Painted Boxes: Death of an Activist


Activist. Noun.I identify as an activist, and I am tired. Not yet ready to move on to some dreamscape. Hoping to be re-energized. But very, very tired. Part of the reason I’ve reached this level of exhaustion is that I seem to be living what life would look like if ‘painted into a corner,’ met ‘put in a box’ in a car wreck, leaving the two a tangled idiomatic mess. Yes, this ‘painted box’ in which so many activists of so many kinds seem to find themselves stuck is all the harder to escape for its combination of confined quarters and wet edges. It can be suffocating.

In October, Will Hall published an article, “Our Movement Has Failed.” In it, he asserted the following:

“What’s happening in the ‘peer’ world is very far from the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community’s vision of peer leadership. And my colleagues at WMRLC will be the first to point out that their work is limited by the need for larger social change.”

Although I was a little confused as to how my local community — the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community (RLC) — earned a spot in Will’s blog, I suppose he’s right that most things ‘peer’ don’t look the way I and those with whom I most closely work feel that they should. (In fact, I’ve written about some of that in blogs like this one: “In Peer We Trust.”) Yet it’s a mistake to speak of the vision under which we operate as strictly the RLC’s ‘vision.’ That feels somehow minimizing and marginalizing. As if us ‘crazy’ folk over here in Western Mass came up with some quirky counter approach that hasn’t found its footing just yet. Silly us.

In actuality, we coexist under that vision (or similar) with many others including the folks over at Intentional Peer Support, some of our friends up north at the Hive Mutual Support Network, and, well, much of the world Hearing Voices movement. Just to name a few (hundreds of thousands). Yes, the RLC is a loud voice for the integrity of peer support, and we’ve developed something of a reputation and platform for that. (See, for example, “An Open Mind” in Sun Magazine, my opinion piece in the Boston Globe, or the articles focused on our work in the New York Times and Foreign Policy.) But we are far from operating in isolation.

I’m also not sure I’d claim that our work is exactly “limited by the need for larger social change,” so much as I’d say that creating larger social change is a part of our work, even if not fully realized just yet. In truth, to say that our movement has ‘failed’ (even just ‘so far’) is to diminish or dismiss so many lives that have been saved, voices raised, internal spirit fires rekindled, and paradigms weakened, even if only a bit. Together we have real potential to make that “larger social change” come to life.

And yet, my message isn’t too much cheerier or any less melodramatic:

This movement has unquestionably seen some successes, but holy hell… At. What. Cost.

What follows are the top eleven examples of how activists and advocates are asked to cough up boundless energy while simultaneously being demoralized, devalued, diminished, and used. Why eleven? Sure, that’s a weird number to choose; a weird number for weird me. Think of it as a list of ten with one for the road, if it makes you feel better.

In any case, these are examples of why it can feel so soul-crushing to attempt to upend power dynamics and sustain well-organized pushes for change; why it sometimes feels like this movement is chewing us up faster than progress is being made.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent (Yelling Doesn’t Help)

It has become painfully clear over the years that when an activist enters a room in the ‘mental health’ world, they tend to enter at a deficit. Most others speak, and they’re heard for what they actually say. When we speak, we must simultaneously attempt to prove that we are not ‘anti’ anything and not ‘too radical,’ just so that our actual words may even be heard as we speak them. We need to pet and soothe egos while challenging minds. Oh, and we better do all that without taking up too much time (because that alone might be seen as a symptom, or a lack of impulse control, or as a show of anger and disrespect that renders us not worthy to be heard at all). All this just for the privilege of standing at the very same starting line as everyone else in the room.

Sometimes it can feel like speaking from under water, while the rest of the group is up on deck. Like everyone on message shares an invisible bullhorn, and anyone offering a counterpoint speaks through choppy air like a bad connection. And, the harder one tries to be clear, the less they’re understood. Because what they’re saying doesn’t fit within the pre-sets on people’s filters, or with what they want to hear, and so the more specific one is about any differences, the farther off they seem. That’s a frustrating and exhausting thing… for there to be a sort of inverse relationship between how much of what one says is heard correctly and how precisely one speaks.

I recall in the earliest days of the RLC a hospital saying they’d looked at our website and seen that it was ‘antipsychiatry,’ and on that basis, refused to give us any access to the people hospitalized there. The most important part of that story, however, is that at the time, our website was only a placeholder, with no information of any substance and no particular perspective conveyed. Just a few images, and our mission statement (which was focused solely on the provision of peer support, and far milder than the one we have now).

I’ve had similar experiences individually, with people attempting to define my own beliefs in ways that run contrary to (or at least slightly askew of) my words. Sometimes they speak my supposed beliefs back to me with the utmost confidence, surprise turned quickly to disinterest when I have to explain (again and again and again) that that’s not what I actually said. Sometimes I feel as if, every time I open my mouth, I should be asking everyone to summarize back to me what they heard, just to hear how far off base they’ve fallen.

How do we acquire the same privilege of starting at the ‘neutral’ line? Of being heard for what we actually say? How do we change how we are seen, when most of that truly is in the eye of the beholder?

(Oh, we see you. We see you as we want and need you to be. Don’t mess with a good thing.)

You’re So Articulate (Maybe a Little Too Articulate… Would You Please Shut Up?)

It seems so obvious. If the stereotype is that one is acting out of emotion rather than information, ‘anecdote’ rather than hard research, anger rather than reason… Well then, the best bet is to speak as articulately as possible, emphasize logic, and come with a back pocket full of facts… Right? Except, in my experience, that person is quickly seen as taking up too much space, acting too self-righteous. Who are they to speak with such confidence?

My favorite is when I’m told that the way I speak — so definitive and clear — makes other people (ones who typically make more money and hold more power than me) feel silenced. That by simply being in the same space, I render them voiceless, unable to speak their own truth. (This, of course, begs the question of what precisely they wanted to say that they’re so afraid to say in front of me.) Perhaps my words make them feel as if their medicalized views are being dismissed, because I’ve infringed upon about one percent of the 95% of the air space that such views take up with my inconvenient facts. How dare I push up against their generalizations with something that might require them to reevaluate their own unrecognized dogma?

One of the funniest (super unfunny) things I’ve ever seen was a psychiatrist on the stand at a commitment hearing talking about the “patient’s” flat affect and delayed response times while he exhibited just about the flattest affect and strangest speech pattern I’ve seen to date. (Much stranger than the to-be-committed individual while she was on the stand, by the way.) His side still won.

Because those with the power define the roles we are supposed to play, while claiming all the wiggle room for themselves. Sometimes there is this fantasy that if we can demonstrate dramatically enough how flawed those roles can be, that people will be dutifully impressed and willing to change. Yet, in actuality, when those with considerably less power try to change the story, it’s more likely to create annoyance than a shift.

(Shoo fly, shoo.)

That’s Not What We’re Here to Talk About Today (Would You Like Five Minutes at the End?)

People are quick to frustration when thrown off agenda, even if their agenda was the wrong one right off the bat. I recall a recent meeting that a co-worker and I dropped into. There, we encouraged consideration of alternatives rather than business as usual with the topic at hand. In actuality, our questions and suggestions took only a small fraction of the time available, but the facilitator of the meeting went on at great length to counter us. So invested was he in demonstrating our wrongness that time to address the planned agenda fell far short. Yet, I guarantee (and frustrated side glances confirmed) that if a survey went out asking what threw the meeting off track, the fingers would point toward us.

This, of course, speaks to who is setting the agenda in the first place. One is generally not seen as disrupting that which they determined in the first place… even when they change their mind about how things should go. It also speaks to the one most common inclusion myth of all time: The goal is just to get them to your table. Nope. Real inclusion means establishing a joint agenda at a new table altogether.

(Would you like that five minutes, now? Really, it’s only three because things ran long, and I know people are shuffling papers and getting ready to go, but we promise we are listening real hard!) 

Your Anger is Righteous (But It Makes Me Uncomfortable… So, Stop It)

At this point, the system seems to want a lot of credit for all their purportedly progressive efforts to put ‘peers’ in largely ineffectual roles where their relative silence is rewarded with high (but not too high) paychecks and low expectations. It’s happening under the guise of change, but it is mostly an act of silencing.

It works in two ways: Either a loud voice is hired with the hope that they’ll come more under control once their finances depend on it. Or (most often), a group of individuals eager to compromise are employed at least in part as a buffer between the system’s most powerful interiors and those calling for change. That group allows the interior to go about its business as usual, while claiming commitment to change through the mere presence of this tokenized group, and — if all works as well as hoped — the tokens might even turn on those pushing for change from the outside and keep each other busy and away from the serious work.

In the end, most system-appointed leaders know it’s the ‘right thing to do’ to acknowledge some harm and need for change. But these liability-minded folk also seem to put about a 10-second shelf life on anything approximating an apology, and so anyone who wants more is met with discomfort and, eventually, if they keep it up too long, willful exile and diagnostic avalanches.

(Hey, buddy. We brought you into this room, and we can kick you right back out of it. If you’re not willing to respect that we want you around to make us look good, and not to make us feel uncomfortable, then you’re not welcome here.)

