July is Both Disability Pride Month and Mad Pride Month: Happy Bastille Day!

18
1505

The Mental Health Subcommittee for a major cross-disability organization has recommended supporting both Disability Pride Month and Mad Pride Month in July. As a psychiatric survivor quadriplegic, the bridges between Mad Pride and Disability Pride are crucial to my literal “lived experience.”

The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) is celebrating its 40th anniversary as one of the largest and longest-running grassroots advocacy nonprofits run by and for people with disabilities. NCIL’s Mental Health Subcommittee unanimously voted on 28 June: “We recommend to the NCIL board & others to support both Disability Pride Month and Mad Pride Month: Both are July!”

The Mad Pride Movement is Alive and Growing
Mad Pride logo by artist Sarafin, showing figure in black breaking chains, with a partially red background. Text at the bottom reads: The right to be free, the right to be me.
Mad Pride logo by artist Sarafin. Text at the bottom reads: “The right to be free, the right to be me.”

Today is July 14, Bastille Day, which psychiatric survivors and mental health consumers have used for decades as a unifying day to protest human rights violations and celebrate the human spirit. This date is a good time to reflect on Mad Pride.

Mad Pride is an informal, international mass movement, originating in Toronto, Canada and London, England in the early 1990s, celebrating our diverse identities as people labeled “mad.” Some years Mad Pride festivities, marches, parades, gatherings, etc. have been frequent, other years not so much.

Mad Pride Switzerland just held its Mad Pride Parade in Bern last month, on 18 June, as they have in several past years. More than 1,000 participants filled the streets for two blocks, complete with three bass drums, snare drums, whistles, balloons, matching umbrellas, signs, and floats. Check out the festivities in this video: https://youtu.be/G6XyX6un6MQ

On 28 May 2022, a Mad Pride March was again held in Mexico City. The sponsors were la Redesfera Latinoamericana de la Diversidad Psicosocial & la Red Orgullo Loco México. You can email the organizers here: [email protected]. Mad In America covered a Mad Pride Mexico event in 2019: https://www.madinamerica.com/2019/09/mad-pride-rises-in-mexico/

Mad Pride Chile (Orgullo Loco Chile) recently held a Zoom discussion on 22 June about the impact of electroshock lived experience on human rights. Mad Pride Chile runs an Instagram page here: https://www.instagram.com/orgulloloco_chile

John McCarthy, white older Irish man with white hair and glasses in Mad Pride t-shirt and suspenders. In front of a wall with framed photos and a doorframe.
John McCarthy, the late poet and leader of Mad Pride Ireland.

In the past, Ireland has had some of the biggest Mad Pride events, largely because of the leadership of Cork poet and psychiatric survivor John McCarthy [1950–2012]. You can find videos on YouTube about Mad Pride Ireland festivals in parks throughout Ireland. John often talked about the “normality of madness and the madness of normality.” David McCarthy, John’s son, wrote to me, “There is an event in Cork on July 17th, 2022, Joy in the Park. It is in memory of a young lady lost to suicide last year. They are copying our Mad Pride Day format and will have the John McCarthy Memorial Stage, which is lovely. It’s comforting to know his memory still touches so many people!”

https://www.echolive.ie/entertainment/whatson/arid-40880891.html

Why MAD Pride Month in July?

Mad Pride events have been held throughout the year. For instance, Mad Pride Seoul in Korea chooses World Mental Health Day, October 10, for their myriad performance and parade events. But, MindFreedom Oregon, an Affiliate of MindFreedom International, for several years has called for July to be Mad Pride Month as a special focus for mad organizers.

The month of July has many connections to the movement for mental health consumers/psychiatric survivors (C/S), here are a few:

In 1981, some activists in New York State were looking for a day to hold an annual protest in Albany of the mental health system. At first, they were about to choose July 4, but psychiatric survivor Myra Kovary encouraged them to choose a non-US-centered date, Bastille Day, July 14. C/S movement groups still often choose events on July 14. In 2008, Myra described her experience here: https://mindfreedom.org/kb/bastille-day-and-mh-liberation/

When MindFreedom International looked for a week to celebrate the concept, invented by Martin Luther King, Jr., of “creative maladjustment,” they chose a week from July 7 to 14.

By happy coincidence, the birthdate of one of the most amazing psychiatric survivor activists in history, Leonard Roy Frank [1932–2015], is on July 15.

