Building a Support Network for Peer Workers in NYC


You should know that there are Peer Workers actively organizing in New York City. We had a six hour visioning meeting this weekend in Harlem with 30+ people and there’s a really fired up group of folks who are building a mentorship/support network. This is really significant because, frankly, the mental health system is failing Peer Workers on so many fronts, and it’s long overdue that we start organizing support for ourselves. Peer work started from a social movement on the streets and has ended up a marginalized and co-opted role in a broken system. There is an incredible amount of talent, experience and creativity in our ranks, and the public mental health system desperately needs us to speak up and get organized so we can hold it accountable and make it work better. Peer Workers have the power of story tellers and we also have the particular power that comes from being social and economic underdogs: we have some really important stories to tell the world.

IDHA Workshop: Peers as Change Agents, NYC Peer Workforce Conference. July 2018

Here’s the invite that our collective sent out for the event:

Building a Mentorship Network for Peer Workers in New York City — A Day of Learning and Strategy

You’ve been invited to join us at Howie the Harp Advocacy Center for a day of learning, strategy and community building. On Saturday September 22 we will be gathering to learn from one another’s experiences providing peer support inside and outside of the public mental health system. The organizers of this event recognize that there is a desperate need for those of us working in peer roles in New York City to have a network of support that is not accountable to the City or the State.

  • We want to create a support network of people working inside and outside the mental health workforce.
  • We want to build creative community that provides mentoring opportunities and strategies for self-care and mutual support.
  • We want to figure out how such a network could get off the ground and be supported over time, which would include volunteer and funded activities
  • We want to make sure that this network can remain connected to the user/survivor advocacy movement that exists independently from the agencies that hire us.

There’s a lot to say about what happened at the meeting yesterday, but I’m actually just writing this post as a National call to people who realize how significant what we’re doing is and want to stay in touch. There are a lot of Peer Specialists in New York City who are tired of being treated like second class workers because we’re out about our diagnoses and trauma histories. What often gets ignored is that we, as Peer Workers, have the power to do all these things clinicians aren’t allowed to do, but we need to fight for our right to practice genuine peer support in our work places. The system need to adapt to us instead of trying to make us into mini-clinicians.

This situation is obviously the same around the country and should be called as it is: the State and Federal offices supposedly looking out for our interests don’t actually have the power to support innovations in our workforce, most of the trainings we receive prepare us to work as entry level, clinical staff with no hope for advancement, and, most importantly, the Managed Care Organizations that dictate what kind of work is reimbursable are out of touch with how genuine peer support could actually save money and positively transform the mental health system.

The people who should be talking to each other are obviously not talking to each other and it is time for some new and creative thinking in the mental health system. It is also clearly time that people with financial resources who want to see serious change in this system support the creative transformation of the Peer Workforce into empowered agents of relationality and innovation. We could actually flip the script and be the leaders of the change instead of the ones being marginalized and coerced into participating in an archaic model of care.

Some of us see the 25,000+ Peer Workers in North America as a sleeping dragon waiting to be organized in the spirit of true Peer Support the way the role was initially intended. Meanwhile, we are here in New York City, figuring out together how to develop support networks inside and outside of the system, joining with other grassroots social movements, and preparing for the future, which is clearly going to need us to step up our game.




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  1. Hi Sascha, l like the idea of an organized idealism that comes from the wisdom perspective of peer experience. Although l think your sense of a sleeping dragon, has the mythology of personal and therefore societal transformation the wrong way round.

    The idea, as explained by Joseph Campbell, is to learn the painstaking truth of how to say yes to the Serpent & Slay the Dragon that is our conscious sense of Self.

    The habit formed conscious Self that fails to notice that in taking it’s feeling of being a mind for granted, has imprisoned its self inside a notion that reality is made of numbers and words.

    While ‘metaphorically’ speaking the Serpent represents the Mad Underground of our overwhelming subconscious motivation, which is orchestrated by our nervous system.

    Personally, l would change tack and organize a peer group of professional and lived experience people to start changing the system from within, having noticed that it is often the psych-nurse’s who are more open to discuss alternative views of mental health.

    And l confess that on first sight of your passionate plea for change, the words of a favorite song came to mind:

    “Caught between the longing for love and the struggle for the legal tender. . . Say a prayer for the Pretender.”

    In my survivor journey towards the Serpent within, l’ve found that as long as money is the primary motivation, there is no real attempt at understanding, only more and more of that self-avoiding rationalization, we label Normal.

    Good luck Sascha.

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    • For anyone interested in the mythology of a wisdom perspective on the personal and societal transformation of the Self, that is known as Humanity, Campbell’s interview on the subject is here: Saying “yes” or “no” to the serpent / slaying the dragon

      It’s a perspective that comes from the timeless wisdom of mythological teachings about our human condition, like the myth of Icarus and those finely feathered thoughts that get us burnt if we let our imagination soar to high. While personally, I have found that the embodiment of a felt-sense of timeless aphorisms (short pithy comments full of meaning) to be more valuable than monetary gain.

      Like asking myself; what am I between two thoughts?

      Please forgive my double comment post.

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    • After watching that brilliant Campbell video clip I would like to clarify that I’m speaking about the Chinese Dragon, not the European! 🙂 I’m just using pretty language to talk about the power of collective work, I’m all for spiritual and mythological exploration, but the true joy for me comes from group process and the struggle of the oppressed to overcome oppression. I believe in our collective human potential. And unlike the character in that Jackson Brown song you quoted, I didn’t live through radical times and then decide to get a regular day job. I spent a bunch of time locked up in psychiatric hospitals and organized a bunch of people like myself and then used my privilege to get an education and an MSW. Now I have this wild job working in the system but hopefully I’ll make it out alive and in one piece and back to the Mad Underground before too long…

      “Personally, l would change tack and organize a peer group of professional and lived experience people to start changing the system from within, having noticed that it is often the psych-nurse’s who are more open to discuss alternative views of mental health.”

      We’re on it!

      Thanks for the wisdom and camaraderie, BigPicture!

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      • It was 6 am, this Tuesday morn as I walked towards the new wharf in North Sydney, after making the first comment above.

        Noticing that during the 60 seconds of a one-moment continuum of experiencing experience, that the moon was full and roughly 10 degrees above the curved horizon to my left, and how it corresponded to the sun that was equally 10 degrees above the curved horizon on my right, as I faced South.

        The sign, significance hit me in the stomach at first sight glimpse, as I felt myself rotate in time-space, as the earth moved my still planted feet. And pausing to feel a depth of existential alignment I pictured within my skull, where the third rock from the Sun is right now, on her annual journey around the center spindle of our solar system.

        “Ah! Sometimes you need to lose your mind to come into your senses,” I recalled as I remembered; It was the third hour, and they crucified him. Wondering if this horizontal vision of sun and moon, and humanity’s conceptual calendar’s of the space-time continuum, do create a psychological-blindness to the nature of Eternity?

        Course, back in the day of apocalyptic scripture writing this early hour of light unveiling shadows of night, was known as the first-hour of another day of the Sun.

        APOCALYPSE: to uncover, reveal?
        It’s modern “end of days” meaning is rather late, 1802 according to

        Wisdom is as good as an inheritance. Yes, it is more excellent for those who see the sun. Ecclesiastes 7:11.

        And the punishment for treason is “ignore him,” “ridicule him,” “laugh at him,” and paradoxically I have suffered this from your own good self, on the Icarus Project, Sascha.

        But as they say, forgiveness is divine, especially in the Mad Underground of Becoming more and more, Human.

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      • Sasha,

        I love when you report what is going on in NYC. I wish we lived closer and could participate, but I wish you wouldn’t forget about the ‘third wheel’ of the mental health equation: the SO’s and families who want to be part of the solution and who refuse to go the traditional mental health system way for their loved ones who are in distress. I’m ‘in the trenches’ 24/7 with my wife. I never let her get on any of those drugs. And in many ways I carried her thru so many things like panic attacks, flashbacks, the ‘chaos’ of integrating all the newcomers (alters) into our family and marriage, and so much more. Not all of us go want to go the NAMI route. We are on the frontlines in a way the professionals simply never will be. We are often thrust into the decision of ‘making the call’ or not doing so. My wife was fortunate I never did that, despite the chaos, and so we muddled our way thru things until we began to figure it out, and now she/we are doing so much better, but there needs to be help and support for others who’d like to do the same, but didn’t get as lucky as we did to figure it out on their own.

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  2. the public mental health system desperately needs us to speak up and get organized so we can hold it accountable and make it work better.

    This is almost treasonous in my view. This points out that scandalous degree to which the “peer” industry — which was originally conceived as a way of derailing the mental patients’ liberation movement and reinforcing psychiatric hegemony — has become “normalized” in the minds of many. The “peer” industry is also one of the institutions holding the “mental health” system together where it may have collapsed on its own. Now we have ex-psychiatric inmates basically volunteering to put the handcuffs on themselves, and draw in their “peers” in the process. Peer “workers” are not working for us for the most part, but for the system that employs them — their purpose and function being to help keep us in line and “compliant,” and to reinforce psychiatric repression.