You Look So Good Wearing Me (I Should Have Gotten a Copyright)

I realize this sounds like a bit of a bad pickup line, but that’s certainly not how it’s meant. Rather, there is a sort of phenomenon that happens where an activist does something innovative and limit-pushing, gets ostracized and torn down (perhaps even fired), and then imitated to all hell and back.

There’s little that’s more maddening than being demonized for doing something, only to have that idea stolen and portrayed as new and wondrous once you’re out of the way. But it happens all the time.

In fact, it has happened to me in both big and small ways. I lost a job once where I was heavily criticized and questioned for doing too much in a different way, only to have that organization attempt to build up their name on much of what I had developed once I was gone. I’ve also seen words I’ve literally written onto some of our brochures plagiarized by other organizations that have since accused us of being ‘too extreme.’ (Then come up with your own damn words, will you?) It sometimes makes one wonder what those individuals who lifted those words even thought that they meant in the first place.

And watch out should you ever decide not to share. Then you get accused of not having your eye on the larger good, and being in it for your own self interests.

(Let us get what we can out of you, please. You’re dispensable, but your work isn’t. Now hand it over all nice like, please.)

Denial is a Diagnosis (And a Tautological Trap)

We all know that denying you’re ‘mentally ill’ can be seen as a symptom that you are ‘mentally ill’ indeed. TAC-heads (Treatment Advocacy Center) have even erroneously lifted a real medical diagnosis (anosognosia) and applied it inappropriately to this phenomenon in a sad attempt to turn ‘lack of insight’ into an illness all its own.

Yet, it apparently works the same way when one says, “No, I’m not anti-psychiatry.” Woops. Apparently, I’m anti-psychiatry now all the more. I frequently think back to an interview I did with John Read in which he explained that ‘anti-psychiatry’ is a sort of diagnosis at this point; just another way that people can claim there’s something ‘wrong’ with you, and you therefore no longer need to be taken seriously.

The funny thing is I’m really not anti-psychiatry. (And I’m not interested in arguing about it, either, with those who feel that I should be.) I’m more critical psychiatry than ‘anti.’ I’m all for questioning at every level. I’m not so impressed with rigid agendas to be force fed. Most importantly, I believe that the best way to support someone to get out from under psychiatry’s clutches is to shine light on all paths. It may seem a bit counterintuitive, but the best way to show someone out is to also give them the option to stay.

(Thank you, ma’m, for explaining how you’re not anti-psychiatry. Now we know you surely are just that. And here’s the real trap: We’ll only believe that you’re not when you stop saying anything at all.)

Cannibalism is Fun (Friends Taste Better Than Enemies)

I’ve been watching this Netflix series called the ‘Santa Clarita Diet.’ I’m not impressed. It’s kind of gross, and I’m perplexed by what Drew Barrymore’s career seems to have come to. It’s also really more about zombies than cannibalism. Though, I guess zombies are cannibals in their own way… But, I digress.

In any case, any good activist knows that we’re meant to be snacking on each other. I mean, this is what happens with systemic oppression in general, right? The most powerful somehow convince the ‘have nots’ that they need to be angriest at the ‘have even less’ contingent. (Drug test for food stamps! Welfare abuse! Don’t let those freeloaders get too comfortable on my dime! Did you see that fancy cell phone they bought?!)

The same thing happens here. The system convinces those standing on the middle ground that their survival (either their ‘mental health’ or their paycheck) is dependent on moderation. They’re rewarded for their relative silence (complicity) with speaking engagements, award nominations, better paying jobs, shorter work days, and seats at that table that everyone keeps talking about. At the same time, those of us who are a little louder and firmer and freer with our anger are the ones supposedly screwing it all up. Of course, no one speaks so plainly about this phenomenon. Instead, it becomes all about how the ones in the middle are so “skillful at compromising,” or so “friendly and professional,” while those on the fringes are “too angry,” and “don’t you wish they’d just choose a different way to get their message across?”

Gosh. If only someone had ever told us that if we were just nice and polite all the time, people would listen, and the system would already be fixed! (And, if you believe that…)

(Hey, loud mouth! You’re messing things up. Don’t you know I have a good thing going over here?)

Saying It in a Way They Can Hear It (Is Almost Like Saying Nothing At All)

If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard a provider talk about wanting to find or hire an advocate who can speak their advocacy demands in a “way that people can hear…” Well, I’d be able to buy that social change Will spoke about before.

Too bad it’s bullshit. (Oops. Did I say that ‘out loud?’) I mean, sure, there are ways to say things that might reach people better. I practice that myself, and I work with individuals who I sometimes refer to as ‘provider whisperers.’ But if someone isn’t wanting to hear you in the first place, there’s not much you can do. I’ve spent years trying to figure out just how many times I need to say what I don’t mean, in order for people to hear what I do. I’ve tried dressing up, and dressing down. I’ve tried starting with a compliment, and being self-deprecating. I usually manage to get at least a few laughs when I present. I mean, that ought to help, right? Help stop people from being so angry or disliking me so much that they dismiss what I have to say before I even get started? And yet, what I eventually learned is most of them don’t want to hear what I do mean. And, the only way I can fix that is to… well, stop wanting it myself.

This is all so much foolishness. Since when have the people with less power ever been in the best spot to undo systemic oppression? Suggesting that there is a right way that I could say something to make change, and that if change isn’t made that it’s my fault is a good game. It lets you off the hook, right? It’s like diagnosis. You’re not sad because you’re homeless or living in poverty, you silly. You’re sad because you’re depressed! Don’t look at me. You’ve got to fix this yourself (using these pills that I give you), or you’re treatment resistant.

No. This is absurdity. It’s the people in power who can make the change. When someone has trouble hearing me, I’m typically not going to be able to ‘fix it’ by saying what I am trying to say in some different way. As much as I wish it weren’t true, I need you. You, dear ally (in whatever form you come), are the one who can push people to listen. If you have enough power on your side, you can even demand it. You are the one who holds all the credibility and respect. You are the one who can tell them to cut it out.

Don’t tell me they don’t like me, or have complaints about me and what I say. That gives them power, and sucks a little bit of life out of me every time it happens. Instead, ask them why.  Ask them what they’re afraid of. Tell them to get over it. Help me get heard. That’s your job. You have to have some skin in this game. Some risks you’re willing to take. And if you don’t want to, then please don’t tell me that you’re an ally anymore. You’re just another person who wishes I’d “say it in a way they can hear it” which, like I said, is basically like saying nothing at all.

(Look how angry you are. How can you expect me to support you?)

Sweet Whisper of the Ally (You’re Tickling My Ear)

This isn’t just another cute header. (Though I admittedly like all the headers in this article quite a lot.) This is about that person. You know the one. That person who approaches you after you’ve spoken up at a meeting or workshop or other public forum to challenge the presentation in some way. Their favorite place to approach you is in a public bathroom, or just on your way out the door. There, they speak in hushed tones and thank you “so much” for saying what you did. Because they can’t speak up like you do. They might get in trouble if they did. Or, maybe they’re just nervous about speaking in front of crowds, and afraid they’ll stumble over their words. (So was I once upon a time, by the way, before I figured out I couldn’t afford to be silent.)

Great. That’s just great. Sometimes it even feels flattering. And it’s certainly better than the folks who saunter up to you during a break and speak in much more brazen tones about how your perspective might put someone at risk, and how you just don’t understand. Poor little naïve you.

But let me tell you something. I’m tired of it. So tired of it. It is precisely what leaves me on an island, facing criticism with a reputation as “the difficult one.” The one who doesn’t play well with others. Which is ironic because I get along perfectly well with most people, and one of my strengths is synthesizing multiple perspectives. But, whatever. What does it matter when people who barely know you find you a little too challenging, and everyone else will only whisper their support.

Just know if you’re only whispering, you’re not an ally. If you take no risks in what you say, you’re not an ally. If you believe it’s okay that I pay the price for your silence by being the only one to speak up, you’re not an ally. And if you’re not there to defend me when I’ve been put in that position over and over and over again, then you are decidedly not an ally. You have just as much paint on your hands as everyone else.

(Paint! I see no paint! What do you mean?! I was just trying to be nice.)

Eat Misery (Be Happy)

I despise the term ‘consumer’ as it exists within the mental health system. If I am a ‘consumer,’ it is as a consumer of misery. I am expected to repeatedly share the most painful parts of my existence, pretty much for the purpose of everyone’s entertainment (since it certainly doesn’t seem to lead to much change). I am expected to sit with the deep pain and desperation of others as a relative constant in my job. I am expected to listen to people working in the system say terrible, horrible, demoralizing, dehumanizing things on the regular about people not unlike myself, and somehow avoid screaming at them. (Say it so they can hear it, remember!) And, I am expected to push for change with people who don’t always take me seriously and constantly talk behind my back, all while also dutifully filling my social media feeds with pertinent issues and horrifying stories of injustice in the world.

And I’m expected to do it all nicely, and gently, with a smile on my face, and with so much patience (because change is slow!). Sometimes I wonder how many other jobs come with such a high expectation of smiles in the face of so much disrespect.

Where’s the off switch? There has to be an off switch somewhere, right? What happens when the input of terrible gets to be too much, but any output of fury at all the injustice (including the slowness of change while people are dying) will accomplish nothing more than people being mad at you?

(Now, will you look at her. We told you she was a problem, didn’t we?)

