A Tribute to Stephen Gilbert, Warrior Behind Enemy Lines

MIA Editors
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We are very sorry to tell of the loss of one of our longtime posters and community members. Stephen Boren, who posted here under the name Stephen Gilbert, passed away November 12 after a battle with cancer. He is survived by his beloved cat Sweeney and many close friends.

Stephen BorenStephen has been a regular part of the conversations in the Mad in America comment section since the website began in 2012. He worked as a peer support worker at a hospital psychiatric ward for many years, the same ward where he had once been held as a patient, and his comments were largely about his ongoing battle with the insensitivity, disrespect and sometimes outright abuse he observed during his time there. He represented what “peer support” ought to be — someone who really understood what it was like to be a “patient” and who would fight for the rights of those who were subjected to the vagaries of a typical psychiatric ward that, intentionally or through ignorance, so readily disregarded or violated those rights. Stephen was a true warrior battling “behind enemy lines,” yet his comments were always respectful and supportive of both those who had been through it and those who worked in the system, even though that respect was not always returned.

In his first-ever post on our site, responding to Keris Jän Myrick being named president of NAMI in 2012, he wrote:

I would like to believe that this is a good thing and a ray of hope for things to come. However, many times peers are used if and only if they parrot the sacred mantra of “take your med!” As a peer worker myself I find that I quickly become persona non grata when the other so-called “professionals” find out that I believe in freedom of choice in treatment choices. They only want you around if you are willing to support their biopsychiatric take on things. My training as a peer worker quickly throws me into opposition to the people making decisions for patients at the hospital where I work; it’s almost impossible to function as you were trained to function because we stand for mutual relationships and freedom of choice. These are not supported by the powers that be. I hope that I’m wrong, but I have the feeling that this woman is being used because of her status as a well-known peer worker.

This was characteristic of Stephen’s posting over the years — the conflict between the claim that the system wanted “peer workers” like himself, and the way that honest discussion from the “peer” point of view was suppressed when it didn’t fit with the desired narrative.

His last comment underscored his approach to this work:

I want to make it clear that I never tell people that they must take the drugs. I say absolutely nothing about the drugs, period. I do advocate for people but most of it is in indirect ways. I am successful in the small things that I attempt and most of the staff, outside of the psychiatrists, don’t oppose me. There are more and more staff who don’t believe the lies that psychiatry pushes but they can’t do as much for people as they’d like because their jobs become the bargaining chip. But it is heartening to know that the numbers who don’t believe the lies is growing bit by bit.

In addition to his work in peer support and patient advocacy, Stephen had been a high school religion teacher and served as a chaplain for 14 years. He was known for his compassion and being there for people who were struggling. A visitor to his memorial website commented: “When Steve was at Pres Village, he had a special folding chair that he called ‘the sitting chair’. When folks were coming to the end of their lives, he was wonderful to sit with them so they wouldn’t die alone. I trust God has a special place for him.”

Here on Mad in America, he offered gentle encouragement to other posters to look beyond the “mental illness” narrative and believe more in their own ability to decide their own reality. He was also frank about his disgust with the mental health system, psychiatry in particular. As another poster wrote, “He was firmly opposed to psychiatry and had, in addition to his day job, been involved in anti-psychiatry organizing for the past two years (which can now be revealed).” Stephen often wrestled with the knowledge that by working within the system, he was participating in harm despite the good he was able to do for people. In a post from earlier this year, he wrote:

Those of us who work in the system and who truly care about those in our care must begin bucking our masters and unlocking the doors to free those who are held captive within, given “treatment” that harms rather than helps. We must begin civil disobedience against those who control the system, which are the psychiatrists. “Mental health workers are complicit in harm if they aren’t actively helping the patients escape the system.” The first rule of the battlefield is that you don’t leave your wounded behind so those of us with lived experience who work in the system must begin finding ways to make it change because it will never do so on its own.

Over the years, Stephen commented 3325 times on published posts, which constitutes a body of published work in its own right. His contributions always added in thoughtful ways to the discussion, and as staff we valued him for being such a steady member of the MIA community. We will miss his daily presence on MIA.

Those who knew Stephen are invited to share their remembrances here.

29 COMMENTS

    • Stephen Gilbert was a true warrior for all those oppressed by psychiatry and the entire Medical Model. He walked that oh so delicate line of working inside the System, but never allowing himself to be engulfed or compromised by it. His anti-psychiatry critique was filled with both passion and scientific substance.