    Why, once we recognize the above, would anyone in their right mind want to help the system “work better” rather than working to stop it immediately and altogether?

    I think “peer” workers with integrity and an anti-psychiatry consciousness (such as Stephen Gilbert) would agree with most of this. Maybe he’ll chime in.

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      • You will always be looked down upon in this system. And you’re employed by this marketing ploy that doesn’t have a shred of scientific backing whatsoever. And how do you fight a beast like this? You join it? Your punishment is being dished out to you already in spades.

        Even if you succeeded in getting a medical degree from a prestigious enough university, you still wouldn’t be taken seriously. Look at Kirsch and his meta analysis and he came from Harvard.

        I don’t get this whole concept. Maybe you can explain this to me because I always have trouble with this.

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        • Good point. There was a nice article published here by a woman who worked hard as a peer specialist for years. They paid her a minimum wage salary and held her in contempt–forcing her to tout the merits of psychiatry AND her SMI label like a trained animal. I need to dig up the article. It must be in the archives.

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          • Don’t get me wrong! I have nothing but ultimate respect for anyone that gets out of this system alive, gets off the drugs and can live outside this destination “disability”. But to work for the same system who wronged you in the first place, and gave you a fake label to ostracize you from society, it just legitimizes the whole system.

            And Sasha went and obtained an MSW or is in the process of one. My college roommate did that and it’s no joke. But now you’ve limited your capacity of income by the system that ostracized you in the first place from society and you think you’re going to get fair treatment? Good luck with that.

            Your best bet is to try to get income from outside the system and get to the point where you are earning enough to shun the system in the first place. Then you can organize and fight against “the belief system” that this seems to perpetuate.

            They can determine your fate, income and future possibilities. That’s looks like Stockholm syndrome to me.

            And let me apologize now for anyone who is offended by this post.

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        • Anonymous, I took a life coaching class but very quickly gave it up when I realized how scammy the business is. I am doing just as you said, working in an unrelated field and due to be totally off disability very soon. They have already stopped SSI, and I have been using up my nine months they give you of free money assuming you will fail. I keep activism and work separate. I really like my job even though it isn’t in my field (writing). It’s a job, with its pros and cons, but it pays the bills so no more dependency on Uncle Sam and taxpayer money. Not only that, I got a certification under my belt in the process. I am looking for a second job (the backup).

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          • Julie, you are truly an inspiration. It is so hard to even get off these drugs. I hear of such horror stories. We need more to get out of the system and far away from it. It will only help our cause the more income we all can make. Good luck with your certification.

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    • No, Oldhead, the “peer industry” was not created to undermine the psychiatric survivor movement. Those of us who did some of the early work in this area – which we never envisioned as an “industry” were trying to find ways to bring genuine grassroots peer support to people who were trapped in the system. With hindsight, I can say we were naive, that the entire idea was co-opted and disfigured by the system. In hindsight, it was a bad idea, and I’m sorry I had anything to do with it 25 years ago. But we were certainly not “treasonous,” and you give the system too much credit if you believe that the system created this on purpose to hijack the movement. The system is not that organized to dream up such a thing. What they did to the original idea is horrible, I agree. But you don’t seem to be fully aware of the history.

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      • Darby,

        First, the comment about “treason” was in reference to the statement about “making the mental health system work better,” which is analogous to “making the prison system work better.”

        As for history, I was there. The whole issue tore apartment the Vermont conference, and I regret my own naivete in not seeing what was coming. Immediately after this came the first system-controlled “alternatives” conference, which spelled the demise of the movement.

        The system is more sophisticated and far more organized than you might believe. In the late 70’s there was a department at NIMH which was designed to support “reform” activities by ex-inmates, which handed out grant money to those it could control and rescinded it when the recipients continued in an anti-psychiatry direction. Later they began hand-picking and funding “mental patient leaders,” who would be compliant and easily controlled, from the more opportunistic sectors of the movement. One person in particular (I’m sure you know who I mean) took this and ran with it, creating the “mental health consumer” meme and setting himself up as a honcho, attacking Szasz and the movement, collaborating with Torrey and the like, and wielding enormous influence over who would and wouldn’t receive support. This is why we should learn to never take system money, at least at this stage of disorganization. And my comment is a warning to not let ourselves slip back into the “consumer” mentality.

        I know Howie the Harp would be devastated by what has developed since, some of it in his name.

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        • The prison system can certainly be improved. Just look at other parts of the world inmates are treated with more respect and dignity.

          One could argue the MH system would be signficantly improved if we removed drugging and forced “treatment.” I know you want the MH system to be abolished (for understandable reasons), but many of us think there are better alternatives which wouldn’t require such drastic measures. Everyday as a therapist I hear from clients who say they are grateful for “the system”. The system works for some and not for others.

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          • Yeah, Shaun, The System is great if you are scared to go into the workplace or if you can’t find a job. FREE MONEY and it’s for life! Completely invisible permanent chemical imbalances come in handy you know. Just about as handy as “back pain.” A few towns over you can see billboards all over the place, lawyers advertising to help get people on the payments so they don’t have to work. Handy here in the county where jobs are so scarce and poverty so high that dis-ability looks like riches. If you are disabled you get paid per kid, too. Useful, and profitmaking, I must say.

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      • Darby Penney: I’m agreeing more with >oldhead< here, and affirming that "naive" is correct. In 1996, here in New Hampshire, I was one of the original founding board members of a new "Peer Support Agency". We got financial and administrative support from a State-wide 501(c)3 "Disability" agency, all flush with the latest "empowerment" jargon and lingo. Quickly, the local "Community mental Health Center" began shoehorning their way in. They literally stole some of our grant seed money, and stacked the board with "system loyalists". I was kicked off the board because I was too "consumer oriented", or some such lame, pathetic excuse. Now, that center functions as the "day treatment" program for the same CMHC, which has NO day treatment program of it's own. Folks are still abused and drugged as much as ever in the "State system". "Peer support", as an organized entity, is a sham. The paradox is that ONLY TRUE PEER SUPPORT, not the sham "mental health system" stuff, has any hope of truly helping people…. The so-called "survivor movement" isn't any better. You "survivors" are still defining yourselves in terms of THEIR (systemic) ABUSE of you! Why not imagine a world BEYOND BOTH "mental health" *AND* "mental illness"?….

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        • It’s a good thing to imagine. I personally don’t go around identifying as a victim of psychiatry per se, as everyone is victimized by the entire system to some degree. Before stumbling upon MIA I did consciously consider myself a “survivor,” but of life and the capitalist system in general. So I basically agree with you there, though to operate politically you need some sort of term. (Personally I prefer “inmate” and “outmate.”) It doesn’t mean that it has to become anyone’s basic identity.

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        • yeah I agree with Oldhead, psych has pulled the wool over society’s eyes. That IS abuse, with people running around scared they might have a disease and teens killing themselves because they know how bad it is to be locked up.

          I don’t see myself as a victim. I have moved past the trauma of being abused in a hospital, although I still feel it to a large extent. But I am thrilled that I have found a way of life that does not include doctor appointments, doesn’t include pharma, doesn’t include going to a therapist because that is assumed to be the one and only way to “self-improve.” It is bullshit. Go to the gym, join a class, learn herbal medicine, get your driver’s license, all these things are self-improvement with real rewards.

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      • Igor I was offered “that kind of job” and I refused. I was very persistent and worked extremely hard to find my job. I put in applications every day. I did research on what was out there and kept plugging at it. It takes a long time for anyone in this day and age to find a job. Friends of mine round here have been looking two years or more. Don’t give up. Don’t give in.

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  3. Is there any “cure” for these “peers”, or are they incorrigible?

    I have, as you should be able to imagine. a lot of trepidation about civil commitment serving as the gateway into “mental health” work. I mean, like, wow. Do I really want a job in the medicalization industry?

    1 in 4, my ass!

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    • I think “survivor” consciousness has made some inroads over the past few years, as halting as it has been at times. The philosophy reflected in this piece would take us back to the stifling perspective of believing we are “consumers of mental health services,” rather than victims of psychiatry rising up to confront it as a monstrous assault on humanity. Such self-hating identifications have been rejected by many survivors over the past five years after having been falsely promoted for decades as the result of the “evolution” of the anti-psychiatry resistance into the polite, compliant “mental health consumers movement.” We don’t need to go back to this, and we need to start recognizing the function of the “peer” industry as an adjunct of the “mental health” system.

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      • “we need to start recognizing the function of the “peer” industry as an adjunct of the “mental health” system.”

