This week, we interview Laura Delano. Laura is Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Inner Compass Initiative and The Withdrawal Project, which aim to create safe spaces for people to connect and the opportunity to learn about and be guided through the process of getting beyond the mental health system and off psychiatric drugs.
The passion she feels for the mission and vision of ICI arises from the fourteen years she spent lost in the mental health system and the journey that she’s been on since 2010, when she chose to leave behind a “mentally ill” identity and the various treatments that came with it, and gradually began to rediscover and reconnect with who she really was and what it means to suffer, struggle, and be human in this world.
Since becoming an “ex-patient,” Laura has been writing and speaking about her personal experiences and about the broader social and political issues sitting at the heart of “mental illness” and “mental health.” Since 2011, she has worked both within and beyond the mental health system.
In the Boston area, she worked for nearly two years for a large community mental health organization, providing support to and advocating for the rights of individuals in emergency rooms, psychiatric hospitals, and institutional “group home” settings. After leaving the “inside” of the mental health system, she began consulting with individuals and families seeking help during the psychiatric drug withdrawal process. Laura has also given talks and workshops in Europe and across North America, facilitated mutual-aid groups for people in withdrawal, and organized various conferences and public events such as the Mad in America International Film Festival.
In this interview, we got time to talk about Laura’s personal experiences of the mental health system and what led her to co-found the Inner Compass Initiative and The Withdrawal Project.
In this episode we discuss:
- Laura’s experiences as a patient in the mental health system, starting treatment at age thirteen and leaving the system behind at age 27.
- How she spent much of that time as a compliant patient, taking the medications and following the advice of her doctors.
- That, by 2010, she was on 5 medications (Lithium, Abilify, Lamictal, Effexor and Ativan) and had spent the last decade becoming worse and unable to properly engage with life.
- How she came to read Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker and that it was a profound moment of realisation.
- That Laura decided to take control of her life and became determined to get off the drugs as quickly as possible.
- How traumatic it was to come to the realisation that almost everything she had been told during treatment was overly simplistic or incorrect.
- That Laura did experience feelings of being a victim of psychiatry but realised that this increased her emotional dependency on psychiatry and that it was necessary to move beyond that to feel free.
- That these experiences made Laura passionate about her own process of healing and rediscovering herself and helping others to find their way back to themselves after being psychiatrized.
- That as she healed she moved into a space of acceptance and gratitude and felt that the period around three years off the drugs was when she came to feel really alive and motivated again.
- That Laura feels that if we are going to move beyond the mental health system, it is about helping people to realise they don’t need the mainstream system and point them to alternatives at a local level and creating physical spaces where people can come together.
- How Laura came to co-found The Inner Compass Initiative and The Withdrawal Project which aim to create safe spaces for people to connect and the opportunity to learn about and be guided through the process of getting beyond the mental health system and off psychiatric drugs.
- That The Withdrawal Project was highlighted in a recent New York Times article discussing antidepressant withdrawal.
- How ICI and TWP present information on many aspects of psychiatric drugs and withdrawal to help guide and inform people who do want to start the journey off their psychiatric drugs and away from the mental health system.
- That TWP connect is a free peer-to-peer networking platform that allows people to connect one on one with others who have similar experiences.
- How a similar peer-to-peer system is available on ICI to enable conversations about moving beyond the mental health system.
- That Laura wants to encourage people not to give up because we do heal from psychiatric drugs and that we need to spread that message far and wide.
- The need to both learn and unlearn when approaching how we take back our power and control of our lives after psychiatric treatment.
- How important it is to properly prepare before starting to taper from psychiatric drugs and how the Withdrawal Project can enable that preparation.
- The ‘speed paradox’ when coming off psychiatric drugs.
- How people can find out more about The Inner Compass Initiative and The Withdrawal Project.
- That Laura is keen to support local community initiatives to get underway.