      And when Stephen felt himself somehow (by association) participating in harm to people by being a part of the System, he was the first to be self-critical and seek ways of finding restitution. He has always been one of my favorite people writing in the comment section, and I learned so much from his personal experience, his overall political critique, and his forthright honesty. He will be sorely missed, and there are big very shoes to be filled by those following in his footsteps.

      Long Live the Spirit of Stephen Gilbert!

      Richard

  1. As another poster wrote, “He was firmly opposed to psychiatry and had, in addition to his day job, been involved in anti-psychiatry organizing for the past two years (which can now be revealed).”

    This part of the Tribute blog is so true and I’m sure Stephen would be proud to see this publicly displayed.

    Stephen was very kind and insightful in his views of the “mental health” system and what really causes our mental distress.

    I was fortunate to have been able to exchange correspondence with him regarding the abolition of psychiatry. He was soft-spoken in his writing, but a powerful voice of advocacy. And he’s deeply missed. But I know the abolitionist movement will grow bigger and stronger and we’ll be able to accomplish the goal of ending this very dangerous and toxic form of oppression.

    This one of Stephen’s many antipsychiatry posts and one of my favorites:

    I agree. I am anti-psychiatry, plain and simple. If someone wants to try to label me as a Scientologist then let them go ahead and try. My behavior and beliefs and the work I do all negate such stupid claims. It’s time that we quit being so damned wishy-washy and take a real stand against this false specialty of medicine. If they were true doctors then they would pay attention to the first law of medicine: “FIRST DO NO HARM!” Instead, the majority of them, for various reasons, keep right on pumping people full of the toxic drugs and stating that “people are ill for life and must take the wonderful meds forever.” And all the while the drugs are killing people, perhaps slowly, but killing people all the same. They are not doctors and psychiatry should be removed as a speciality from the field of medicine.

    Amen, Stephen. Thank you for all of your comments that spoke truth to power.

    • That is a good quote from Stephan. I didn’t know Stephan, other than from his posts on MiA. But I do agree, “Amen, Stephen. Thank you for all of your comments that spoke truth to power.”

      I’m sorry to hear of Stephan’s passing, and my condolences to Sweeney and Stephan’s many friends. I also “trust God has a special place for him.” Thank you, also, to MiA for acknowledging Stephan’s pro bono “body of published work,” and updating us of his passing. He will be missed.

  2. I remember Stephen not just as a tireless fighter for the voiceless, but as someone who in the face of his own cancer battle continued to exude care and compassion for others. When I reached out to Stephen earlier this year to offer support, without batting a virtual eye, he reached back to comfort me, offering to answer any questions I might have about his cancer and treatments. That was just the kind of person he was. He will be dearly missed.

  3. Since finding MIA I always found Stephen’s postings to be very compelling and authentic. It was clear he was a man of integrity and compassion and certainly was a warrior working behind enemy lines. I am sad to hear this kind soul endured the ravages of cancer treatment and has passed away. RIP Stephen, your kind and compelling voice will be greatly missed.

  4. Thank you MIA for the tribute.

    You have included some very powerful messages written by Stephen. I believe he accomplished much. If you can work inside the system and have an influence on that system, even if it begins with the student nurse, you succeeded.
    But he knew more had to be done, in the form of “civil disobedience” and I completely agree with that objective.
    Thank you Stephen Gilbert and MIA

  5. I miss Stephen’s presence.
    I discovered MIA several years ago, and read the comments for quite awhile before penning my own. And there are those folks who, whether they know it or not, made an impression on me. Folks who, just by putting themselves out there, shine a beacon of caring, of kindness, of virtue. From every comment of his that I read, Stephen was one of those people, Just knowing he was out there in the world, being who he was, was a bit of solace in very dark hours, even though I never reached out. I would like to think that he knew this about himself, that he was regarded this way, even though I never told him I felt this. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Stephen deserved a gentle death. I hope someone advocated for that for him.

  6. Stephen spent much of last winter receiving radiation “treatments” while also putting in hours at his “peer” job to help pay the $75,000 they charged him. I sort of knew this might end up killing him, and that’s what I believe happened (which angers me greatly). Despite this he spent his last days concerned with others (check out his comments to “little turtle” only weeks before his death) and with building the movement to eradicate psychiatry from the face of the Earth.