        Yes indeed, but don’t just think it’s an adjunct, they are the spies of the GP’s/psychiatrists looking for ‘relapse’ at the slightest sign to get people back on neurotoxin fraudulent drugs, please see video below if you are new to this (yes I know oldhead is very far from that) same for the rest of the family – in contact with the GP/psychiatrists – doing it to people they probably abused. A few of these signs of ‘relapse’… if you fail to smile or are late with paying bills as an excuse to coerce back to a GP to be referred to a psychiatrist for possible forced drugging. They call it ‘early intervention’..what is really normalised human rights abuse.

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        • Almost 15 years ago, now, the postman, a Federal USPS employee, “reported” me to the police, who “investigated” me. The cop wrote in his statement, in my criminal record, that I needed to be “psychiatrically stabilized”. (The cop had once worked as a “psychiatric worker”) Today, it’s been well over 20 years since I’ve seen a psychiatrist, and I’ve never been healthier! What you’re saying is correct, >streetphotobeing<!

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        • You paint all peer workers with a mighty broad brush, which I feel is unfortunate since not all peer workers are as you describe above in you post.

          I’m a peer worker but I’m not a spy for the clinicians nor am I constantly on the look out for relapses and I never try to get people to take the toxic neurotoxins and the “antidepressants”. I was trained to support people in their decision making process, with no input from me as to what I think they should do. I am to support their decisions, even when I disagree with them. I hate the damned drugs but if people choose to take them then so be it and I will work with them in whatever way that they want me to. I was trained to never talk about a “patient” with other staff unless that “patient” is present or has given me permission to talk about them. I don’t report on “patients” to the psychiatrists since I believe that said psychiatrists need to do their own work and talk to people on their own if they want to know anything about them. They get paid a lot more money than I do and need to earn their money by doing their job as they should. After eight years they don’t even try to go there and accept that I will not talk about the people that they’re supposedly caring for. At least I’ve made that much progress.

          Again, peer workers are only as good as the training programs that they come out of, and in my opinion most of the programs are terrible. I will not have anything to do with the program created by my state. But we are not all horrible people duped by the system to be its flunkies.

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          • Although I was never in the military I do practice one of the first laws of the battlefield. You never leave your wounded behind. I was able to free myself from the system and get my life back. I will not turn my back on the countless sisters and brothers who still lie there on the battlefield, casualties of the system and the wonderful “treatment” that it dispenses. I can only carry one at a time off that field and I will continue to try and do so for as long as I’m able.

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          • Not only the training programs, but the support or lack of it received from the institution you’re working in. It’s hard to work effectively behind enemy lines, and I admire anyone who is willing to take on such a dangerous and potentially life-changing role.

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          • Stephen — Since I solicited your attention here I will explore your posts in more depth forthwith, but have two things to interject immediately: a) I hope you understand that I am for the most part talking systemically here, not indicting individuals in a broad brush way; b) On an individual level, however, I sort of see you as one of the exceptions that prove the rule, wouldn’t you agree? I don’t see many “peers” speaking out as forcefully and articulately against psychiatry as you do.

            It takes a lot for me to consider anyone a “horrible person,” far more than accepting a job as a “peer worker.” It is the institution I am (yes) attacking here.

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        • I think this is an unfair generalization about peer workers. I agree that this is what the “MH” system WANTS them to be, and some, perhaps the majority even, knuckle under to those expectations, but there are certainly dissident peer workers who do their work “behind enemy lines”, as it were, and are providing such support as they can within the limits of their power. I think it is very important to distinguish the intent of the system from the actual behavior of individuals within the system. I say this as a person who was a “behind the lines” dissident counselor, and I can name any number of situations where the person I encountered was very fortunate that they got me instead of a run of the mill system drone. Eventually, I couldn’t keep it up because of my own sense of ethical conflict, but to suggest that there aren’t others in the system doing this kind of work is, I think, quite inaccurate.

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          • Certainly there are some people trying to “burrow from within,” but it’s a very short burrow till one becomes hopelessly ensconced (as you know). It would be a mistake to believe that adopting and normalizing a “job category” of “peer worker” — especially when in any way dependent on the system for sustenance or otherwise beholden to it — is a direction that should be encouraged by those who want to “make psychiatry history.”

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          • It is certainly not a pathway to revolutionary change. At best, a way to make a bad system a little less dangerous for the few who can benefit. I left because I felt like continuing to work in the system was giving it tacit approval, but I think everyone has to make that ethical call themselves. Because as bad as the system is, those who happened to run into me were a hell of a lot better off than they would have been if I hadn’t been there. I quit for my own peace of mind, but I still struggled with the awful situation the clients were left in. I just knew I couldn’t change it from within.

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    • Some of my feelings about this matter have been influenced by my reading of Kenneth Donaldson’s Insanity Inside Out (1976). Donaldson weathered some 15 years confined to the hospital from the mid 1950s to early 1970s, challenging the system until he won his court case. His issue: the hospital wouldn’t release him because he refused to admit to having a “mental illness”. He was, in their view, not a danger to himself or others, but he wouldn’t admit to having a “mental illness”, and, therefore, the Mexican standoff. It took a landmark court-case to get him out of Florida State Hospital. Now I ask you. what does it take to stop playing the role of “mental patient”, and by “mental patient” I mean “mental patient”, “service consumer”, “service user”, “peer” and “psychiatric casualty” or victim? I’m really not one to excuse “chronic” mental health professionalism (adopting the oppressor role) in this matter either. “Liberation” or “cure”, you don’t get there by caving in. You can buy this notion that you’ve got a “disease”, and use it to get a job, treating other people for their “diseases”, or you can get over it (slander, abduction, incarceration, torture), and get on with the business of living. I just can’t see myself, in this instance, buying into the parasite paramid I see developing as a part of the infectiously expanding “mental health” treatment system–a system that can’t help but be medical model even when it denies being medical model.

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        • Except for a short period, Donaldson had some sort of sweet heart deal with the hospital where he didn’t have to take neuroleptic drugs. I guess maybe this had something to do with his strength of character or the force of his will. There was never any indication, when I was confined, that not taking drugs was any sort of an option at all. (Maybe they thought I was dangerous.) I managed to tongue pills in the university hospital, but in the state hospital, they’d always check. I don’t imagine that anybody could have emerged from a hospital stay of 15 years relatively intact, and have taken neuroleptics consistently throughout. I’d say, if it was bad sitting it out for that much time, he was awfully lucky in that regard.

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      • I think there may be some confusion here. Ken Donaldson was not anti-psychiatry. His main accomplishment was a “right to treatment” case, which was based on the argument that since Donaldson was not receiving “treatment” he should be released (he had been locked up after an attack of exhaustion). Not the direction we want to go, though Ken D. was a great guy and attended our conferences regularly.

        Anyway this is just a point of information, as I’m sure Frank & I agree on the main issues here.

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        • I’m not saying he was antipsychiatry, whatever that means.

          “While this book is primarily concerned with the overwhelming majority of state-hospital inmates who are not sick, the question always arises at my interviews and lectures what to do for the disturbed person, the so-called mentally ill.”

          Emphasis added.

          I’d say it was a little more than “right to treatment”, although that was involved, too.

          “The jury found that Donaldson was neither dangerous to himself nor dangerous to others, and also found that, if mentally ill, Donaldson had not received treatment”

          The “right to treatment” part worries me because that can become an excuse to administer neuroleptics, and, like I said, he wasn’t taking any of those.

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          • By not anti-psychiatry I mean he believed that mental illness was a thing; he pointed once at a guy at one of the conferences who was sort of spastic and not very articulate as a “for example.” Still I would never claim that he wasn’t a boon to the movement. Among lawyers & the like the case was known as the “right to treatment” case, as that’s the precedent that was set, that you have a “right” to “treatment” and must be released if you aren’t getting it. Sort of a “loophole” decision.

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          • Actually, if you look, the Donaldson case was about the ‘dangerousness standard’ more than “right to treatment”.

            “‘Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563 (1975), was a landmark decision in mental health law. The United States Supreme Court ruled that a state cannot constitutionally confine a non-dangerous individual who is capable of surviving safely in freedom by themselves or with the help of willing and responsible family members or friends. Since the trial court jury found, upon ample evidence, that petitioner did so confine respondent, the Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s conclusion that petitioner had violated respondent’s right to liberty.”


            “In terms of impact, Connor v. Donaldson, 422 U.S. 563(1975) is probably the single most important decision in mental health law. It has been used by opponents of involuntary commitment (like the ACLU) to argue that it is unconstitutional to commit an individual involuntarily who is not (imminently) dangerous to himself or others.”

            The DJ Jaffe Channel

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          • Elsewhere I read that O’Connor v. Donaldson fell short of being a “right to treatment” case in that it protected the non-violent from treatment, but it didn’t go so far as to force treatment on those thought to be violent.

            Note above, what it ruled was not that his “right to treatment” had been violated, what had been violated was his ‘right to liberty’.

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          • OK I stand corrected. Still the false issue of “right to treatment” was pretty intrinsically associated with O’Connor vs. Donaldson, and indicative of the general approach taken at the time by lawyers “advocating” for the “mentally ill.”

