Psych Survivor Mel Starkman Turned His Experiences Into Poetry, Activism


From The Globe and Mail: “Mel Starkman: Activist. Archivist. Psychiatric survivor. Poet. Born March 19, 1942, in Toronto; died March 4, 2019, in Toronto; from choking; aged 76.

Growing up, Mel Starkman was often bullied in a world that values sameness. He had been born with cerebral palsy, and felt stigma’s lash. And yet he developed the courage to overcome those jabs. Mel was a strong student who enrolled in the University of Toronto in 1960 and, after graduation, became a high-school teacher of English and history at Downsview Collegiate. He also worked as a University of Toronto campus archivist until a mental breakdown ended his career.

Hospitalized in the early 1970s, he was given shock treatments that left him feeling like a ‘zombie.’ Psychiatrists believed he had no chance for recovery, a no-hope prognosis. But Mel’s resolve gave him what medicine could not and he did recover to become a social activist, a writer and, later, an actor . . .

Mel’s child-like enthusiasm and extraordinary intellect helped many more lives than he knew. In 2001, he co-founded the Psychiatric Survivor Archives, a collection of stories from those who have experienced the psychiatric system. He later became a key player in the development of the Edmond Yu Place, a supportive housing project in Parkdale. In 2010, Mel participated in groundbreaking discussions about the voice-hearing experience, and shared his story online.

Until his death, Mel fought against harsh psychiatric treatments and much of this work was done with the Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault. In many ways Mel saw the cracks in our midst, especially the ones right in front of us. He will be remembered for his courage and hope and strength to rise above the stigma he knew throughout life.”

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  1. Mel was also a philosopher and an absolutely wonderful human being. I should add that we should be worried when a psychiatric survivor on psychiatric drugs chokes to death, given the fact that these drugs inhibit the gag reflex. Why has there not bee an investigation into Mel’s death?

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  2. Mel Starkman certainly sounds like a man of great strength and courage and who although he was dealt challenging health conditions and other hardships he still had compassion and conviction to stand up for others. His passing is a loss to all psychiatric survivors and to the movement for change.
    Rest in Peace Mel.

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