As we have learned more about the often-obscure history of the Mad Pride Movement, Wikipedia carried an interesting fact about one of the first known psychiatric survivor groups: “On 7 July 1845, Richard Paternoster, John Perceval and a number of others formed the Alleged Lunatics’ Friend Society.”

And in Oregon, of course, the infamous Oregon Country Fair (OCF) is always shortly after the 4th of July. MindFreedom has held Mad Pride events in the heart of OCF, the Community Village, for many years, and will again this year. Dissident physician and psychiatric survivor Patch Adams has often spoken, but will not be at the fair this year. In the past, the late dissident psychiatrist, Carl Hammerschlag, has also joined Patch.

Blog author, David Oaks, in wheelchair with Patch Adams, with blue hair and glasses. Both are picking their noses at the Oregon Country Fair, with trees in the background. Oaks says, "Searching for meaning."
Blog author David Oaks with Patch Adams, at Oregon Country Fair. Oaks says, “Searching for meaning.”

So, July was the obvious choice for Mad Pride Month.

Disability Pride Month, Too?

Meanwhile, the disability movement was engaged in a wonderful simultaneous action: Naming July as Disability Pride Month. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law back on July 26, 1990. To celebrate, Boston, Chicago, New York City, and others began holding Disability Pride marches and parades. Because the ADA was signed in July, when disability groups decided to devote a month to Disability Pride, again the obvious choice was July.

I can easily imagine someone thinking, “What is there to be proud about when you have a disability? Proud to lose a leg? Proud to go blind?” Disability Pride does not mean every impairment one might experience is somehow splendid. Here is the description of disability pride from the organization, AmeriDisability: “‘Disability pride’ has been defined as accepting and honoring each person’s uniqueness and seeing it as a natural and beautiful part of human diversity.”

When I broke my neck one decade ago, I drew upon the lessons I learned about empowerment from decades in the psychiatric survivor movement. I am proud of applying these skills when I needed them most. There are many reasons to have Disability Pride: Our resilience, the amazing global disability community, the uniqueness of every human being…

Why Mad Pride?

I am a psychiatric survivor who was involuntarily placed in psychiatric institutions five times. I experienced forced psychiatric drug injections on a bare mattress in solitary confinement. After I finally got free of psychiatry, I spent decades rebelling against and resisting the bizarre, ridiculous, unscientific, goofy, demeaning labels found in the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM). Twenty years ago, I helped lead a national hunger strike that challenged psychiatry’s medical-model basis for labeling. I still, after 46 years of being a psychiatric survivor activist, fight goofy psychiatric labeling.

So, some might ask, “If you rebel against labels, then isn’t ‘Mad Pride’ hypocritical?”

No. The psychiatric establishment generally runs away from the use of words like “mad” and “crazy.” Whole books could be written on the topic of language, but just let me say that the only love that I would consider real is being “madly in love.” Personally, since there is no official definition of the word ‘mad,’ I like what some activists suggest: M.A.D. stands for Marginalized And Disempowered.

Social change movements led by marginalized people must build bridges to all communities of disenfranchised people, such as LGBT and BIPOC. Sadly, like many other social change movements, our field needs more diversity. White males like myself tend to be over-represented. Increasing diversity and inclusion is a high priority for many C/S movement groups. What about building bridges to the disability movement, one of the biggest in the world?

Our liberation movement of psychiatric survivors and mental health consumers is now more than 50 years old in the US. For those truly interested in global nonviolent revolution, which I consider a necessity, we need people power, quickly. On June 14, 2022, in preparation for bringing up psychiatric human rights with the United Nations, there was a Side Event on “Remedy and Reparation for Institutionalization.” This event clearly emphasized the need to connect the C/S movement and the cross-disability movement to build the people power we need for true deep change. You may view this Side Event here: https://youtu.be/UOSp7I9z0Nk

Psychiatric Survivors and the Disability Movement

One of the surest absolute connections between the psychiatric survivor movement and the disability movement, is that we human rights activists claim that nearly every type of psychiatric oppression and goofy label results in disability. This should be obvious, because oppression causes trauma. And further, electroshock causes massive head injury and memory loss. That sounds like a disability to me.