            It also begs the question — how many thousands of non-dangerous people currently are being denied the so-called justice guaranteed by this decision, and why aren’t lawyers routinely invoking it to get people out of forced commitments?

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  4. THE MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM? Of course the survivor community view of the mental health system takes the existential perspective of Power over People.

    Big Money. Big Pharma & The Collusion of Academic Psychiatry, of which the Abolitionists prefer the term Biological Psychiatry.

    But is the real existential culprit the Power of Veneration? The Experts & their venerated position in a Society that makes Education its Totem & Lived Experience Taboo.

    Especially the infamous “Doctor knows best,” in all perspectives on Health Care? Which maybe true in the majority of Human Health Issues, yet not so for the Doctor’s of the Mind.

    Who, just like every other human being cannot give a first-person (from the inside-out) account of HOW they do Being Human.

    Like everyone else, they are trapped in the third-person dichotomy of a conscious mind, that is largely based on the memory of our early life adaptation to the survival skill of literacy and numeracy.

    Like everyone else they see words & numbers and take this ‘ascribing’ of words & numbers to life’s experience, as a whole-self judgement of the Reality of Being.

    Like the way Psychosis is judged as a ‘break with reality,’ which if read literally would mean that psychotic experience is death. Although read metaphorically, it could mean the death of our sense of consensus reality & a resurrection of the sentience (raw feeling of consciousness) we are all born with.

    My point being, that the veneration of education over the wisdom of lived experience, is the real-time power that keeps The System in Place, as we continue to wind on down the road, our shadows taller than our souls.

    No wonder Jesus cites Isaiah; they seeing see not and in no wise perceive.

    And when we see a clock we know what time it is, while in no wise perceiving the Nature of Time or the Spiritual meaning of Passover.

    “At last l feared to See Myself, as Nothing but Words.” -Plato

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  5. As a fugitive from Mental Health, I’m in no position to adequately discuss these peer movement controversies, lest the peers and their employers find me a Secret Agent for the Blues and take action to protect their communities from people like me. I’m already self exiled from the substance abuse community, so I may just have to keep my evil secrets to myself, lest I be shunned by my other contemporaries.

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  6. Sascha: You say “the mental health system is failing Peer Workers on so many fronts” but what about the people you represent, the people under forced treatment orders who are slowly dying from their treatment, who are sleeping sixteen hours a day, and have no friends? I hear you are frustrated by the way your employers treat you. I didn’t hear you mention the people you serve under ACT. Your objectives sound really positive, but what about organizing those 25,000 to prohibit treatment by force and demand alternatives and choices?

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      • hey madmom – thanks for your comment. i have another forum where i share ideas and i posted your question and my friend who’s been working as a peer on an ACT team for 13 years responded: What does this woman want!? We are truly on the move! First things first. Peer Workers on ACT Teams and other Mental Health agencies in the field of mental health need a Peer Worker’s support network outside of the mental health system that is truly not accountable to the system to reveal all of the truth of what’s really going on and we are on the right path of doing just that! Secondly- We are almost done developing an across the board job description of authethic peer work where peer workers will no longer be required to report to AOT, deliver medications and enforce med compliance.- Where peer workers will no longer hospitalized anyone, especially against their will and use clinical diagnostic language but only wellness language and do only authentic peer work and think and work outside of the medical model – advocating for and offering choices other than the medical model which are truly client-centered and client-empowering. I and also other peer workers refuse to do what we believe one day we will not be required to do anymore! We are already in the process of strategically doing all of this work for positive liberating change, not only for all peer workers, but also and primarily for all of the client peers we serve. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Slowly but surely we’re get there! We are truly on the move with all of these awesome peer worker’s meetings, trainings and the building of strong powerful peer worker’s networks both in & outside of the mental health field. Patience! A true Peer Worker’s liberating reformation is coming. We must continue to believe that this is possible and continue to strategically put legs to our faith- for faith without works or corresponding positive actions is dead and a dead faith that consist of ideas and words only – cannot and will not accomplish anything. Mission Impossible Will Become Mission Accomplished! You know that I’m resisting and speaking up about a need for and the great possibility of a true Peer Worker’s Reformation with a clear and concise Peer Worker’s Manifesto for the liberation of Peer Workers and all of our brothers and Sisters and for all Peer Clients everywhere, even if it cost me my job and many others are doing exactly the same!

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          • I have a day job too. I also have a masters degree in an unrelated field. And yet all the time these MH professionals and MANY SURVIVORS too claim I have no expertise except as a former patient. This is such bullshit I am ready to throw my degree at them (along with my 3.95 GPA) and hit as hard as I can. Yes we can be competent individuals and that competency and responsibility does not necessarily mean you work in the MH field.

            No violence intended, I must add. A degree isn’t a physical thing you can really throw. The paper only represents it, represents years of hard study and work and heartache and triumph.

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        • Thanks for responding to my comment. Your friend’s response sounded optimistic. I am wondering how widespread this desire is to create an independent manifesto is among peers. Will it be as radical as I hope?

          Success can create its own momentum. When organic farmers created their own markets, it created new avenues for farmers to increase their income which in turn inspired a new generation of farmers to go organic and even some old timers started to convert their farms to the more lucrative products. Then the conventional food industry started to take notice. They wanted in on the action when organically grown became the fastest growing market in the food industry and tried to change the labeling standards. It took a powerful pushback by the organic movement to resist the food lobby.

          It sounds as if your movement will not only need an independent funding source to take care of its own, just as farmers went directly to the consumers in each communmity, but you will need a long term plan to handle success. I have often heard activists like Penny Darbey talk about co-optation as if it led to a permanent state of corruption and a veering away from a set of original ideals from which there is no redemption. According to your friend, this is not true and that the peer movement is moving in a positive direction. If I understand your friend correctly, the peer recovery movement which had it roots in the psychiatric survivor consciousness raising groups like the one started by Judy Chamerlin is not dead, only in a state of reform. I will sit with that for a while and hope you and your friend are right!

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          • And by the way, what I want is a full fledged revolution of the mental health system and a thriving underground railroad for psychiatric escapees, non-violently achieved, with psychiatric survivors forming the vanguard of the revolution, forming a broad coalition of stakeholder organizations that includes allies and family members

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          • Are you the same madmom that has gotten pissed off by some of my ironically-intended statements in the past? Hard to tell, there are various mad moms and mad mothers here, so I confuse the handles. At any rate your comments here are impressive, so I hope you consider us to be on the same side.

            My sense here is that if the goals of any such proclaimed “movement” do not include the total elimination of psychiatry (and hence the need for itself to exist) then it is an attempt to mislead people and suggest a rose garden where there is none.

            Working to “improve” the system is a misreading of what the system is and why it exists, which is to repress, not “heal.”

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    • I think it depends entirely on who the “peer” in question is and what kind of support or opposition they area getting from the institution where they work. In some institutions, peer work is valued or at least tolerated, while in others, it is openly attacked any time it conflicts with the institutional objective of compliant and well-drugged “residents.” At least that’s my experience.

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      • If the “peer” is being paid by the institution she/he cannot challenge the fundamental operation of the facility unless willing to be fired summarily (though having made the decision to accept that risk immediately makes someone more effective, and more of a threat). If one is a “volunteer peer” (is there such a thing?) it would seem that this would entail a constant atmosphere of confrontation with the staff in order to remain legitimate.

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        • I have never met a volunteer peer worker up to this point in time. I was trained to only accept payment for my work since my expertise by experience, as opposed to the clinical staff’s expertise by theory, is valuable and should be compensated.

          Yes, it is difficult to challenge the system, especially the psychiatrists. I’ve tried it twice in meetings and was severely attacked. One psychiatrist was so angry at me that he was spitting saliva as he was yelling at me. They would have tarred and feathered me if they’d had their way. I am very lucky in that I’m actually supported by two important members of the administration. I am fairly safe as long as I don’t outright challenge the psychiatrists publicly. Not even the administrators are brave enough or stupid enough to challenge the psychiatrists.

          What I’ve attempted to do is affect the beliefs of staff through my contact with them on a daily basis. I’ve tried to build a rapport with the people working the units, from the environmental services people to the psychiatrists. My credibility is always in question because I’m a former patient, and a former patient who doesn’t take any of the drugs. So it’s a slow process of them getting to know me and I must always be knowledgeable and open. I have to know what I’m talking about when I choose to state something publicly or to another staff person privately. And since there are no secrets in this institution, and since information travels quickly, I must always assume that I’m never speaking privately.

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        • I think that is very true. It takes a lot of courage to work behind the lines, and it takes a toll on one’s psyche to have to make compromises to be able to keep close enough to the clients to be of service. That’s why I eventually quit and went into advocacy. But I still have great admiration for folks who are able to walk that line successfully and be there for folks, because as much as we’d like to be rid of “the system,” there are still a lot of folks enmeshed in it and they still need to know that someone cares, even if it’s “the secret resistance.”