We Absolutely Love What You Do (As Long As You Do It Over There… You Know… Away From Us)

If I had a dime… No, let’s go with a nickel this round… for every time someone who makes more money than me asked me to do something for them without any compensation… Well, hell. Maybe I’d be making as much as them. It’s funny how readily people are willing to consume my work, without necessarily wanting to be associated too closely with me. Or maybe they’re willing to give me a platform to speak a bit, so long as it’s clear I don’t work for or represent them.

Perhaps the best part (for them) is that me looking so ‘radical’ over here, makes the small shifts these pretenders of change are making over there look tame in comparison. So, they get away with it, while I pay the price. For their small (often dubious) gain. It’s a good strategy. (For them.)

But who wants to be the one constantly in the position of making others look good? Where does my humanity go when you treat me like a disposable tool? Just how long am I expected to keep up the energy it takes to hold all this — myself — together?

(We love your work. We’d like to use your work. But, you… Well, you’re a bit of liability, so we don’t need you. I’m sure you understand.) 

Yes, folks, this is what systemic oppression looks like. (More on that soon.) All of this. And this is what tears us apart. Those not-really-your-ally allies. The people willing to take your work in so many ways, but rarely willing to risk taking you. Those who never want you to act angry, because they never want to be expected to apologize or change. The ones who think that we’re doing something wrong the moment they experience any discomfort. The ones who tell you to “say it so they can hear it,” when we all know damn well that there’s no way to actually do that. Saying hard things is what it is. You do it, or you don’t.

It is exhausting. It is deflating. It is dishonest. It is a (willful) refusal to see.

If you recognize yourself in what I wrote about those on the flip side of the coin from me, then you have a choice to make. Saying you want change is not enough. If you say you want change, but you can’t escape the fact that your face is all over what I wrote, then you don’t really. You should stop lying. To yourself. To all of us. Get some skin in the game, or stop playing. Sit with the reality that your inaction has been harmful and has hurt people. Wallow in defensiveness and shame for a few minutes if you must, but then move on, because it’s not helpful. Decide to make a change. Or don’t, and get out of the way. Stop taking up space from those who are willing to take the necessary risks.

As for me, I know this whole piece is a bit self-pitying and melodramatic (as aforementioned). I’m better off than many. I do make money doing this work (never mind that it consumes almost every day of my life). I get to travel periodically to interesting places, and speak at public gigs. My life isn’t so hard, and yet sometimes I feel like I’m dying inside for all the reasons above and more.

My hope is that this piece doesn’t need to be about me alone; that many advocates and activists will see themselves in the ‘I’s above. That seeing the commonalities in what we’re all up against may provide some fuel. The system needs to see us in a particular sort of way to sustain itself. That generally means we won’t be seen at all for who we truly are, but we can at least try to do that for each other.

“We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.” – Anais Nin


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. I found the part about you not being allowed to go into the hospital because you were from an “antipsychiatry” organisation to be interesting. It’s a self-defense mechanism. Everyone has one.

    What if someone locked up in a “hospital” finds it to be the most abhorrent and traumatising time of their life? If an antipsychiatry person ends up getting them out and helping them, and then that person (whom you just got out) upholds your views, well, then he’s just antipsychiatry now too.

    The power roles thing is something we already know. I liked the part about the person playing the role of psychiatrist in the commitment hearing having a very flat affect and strange speech pattern himself.

    And yes, “antipsychiatry” is almost a diagnosis now. Antipsychiatry, critical psychiatry, pro-psychiatry; these words just mean “crank”, “moderate” and “scientific” respectively (depending on who you ask).

    Your views are seen as too extreme? You have to justify it by saying you’re “critical psychiatry”. It’s all rubbish.

    But hey, it’s all politics at the end of the day. Makes me wonder why I’m even writing this comment. It’s all obvious.

    • Sera
      You are not alone in this. I have been saying the SAME things for 25 years including that it is exhausting to have to say the same things, over and over again, to those who can’t/won’t hear it as REALITY; always trying to “get through” to those who don’t want to be “gotten through” TO. And THIS is what we ALL need to talk about publicly; the construct ITSELF, which has humanity all neatly divided, via abstractions, in absolute terms, into “them and us” subsets, which no one has to bother to even THINK about, as completely ludicrous. People who know me personally would think I wrote this. I also think of it this way:
      We are no longer “alone with our truth” for we have more and more company all the time with those who have been alone with THEIR truth, which means we are no LONGER alone……

      “Curing” the paradoxical trap by exposing it, instead of “explaining” it, to those who don’t want to hear. They will hear it when it becomes MORE beneficial for THEM to do so, than to keep fighting against it.

  2. Sera, your meticulous, powerful response to the way you’ve been treated as an activist mirrors my feelings about my 30 years in this movement. As painful as it is to read, you’ve articulated so brilliantly the daily othering and degradation many of us face in our work. I’m really tired too. But I also find strength in reading and identifying with your analysis. Thank you!

  3. Sorry for red-pilling, but here it is: If Sera isn’t allowed to effectuate significant, lasting REFORM in psychiatry, then psychiatry cannot be salvaged, and must be ABOLISHED. In my experience, Sera is one of the smartest, most dedicated, most flexible, and most personable Mad activists. Compared to anyone, she’s a stand-up person. Compared to Munchausens and quacks, she’s a saint! It should surprise no one that these complaints were thrown at Sera by people who aren’t Mad. Every. Single. One. And, since these are the very same people who HATE working closely with Mad people, they’re OBLIGATED to step aside and let Sera take charge. These quacks can’t have it both ways. They can’t refuse to serve people, and then undercut the person who will. I realize that’s one of the quack’s schizophrenogenic antics, but it’s intolerable, unprofessional, and catastrophic to Mad people. It MUST stop. If it doesn’t, then folks like Sera need the legal authority to completely break out of the #FAKESCIENCE , and care for the public in their own way. Enough is enough.

  4. “if you’re only whispering, you’re not an ally.”
    If you are only whispering, you are smart enough to know who has the power and the money.

    $18 Billion dollars a year in antipsychotics.

    $11 Billion dollars a year in antidepressants.

    $10 Billion dollars a year in stimulant drugs.

    “In the 1970’s it was barely a 1 Billion dollar market.”

  5. Are you trying to be funny? I can’t help seeing in all these basically tongue-in-cheek complaints something of the humorist. (Painting oneself into a corner, for instance, and there aren’t other ways to paint a house? You know, as in, I didn’t really mean to do this to myself. Oops. There I go again, slapping myself.) Are you the Erma Bombeck of activism? If not, you might try taking yourself a little less seriously and, thereby, developing a sense of humor.

    The mental health movement in my book is the enemy. The mental health movement grew out of the movement to incarcerate people who were different (the movement for forced treatment), not lawbreakers. The mental health movement is out to change the behavior of people it sees as not “fitting in”. You work for the mental health system. I think that only by standing outside of the mental health movement, and the mental health system, can one get a sense of perspective on this matter.

    Perhaps a corollary to the book authored by Thomas Szasz The Myth of Mental Illness should be written, only this book should bear the title The Myth of Mental Health. If so, then maybe people would start to get it. We don’t need a behavioral change system. We need a society that accepts people as they are.

    • In her book Quiet, Susan Cain comments on how our society pressures introverts to conform and become outgoing game show hosts. You also have to always see the glass as HALF FULL. Never mind that half empty is equally true. Cause that makes you a pessimist. You negative Nellie! Don’t you know it’s sick and crazy not to think life’s a bowl of cherries and Lollipop Land? Obviously delusional.

  6. Hi, Sera,

    SO good to read another blog from you – I was thinking recently it had been a while, and I always find your blogs energizing and affirming!

    You really struck a chord with me this time. I was one of those “insider” dissidents in the “mental health” system for a decade or so, and I ran into the very same kind of dismissive attitudes once my views were known. In particular, I relied a lot on knowing the latest research on a topic as a means of balancing the power for clients, but I encountered exactly the same resentment from folks, as if I’d somehow “outfoxed” them by presenting actual DATA that they were unfamiliar or uncomfortable with. It was, indeed, VERY tiring, and I got out of the field and into advocacy as a result. Advocacy pays like crap but at least I could go home feeling OK at the end of the day. Still, most advocacy is for individuals, and system advocacy is much harder and much slower.

    Bottom line, we’re working against CORRUPTION, and corruption is not changed by data or even by good working relationships. It’s changed by deleting the financial incentives toward corrupt behavior, and it’s rampant in our society today. I truly believe that’s where we have got to put more of our energy, yet the thought of taking on THAT juggernaut is even more exhausting!

    Thanks for putting so much of my experience into words. Sometimes helping individuals who are brutalized by the system doesn’t feel like much, but it DOES make a huge difference for those individuals, and in the end, the country IS made up of individuals and maybe we need to help wake up a lot more before the big-scale changes we need to see become possible.

    —- Steve

  7. The funny thing is I’m really not anti-psychiatry.

    And therein lies the problem, as you search for acceptance and approval from your enemies while banging your head against the wall of the Globe and similar venues. You have pretty well demonstrated the standard arguments and techniques used by the system to silence people such as yourself. All that’s left is for you now to stop trying to convince these people of your rightness, and start organizing to remove their power over you, and the rest of us. If you are anti-repression you should be anti-psychiatry, and proud of it.