I am ashamed that a few of my fellow psychiatric survivors have a kind of “brain bigotry” on the issue of the disability movement, also known as ableism. These psychiatric survivors say that because their psychiatric labels are fictional, they cannot and should not be oppressed and forcibly treated. Hey, here’s a concept for you: Whether or not your label is goofy or true, you do not deserve oppression!

Many of us psychiatric survivors point out that a lot of our psychiatric labels are fictional, like the unicorn. But folks, even if you are missing a limb and are obviously disabled, you deserve human rights, choice, dignity, respect, humane alternatives, peer support, and voluntary healthcare.

Disability Leaders: Watch Out for Sanism

Thought-leaders in the disability movement, such as activists, authors, academics, back starting in the 1970s, often spoke about the “social model of disability” replacing the domination of the medical model. In other words, attitudes and structures in our society may often be the actual origin of disability.

This diversity of perspectives in what has been thought of as the “physical disability movement” is even more important in building a true cross-disability movement which welcomes those who have experienced a mental disability label. Some of us in the consumer/survivor (C/S) movement choose to take psychiatric medications and agree with our diagnosis. Others are disgusted by both psych drugs and psych diagnoses. Still others reject and accept different elements of their psychiatric treatment. The common framework here is choice and human rights.

Unfortunately, I have seen some disability leaders falsely believe that when an activist criticizes psychiatric drugs, they are somehow pressuring others to reject their psychiatric care. Indeed, some individuals flatly reject the whole mental health industry. However, almost every C/S group I’ve seen embraces choice, human rights, and diversity. In my experience, individuals who choose to take psychiatric drugs are often totally comfortable and accepted in C/S advocacy organizations. We need to wrap our minds around the complexity of individual choice. Again, we unify around human rights.

Ron Unger, an older white man in a red jacket in front of trees and a small waterfall.
Ron Unger, LCSW, is a Mad In America blogger who is a dissident mental health counselor in Eugene, OR.

Dissident mental health counselor, Ron Unger, addresses the importance of embracing the seeming paradox of sometimes rejecting what is called “madness,” and sometimes celebrating it. He said that, unlike Gay Pride (he himself is in a gay marriage), Mad Pride is more complex, and it is difficult to know where to always draw the line. Ron told me, “It is a tricky topic, since some people are definitely proud of the mental states that are called mad, while others see the madness itself as a tragedy but are proud of their resilience etc. around it. So I was trying to address the full range of meanings around it and make sense of them.” Ron gave a webinar last year for the International Society for Psychological and Social Approaches to Psychosis (ISPS-US), entitled “Exploring the Promise and the Pitfalls of Mad Pride,” which you may view for free here: https://youtu.be/WSbtEJuWQdY

You Can Be a Leader in Both Mad Pride Month & Disability Pride Month!

It is totally OK if you personally choose not to celebrate Mad Pride Month or Disability Pride Month. Perhaps there should be a “Normal Shame Month”? Let me know if anyone organizes that, I’m too busy.

However, many of us do want to celebrate our differences, both in Mad Pride and Disability Pride. I will not impose a psychiatric label on another person unwillingly. But please do not try to impose the label of “normal” on me. What is generally called “normal” is wrecking the planet’s environment and threatens life on Earth. What is generally called “normal” is actually, from my perspective, the worst, most dangerous altered state ever.

Greta Thunberg, young white Swedish woman, speaking into microphone in front of large building.
Greta Thunberg speaking in 2021.

As a psychiatric survivor with extreme physical disabilities, I love the idea of building bridges between Mad Pride and Disability Pride. Think of one of the key leaders in fighting the climate crisis: Greta Thunberg. When Greta was younger, she and her family wrestled with many severe mental and emotional problems, including periods of not eating, isolating herself with just a few close family members, screaming and crying for long lengths of time, etc. Greta personally accepts the diagnosis of “autism.” But Greta’s perspective is that being “on the spectrum” is her “superpower,” because her uniqueness helps her see through the web of lies that seemingly control “normal people.”