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    • To add to what oldhead is saying, getting paid is also a form of “raising your profile” to deliver more peer support.

      So it’s not the initial “salary” or “hand-out” – it’s the form an amount of cash earned that pushes someone to be better than the next peer besides them.

      There are so called volunteer peers now like 7cupsoftea or just your average internet poster sharing information for people to be “aware” of your standard hesitation to approach a certain person.

      So this phenomena is sort of something that clashes with many beliefs which is why a peer system is both difficult and it gets abused so often. The peer payment system is often just an extension of the counselor system. That’s the sad reality.

      On the other hand, provided a person delivers a quality peer support, there will always be someone that can rise above this and that’s the irony of the payment system. There’s a gap in the middle but it’s often the middle people that creates these gap from a lowly salary peer support personnel to applying something like Bonnie Burstow’s trauma services…and it extends to that too.

      The whole Bonnie Burstow scholarship success story is built on top of this: she/he cannot challenge the fundamental operation of the facility unless willing to be fired summarily…

      but we’re not going to fire you (we don’t need to empower your voice, we’re going to make you Bonnie Burstow keep running around UoT’s hamster wheel until you modify your Antipsychiatry Scholarship or you drop out just like every other problematic zit that reaches our offices)

      So Bonnie didn’t willingly leave and give up. She offered leverage to get the scholarship approved under the status of academic freedom plus offering the scholarship to a competitor.

      At the lower levels, it’s the same sacrifice with getting paid.

      A supporter (peer support or friend) that is receiving more feedback or more customers or at least strengthening the symbol of an industry (regardless whether they are for or against it) are being baptized through capitalism in terms of ok…if I want to put more food on my table to get into a better mindset to support someone else even if it just means I slept well while they are stressed so that I can better listen to them: that’s constant incremental growth until you hit the point…where it’s no longer genuine. So much red tape. So much in-fighting, backstabbing and gossiping and your sort of standard scaling up to humanity’s real “asshole level” slicing up your so-called illusion of what is actual peer support if you are a peer who just wants to help.

      That’s the harsh reality of the sleeping dragon technique. 99% of what people focus on is the sleeping part. Not the dragon.

      So these kinds of stories are often cut short rapidly. Rapid could mean years. Rapid could mean decades.

      But eventually you want to organize a sleeping dragon…you have to become a dragon. Not just your baby lizard/komodo dragon/easily killed but seemed like a secret boss lvl 99 dragon that every random cheater just one shots.

      Dragons are dragons. They are sleeping but once they wake up – they have to radically change the landscape somehow and every step whether it’s a small number that seems big or it’s a big number that seems small have to face that reality. It’s called sleeping dragon becomes once people get alerted to you – you’ve gone through hell and back. You are not a dragon in name. You are not a king. You are not equal to your fellow dragons.

      You have proven to become this Asian dragon who is closer to Leviathan (a dragon that forced God to intervene) to borrow Thomas Hobbes’ version of the Biblical Dragon Leviathan and you deliver.

      Whether you eventually die off or you return to going back to sleep or some new offspring takes your place…genuine peer support has to acquire resources and in order for peers to have resources, they got to at least have some form of scaling up salary (or monetary/biological resource acquisition) in order to grow up into becoming a dragon to counter the opportunity costs of setting up a dragon-sized peer support training system…which let’s face it…it’s just pretty language at this moment. (as Sascha already said)

      No matter the number of peers or instant cash hand-out that someone receives – until they’ve proven the critics wrong that they are beyond great. (Sleeping dragons aren’t just great services. Not even top 10. You have to at least grow into some top 2.5 global peer system bar none to even bring down the pharmaceutical industry on this particular system. .5 powerful people will kill you once you become a threat. The Top Powerful System is not going to make you top dog regardless if you’re Top. Finally once everything hits at an elite large scale global systematic change…the top 3 are neck in neck. Even Zhuge Liang of the Three Kingdoms in his most romanticized form when he was nicknamed the Sleeping Dragon – lost in the story about him being so great at winning every major battles once Liu Bei recruited him.)

      If they don’t do that (different from “can’t” but it’s nearly impossible) then they’re just another peer support system using pretty languages that empowers oppression.

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        • Well the medium is always the massage as the book title goes and word limits per post…are sort of a limited archaic criticism (or commentary whatever would make better sense in a PC manner) when sharing diverse views especially in a blog.

          For example there’s a rise in themes about who is who in identity politics across these site recently…and yet me (a person closer to a Free Market Freedom type of poster) and say a Slavoj Zizek (a hardcore communist) would have totally hit it off. We would both agree on almost everything despite people thinking we should be all over each other’s throats just because of our ideologies but then your standard online comments will always break some word limit when people are just throwing general concepts around until some specific reference like books ties it all in.

          Well it’s because even Slavoj had to break the speech limit of Google Talks when he was merely explaining the concept of Ideology across the world:

          There’s no official word for it but I call it the Shapiro, Peterson, Weinstein, Rubin in one live online community effect as can be seen here:

          These guys are explaining concepts but the live chat replay and even the youtube comments can’t “handle” it so you get intervals of short comments not addressing the way these people are handling themselves and end up with situations like jokes and a regression to reference in online conversations such as:

          “Please pay attention to what Peterson is saying at 46:15. He is stating the reason why people do not want to listen, why they want to stay in their “low-resolution” comfort zone. The reality does not correspond to ideologies, it is much more complicated and demanding. God is in the method, Devil is in the details. That guy Peterson actually has thought about things.”

          Which all the parties, not Peterson alone have brought in like the first few minutes of the video. Not even that time period.

          So word limits you know censor beliefs. Are they troublesome because of a tl;dr “insisting” culture or because a bunch of people especially on the internet who want easy on the eyes or here’s a bookmark or here’s a link talking about a book info in these so called general popular socializing systems? Yes, definitely but word limit are no longer cases. They have been broken time and time again. They have been pre-explored by Macluhan and Postman pre-Internet and then post-Internet a bunch of services and concepts have already introduced methods to deal with this that no one adopted. (Cause there have been tons of niche sites, some fallen some barely used, that addressed this but don’t attract people or aren’t used by enough people that your standard site doesn’t just migrate over it.)

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      • Watch Campbell’s explanation of the Serpent & Dragon within Paul. The Asian Dragon is metaphoric of our parasympathetic nervous system and the mythology addresses the sacrifice of the Self in Asian Tradition.

        Exemplified by the traditionally expected role of being a passive subservient woman. While the Western Dragon is essentially about tempering the ruggedly individualist male ego, and is metaphoric of our sympathetic nervous system.

        While in Buddhist mythology it’s the Cosmic Serpent that takes center stage in the sense of self that is subconsciously projected in Art.

        Curiously, the medical icon shows an entwined serpent form coiled around a staff that is topped with wings.

        Sascha used the youthful Icarus symbol of flight to create a space where people might navigate those flights and plunges into the depths of existential experience.

        The interviews with Campbell speak of energies and organs of the body, and making up word formulations of the top of our heads, needs to be grounded in both a knowledge and awareness of how our subconscious Self orchestrates the energies of our body to create our Mind.

        And to paraphrase an Asian koan; what are you between two thoughts?

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  7. One key point needs to be made, and EMPHASIZED. In the article above, Sasha Altman DuBrul makes a statement about the system “saving money”, as if that’s a good thing. This is a common delusion among “peer support” folks, and most other people. The system is NOT interested in “saving money”. Why should they be? It’s TAXES. It’s OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY. The system wants to tax as much as it can, and spend as much as it can, even going as far as DEFICIT spending. Deficit spending into debt, even! The current U.S. *deficit* is $100’s of Billions per year, maybe over $1Trillion. The U.S. DEBT is well over $22Trillion. Most U.S. States are in similar, if smaller $$ positions. So, no, “saving money” is never more than empty words. You *ALL* need to read this, and correct your delusional thinking. THEY really don’t care whether or not WE “save” them any money at all. Because even if we do manage to “save” them some money, they will just spend it somewhere else…. We may as well tell them the TRUTH. We will get better results, even if it costs them more money.

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          • For the place where I work it would mean putting the money into buying things for the Point Store on each unit. Many of the people forced to come here have little to no money and many don’t have family that might give them money. Things like cokes and snacks become very important when you don’t have access to the outside, or if you have no money. I was brought here with 72 cents in my pocket.

            So, there’s a token or barter system that was set up so that people could get points that they could then use to buy themselves things like cokes, snacks, shampoo of their choice and not that provided by the “hospital”, notebooks to keep journals in, etc. People who wouldn’t be able to have these little things have access to them. The “hospital” provides the money to buy the stock for the Point Stores.

            However, our wonderful state legislature has decided that we need to save more money to give to the rich One Percenters in the state and have demanded that we cut spending. The organization that oversees the “hospital’ was recently taken over by accountants and not people in behavioral health. They are demanding that we give justifications for why we have the Point Store on the units and are doing their best to destroy it. This would mean even more restricted lives for many people on our units if they’re allowed to accomplish this. The “hospital” is truly committed to Point Store and to giving people the opportunity to have access to things they wouldn’t have otherwise. And get this, the staff is forbidden to donate money to supply the stores!