  8. There is a wealth of sorely needed discussion matter suddenly surfacing on MIA, that’s for sure. Anyway I’m reading this in pieces and commenting as I go along, so to continue…

    I’m also not sure I’d claim that our work is exactly “limited by the need for larger social change,” so much as I’d say that creating larger social change is a part of our work

    Actually I forgot to comment on the notion of a “movement,” which is a nice thing to fantasize about but until we all mean the same thing I think we should avoid using the term, which according to who uses it can mean anything from the anti-psychiatry movement to the “mental health movement,” whatever the latter might be.

    Anyway Sera your above quote may be more true than you want to realize, as we really have no work other than defeating the system which reduces everyone’s lives to monetary values, and is the original source of most people’s suffering no matter how that suffering is labeled. There is no “answer’ or “individual solution” other than eliminating the causes. Those of us who end up being bruised and battered along the way need whatever assistance and support we can provide, but this should be seen as a temporary measure until we achieve liberation for all. We do not need a new “field” of “alternatives to psychiatry,” any more than we need a “field” of anti-psychiatry, either of which would establish psychiatry as the basis of reference from which all else emanates. Both should be seen as means to an end rather than ends in and of themselves.

    • Dictionary dot com gives two definitions for movement:

      1. an act of changing physical location or position or of having this changed.

      2. a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas.

      It uses the example of “the labor movement”. In quotation marks.

      I think we mean the second definition.

      Of course, it’s always possible for any group of people not to work together on shared ideas, too.

      • I think the confusion we’ve got here may have to do with the intersection (and confluence) of a few different movements, that is, the mental health movement, the psychiatric survivor movement, the consumer/user/survivor (C/S/X) movement (I’m not linking this to the one that preceded it on this list), and the antipsychiatry movement. To this group, one might add the critical psychiatry movement. Some people might throw in “recovery” movement, alternatives movement, and/or peer support specialist movement for good measure. Peer??? Oh, yeah, and there’s also the biological psychiatry movement, or organized psychiatry for short. Basically, we’d be having to deal with a few basic differences between antipyschiatry, the mental health movement, the psychiatric survior (or ex-patient) movement, the so-called peer movement, and the critical psychiatry movement.

        • To have a movement you have to agree about stuff. None of these so-called “movements” you mention even have a program I’m aware of except for what you call the “survivor” movement, which is largely the legacy of the mental patients liberation movement, which was ALWAYS 100% anti-psychiatry. (The “consumer/CSX movement” was primarily one man’s turf from what I can see, though I didn’t have the misfortune to be hanging around while all the disintegration of the movement was occurring.) We never debated about whether or not we were anti-psychiatry, it would have been like re-inventing the wheel. And that was years ago. Back to the future!

          • I think your characterizing the mental patient liberation movement as 100 % antipsychiatry is 100 % fantasy. You’re talking about a movement that has been beset by a certain degree of factionalism since the beginning. Certainly the movement we had was more antipsychiatry than the “pe-ah” movement that followed it, however, I think many of the seeds of the sell out, or co-optation, were in place well before it occurred.

            I know there has been some differences between radicals, moderates, and conservatives. I see myself as a radical, and so the moderate or conservative line, buying and selling “mental health treatment”, doesn’t appeal to me. The moderates and the conservatives have their facilities, their treatments, and their careers. Some people call them ‘support systems’. Bleep that.

            Anyone who doesn’t have anything better to do with their time doesn’t need a lecture from me because I imagine they are getting lectures all the time. Long boring stupid lectures.

          • People don’t have to agree on everything, not even to be part of a movement. As is, you’ve got this confluence of multiple movements guaranteeing disagreement. Regarding the movement itself, that is, any movement that one identifies with, or considers oneself a part of, there should be some kind of basic agreement, but nothing needs to written in stone, movements are about general agreement anyway.

            Organizations, a part of movements, have programs. Movements as such, don’t have programs. A movement is more unorganized, obviously, than an organization, however, it helps when many organizations make up a movement. The fewer organizations, the less clout for the movement as a whole, and the fewer people there are that are likely to embody it.

        • I’m all for the 1982 principles, and for # 26 there. I also don’t think they mitigate from the fact that we are speaking about one set of principles from one conference, and that many of the people who were there were on their way to selling out over the course of the next few years.

          After the 1985 conference on human rights and psychiatric oppression, from what I’ve gathered, there was going to be a 1986 conference. It never materialized. That’s a long pause, and not the kind of pause that refreshes.

          • we are speaking about one set of principles from one conference

            Wrong, wrong, wrong. The 1982 statement was an updated and more sophisticated restatement of basic principles that had been formulated at least as early as 1976 and, I believe, published in Madness Network News. I’ll see if I can find a copy.

            Regardless, that “one conference” was the movement’s governing body, and the statements issued in its name were the positions of the movement at large, not just a few people. The Toronto statement was the result of 3 separate and intense sessions over the course of 3 days involving the majority of conference participants. It stands as one of the movement’s crowning achievements, and stands the test of time. It also demonstrates why the movement had to be destroyed.

          • Update — I have indeed retrieved the original 1976 principles from the 4th Annual North American Conference on Human Rights and Psychiatric Oppression, on which the 1982 statement was modeled. Among the statements: “We oppose the psychiatric system…because it is similar in important ways to the Inquisition, chattel slavery, and Nazi and Soviet concentration camps…it cannot be reformed but must be abolished.”

            I will post the entire statement on the “Organizing” forum as soon as I get time to transcribe it; I found it most interesting after all these years, and still spot on in many ways (and even better in some imo).

          • I can’t wait to see the entire statement from 1976 posted. I was at the 1976 conference at Tufts University, if that is the 4th, and so I might have seen it at one time or another.

            Seeing as now there are these Alternative Conferences, and there are no more Annual Conferences on Human Rights and Psychiatric Oppression, as I was saying.

            It also demonstrates why the movement had to be destroyed.

            Uh, did THE movement know this?

            I mean now you’ve got all these opportunists, careerists, government agency bureaucrats, and “consumer/user” lifetime treatment junkies out there, regular brown nosing step and fetch its, calling themselves “peers”, and the system stinks to high heaven with corruption. I could even see hash-tagging it: #NotMyMovement.

          • Frank, didn’t know you were at the ’76 Conference, I’m impressed, that was my first one too. I know you mentioned you were at the one in Bryn Mawr, but I thought that was all.

            OK I’ll work on transcribing it asap. Much of the Boston and Toronto versions read almost word for word. I noticed that the Boston statement said we opposed the CONCEPT of “mental illness”; the Toronto one said we opposed the “medical model of ‘mental illness,'” which is not the same thing, and the first way makes much more sense.

          • Yeah, ’76 and ’78. The next was going to be in Cleveland. I don’t know where I was then. I had a few spells in the psychiatric pen, and then 10 years out of the system. I wasn’t in the best of situations, and then my longest spell of captivity, more punitive than anything else I guess. That was enough to get me to try to reconnect with the movement. It’s been 20 years since then.

  9. I don’t like these online comment things, and rarely do them. I’d rather have the in-person conversations because it’s such a chore to try to communicate in the first place…too much is lost in this platform – So, Sera Thank you for all you do. What you write and your perspective gives me hope in what I do – because it makes sense to me and i think “yes, that’s what I mean, those are my thoughts on the subject too!”. I am employed as a “Peer Support Specialist” in the state of Maine. It is difficult to be very aware of the serious cracks in the foundation of the mental health “system”, and its flaws and the murder and the pain and the life-ending damage and hypocrisy etc, and yet to be employed and working in/for the “system” at the same time. But dammit I need a job and part of my job is to not compromise my principles, and reading your stuff reaffirms and validates….this.

    • Ugh! Must be horrible. As a smart, articulate MI consumer with a college degree I thought about becoming a PSS. Everyone at the center I attended applauded the idea.

      I started hearing audible voices the week before training. I decided not to go; the voices stopped shortly after.

      I had already been reading William Glasser and Terry Lynch, so I was having a paradigm shift. That’s what “anosognosia” really is. Questioning the cult’s beliefs.

      Maybe I conjured up those voices which I had never experienced before or since to prevent my becoming a peer support specialist. My heart knew it was wrong and overpowered my conscious mind temporarily.

  10. So many movements, and so much activism, with such meager results. Why? Markps2 makes a valid point. As we jabber on about movements there are people being tortured in psychiatric dungeons, innocent children being drugged into oblivion, and the homeless and the elderly are being subjected to cruel psychiatric treatments. Grass roots movements, protests, and activism might open a few eyes, but until the major bastions of power – political, economic, social, and media – are moved to proclaim the truth about psychiatry, it will be an exceedingly difficult uphill battle. Why isn’t there a major blockbuster film that reveals the true history of psychiatry? Why don’t the books that reveal the truth about psychiatry make the New York Times best sellers list? Why isn’t the New York Times consistently reporting on psychiatric atrocities? Why don’t politicians understand the truth about psychiatry? Follow the money.

    • I pointed out that some of these movements are at cross-purposes, and some of them don’t even seem to realize it.

      “As we jabber on about movements there are people being tortured in psychiatric dungeons, innocent children being drugged into oblivion, and the homeless and the elderly are being subjected to cruel psychiatric treatments.”

