An e-zine with the mission to contribute to changing the narrative about madness and mental distress in the Asia region has launched. Mad in Asia hopes to showcase narratives that are contextually relevant to the Asia region, with a focus on the human rights of persons with psychosocial disabilities.
We share the concerns that many activists and advocates around the world have about the dominance of the biomedical model in the understanding, treatment and care of people deemed ‘mentally ill’. Many of our countries still operate under the legacy of colonial institutions and legal frameworks set up to ‘manage’ the mad. Meanwhile, new ‘global movements’ have set out to create and replicate policies and institutions based on western psychiatry and clinical psychology. Even in the ‘alternatives to psychiatry’ context, efforts to drive innovations developed in the global north into the global south have sometimes tended to replicate old colonial tendencies.
We believe there is no single all-encompassing way to challenge and change the current narratives and practices that marginalise the experiences of persons with psychosocial disabilities. Nor can it be articulated in terms of an opposition to biomedical psychiatry and its institutions alone. In many of our countries, institutional psychiatry/psychology does not exist, and violation of our rights and personhood takes place within our societies, immediate community spaces and families. Collective action involves a whole range of negotiations as well as the affirmation and validation of knowledge, experiences and skills emerging from and responsive to local contexts. What is required, then, are contextually relevant multiple narratives.
The alliance of persons with psychosocial disabilities and cross disability supporters, TCI Asia (Transforming Communities for Inclusion of Persons with Psychosocial Disabilities, Asia), has been at the forefront of this work in the Asia region. Mad in Asia works in partnership with TCI Asia, aligning our objectives to focus on the human rights and community inclusion of persons with psychosocial disabilities. To change the ‘mental health’ narrative to one that critically engages with people’s lived experiences in our region, we believe that notions such as community, inclusion, rights, personhood, disability, society as well as madness, mental health and psychiatry need to be examined.
Mad in Asia is a space led by persons with psychosocial disabilities from Asian countries for negotiating and nurturing such narratives. We hope to do this in collaboration with our allies including cross disability activists, mental health workers, academics, social justice campaigners, family and community members, and anyone else interested in joining this online community for change. In doing this, we hope to disseminate the extensive knowledge (theories, investigations, actions and practices) held by our people and within our communities that come from different ways of understanding distress and from the direct experience of persons with psychosocial disabilities. Much of this knowledge is absent even from the current global ‘critical and progressive alternatives’ knowledge base. Writing out of Asia, in English as well as in regional languages, Mad in Asia makes a claim for a valid space for this collective knowledge base. For inclusion, as we understand it from the wisdom of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), is material as well as epistemic.
The launch content covers a diverse range of topics. Bhargavi Davar writes about the importance of the CRPD in helping shape identities as well as what is perhaps the most important agenda for the region: transforming communities for the inclusion of persons with psychosocial disabilities. Writing from the Philippines, Janice Cambri sets out advocacy in the socioeconomic context of the country and the transformations required — and beginning to mobilise — to realise full human rights. Lynn Tang’s reflections on ‘recovery’ and what that means for persons with psychosocial disabilities in Hong Kong and in the Chinese diaspora living in the UK points to parallels in our collective concerns. The relevance of digital media as a peer support space and the complex ways in which it functions is the theme explored by Momina Masood and Noor ul Huda Niazi from Pakistan. Yang Weihua tells the story of one man’s fight for freedom from incarceration in psychiatric institutions in the context of laws governing mental health in China. We also feature TCI Asia’s advocacy efforts in representing regional concerns in UN forums as well as efforts underway in addressing the practical and ethical questions around the development of peer support in Japan specifically and across the region more broadly.
Mad in Asia is not envisaged as a daily webzine at this moment but as a blog site with regular updates. We hope to slowly build momentum and develop content that includes research and critical reflections, actions and innovations, practices based in art and creativity, and audio-visual content.
Mad in Asia is brought to you by TCI Asia in partnership with Mad in America, with fiscal support from the International Disability Alliance.