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    • They very well do cut corners every chance they can, every time they think they can get away with it. They do it in nursing facilities. Cut the staff so they don’t have to pay as many people. Cut housekeeping on weekends. Cut the meals on weekends, too. McLean did this. We had only snacks on weekends, froot loops and shit. Stop the real arts and crafts. Close the fitness facility and cut the nicer staff who did recreation. Cut therapists out entirely. Just drug em. McLean cut their hairdresser, too. My boyfriend was friends with her and he was heartbroken that she was going to leave. She used to cut his hair. She told me he had the thickest head of hair you’ve ever seen. True.

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  8. Sascha, Interesting thoughts. With your MSW are you in a peer role? Does your written job description require lived experiences and does it require a graduate degree? If the agency recognizes your graduate degree what is the pay scale for you compared to other peer support folks? Same or different?
    Are peer support roles used as babysitters? Keep them quiet til the Crisis Unit or Pilice arrive? Or do you do actual support ie yoga classes, meditation classes, nutrition or can you do how to walk away classes? What about anyone taking a trauma history? What about inter generational trauma issues?
    Are you allowed to speak about discontinuing meds? Are you allowed to get folks bro bono legal help?
    What about those folks with children? Where are they and how are they?
    I did Peer involvement to meet folks. I had one job but kept very very quiet. My local area is almost all NAMI enforced thinking though I just want informed choice at this point because so many are not open and are so ignorant of history.
    The local peers seemed very constrained and most are not aware of any other options. At a meeting only one other perso an addiction counselor knew of Robert’s work. Job Kabat Zin was a new name for many. Many took the job because so what are you going to do? And like me maybe a possibility of sharing and small human connection and contact.
    Each two places with their folks disappeared and the job was too dicey.
    I found the system as a LISW too broken to ethically work in. And I found NASW local and national regions to be of very little help and or support.
    My most wow type memory before being in the system but working for an agency was when in a staff meeting the African American psychiatrist asked if anyone would be willing to take either Haldil or a similar drug – just to see.
    Silence and I would guess fear. That says it all.
    And BTW my guess is that there are invisible peers who are in treatment and or in meds but are not “ out.”
    This maybe the biggest stumbling block of all – what webs we weave when we first practice to deceive.

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  9. If a person – could be anybody no mh history – became psychotic (toxic psychosis) as a result of not being able to metabolise the drugs correctly or from withdrawal. They may have gone to their GP with work related anxiety and ended up psychotic and with suicidal ideation and making attempts, if they didn’t end up dead they would be.. in prison, sectioned or in supported ‘housing’ every move they make with be watched and reported upon and hence labelled. You start doing yoga, you start talking to yourself, you spend a bit too much money, you don’t smile. you move too much, you don’t move enough. It’s all reported upon feeding into ‘mental illness’.

    Again for those who are new to this, watch these videos, it maybe difficult and hard work but could save your life or a loved ones life, so it is serious business:

    Now a peer worker/advocate what ever their good intention HAS to defer to a psychiatrist. They can’t tell a psychiatrist what to do, they are not going to tell the psychiatrist/GP it’s your fault you ruined this persons life and god knows how many more, how long do you think they are going to be working as a ‘peer’ worker once that happens ?

    This person seems to be chugging for more money for peer workers; what – the hell – about people who have had their lives ruined and the very many who have died by the GP referral to psychiatrists and their actions of forced drugging/rapid withdrawal leading to drug induced akathisia / toxic psychosis ? How many people are in a position to sue a health authority or psychiatrist for ripping them off benzodiazepines ? In the UK you have to make a claim within three years, when it may take years to recover, if at all.

    I’m sorry but when are people going to wake up to all this. Maybe we should we be asking the ‘peer’ workers to spy on how many people the psychiatrists are destroying and document the names and drug doses ?


    Withdrawal of a benzodiazepine should be gradual because abrupt withdrawal may produce confusion, toxic psychosis,”

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  10. I created a log-in to respond to this piece.


    THe project described above is exceedingly confusing to me. Take a used/co-opted sector of society and offer them the opportunity to become friends with each other for the purpose of being less livid and angry at their life circumstances, …. resulting in better coopted peers for the abusive MH system??

    Every licenced otherwise official role in the mental health system has a component of “supervision” – PAID sessions with a supervisor or other experienced professional in the field aimed at offering support and advice about the difficulties and challenging situations the patient-participants are enduring…. No wonder HTH and other agencies that use peers are excited about this…. get the underpaid slave laborers to use their own UNPAID time to process their experiences in their (oftentimes) humilating and underappreciated jobs….?! Sounds fabulous

    what is said supported/peer-supervised peer supposed to do? – go to their boss and demand higher wages or respect because “hey, i was talking to my peer colleagues and they want more pay and respect too?” L O L literally

    sounds like the peer support conferences offered up by the city – where at the very least people get some time off work and 2 free meals, but in reality every peer worker there is rolling their eyes because that free lunch does not in any way improve their living and working conditions… i imagine what is cool is that peers will learn about the outrageous conditions other peers are putting up with at their jobs — cleaning toilets, enforcing meds, hospitalizing people, sitting silently during meetings, being talked over at every opportunity, and most frequently Leaving the Peer Workforce for other less humilating and better paid jobs.

    Seriously unclear about what is the motivation behind this peer support network if not to create a more docile “supported” peer workforce who will be taking their complaints to each other on their own dime/time rather than to their bosses…

    win-win for employers, rose-coloured glasses for the peers

    PS – Also pretty interersting to see who all is creating this network – looks, not surprisingly(according to the website) like a group of social workers, psychology majors, psychologists, people with lived experiences (though not peer specialists) who surely lack the understanding of what it is like to work as a peer in the system

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          • Clearly, in my view, only a fully vetted peer-run organization with at least a critical view to the DSM and standard psychiatric practice could possibly certify “peer workers.” And of course, the powers that be will not support that kind of approach. Hence, the problem that has been noted with co-optation of “peer workers.” Unless there is a real shift of power, the psychiatric establishment still gets to make the rules and gets to decide who is “certified” and who gets fired for being a little too honest. Same for professionals, actually. I was thoroughly discredited at a place I worked as “the guy who doesn’t like meds” and my opinion on the subject was completely discounted. That was just for voicing my opinion. If I had tried to talk to folks about actually getting OFF their “meds,” I am sure I’d have been in hot water, and probably got fired.

            So it all comes down to power, which is why deconstructing our authoritarian economic and power distribution system is critical to really making any changes stick over time.

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          • I was refused a volunteer job working in any capacity for an eating disorders organization because of my anti-psych stance.

            All I want to do is offer something different and refreshing to these (mostly) young women. A new picture of what it means to live free of the very serious eating issues (call it what you want) that I suffered from in secret for over three decades. A new view of what it means to be autonomous, responsible, and free of the tyranny of doctors and institutions. I want them to see that not only is recovery (from ED) possible, but it’s not something that takes rocket science, either. Recovery doesn’t mean you have to obey some outside authority. In fact, the road to recovery is outside of their rules. Their rules will only keep you sick and keep you coming back. I want them to know that the answer comes from within, that it is already there, and that it’s far more attainable than the MH professionals would like them to believe. However, I’ve been banned every time I try. They find out, or, in the case of the NEDA conference I was supposed to speak at, someone from my past (who?) literally called up the conference organizer and told them I was a dangerous SMI. Very sad.

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          • Steve,
            It’s becoming a running joke with my coworkers that I’m the “anti-pills and anti-diagnosing” therapist here. They often roll their eyes at me when I say something about the systemic BS that is happening to our clients.

            I am talking to my clients about getting off pills, and I expect that I won’t be liked by the doctors or managers real soon. It’s interesting how much people believe in the medical model without much evidence for it’s support, yet we delude ourselves with “evidenced-based practices”. We think we are being rational and sane in our “treatment” of clients, but who ever thinks that they are doing harm to other people for a profit? The more I question the systems I work in, the more uncomfortable I’ve become with the status quo. Clearly our “treatment” works well for some clients, BUT do the benefits weigh out the risks? I know of people who have gained 50 pounds in six months on mood stabilizers. I know of people who have developed diabetes, became zombies, developed addictions because of the pills they were prescribed, and so forth. There appears to lack critical thinking about what harm is being done by these so-called “medications” and other things we subject clients to.

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    • Glad you like it!