      Some good questions to ask are where does this movement or that stand on the issue of psychiatric incarceration and torture, where does it stand on child poisoning, and where does it stand on elder abuse.

      Psychiatry itself being a bastion of power, I think the truth is going to have to come out of grassroots struggle and education. Often against the bastion of power that is psychiatry.

      The APA has engaged in some heavy duty PR campaigning, together with big pHarma, and that’s what we’re up again. The media, in the USA, is financed in a major way by drug companies. Add to that, corrupt politics, what with all the corporate money in it.

      Sure, follow the money. Do that SDP, and you just might change your political position.

      • LOL! Good one Frank. 🙂 You make some excellent points here, particularly about psychiatry itself as a bastion of power. The connection between Big Pharma, the media, and the therapeutic state in general, seems to be the axis of evil against which we allies are cast as combatants. This is why it seems to me that there must be a way to infiltrate the system on the highest levels. The giant of the psycho-therapeutic industrial complex smashes grassroots resistance as if it were a bunch of tiny little ants. Some proverbial David needs to hurl a smooth stone at this giant’s ugly face or gouge out its eyes before severing its loathsome head. That sling and that stone could be something as simple as the right book or the right movie. Can’t we get Tom Cruise to star in a movie that exposes the truth about psychiatry? He’s into that kind of thing.

        • The giant of the psycho-therapeutic industrial complex smashes grassroots resistance as if it were a bunch of tiny little ants.

          I prefer the term “prison/psychiatric industrial complex,” for reasons, as stated elsewhere, of our avoiding appropriation of an existing movement, the prison abolition movement.

          PS Is this “giant” a friend of the Dragon?

        • I don’t think it is ever going to be so easy as that (1 book, 1 movie), Dragon Slayer. It’s apt in a way that you bring up David and Goliath because we’re dealing with a religion, however, the story of David is a Judaeo-Christian parable, and antipsychiatry doesn’t need to fashion itself into a corresponding religious sect. We’re dealing with a religion that is trying to pass itself off as a science. As long as it’s so hideously wrong headed and corrupt as it is, it’s going to have critic/heretics. I think the mental health system has more in common with the criminal justice system than it does with the medical hospital system. That’s a criticism right there as this is not about tolerating serious crime, this is about not tolerating human difference.

          • According to the story David could only kill the giant through supernatural intervention. A young teenage boy with a few pebbles and a sling is no match for a fully armed experienced warrior over 9 feet tall.

          • You are both exactly right. Psychiatry is a false religion. It is a false religion that poses as a legitimate, scientific, medical profession. How is it that this false religion has recruited so many willing and unwilling followers? How has this false religion spread and deceived almost the entire world?

            A giant, no matter how large and experienced, is no match for the Lord. Psychiatry, like Goliath, will fall:

            “Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.

            And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, that David hasted, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine.

            And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.

            So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David.

            Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith. And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled.” (1 Sam. 17:48-51)

            The bow is bent, and the arrow is straight and sure. The dragon of psychiatry will be slain.

  11. I’m not gonna listen to you as I could lose my career. Not worth it. I’d rather pick my battles and live to fight another day.

    Also is it true you get along with most people? I read on your blogs you are irked with the Boston globe as activist and the school system as a parent too.

    Maybe your burnout now is result of the kind of activism you do. I prefer to pick my battles and engage the mental Heath system as a gentleman.


  12. So I’m back again…I should mention I haven’t read any other comments yet…btw movement burnout is an age old phenomenon and not to be taken lightly everyone…

    When we speak, we must simultaneously attempt to prove that we are not ‘anti’ anything and not ‘too radical,’ just so that our actual words may even be heard as we speak them. We need to pet and soothe egos while challenging minds.

    What gives them the power to treat you like this is that you choose to approach them as a supplicant and let your day be judged by how they respond to you, and get upset when they predictably show their true colors. This is not a criticism, just an observation. It’s sort of like when Blacks still called themselves negroes and spent lots of time assuring sympathetic liberals that they didn’t believe in Black power. What you should pay more attention to is the degree of insecurity in their fear of you being “anti-psychiatry,” and recognize that they recognize you as someone who has their number and is worth taking seriously — sometimes by dissing you. My question is why these are the people you consider important to make an impression on and why you want to be a member of their country club.

    The list of ways we can be dissed could go on and on, and yours is an excellent summation of the arrogance and contempt with which the mh system views anyone who even scratches the surface of their fiefdom.

    The system convinces those standing on the middle ground that their survival (either their ‘mental health’ or their paycheck) is dependent on moderation. They’re rewarded for their relative silence (complicity) with speaking engagements, award nominations, better paying jobs, shorter work days, and seats at that table that everyone keeps talking about.

    Uh, Sera — You do know this is why the real movement was defeated ages ago, and why people think they are actually talking about a movement here when they are talking about a fake movement, a shell built on the ashes of the one they destroyed with these exact same tactics? Believe me you’re not the only one shouting into the void.

    Btw I hope you’re not reading any of this as hostile, I’m trying to be helpful.

  13. Where’s the off switch? There has to be an off switch somewhere, right? What happens when the input of terrible gets to be too much, but any output of fury at all the injustice (including the slowness of change while people are dying) will accomplish nothing more than people being mad at you?

    Well, sometimes people go crazy, but hopefully you will avoid that by not thinking it’s your personal responsibility to stop the very obvious madness. But what you describe is the crux of the situation — we live in a constant state of collective urgency that people avoid by making it the domain of “experts in the field.” There are no true “fields” here, except battlefields.

    • PatH80

      Peers can be as damaging as any thoughtless and lazy psychiatrist. In fact, I feel that peers who perpetuate the harm done to them onto those they’re supposedly walking with on the Journey need to be held even more accountable than the clinicians since we should know better. I suspect that in some institutions and organizations that peers work in the people hired as peers have been chosen with great care to make sure that they will never rock the boat or stand up and state anything contrary to what the system wants.

      I believe that any of us who work as peers must constantly evaluate whether we are enabling the system or whether we’re helping people to speak their truth as they want to state it.

  14. Sera, I said that because maybe you needed a little bit kindness to brighten your day.

    I think your wonderful and like your attitude actually, but everyone can’t be you.

    I think the international association of peer specialists should be giving you the spheel I gave above on peers but how it seems to me is different. Looks like their new board shares your beliefs and Mad In America too.

  15. Hi Sera – these are undoubtedly degrading, violent, maddening and unjustifiable experiences that no one should ever go through, yet which are orchestrated on a mass scale for the purpose of breaking our people. That’s why I never enter those rooms, and find it infinitely preferable to align with and educate (on madness) already-radicalized groups experienced in direct action to defend those most-harmed by capitalism, to hold autonomous sanctuary spaces for psychiatric survivors (thanks for the shoutout to my local group!!), and to draw dicks on the writing of bootlicker shills as above who deserve nothing better.

  16. I was trying to cheer Sera up.

    I guess I really don’t belong here. My story is more like Ken Steele’s book the day voices stopped. Yeah that’s what hearing voices feels like.

    I even joined hearing voices network as board member but the board didn’t approve of my opinions.

    Now we got Oryx the Bill W of recovery movement for mental illness as he put it on the hvn USA board. Yeah so many people would drive me across country and hold my damn hand if I got sick. Yeah right.

    I’m leaving this website for good.

  17. Reading all these comments made me think of this:

    And by the way, it will be psychiatry laughing.

    Do I want to abolish psychiatry after 3 years of utter horrific pain and near death, hell yes. But my thought/experience brings me to the view that it needs to be evolved away from and left to become irrelevant. If someone wants to know how to solve their panic attacks and we have a solution and that means they no-longer get trapped by psychiatry, they have another option and we have begun that evolution. You just need to do more of it en mass. It’s far easier to do if the (potential) victim is not addicted to the neuotoxins – be they benzo’s or whatever BS psych poison – in the first place. But of-course we have to help people off the poison and not exploit their plight for financial gain. Information must be given out for free, there are better ways to make money.

  18. When I was taken in a straight jacket with hood over my face to the hospital it wasn’t for me.

    When I got discharged I never talked about voices I hear again. Only to my self.

    A long time later I joined Recovery Movement. Was going very good until I linked up with hearing voices network.

    Guess to be with them I need to hire someone like Rufus May to address the voices while documenting it all on camera. Then Id probably be cool and all better.

    No I wouldn’t buy, sell, borrow or trade anything I have to be like one of them. I’d rather start all over again. – NY.

  19. Thank you (and Steve) for your community service in supporting the disenfranchised. I believe that there is widespread corruption throughout mainstream “mental health” care because it defers its most fundamental understanding of “mental health” to psychiatry and psychiatry lacks legitimacy. Psychiatry pathologizes sadness (emotional pain) and other natural problems with living (behaviors considered “socially unacceptable” but not criminal); “mental illness” is a myth. I am not an Antipsychiatrist because psychiatrists are corrupt, over-prescribe drugs, and make mistakes; I am an Antipsychiatrist because “mental illness” is a harmful hoax.

    • Right, Steve. The DSM is the biggest hoax, and it allows us to dehumanize those who are suffering. It also allows our social institutions like families, doctors, schools, etc. to get off the hook for having done harmful things. I’m never against helping people figure out their path in life, but I’m VERY much against categorizing and dismissing people with arbitrary labels and using drugs to suppress their reactions to living in our crazy society!