One aspect of the climate crisis that I have found particularly frustrating is that the general public, perhaps because they embrace the old-fashioned linear reductionist paradigm, does not seem to understand the complexity of tripping many cascading feedback loops. Especially if this idea is new to you, I highly recommend viewing the five short documentaries narrated by Richard Gere. Greta found these so important that she and the Dalai Lama introduced them. View these videos here: https://feedbackloopsclimate.com/

July is now hosting a third related theme: BIPOC Mental Health Month. Each year, the nonprofit Mental Health America “develops a public education campaign dedicated to addressing the mental health needs of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).” More info: https://www.mhanational.org/BIPOC-mental-health-month

Yvonne Z. Smith, African-American woman smiling with light tan coat. She chairs the Mental Health Subcommittee for National Council on Independent Living.
Yvonne Z. Smith, of Washington D.C., chairs the Mental Health Subcommittee for National Council on Independent Living.

The NCIL Mental Health Subcommittee, led by African-American community organizer Yvonne Z. Smith, has become one of the main critical intersections to build cross-disability bridges between the disability & mental health consumer/psychiatric survivor communities.

With the support of MindFreedom International and their Executive Director, Ron Bassman, this call for supporting both Disability Pride Month and Mad Pride Month in July will go out far and wide.

You can find resources and links about both Mad Pride and Disability Pride on my personal blog here: https://davidwoaks.com/bridging-mad-pride-disability-pride

I also look forward to comments, ideas and discussion on my personal blog.

***

Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

18 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you so much for this excellent blog, David.

    I loved finding out about the existence of the “Alleged Lunatics’ Friend Society”! And I’m so glad you included the link to the United Nations session on “Remedy and Reparation for Institutionalization,” so ably (pardon the expression) hosted by Tina Minkowitz.

    Your determination and persistence in advocating for global nonviolent revolution are inspiring. It seems like a no-brainer (whoops!) that crazies should partner with the disability movement as well as those fighting for women’s rights, racial justice, prison abolition, poverty reduction, queer rights, and so many other necessary remedies to “normality” – since, as you so rightly point out, “What is generally called ‘normal’ is wrecking the planet’s environment and threatens life on Earth.”

    I also love that you refer to psychiatric labels as “goofy”; emphasizing the ridiculousness rather than the evil of psychiatry is such a smart way to help “normal” people wake up to the incredible levels of disability caused by psychiatry. And how right you are to say that “Whether or not your label is goofy or true, you do not deserve oppression!”

    I certainly do not see myself as belonging to “the consumer/survivor movement,” since this use of the word “consumer” (like its much more common use in replacing the word “citizen” or “person” everywhere, thanks to our society being all about consumption) kind of makes me want to barf – but of course it’s always good to be reminded that people like me share with “mental health consumers” a “common framework [of] choice and human rights.”
    I am also very far from being a fan of the paradigm of Pride, and am sad about its having replaced the concept of liberation (as in gay liberation – the long-forgotten ancestor of 2SLGBTQ[etc]. Pride). And yet I appreciate Ron Unger’s statement that “some people are definitely proud of the mental states that are called mad, while others see the madness itself as a tragedy but are proud of their resilience, etc. around it.” Similarly, although “autism spectrum” ideology does not do anything for me personally, I love Greta Thunberg’s view that being “on the spectrum” is her “superpower.”

    Hurray for “seeing through the web of lies that seemingly control ‘normal people.’” Hooray for activism and humour! Hooray for you, David Oaks – thanks for being there, through thick and thin.

  2. Thanks for the great article, David! Mad Pride is very important to me as well and we definitely need things like Mad Pride Month along with Disability Pride.

    It was so cool learning about all the Mad Pride/Orgullo Loco organizing done across Latin America when I met Pao, the W.I.L.D. delegate from Peru. Truly the movement is once again growing.

    The “I’m just mentally ill” crowd and the “I’m totally normal” crowds can both have their things– But boy is it nice to be able to celebrate our differences without giving in to psychiatric oppression! And as a neurodivergent person, I can’t afford to be in denial about such differences.

    I like that you once again mention Greta’s “superpower.” When we truly embrace both Mad Pride and Neurodiversity, we will find so many people once thought by mainstream society as incompetent or “too crazy” for leadership to be some of our most valuable folks for all movements for justice. The spirit of “creative maladjustment” lives on!

  3. Madness is my cloak of invisibility. Madness is my boots of invincibility. Madness is my liberation. Madness sets me free.

    I do not want to be proud of things I should have had all along. I am not proud of my fair hair. I am not proud of my elegant hands. I am not proud of my beating heart. I am not ashamed of any of those so why should I be the opposite in pridefullness, given that I do not buy into society’s shame. Pride often seems reactionary against stigma.