      Sometimes ideas that look good are kinda rotten in the core. Reminiscent of how deinstitionalization simply resulted in the rebranding and decentralizing of institutions (now they are open-air prisons of community mental health services, ACT, day programs, nursing homes, residential facilities, Rikers Island, and pharma-induced early death and physical immobility), I see the peer support movement as a modern representation of the occupational therapy /busywork/ slave labor of the asylums of yore too. Low below poverty line wages, eye-roll level of relavence and respect, no opportunities for growth except to escape, and.. yippee! now, introducing the appearance of a grassroots movement without any real power that honestly seems to be sugarcoating the whole thing. If the city of NY and agencies that hire peers do think this no-cost support group is a good idea……. There must be something in it for them because they are increasingly being faced with a very transient peer workforce whose eyes are open to the infantilism of their jobs. Just a few pats on the back and sexy progressive language and we all feel great about these mostly dead-end jobs?

      Wondering if this project is weirdly in cahoots with the oppresive system at large…. perhaps unbeknownst or in ignorance…?

      Just some additional thoughts

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      • yippee! now, introducing the appearance of a grassroots movement without any real power

        Wherever you came from (welcome!) we seem to think similarly here. While I don’t want to make snap judgements or unsupported assumptions, I think that more disturbing than the lack of power is the institutionalization of “peerdom” as a “job,” which continues the alienation of human interaction and support started by psychiatry (capitalism itself really). The thought of “mental patients” marching in lockstep with “peers” demanding “better mental health care” would be my idea of a dystonian nightmare.

        I have asked the author elsewhere in these comments whether he considers this reification of human support to be a temporary strategem, i.e. as a tactic of some sort pending the total abolition of psychiatry, or whether the latter is even a priority in his view. So I guess we’ll have to wait for an answer in order to take this any further.

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        • Hey there, if I had time I’d make this more coherent but I don’t so apologies.

          There are so many comments I don’t know how to respond to them, but I really appreciate this little thread that “huh” started so I’ll write here:

          Yeah, Recovery is the new Deinstitutionalization, it’s a term multiple stakeholders can agree to but it doesn’t have any teeth.

          Yes, the Peer Workforce might have been a bad idea to being with, but the reality is that it exists right now and it’s not going away immediately and there are thousands of people working in it.

          Here’s me speaking personally from the heart, and if you want to trash me and the work we’re doing with IDHA go ahead, but I ask you to think outside the frustrating situation we’re ALL in and remember there are multiple perspectives and strategies that can co-exist with each other.

          I’m someone who got diagnosed with a “serious mental illness” when I was 18 and have been in and out of psych wards a bunch of times. In my mid-20s I helped organize a network of peer support groups called The Icarus Project and I worked on that project for 12 years. It was thousands of people, completely outside the mental health system, providing support for each other, mostly online, and creating media to shift the culture of mental health and illness. Some of us took psych drugs, some didn’t. Some of us used words like “bipolar” to describe ourselves, some didn’t and rejected all the labels. We created a supportive community, not without its flaws for sure, but we were a peer based mental health support network.

          I am not interested in arguing with people about psych drugs and labels, and the people on MIA who are stuck in that argument, I have nothing for you, we have moved on.

          Now the above response to my piece is full of really useful criticism. I would be skeptical too. But here’s the deal, and I’ve learned it in the past 3 years working in the system (I went to school and got an MSW and now I get to develop trainings and and train peer workers all over the country):

          The Peer workforce is of course co-opted, but there are also AMAZING people trying to do good work in that workforce. A bunch of them, and I wouldn’t so quickly write them off if you’re not on the ground. There are also a lot of young people who’ve ended up in the system and are looking for direction and we’re finding them and training them to work as change agents. IDHA is a training institute for anyone working in the mental health system, and of course we’re doing some things to play by the rules, and I use language like “saving the system money by providing genuine peer support” because I am playing a game with my language. I appreciate and respect the critiques but remember this is a multi-layered complex game, it’s not black and white.

          I am just as skeptical as you are, if not more, of the peer workforce.

          I think in New York State the people in control of the budgets see it as a way to get folks who are on long term disability off their SSI benefits and be “Recovered”, working menial jobs doing the equivalent of cleaning toilets. Totally agreed.

          But here’s the thing: I’ve never been a peer worker myself, but at this point I’ve met many, many peer workers through my job and our IDHA organizing:

          the people who end up in this jobs have amazing stories to tell, they are important people BECAUSE the workforce has been so co-opted and become a tool of the state. The peer role IS a walking contradiction, but it still exists and you can’t just ignore and write everyone off who doing that work. They are real people who’ve inevitably had really had times or else they wouldn’t be working in the role to begin with. Peer workers are literally at the bottom of the fucking broken-ass public mental health system and get treated so poorly and disrespectfully, that is the TRUTH.

          The person who commented as “huh”: you seem really intelligent and caring so I’m just going to level with you from what I’ve got left of my intelligence and caring: we are organizing the peer workforce to build power and we’re not taking any money from the city or state and we can say and do whatever we want.

          “introducing the appearance of a grassroots movement without any real power that honestly seems to be sugarcoating the whole thing. If the city of NY and agencies that hire peers do think this no-cost support group is a good idea……. There must be something in it for them because they are increasingly being faced with a very transient peer workforce whose eyes are open to the infantilism of their jobs. Just a few pats on the back and sexy progressive language and we all feel great about these mostly dead-end jobs?”

          I hear this critique loud and clear: sure the system is happy we’re supporting their workforce, but we’re not accountable to the system so that means we get to shape the direction of their workforce. They let me train their workers and you should see the trainings I do, I’m surprised they let me even sit at this desk sometimes. My point is that the system is made of human beings, it’s not a monolithical force, and we can change things, both in the system and out in the larger society if we organize.
          I don’t need a lecture from anyone about how oppressive the system is and how we need to abolish psychiatry, go post on someone else’s thread about that.

          I probably won’t be responding in this thread unless it gets really interesting, but if you want to find me I’m not anonymous and you can send me an email at saschaATmapstotheothersideDOTnet
          (the person posting as “huh” – I shared your thoughts with some of the IDHA folks and we want to be friends with you! get in touch!)
          Watch out for IDHA, we’re just getting started but we’re having a lot of fun so far.
          Mad love, Sascha

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          • With all due respect Sascha, what your doing is attempting to regulate a subconscious system of innate (inborn) affects. Including the desire for attachment that is clearly present in your (every picture tells a story) last photo of this article.

            This community types words in this like-minded souls echo chamber like RECOVERY and types personal story’s of how I was behaviorally dysfunctional for a while, went through the SYSTEM and still managed to get well. But recover from and to what is real question to be answered, especially from the perspective that somehow the mad underground has something existentially important to teach that mass of humanity that prefers the LABEL normal.

            Until people like your good self can answer Michael Cornwall’s koan; if mental illness is not what psychiatry says it is, then what is it? The ebb and flow of blossoming groups like IDHA will continue and in a couple of years, you will no doubt be writing another article of self-affectation in order to feel within your skull, of the cerebral blood-flow warm sensation, we label HOPE.

            And of course, having fun in close proximity to warm bodied others is vitally important to our common sense of humanity.

            P.S. Does Seth still believe the Messiah will step out of the shadows of the Mad Underground?

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          • I am not interested in arguing with people about psych drugs and labels, and the people on MIA who are stuck in that argument, I have no fucks for you, we have moved on.

            I don’t know if there is a polite response to this, so I’ll let it stand as written for others to peruse, as I think it says a lot about where you’re coming from.

            I also noticed some less hostile and more reasoned statements in your post, which at least provide something of substance to consider and respond to. I’ll be back.

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          • @Sascha

            Hi, are there any videos uploaded online that show your most troublesome cases (preferably free)?

            Responding to this section:

            “They let me train their workers and you should see the trainings I do, I’m surprised they let me even sit at this desk sometimes”

            Usually when documentaries are done, there’s an element of average or success story that’s shown while other times training videos are forced to start at a base level of agreeable human interaction.

            Even in any mental health training media, to my knowledge there’s a lack of prolonged scientific/raw footage training when it comes to dealing with troublesome situations both from the antipsychiatry and the pro-psychotherapy side.

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          • Thank you for letting us know where you stand, Sascha. Or trying to.

            You’re firmly committed to improving psychiatry rather than leaving or helping others to do so. Critical psychiatry seems to be your position.

            This is a pretty elastic category. It could mean any one of a number of things to a broad spectrum of people. But it will probably make you more or less popular here.

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          • Thanks for the offer and compliments!

            In delving into the website .not sure your group is my cup of tea. like the other commentator said, it seems like a lot of self-promotion and jargon.

            Your point about supporting people who are, like it or not, in the system is well-taken. There is just something uncomfortable – is it naivete or enthusiasm? – about this project you advertise. My argument is not that peers workers are not great people with fascinating and important stories but more that by neglecting to be real with the issues facing peer workers, you are risking collusion with the system (made up of individuals) who maintain their power over peers by hiding the bad intentions of their hiring practices.