    In early October Stephen said that everything was A-OK according to his doctors. Two or three weeks later he announced to some of us that his prostate cancer had spread to his liver and pancreas, and that he didn’t have much time left. The last time I communicated with him in late October he was concerned that the pain was intensifying despite the Oxycontin. That was the last I heard from him, and when my emails around Nov. 10th went unanswered (which was unusual) I knew it was time to start checking the obituaries.

    I wish in retrospect I’d spent less time those last few weeks trying to get him to detach from the negativistic prognostications he’d been given (as his body had clearly been put through more than it could handle) and more time stressing how eternally appreciative I am for the compassion he showed me after the death of my own beloved cat Allie, and during the near death of another. Also for all he has given to the movement and to the psychiatric inmates he cared for daily, and the legacy of his MIA posts. But I also know we all tend to blame ourselves for things we didn’t do or say when a friend or loved one dies, and that Stephen would not want people to ruminate in this way.

    Speaking of Stephen’s legacy, people will be learning more about this shortly. While Stephen was indeed a “gentle warrior,” he WAS a warrior by any definition. And that’s all I have to say for now, except everybody please keep filling this memorial space with your remembrances and your love.

    Stephen Boren presente!

    • That is really disturbing to hear Oldhead. In many cases it IS the toxic “treatments” that cause a person’s death. I know several people who completed all the “treatments”, were told everything was A-Ok only to have the cancer come roaring back stronger than ever within a year or so and spread quickly. It is well known this occurs for a number of reasons (i.e. the immune system has been damaged, “treatments” kill the cancer (sometimes) but not the cancer stem cells and this allows the stem cells to regroup and become stronger and smarter when they do come roaring back) but oncologists and cancer treatments are also BIG business for profit just like psychiatrists and psych drugs are.

      People need to know there are other ways to heal the body from cancer without destroying your body with damaging “treatments”. Marianne Williamson’s recent proposal for healthcare is spot on:

      “In my Whole Health Plan, anytime someone is diagnosed it’s mandated that the patient receive info on suggested diet/lifestyle/natural remedies as well as pharmaceutical/surgical. Plus insurance pays for either!”

      • I was impressed by a book by intuitive healer Andreas Moritz titled “Cancer Is Not a Disease — It’s a Survival Mechanism.” He describes cancerous tumors as part of the body’s immune response to toxicity. From the Amazon synopsis:

        On average, the conventional approaches of killing, cutting or burning cancerous cells offer most patients a remission rate of merely 7%, and the majority of the few survivors are “cured” for just five years or less. The prominent cancer researcher and professor at the University of California (Berkeley), Dr. Hardin Jones, stated: “Patients are as well, or better off, untreated.” Any published success figures in cancer survival statistics are offset by equal or better scores among those not receiving any treatments. More people are killed by the treatments than saved.

        Stephen expressed hope that the radiation would “kill” his cancer, as though it were an infection. This made me very uneasy but I didn’t consider it my place to harp on my beliefs with someone’s life at stake and possibly cause him to lose hope. Maybe I should have, it’s hard to know what to do in such circumstances.

        • What to do in those circumstances is respect the stance of the person living with (or dying with) the condition. Offering the possibility of other viewpoints can be helpful to some people sometimes, but it depends on how receptive they are to other ideas, to being influenced.
          In my opinion, cancer “treatments” take advantage of people’s need to feel hope, exploit it. They sell, at a steep price, misery in the guise of hope. Doctors assume that people would rather suffer for the possibility of living longer, that they are willing to trade quality of life for (maybe) quantity. Most aren’t willing to face the truth of it, let alone be frank with their patients about exactly what the “treatments” entail.
          Once a person is on a path, it can be difficult to support the person when you disagree with the choice they’ve made, but that’s what makes the distinction between friendship and paternalism.

          • I think you pretty much completed my thought process.

            I mentioned some of this stuff to him as he was generally open to anything people had to say, but Stephen was pretty much resigned to what he apparently considered his fate, and didn’t really have a lot of hope that the radiation or other medical interventions would help. He knew his body was in very serious trouble. I wrote to ask about pain control, since if there’s one thing the medical field is supposed to have down it’s pain control, but never heard back. But I’m sure he knew what he was doing and had done his research.