    • I am not sure I can stomach the article.

      I’ll bet they don’t tell people their “meds” are highly addictive and just abandoning them will cause horrible withdrawals.

      Tapering is psychiatry’s best kept secret. Along with the beloved chemical imbalance that the well informed inner circle know to be a “metaphor” while laughing up their sleeves at the gullible public.

      • I don’t believe that most psychiatrists have the slightest idea how to taper anyone off of the neurotoxins. In my experience they’re pretty clueless because I’ve seen them rip someone off of the drug cold turkey that they’ve been on for years and then slam them onto a large dose of another toxic drug. It’s pretty horrendous. And we all know when the new baby doctors have arrived on our teaching unit because the entire unit goes ballistic. This is usually because the baby doctors start playing around with the drugs that everyone is on. I once made the observation in morning report that I thought that the Geneva Convention forbid experimenting on humans, especially without their knowledge.

        Anyway, I’ve gotten on my soap box and need to get off and stop while I can. Essentially I don’t think many of the psychs know much about tapering.

  20. Well Well, that was a good read. I mean it was fun to read. The effort paid off, for me at least.


    To be frank

    What do you expect?

    Haha hehe and so on and so forth


    You nose-dive into the swamp of corruption and unlawfulness and then what? What is it you expect to happen?

    You seem to be suggesting you want to be an activist, a maker of change.

    And then you nose-dive into the swamp of corruption and unlawfulness?

    It’s as simple as this: everyone who told you to change the system you have to be in the system was a liar, a sycophant, a bullshitter.

    The system doesn’t change from within. It never did and it never will. Choose any system you like, and this holds true.

    You want to be a whistleblower? Then you’re out. You are way out, expunged, gone.

    Every single person that plays with the system, no matter how they do it, are the system. They are part of the corruption and the unlawfulness, and the lies.

    True, as you hint at, there are narcissistic benefits, monetary benefits. But anyone working in the system, is the system. And they are part of the problem.

    Death of an Activist? No no no. The activism dies as soon as it jumps into bed with the tyrant, as soon as it prostitutes its values. That is where the death happens. The rest is simply melodrama.

  21. What triggers me you ask? Well ask and I shall pander to your inquiry brethren and ladies of our movement.

    Was I fired from every job before I became a peer specialist? Yes I was, but that is not the issue.

    I want you to know that my career as Peer specialist is my life. When you mention paid peer positions as hinderence to strength of our movement I take keen interest in finding out more.

    I could not tarry this evening while eating dinner after long hard day because the peer specialist is integral to my life.

    Kindles a desire in me. A desire that is burning and I will not let the comments here on peers be stagnant. Not while the romance of this profession lingers in my heart allowing me to reach higher. So much higher in the direction of my dreams.

    It was not too many moons ago that I was a lonely man even trying online dating sites but to no avail. Deciding which way to go. Move to a coastal town and be a lifeguard? Try out big city life and work at a deli? It was a confusing time with frustration and trials too.

    I thought I new everything to know about my city, but one day I went to a mental health event and the peer movement was waiting. It is the success I’ve always wanted.

    I have come to feel something incredible. I have acquired the strength of the battle I have overcome. This is due working as peer specialist and the peer specialist movement.

    • Pat, I have a good friend who chooses to remain in the Psychiatric System. She knows I’ll support her if she wants to leave, but I don’t pressure her. Escape is difficult, but especially at age 59. She doesn’t pressure me to come back, take my drugs, or tattle on me to Big Brother.

      Since leaving NAMI I don’t visit the site. I don’t visit Bipolar Burble, The Mighty, Healthy Place or the other countless other pro-psychiatry sites on the internet. If I did I would refrain from commenting, or say something we could all agree with such as “Quit bashing your ‘crazy psycho bipolar ex’!” since they attract creepy trolls like those. If I did dissent I would try to make the comment as polite and tactful as possible.

      That’s called good manners.

      Many of us disagree with Littleturtle, but his comments are polite and sometimes thought provoking. He communicates respectfully.

  22. OK, *NOW* I can comment directly to Sera. No “rsvp” requested or expected, Sera. I liked the article above very much. I think it articulates well the dysfunctional inter-personal dynamics which permeates the whole “mental health / illness” system. I saw/heard/read some humor in the piece, even if it’s gallows humor. And, I think many of the more critical comments here are off-base, and even wrong. I’m a little surprised at the push-back Sera seems to provoke here. Too many of the comments are also off-topic. Not that that’s always a bad thing….
    One of my best friends is a victim of forced psychiatry, but she does have a copy of the video from “Western Mass”-whatever it’s called(sorry, I can’t recall it right the name right now, but it’s the group you work with, Sera.)
    Let me make a suggestion: Edit this down some, maybe combine and eliminate some #’s; maybe edit some wording into more formal/clinical language, then distribute this piece as far and wide as possible. It’s a strong piece, Sera, as written. My suggestions are in hopes of it seeing a MUCH wider audience, especially in the whole “Community Mental Health Center” crowd.
    I can certainly identify with most of what you’ve written here.

  23. Esteemed colleagues, members of the press core, men and woman in recovery; ie. 1-24-18

    I love the peer specialist field. It’s integral to my success in battle with mental illness. I also take as much pride as I am capable of managing in supporting others recoveries.

    I think I’ve finally received everybody’s message. I didn’t notice the first few times. That’s MY FAULT

    It’s better this way. Better by far if I get rid of my cell phone. I don’t own a tv or computer as it is now.
    Au revoire mad in America.

  24. Sera, I read your Recovery Trap blog before I joined this forum. It impressed me.

    But you are involved with a group which uses the word “Recovery”, and you seem committed to the concept.

    Mental Illness, Needing Psychotherapy, Needing Recovery end when those being impugned start politically organizing and fighting back, instead of pleading for pity and recovery.

    If you have burned out on pleading for pity and recovery, and are not going to do it anymore, GREAT!

  25. How about a segue? I don’t think someone totally disrupting a thread for purely egotistical reasons is behavior we are bound to respect.

    Sera may not want to pursue this but since she said the following I nonetheless feel compelled to respond:

    Almost any perspective that is completely one-sided is usually missing something in my eyes. That is how ‘anti-psychiatry’ feels to me. It a) misses that humans have used drugs for an eternity to manage their feelings, experiences, etc, and I’m not entirely sure that’s wrong in the most fundamental sense b) misses the fact that iatrogenic harm and dehumanization happen in the system for many reasons that include but extend beyond psychiatric drugs.

    How is this an argument against anti-psychiatry? a) What does anti-psychiatry have to do with some sort of puritanical/totalitarian war on drugs?; and b) Who ever said anti-psychiatry was primarily focused on drugs?

    Anti-psychiatry is based on the literal impossibility of “mental illness” and the inherent fraud involved in presuming to treat “it.” For me it is also the recognition that psychiatry is not a branch of medicine, but of the prison system.

    Also if AP is “one-sided,” what’s the “good side” of psychiatry?

    • I have a issue with all these people selling “mental health” treatment. In order to treat a person, that person must be presumed to have an “mental illness”. The “mental health” professional’s paycheck depends on convincing people who are literally not sick that they are “sick”. This makes the “mental health” professional a “mental illness” salesperson because before they can peddle neurotoxins, talk, or what have you, they have to have that reason for doing so (i.e. a “mental illness” diagnostic label.) As I’ve pointed out, this makes “mental health” a matter of not buying “mental health” treatment, people who don’t buy “mental health” treatment being presumed to be healthy. Both “mental illness” and “mental health” are metaphors, that is, literal impossibilities. When you tell me somebody has a psychological illness sometime, please, show me the psychological and how it is effected. If we’re measuring “the soul” in relation to one’s ‘salt’, I hear it must weigh very, very little. Were I lab tech, do we have a microscope that can go there?

  26. I understand what you’re saying, Sera, and I also know how painful it can be. Successful arguments are arguments that adapt to their audience, and sometimes that means a crushing amount of diplomacy on your part and keeping silent.
    I write a lot about my experiences and am often invited to do readings for creative writing guilds or workshops. Over the years, I’ve learned to carefully edit my reality for the masses… It’s the only way they can hear me. The reality is so beyond what most of them can conceive of. I even once overheard one student tell another that my ability to illustrate emotion was uncanny. The other responded with, it’s still clearly fictional. Things like that don’t happen here… Oh, but they do.
    Still, I can remember when I couldn’t fathom such a possibility. The first night in an institution, i laid there worrying about having the perfect dress for homecoming court. It would be four years before I was free again, and all the homecomings and proms would be over.
    Often times, I feel myself wanting to drown them in the totality of my story just to say it out loud once…
    But I need them to hear me… To see me… So, I push that down and compromise…

  27. Sera, I have missed your writing and am glad to hear from you again. I’m not sure what to say other than thank you for the work you do, both in your peer work and as a writer here. I’ve always found your writing inspirational, and it’s clear your clients (as a peer worker) and family (as an informed person who knows what’s what regarding “mental health” information taught to your kids) are lucky to have you. I am sorry to hear of your exasperating experiences, but I am not surprised given their familiarity to me as a psychologist who opposes the biomedical model. I want to thank you for the inspiration you have provided to me, and I hope I can translate your influence into helping others. Thank you, Sera!