    Stigma reassures me I am going the right way. The HONEST way. The uncomfortable middle path way in a world where everyone want you to “side” with them.

    But David, I love the notion of CELEBRATION, especially of madness.

    I do feel schizophrenia is a sort of ethnicity. A culture. And because it is and because it is ripe for CELEBRATING, even as maverick freedom fighters, every “side” wants to shun what it is. This is because everyone has their own notion of freedom and what it SHOULD look like.

    If everyone simply attended to their own individual freedom needs and stopped insisting on “consensus rules” about what freedom should be for complete strangers then we would all feel free as the birds.

    I like what you are doing dear David. I like it a lot. I do not agree that all Pride movements should band together. What is that for? Power? I loathe power. Humans like power because they think it means freedom. But power is just the denying of frèedom to others. No animal bothers with power. Yet all animals as individuals know freedom.

    The banding of Pride movements all together is an attempt at forming a mass “consensus opinion”….one that will become another mass wave of bullying.

    Security is not found in “consensus opinion” unless that consensus agrees that your individual freedom of choice to be innocuously whoever you are COMES FIRST.

    If your free choice to be YOU is harmless and does not put a spot or bruise or pain of abuse on another person then you are free to be free and free to CELEBRATE how your freedom makes you feel.

    I would prefer Mad Pride to rename itself as Mad Celebration. But that is all I would change. Keep up the good work, David.

    And I like Imrit’s comment too. Very honest and true.

  4. Thank You David for this amazing blog . Within the last 4 years when I was injured physically in a car accident , psychiatry twisted things, to make out like the priority was psychiatric treatment. Since I was a psych survivor which I should never have revealed in the hospital it was easier for them to do. It seems the most powerful person in a hospital is a psychiatrist . They have no compassionate sense of humour only a sadistic one.
    With some help from a traditional naturopath I was able to find liberation again . Now I’m again struggling to free myself entirely from the tentacles of psychiatry . There was some time I couldn’t sleep enough , while I was going through some difficult life stress’s. I feel confident I will succeed again even though psychiatry’s oppression’s are not easy to overcome.
    One of the highlights of my life was demonstrating against electric shock with you and other activists in Eugene Oregon some years ago .
    David it seems you’re always thinking about doing things better. Certainly we don’t deserve oppression and it’s obvious many different groups under oppression should ideally work together for mutual surviving and thriving .
    I will continue to look at the numerous informative links you have so generously provided and consider you to be a living natural treasure activist .

  5. Thanks David, I enjoyed the article, and also your follow up comments.

    I thought it was interesting how you mentioned that “Whyte seems to have viewed people and events around him with perpetual curiosity, interest, and astonishment.” One mental state (that some might call madness) that I’ve been proud of is the ability to see things with fresh eyes, from way outside of normality.

    Gary Warne is no longer with us, but he was a key founding member of the San Francisco Suicide Club, a not very normal group that I was part of as a young person. He wrote a very short essay called “The Clown at Midnight” https://www.trippingly.net/burning-man-musings/the-clown-at-midnight-by-gary-warne which touched on some of that. You can read more about Gary at https://www.trippingly.net/burning-man-musings/gary-warne

  6. Great article.

    I don’t really think of MAD as being “Marginalized and Disempowered”, for me, it’s something more along the lines of “Magnificent and Dynamic”.

    Best reason for embracing my madness: you have all these Nami-ites running around saying that to call somebody mad is to be derogatory while to call somebody “mentally ill” is some kind of act of “mercy”. Pardon me, if I cling to my skepticism. I, frankly, don’t buy it.

    Mad humility? Excuse my arrogance, but that really would be, let’s say, “counter intuitive”. When somebody puts me down, I don’t have to, therefor, put myself down. If I did, who gets something out it? Well, you can be danged sure it isn’t me. Nope, for me to get a slice of the pie, that would require a bit of, in the face of massive opposition, Mad pride.

    Chen up. We can and will win.

  7. Thank you for your blog which is well-reasoned and fair. I appreciate your point of view even though my experience of the mental health system has been very different. As you say, we need to respect the point of view of everyone because human experience is so different from person to person. And, thanks for calling out the ableism in the mad pride movement. That needed to be said.

LEAVE A REPLY