            I know he also was trying to practice Buddhism so I hope that helped.

            But that’s about all I want to say about this stuff — I think what’s most important for MIA people to get is Stephen’s committed and unwavering anti-psychiatry stand and his devastating exposes of the “peer” racket, which he did from his first post 8 years ago. His views evolved but never changed, in fact he became more and more radical as time went on. (He said recently that there were peers and there were “peers.”) And this is how he wants people to remember him. (I use present tense because I don’t really believe in death; I’m a very bad Marxist that way.)

        • Oldhead, looks like a great book. To quote further from the Amazon preview:

          “Andreas Moritz, proves the point that cancer is the physical symptom reflecting our body’s final attempt to eliminate specific life-destructive causes”. AND…..”Cancer is not an attempt on your life; to the contrary, cancer is trying to save it”.

          Exactly.

          When anyone is given a cancer diagnosis they face enormous pressure and fear-mongering from cancer doctors. People are caught off guard by a cancer diagnosis and need time to reflect on what is best for them but are rushed into conventional treatments. When it appears someone’s life is on the line it is VERY hard to know what to do. We can give people information and support them but ultimately we must respect their choices.

  7. I have been reading here since the site started and though I don’t often comment (partly because oldhead tends to cover most of what I have to express) I wished to say that I appreciated Stephen Gilbert’s participation here and his voice. Without knowing him personally my sense from his comments was that he was an honest, down to earth, ethical person who truly cared what became of people in the system. A rare individual the world badly needed. That he could work at the hospital that had mistreated him to try to help out other people in the system shows a great deal of strength and courage. As a psych survivor myself I know if it were me I’d probably have a heart attack just walking in the front door of the hospital where I stayed, so well and truly I have no idea how he did it. RIP Mr. Gilbert, you sure had guts and you will be tremendously missed.

  8. I very much admired Stephen’s strength of character for walking the line he did in his work at the hospital, something I would not be able to do, and this is so needed in the world today. He was, indeed, a warrior, and a truth-speaker, and I believe he was also an empath, possessing a rarely found sensitivty, one of his many gifts.

    He touched many hearts, souls, and minds in his robust life, including mine, embodying true wisdom. No doubt his spirit lives on, he is obviously beloved by so many and will be remembered for a long time for his truth and generosity. May he fly freely now with his well-earned wings!

  9. This is so sad. I read every comment on this site for several years and learned a lot from what Stephen had to say. Whenever some of the other commenters would make unkind generalizations about peer workers (beyond mere criticisms of the psychiatric peer system itself), it never sat well with me because I would always think of Stephen, and of his decency and commitment. I always found his presence here comforting.

    Miss you, Stephen. Thank you <3

  10. It’s not easy being a prisoner in a mental institution but a kind word heard within those walls can carry a spark of hope toward the future. Hopefully a future without psychiatry . Not so easy being a good human being in an impossible situation . Stephen ,you will be missed , Rest in peace. I always read the honesty and integrity of your words .

  11. For the record, I found some earlier MIA posts from Stephen under his birth name, predating his adoption of “Stephen Gilbert” as a pseudonym. The first of substance was this, from March 26, 2012:

    https://www.madinamerica.com/2012/03/has-psychiatry-chosen-to-ignore-the-hippocratic-oath/#comment-3983

    He posted as Stephen Boren until July 2012, even describing himself as living in Little Rock, then finally decided he wanted to keep his job, and became Stephen Gilbert for MIA purposes.

    I particularly like this post from July 2012: https://www.madinamerica.com/2012/06/heaven-hell-and-psychosis/#comment-11600

    In it Stephen talks about Hinduism, Buddhism, polarity and ego — which I find particularly relevant considering that, of all those I have come across at MIA to date, Stephen and Phil Hickey are the two in which I have encountered virtually zero ego.

  12. In it Stephen talks about Hinduism, Buddhism, polarity and ego — which I find particularly relevant considering that, of all those I have come across at MIA to date, Stephen and Phil Hickey are the two in which I have encountered virtually zero ego.

    Oldhead, I recently read Phil Hickey’s newest article and yes, he and Stephen were two people with virtually zero ego.

    Their writings are very calming to read, but very powerful. That’s a rare combination and one that’s really needed because I think that’s a place where people can actually “hear” what’s being said.

    We need more antipsychiatry voices, especially those who come from that calming place of no ego.