  28. Sera and all

    You have articulated some very real and insightful summations of just how difficult it is to be an agent of change working inside today’s “mental health” system. As many know I worked as a therapist for 22 years (until 2015) inside the community mental health system in a working class city in Massachusetts.

    I fought against the takeover of the disease/drug based Medical Model for the entire time I worked there. The labeling and drugging was prolific and the agency probably went through more that two dozen or more psychiatrists and other type of prescribers during that period. I know the “Beast” well from the inside from the perspective of someone who has worked in the System. I’ve seen first hand the damage done.

    Sera, there is no simple or easy solution to your dilemma (not that you thought there was one) and you probably won’t like to hear the conclusions I have drawn from this experience. But here goes.

    I will preface my further comments by saying I have been an antiwar, pro Black Liberation, pro women’s movement, anti-capitalist type activist since the late 1960’s. Back then I came to believe that UNLESS we moved beyond a profit/class based based capitalist system NOTHING of substance would change regarding the major forms of oppression in the world.

    So when I came to understand (in the early 1990’s) that Biological Psychiatry, and their entire paradigm of so-called treatment, was also another major form of institutional oppression harming millions of people with labels and drugs, it was natural for me to fight against it. It was also natural for me to more deeply analyze and study this institutional form of oppression.

    In the beginning of this learning process (especially reading the real science behind these issues), I thought, “wow it is so obvious how harmful these labels and drugs are. And we now have a minority of doctors and other educated experts, along with numerous articulate psychiatric survivor stories, so we can just get the word out (over a relatively short number of years) and blow this whole oppressive paradigm out of the water.”

    Well not so fast, Richard! have you forgotten the lessons you learned in the 1960’s? Have you forgotten what kind of all encompassing and powerful system you are up against here? Have you forgotten how those in power will do anything AND everything to protect their economic interests and hold onto their power and do what it takes to crush and/or demoralize those who dare to challenge the status quo?

    So I am saying that I DID forget some of those past lessons and had a brief period (with the rise of MIA and all the great science and books that were coming out exposing psychiatric abuse) where I thought the Biological Psychiatry house of cards might soon crumble.

    But I have since come back to my senses and have re-engaged with the best of my critical thinking skills. THIS DOES NOT MAKE ME PESSIMISTIC ABOUT CHANGE BUT ONLY MAKES ME MORE REALISTIC ABOUT WHAT IS REQUIRED TO MOVE FORWARD. So here is a list of my conclusions on the dilemma Sera (and thousands of other activists working inside and outside this oppressive system) face in the coming period:

    1) Psychiatry and psychiatric abuse has changed over the past 5 decades. It’s always been oppressive, but it has grown exponentially in power and in the depth to which it has penetrated every pore of our society.

    2) Psychiatry and its collusion with Big Pharma has become a highly profitable business achieving some of the highest rates of profit in the entire capitalist system, and is now a critically important pillar in the U.S. economy.

    3) Over the past 5 decades, with the growing numbers of people labeled and drugged within our society, the ruling class (defending and preserving the status quo by any means necessary) has grown (over time) to understand the valuable role that the psychiatric Medical Model can play in disabling (with labels and drugs) the most potentially volatile sections of society that have traditionally been more rebellious – minorities, prisoners, women, disenfranchised working class youth, and other system outliers.

    4) In the post 9/11 world, the intensity of world wide struggles and contradictions, have increased the need for those in power to maintain control of any type of opposition forces or movements that are aimed at shaking up major institutions. Psychiatry (and its ability to incarcerate and drug someone with a mere signature of a pen) has the political and police power in society that only the Executive Branch of government can rival. In these intense times, allowing Psychiatry to maintain this power is very useful to those resisting political upheaval and trying to preserve the status quo.

    5) So therefore, the economic, political, and social role of Psychiatry (and their entire “mental health” paradigm) has now become INSEPARABLY BOUND to the future of the entire capitalist/imperialist system.
    So in the final analysis, it does not fundamentally matter how much we expose the faulty science and oppressive forms of treatment and build resistance in numbers, Psychiatry and their Medical Model has become TOO BIG AND IMPORTANT to be allowed to fail in the current order of things.

    6) NONE of my above conclusions means we should not build struggle and resistance AND/OR alternative forms of systems for those who need help. These are all important ways to expose these forms of human oppression, educate broader numbers of people, bring more people into resistance against the status quo, and save some people along the way. BUT there will be no FUNDAMENTAL type of change in what we all abhor until we grasp the necessity of moving on to a new historical era where capitalism is replace by a more humane form of socialism.

    7) Therefore, we must find a way through ALL our organizing and transformative work to link the day to day struggles with the broader struggle to make bigger System and institutional change on a world scale. Anything short of this approach will ultimately lead to the types of demoralization and burnout described in Sera’s blog.

    8) Fighting “The Good Fight” on the broader levels I have just described ARE NOT easy, and it can also lead to demoralization and burnout. BUT, at least it represents a more realistic and truer picture of what we are up actually up against, AND what it will actually take to have a chance of reaching our goal of a world free of all forms of psychiatric oppression.

    9) Similar to the conclusions drawn from the environmental movement, we CANNOT save the planet from inevitable worldwide catastrophe WITHOUT System change happening eventually across the entire planet. The same holds true when looking at psychiatric oppression. It may all sound TOO BIG to some people reading this, but it is a “Long March” that is worth starting now. We can all do our part by marching forward with our head and eyes FULLY raised and looking towards the “prize.”

    To Sera and others, this may not be what you wanted to hear, but it is the best that I can offer at this time.
    “Dare to struggle, Dare to Win”


    • Quite a post Richard, I suspect I’ll be largely in agreement but here are some thoughts:

      Psychiatry and psychiatric abuse has changed over the past 5 decades.

      Parenthetically speaking, saying “psychiatry and psychiatric abuse” is redundant. Semantics aside, I would point out that, on an individual level, psychiatry is not more oppressive today, it’s been that way since Benjamin Rush. But the degree to which it now permeates society and culture is truly astounding, and terrifying — not only because of what is currently happening with psychiatry but also because of the continuing inability of people to see the obvious folly in such concepts as “mental illness”; this represents a deficit in our collective ability to reason, which is being stirred by the deliberate misuse of metaphor, a tactic that is being and will be extended to other spheres of life.

      So in the final analysis, it does not fundamentally matter how much we expose the faulty science and oppressive forms of treatment and build resistance in numbers, Psychiatry and their Medical Model has become TOO BIG AND IMPORTANT to be allowed to fail in the current order of things.

      Allowed by whom? Once we reach a tipping point where most people recognize the hoax as a hoax people will start to resist big time. It’s not only negative projection but shaky analysis as well to say psychiatry won’t be defeated until after capitalism is defeated — primarily because the defeat of psychiatry will be an element of the defeat of capitalism; it’s symbiotic, they’re both part of the same process.

      BUT there will be no FUNDAMENTAL type of change in what we all abhor until we grasp the necessity of moving on to a new historical era where capitalism is replace by a more humane form of socialism.

      This is true in general. It doesn’t mean that to fight psychiatry people need to have an advanced class analysis, however, though it never hurts. But such a perspective is not necessary to fight psychiatric oppression on a day to day basis, nor should AP survivors be pressured to mouth Marxist rhetoric as a condition of participating in this struggle.

    • Richard L I love what you wrote. I think when we are newbies to the Movement we may have very high ideals and lofty goals, even unrealistic ones. This is not a bad thing even if we are grossly overoptimistic. I, too, recall the idealism of the 1960’s, the ideas people had that we could all live in peace and harmony, the “hippie” communes and people working so hard to maintain alternatives. I recall the earlier feminist movement, which was highly idealistic also. I recall a whole bunch of feminist utopia novels also.

      What happened to the feminists? What happened to the hippies? Where is the idealism, the dreaming and reaching up to places higher than we can possibly go? I believe such dreams are a necessary part of social change.

      Do we hope for a day when no one is called by a diagnosis or pseudo-diagnosis, when human behavior is not explained as synapses, but viewed compassionately, with genuine unselfish concern? I hope so.

      Realistic or not, I see no harm in hoping for the best. A person living in poverty might dream of riches. Working with this idea, he/she may proceed to work logically, step-by-step, to eliminate debt, work with creditors, and increase income. He may not become wealthy but his credit score will go up some.

      Without hope, where are we? I hope someday doctors aren’t paid so much nor treated like gods, nor have any say in court without tangible, measurable evidence. i hope we, as a society, stop blaming our own boo-boos on mental disorders, and take responsibility for cleaning up this mess.

  29. Thanks, Sera. I just saw this just now after my friend pointed it out to me. So I came to have a look. Some of what you describe I have experienced, such as the silencing incidents you describe, my own very much similar. It’s not nearly as bad as it used to be for me. I can recall being in rooms full of people and not being allowed to speak at all, and being cut off just as I began a sentence. I couldn’t help but feel like “If anyone else said that, they wouldn’t be cut off as I was” but…Then I get the feeling either I am not wanted around, or no one wants to hear whatever I have to say. It gets tiring and I end up feeling like I am constantly fighting to get a word in. This has extended to friendships also, wrecking a few of them, because even when it’s not really happening, as I have the deathly fear of not being heard.