            Shouting HURRAH and giving fist pumps before each peer support session seems a bit demeaning to the people who really are stuck in these unappreciated jobs. My critique is more on the realm of a sense of concern that the wool is being pulled over the eyes of the peer workers, but this time, by each other.

            again, just thinking out loud in response to your advertisement above

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  11. OUR BODY-MIND & SELF-AFFECTATION: Or how self-aware are you of the subconscious muscular and vascular processes that are energizing your capacity to read? Please consider:

    There is no thought that is not accompanied by a physical sensation of effort or agitation (if only a knitting of the brows, a pursing of the lips, or a quickening of heartbeat). This sensation, which may be muscular (proprioceptive), tactile, or visceral is backgrounded. This doesn’t mean it disappears into the background. It means that it appears as the background against which the conscious thought stands out: its felt environment. The accompanying sensation encompasses the thought that detaches itself from it. Reading, however cerebral it may be, does not entirely think out sensation. It is not purified of it. A knitting of the brows or pursing of the lips is a self-referential action. Its sensation is a turning in on itself of the body’s activity so that the action is not extended toward an object but knots at its point of emergence: rises and subsides into its own incipiency, in the same movement. The acts of attention performed during reading are forms of incipient action. (Massumi, 2002)

    As Mark Twain said: When you realize that we are all mad . . . . . .

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  12. So I swore I just saw a long defense of the existence of “peer work” — which Sascha more or less agrees is demeaning and exploitative — based on the fact that since it’s going to be there anyway we might as well embrace it. (I’ll have to poll some feminists as to whether they would consider an analogy to “sex work” to be appropriate here, or whether it just sounds clever coming off the top of my head.) Anyway, I must have imagined it.

    I think this is an important blog as it forces a discussion of one of the most serious internal struggles that hold the movement back.

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      • Deleted by Sascha l suspect, after rereading his angry response to people that bore him. Although you got an invite to friendship huh, with your comments creating an ‘ideo-affective’ resonance in Sascha’s skull.

        Sadly my calling out of the ‘attachment’ urge that drives us all and the fantasy bond that subconscious need creates, got deleted too.

        And once again we see that we are not so different from ‘them’ when comes to our ability to be emotionally honest and act with transparency.

        I made the first comment on thread and called out the meaning of and use of the Dragon, citing Campbell’s understanding of the image-identifying word in world mythology.

        And Sascha would have people believe that he was thinking of the Eastern Dragon when he wrote this article, by saying so after he watched Campbell’s explanation.

        My point is that choosing words like Mad Underground can come from a projection of what we are trying to convey, with Underground being a perfect metaphor for our subconscious motivation and perception.

        On this comment thread l cited wisdom quotes that speak directly to this common paradox of human motivation and perception, and l believe that the community needs to See that our experience is both purposeful and meaningful in the existential context of how we do being human.

        It is a MYTH that we know ourselves through the communication medium of spoken and written languages, and beginning in 1990 with the decade of the brain, the hidden structure and function of our nervous system, began to be revealed in detail.

        Any authentic and honest reading of the latest neuroscience knowledge, can bring a sense of ‘metaphor’ to our commonsense use of languages and just how limited we each are, in our self-ignorance about how we actually function.

        Paradoxically, an attempt to integrate neuroscience using the ‘felt-sense’ tradition of meditative wisdom practice s brings concise comments on human mental health back into the reality of Being Human today.

        As the prophet said of normal people; they seeing see not and in no wise perceive.

        My advice to people like Stephen Gilbert is to gently call out the self-ignorance of being normal, rather than defend against or compete with the well educated elites who can’t say a word about HOW their own thoughts are Energized.

        The TREATMENT perspective on Mental Health is a Defense against disturbing behaviour, not an attempt to understand human behavior.

        The term ‘ideo-affective’ resonance comes from Silvan Tomkins Affect Imagery Consciousness and he a he’ll of a time getting wordy wise editors to publish the title with commas.

        Fantasy Bond comes from Robert Firestone’s book The Fantasy Bond.

        As long as we ‘venerate’ language over nature and delude ourselves that languages are our human nature, the mental health debate will continue on its ‘polemic’ way and Sascha will be spruking another New group in a couple of years from now.

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        • This medium is pure words. Nothing else.

          I accept that there are other ways of knowing. I don’t accept that words are automatically inferior. Using words to convince of the wisdom of not-words kind of demonstrates that.

          For all their shortcomings, words allow us to communicate with each other in ways that other (also imperfect) ways of experiencing and knowing can’t.

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          • “This medium is pure words. Nothing else.”

            There have been investigations that disagree that this is the case.

            This is a vast subject though but just to use a sample quote from something I didn’t write (since I’ve addressed this elsewhere before in MIA):

            “First we see the foot and then only, on another page, the wheel while the text first only speaks of the wheel and then only, on the other page, of the foot. Secondly this verbo-visual chiasm is abandoned and textual and visual representations walk hand in hand. Finally, the text associates itself with a graphic symbol, i.e. with a de-iconized visual item the meaning of which is more abstract, less open, more easy to control”


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          • There is the famous Asian koan about not mistaking your finger for the moon when pointing to the glorious full moon in an amorous attempt to impress your lover.

            The full extent of the koan goes on to note how light reflected off the surface of the moon is reflected in many a still water on earth. Which can be read as a wisdom injunction on self-reflection.

            If we can accept the habit-formation of our human motivation and perception while being aware of how we instantaneously recognize words mentally while tending to ‘Passover” the reality of how our body creates our mind.

            As creatures of a nervous and anxious disposition, we tend to deny that ‘sensation,’ as a medium of inner awareness is a truer medium of lived experience than the languages medium of communicating our experience.

            For example, how is an ability to recall the word ‘brain’ a comprehension of the function of our brain? Yet in our need to belong and to get along by voicing the words of consensus reality, we confuse the signification of experience with the experience of experience.

            Once you begin ‘to get’ how words are mere imperfect images of truth, as Abraham Maslow described them, you can ask yourself existential questions that although bringing up a sense of uncertainty and insecurity, can lead you back to the embodied sense of self that was present at birth.

            Peter Levine’s book ‘In an UnSpoken Voice,’ gives very good examples of how to integrate the latest knowledge on the ‘unseen’ structure and function of our nervous system into a better form of self-regulation.

            The PARADOX for members of this community is the flight into the mind of traumatic experience, in an attempt to self-regulate by avoiding awareness of bodily sensations.

            And of course, the intellectual rationalizations can look very intelligent from the perspective of IQ, but post-modernity is taking us beyond the rote learning style of the baby boomers, and trying to re-imagine how the primary nature of affect-emotion runs the show.

            An annoying and inconvenient truth that is playing out in the Congressional hearings about a High Court nomination, right now.

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  13. My eyes were recently opened about just how low we are on the totem pole when I received a somewhat rude response from Jessica from the Foundation for Excellence. This was maybe a week ago. I had asked her to help publicize my project, Jessica outright refused, telling me any project they publicize has to be run by “experts.”

    Excuse me? If you are compiling a literary anthology on forced psych, what degree would you need? NOT an MH degree, actually, such folks are not qualified to edit an anthology. I have a masters in creative writing which I earned in 2009. That DOES make me an expert. But us lowly exes couldn’t possibly be experts in anything but patienthood. Bullshit.

    Jessica also further insulted me by telling me I was welcome to write an article on their site on “lived experience” since I had expertise in THAT. Hey, what about all those years I studied my butt off in undergrad and graduate school? Is that NOTHING because I’m an ex-patient? Is my degree made meaningless because I’m specialized in different field, not MH? I’m also certified in customer service, by the way. Does that, too, not count, because of my CLASS?

    Yep, we are still in the lowest class, especially in the eyes of these professionals. I don’t care how different they claim to be, most still see us that way, sorry to say.

    Never mind the other publications that also REFUSED to help publicize Meanwhile, these same publications promote MH professionals and their projects.

    I also do “peer support” but for sure I do not call it that. I call it helping other people, reaching out to people as a friend, and doing everything I can just to set a good example of what life can be like after you leave the MH System. I blog almost daily (, been doing so now since 2005. Trying to expose the industry as much as I can.

    There. A bit of self-promotion which is okay for MH professionals to do, but not okay for me, apparently. I’m called personality-disordered if I even ask.

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    • You have helped me a lot Julie.

      A network of support would be nice. But it would be made up of volunteers. And it wouldn’t be (financially) profitable since the Mental Illness System would never fund it. Why pay to help your property escape?

      It would have to be underground. Instead of Peer Support Specialists we would be Runaway Mentors to help others escape.

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    • There seems to be a problem with your blog’s e-mail subscribe button when it comes to the e-mail I am linked to in this account. Another e-mail seems to have worked but could be a problem for your future readers.

      “There was an error when subscribing. Please try again.”

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  14. “I am not interested in arguing with people about psych drugs and labels, and the people on MIA who are stuck in that argument, I have nothing for you, we have moved on.”

    Moved on from what….. really ? Why don’t you put forward your case to what I have said which was designed to actually help…

    1. keep people out of the MH system

    2. Help people understand what happened to them and what to do about it.

    Based on facts. And I’m not asking for any money.

    Toxic psychosis/akathisia is a very serious condition.

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