etc. into my antipsychiatry work.
I will stop treating critics of psychiatry whose analysis differs from mine as THE ENEMY.
If I find myself acting like a troll on an anti/critical psychiatry site, I will cease and desist—then send myself to bed without supper.
I will prioritize infusing kindness into the antipsychiatry and mad community—for when “push comes to shove”, besides the fact that infighting is counterproductive, it matters how we treat one another.
At least once a month, I will tell antipsychiatry warriors like Lauren Tenney, Don Weitz, Celia Brown, and Mary Maddock what wonderful work they do.
I will inject far more fun into my antipsychiatry activism, for to quote Emma Goldman, “If there won’t be dancing at the revolution, I’m not coming.” (see https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Emma_Goldman).
Early in the year, I will form an antipsychiatry think tank which examines each situation for political leverage, for what pressure can be brought to bear.
If I happen upon a “mental health” professional snickering at the tenets of antipsychiatry, I will chime in with what I know, scrupulously remaining factual, clear, and logical, irrespective of how he comports himself. Though in extremis, under my breath, I just might mutter, “May you laugh so hard that your anus turns inside out.” Oh what a joy it is to curse now and then!
I will critique Bonnie Burstow a whole lot less—I duly swear it!
I will critique Bonnie Burstow a whole lot more—I duly swear it!
If at any time I see an opinionated shrink coming my way, I will spit three times, throw salt over my shoulder, hightail it out of there—then treat myself to the yummiest schnitzel in town.
Antipsychiatry Resolutions for Survivors and/or “Users” of Psychiatry
If taking on antipsychiatry in its fullness feels like more than I can do, I will figure out one baby step—then act on it.
I will remind myself regularly that I deserve a full life, whether or not that means being “psychiatry-free”, which I suspect that it might.
I will stop waiting for recognized leaders in the movement to initiate action. Where I feel strongly about an issue, I will myself assume a leadership role.
I will continue to tell the story of my psychiatrization, as helpful—and personal stories are without doubt vital to our movement and to me. At the same time, should at any point such sharing leave me feeling in a rut, I will give myself permission “not to go there” or to contribute in a different way.
If like last year, I again find myself wondering whether I have a mental illness after all, I will reach out to fellow survivors who are likewise antipsychiatry. Who better than my brothers and sisters who have also “been there”?
Antipsychiatry Resolutions for “Mental Health” Professionals
Instead of dismissing them as impractical, I will make an effort to learn from the various survivors and critical/antipsychiatry professionals who venture further than me, for deep down I know that here is where hope lay.
Bit by bit, I will sever my connection with institutional psychiatry.
I will stop pretending that the “system” can be “fixed”.
For every year in which I was silent about what I knew about psychiatry, I will donate $100.00 to a worthy antipsychiatry project—and which of them aren’t worthy?
Whatever the personal cost—and I am well aware that the cost will be high—I will publically declare myself antipsychiatry—and explain why.
I will use the credibility bestowed upon me as a professional to add to the credibility of survivor knowledge.
I will stop charging when I contribute to the antipsychiatry cause. If others give of their labour freely, why not me?
I will add institutional ethnography to my repertoire and start mining the everyday “work” with which I was once associated for entries into critical understanding.
I will forgive myself for the mistake of ever buying into psychiatry, realizing that I too am a product of socialization.
Counterintuitive though this is for me, I will stop trying to increase the number of professionals—even empathic ones.
Enough is enough!: I will become a “whistle-blower”.
I will take as one of my primary responsibilities transferring my skills to the community, in essence, doing myself out of a job.
More and more, I will challenge my colleagues—doctors, nurses, social workers, and psychologists especially—to face what they know about psychiatry, indeed, what on some level, the whole world knows—then to act accordingly.
Hopefully, a few of the resolutions in the medley above speak to you. If not, by all means, invent your own set from scratch. What is important here is having a plan and going about the work of antipsychiatry strategically, reflectively.
In ending, wishing one Donald Trump Esquire a new calling—perhaps used car salesman. Wishing “zei gezunt” (be well) to those who “walk the walk”, whether your social movement be antipsychiatry, feminism, or environmentalism. Wishing for an end to racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, etc. Wishing that psychiatry starts being widely seen for what it is—a “pseudo-science” on a par with blood-letting. Wishing for peace in the world. Wishing for love, kindness, wisdom, community, and revolution.
And wishing everyone everywhere, whatever your lot in life, a good and “psychiatry-free” year.
Breggin, P. (1991). Toxic Psychiatry. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Breggin, P. and Cohen D. (2007). Your Drug May be the Problem: How and Why to Stop Psychiatric Medication. New York: DeCapo Press.
Burstow, B. (2014). The withering of psychiatry: An attrition model for antipsychiatry. In Bonnie Burstow, Brenda LeFrançois, & Shaindl Diamond (Eds.), Psychiatry Disrupted: Theorizing Resistance and Crafting the (R)evolution (pp. 34-51). Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Lorde, A. (1984). Sister Outsider. Berkeley: Crossing Press.
Szasz, T. (1970). The Manufacture of Madness. New York: Harper and Row.
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.