  30. I guess what I object to most is the elitism within the Movement. This comes from all sides, not just from provider circles excluding survivors, but from survivors who refuse to speak with other survivors, noses in the air, overlooking those they feel aren’t as important as they are. There is rampant snobbery in the Movement.

    And there is also a social ranking in some circles as to “off drugs” and “still on.” Or even, (I gotta laugh over this one), which particular drugs you’re still on. It is a status symbol. That is SO INSANE. I don’t think anyone should have to publicly post their drugs, for godsakes, to be accepted in a community. And oh, the worse you suffer from withdrawal, or claims of such, another claim to fame, the more attention you draw.

    Aren’t these things just fallout from where we came?

    Why can’t we all just speak reasonably to each other? I object to the tiers among us which are often arbitrarily drawn. I do think we should have chosen leaders and spokespeople from among us, people who can approach the government and the media. I don’t think “professionals,” no matter how sympathetic, reflect the survivor voice nor should they represent it.

    And I resent the claims that so many providers are quietly survivors themselves. You are not doing us any favors by remaining silent. Even those that claim they do so to “keep their jobs.” You are selling out, dudes, and snubbing us.

          • I’m certainly not shitting on anyone. I can share examples but of course cannot be very specific for the sake of those affected. I see these folks as doing a disservice to those who have a genuine terrible experience.

            For instance, we know that a back injury can put someone out of work, and if much pain is involved, certainly make life unbearable. We also know that people who exaggerate “back pain” as reason to get onto disability do a terrible disservice to those who really have debilitating back injuries. See what I am saying? And we see variants of this, too.

            It’s bad enough that withdrawal is mislabeled “symptoms of mental illness” by some MH professionals. I have seen examples of MH professionals who stupidly mislabeled to the point of total ignorance.

            The worst of these being when I witnessed a fellow patient who had a bad reaction to long-term use of what I think was Risperdal. He had clear signs of TD which were called a “nervous twitch” by the psych!!!!

            But still we have to be careful not to blame every little thing that goes wrong in life on withdrawal. There are always some jumping on the bandwagon, or, rather, sneaking onto it. This hurts those who are legitimately there. I suspect more are on that wagon than should be, that’s all. By all means I wasn’t directing my comment at you personally.

          • Julie, I didn’t think that your comment had anything to do with me personally, but you made claims about a class of people to which i belong. One of the most painful things about my withdrawal experience has been that very few people have believed me about it, so I have no interest in looking around to see if anyone might be making up or exaggerating withdrawal symptoms. I also think that you have a tendency in your comments to minimize the damage that psych drugs can do to a person.

          • Well for that I apologize. My own organ damage IS permanent, permanent and life-shortening. Truth is I cannot get medical care for it because to seek medical care means down the line revealing how I got kidney damage (lithium). I have to live with the damage from lithium on a daily basis, my sleep is affected, I have permanent anemia, sometimes my red blood cells are deformed or swelled up, I drink six liters of fluids a day to compensate and take electrolyte supplementation. I also almost died a few years ago. I was lied to and told I caused it. Then I found out my kidneys had been failing for years, maybe a full decade, due to past lithium use (12 years). I was also lied to about my own medical condition.

            However, abuse trauma, from psychiatric abuse, caused me to fear and distrust doctors so much I am having trouble submitting to a cataract operation. I am blind in one eye and the other barely sees.

            I am not trying to minimize drug damage because to do so would be hypocritical. I AM trying to emphasize therapy abuse since it’s fucking taboo around here and therapists’ feelings get hurt so such stories are suppressed. Some people have no clue how abusive some therapists can be and just how hard it is on a person. Never mind what that woman did to me. Most do not even want to hear about it.

            Adam Lanza was a victim of therapy abuse, too. That is how badly it damages a person.

          • There is no venue for therapy abuse. You can’t even go to another therapist for help with resulting trauma. That would defeat the purpose, no? And all that affects me to this day, affects my relationships and my ability to get along with others.

            I have even tried talking to my friends about it but they do not want to hear. Very few anyway. This subject needs to be brought out into the public and we need to be able to speak about it without being called paranoid.

            Look at what bringing sexual harassment did, people spoke up after many years. This is what I am hoping for.

          • I believe you about the therapy abuse and I’m sorry that happened to you. Some of my therapy experiences have been very positive, but the majority of them have been negative or just plain awful. There is a major imbalance of power in a therapy relationship and that makes it easy for abuse to occur if the therapist isn’t mindful of their own issues.

  31. I agree with you that it’s a very snubby, often snotty, culture. And I don’t think that can be entirely accounted for by the narcissism and the fragility. It’s in-group and out-group dynamics. That pans out in all areas of life.

    There is also the ongoing terror people have of their ideas being stolen and ran away with by some half-soaked opportunist. It’s also a very snatch-and-grab culture, as Sera mentions in her article. That puts people on edge. Understandably.

    But it is also a culture that, through its parrying and collaborating, and enabling, of the unlawful and corrupt system, inevitably becomes rather fetid itself. Motivations are tainted. Egos are overblown. Abilities are exaggerated.

    And it remains so, that even here, there is an inbuilt paternalism, whereby the non-mad are the flames around which the mad must buzz.

    Some people, I accept, such as Sera, work hard at bringing people together. Other people, such as myself, encourage people to break free and go it alone.

    But that flame keeps burning, and we mad people find it irrestible, for all kinds of reasons. But we all play a role. If I was to configure my role, it would be to play a kind of Alexander Pope of the mh system, the one that exposes the vanity and pomposity and has a good laugh at it. Because one thing mad people generally understand, it’s how the seriousness can so quickly turn into sadism. Some people need lampooning more than they will ever know.

  32. Thank you for your post. I have experienced everything you talked about, and it is tremendously disheartening.

    I came to the conclusion that many people who say they to want to hear ‘the other side’ actually don’t. They want to feel smug in their ‘open-mindedness,’ but they are threatened by any hint of real change.

    It’s called cooptation – they pretend that you have a place with them, but that place is only to make them look better than they are.

    I have become much more careful about when, where, and with whom I put myself on the line. I would rather organize with people who are truly open to hearing what I have to say than to bang my head against a wall in the hope that the politically deaf will grow a pair of ears.

    • Cooptation is what NAMI is all about. While the NAMI mommies and well-meaning but clueless family members run the show, it derives a lot of it’s credibility from the “consumer” mascots. Unless it’s a spiel for “life-saving meds that saved my life” no one wants to hear what they say. They have no input even into their own educational programs. (I’m not referring to questioning psychiatry, but wanting a program written above a 3rd grade reading level.) They’re show animals if not window dressing.

      ~3 year NAMI mascot–trained animal

  33. Sera, about supporting the concept of Recovery:

    Unless anti-Paychiatry activism is people fighting for something tangible, then it really is just more pity seeking. “Please Rep Murphy, don’t subject us to involuntary psychiatric procedures, let us have or recovery. We are non-violent, neutered.”

    It comes down to political activism and the way it most always proceeds. There can never be any pleading in it. So you don’t plead for relief from Tim Murphy’s bill, you let everyone know that all available means will be used to prevent it from being enforced.

    And then with those who have survived the mental health and recovery system, you demand penalities for perpetrators, and reparations for perpetrators. If you don’t do this, then you are saying that it is your side which is at fault, so such penalties and reparations are not warranted. So it is still more pity seeking.

    Angela Davis

    James Forman

    Stokely Carmichael

    The Mental Health – Recovery Movement is simply the continuation of the bogus sciences of Social Darwinism and Eugenics. So though these sciences are bogus, when you take a passive and pleading posture towards them, you make it look like they are legitimate.

    A Work In Progress

  34. Feeling Discouraged, yes I do know what happened to Rep Tim Murphy, jackass that he is.

    Sera wrote, “I genuinely am not sure why you are posting this here. This blog isn’t about ‘recovery.’ I’ve been pretty clear for many years that I don’t support the concept.”

    But Sera, what then is the object of your activism? Those who have been in the psychiatric system are a persecuted minority, robbed of any kind of a legitimated biography, and usually still blocked in any efforts to reclaim such a biography.

    Tina Minkowitz, Esq. wrote:
    “Therapy or recovery is not a remedy for forced treatment, the remedy is abolition and a full and comprehensive effort to make reparations to victims/survivors.”

    Sera, you wrote to the newspaper and they published your letters. To me, it seemed like you were pleading, trying to reason with readers and evoke a sense of pity. And I think you endorsed various programs like halfway houses or Soteria, or your group, or other things, which in that context, must be interpreted as “Recovery Programs”. You were offering these as the alternative to forced psychiatric procedures.

    People who are standing up for themselves do not plead:

    Remember, the mental health system and recovery movement are rooted in the bogus sciences of Social Darwinism and Eugenics. And though these are bogus, when you plead for pity, instead of showing how people can stand up for themselves, you feed the idea that there is some basis in these bogus sciences.

  35. Wow Sera, LONG blog.
    You are a great writer.

    I can hear you are tired but not giving in or up.
    I think you understand them much more than they can understand you,
    and you and they know it.
    Perhaps you are one to get a psychiatry degree and work from the inside.
    We need more people to get degrees. I was never good in school.