Monday, February 18, 2019

Comments by Sera Davidow

Showing 100 of 1440 comments. Show all.

  • Thanks, Bricew. It’s always interesting to me how important language is, and how we hear words differently. I do often challenge people re: “Committed suicide” when I’m in training environments. I do *not* ever tell people they “can’t” or “shouldn’t” use it, but just offer food for thought which is this: “Committed suicide” comes from a time when suicide was being painted overtly as illegal (as in “committed a crime”). Based on that, I personally try not to use that frame… but nor am I fond of “completed suicide” or ever telling people *what* precisely they need to say.

    In my experience, telling others (and especially others who have first-hand experience with something) precisely what words they’re supposed to use comes from a special brand of ignorance and insensitivity.

    Thanks for sharing some of your mother’s story as it intersects with your own. I too struggle with this idea that we should get to put our own priorities of people living as long as possible on other people who may genuinely just not want to be here. I’ve heard there are other countries where there are supports set up for people who want to die… Even heard at one point of a place of that nature where people could go to get support in killing themselves that supposedly ended up not having people actually go through with it, because it provided such a valuable space for people to talk openly about their struggles and death and everything else. I actually don’t know if that place actually fully exists as it was described to be… But it sounds really interesting if it does.


  • Thanks, Catnight! The taboo you speak of … the reality that a lot of this comes from a fear of talking about death at all… is definitely one of the things we try to address and bring to the surface with our Alternatives to Suicide work. And it was so weird to watch the ASIST folks twist themselves around the idea that we should be able to talk about suicide, while still sending such a strong message that it should also be really hard and upsetting whenever we talk about death. And yes, it definitely doesn’t have to be like this. There are certainly cultures where talking about death in all its forms is so much more normalized. The issues – being able to talk about death at all and being able to talk about suicide – are absolutely intertwined.


  • Thanks so much, Richard. And you’re absolutely right.. I shouldn’t have gone alone (from any other than a financial standpoint). Even before some of the worst things happened, it was still painful to be the lone voice in a sea of providers who were all on the same page with the terrible things they were saying. And it made my credibility much lower in a lot of ways.

    And good question… Massachusetts doesn’t seem to do much with ASIST right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it moved in that direction. We’ll certainly be watching for it 🙂


  • Thanks, Alex. Yes, mandated reporter is a serious issue, *especially* since so many people claim that it has anything to do with the topic of suicide which it most assuredly does not. But in general as well… It is a real issue. And what I think many people don’t realize is that once DCF is called in, it’s kind of like getting a diagnosis… I was thinking about my house after DCF was called on me. My kids aren’t getting abused. They’ve got pretty well supported, good lives… but how would DCF interpret my house not being so clean a lot of the time, and all sorts of other things that are just fine when you don’t have DCF looking at you through a particular lens…. Oy.


  • Fiachra,

    I think the drugs – and their largely unacknowledged contributions to *increasing* emotional ups and downs, disconnections, etc. – definitely have a role. However, I hesitate to say they’re all to blame. The hopelessness that comes with being given some of these diagnoses, the “prognosis” people are given, the hospital environments and how powerless people can feel… All of it also has a role.

    Iatrogenic effects are bit… and with more than just the psych drugs.


  • Oldhead,

    Yes, I know you’re largely right, and I can’t help but try. And no, not a word… although I e-mailed them *ALL* (Office of Mental Health and Northern Rivers leadership and Board members) again yesterday with a link to this article, and telling them that I am *formally* asking for information on how to file a complaint which I believe they should be legally compelled to provide to me… But nope, nothing.


  • Hey The_cat,

    Yeah, I’ve been in similar situations, too and had to make some really difficult situations. Ultimately, I so appreciate where you landed. It’s where I’ve landed, too. People *need* to be able to say some of those things to other humans and not get locked up for it. That said, there have been occasions when I’ve also said to people, “Hey, it was super unfair when you said that and then disappeared, and I’m feeling angry about that right now.” That (treating them as not so fragile that they can’t handle hearing how what they did impacted me) also turned out to be good for our relationship, though.



  • Hi Rachel,

    Yes, during and following hospitalization is when suicide “risk” is actually the highest according to research, and hospitalization seems to have long-term impact on suicide rates even for people who were hospitalized for reasons other than wanting to kill themselves. It’s pretty staggering and largely ignored data.


  • Julie,

    I hear you, and you’re not the person to suggest I make it about someone else. However, it loses a lot of power when I can’t say “that was me”. Being able to say “that was me” is a huge chunk of the power of sharing these sorts of stories at all. It’s where we get to challenge people’s assumptions in how they might conjure up an image of the person about whom that story is true… I know it’s a risk to me. But in spite of all this, it’s a risk I continue to be willing to take … most of the time. 🙂


  • I don’t disagree with you that people don’t want to deal with the politics and just want help. *HOWEVER*, part of the point here is that often they think they’re getting help and they end up getting hurt. Or, if they get legit help at the individual level, it may still contribute to hurt at the systemic level by sustaining the illusion of need for NAMI. None of that ultimately changes anything I’m saying here…

    Anyway, I think we’re ultimately basically saying the same thing underneath it all…


  • Lenora,

    You said: “Places like this, or your doctor, or mental heath professional, etc take things like this seriously and follow protocol because if they don’t, they might get hit was a malpractice suit.”

    Yes to a certain extent, however:

    1) That’s really misguided, and not at all supported by research evidence that says that both assessment of need and the most common interventions used are wildly ineffective.
    2) Even the fear of lawsuit is misguided, as successful lawsuits blaming providers for suicide deaths is actually incredibly rare, and especially in situations where there wasn’t egregious neglect (such as there wouldn’t be should want simply *talk* to someone rather than immediately shipping them off for “help”).
    3) I don’t even think that’s *truly* the motivation for a lot of people… Having *just* been subjected to a “wellness” check by a provider this past Friday myself, I strongly believe that some of these things are motivated by power and control, and excused under the cover of liability.

    I don’t disagree with most of the rest of what you said, but I’m not – and never have – blamed people for falling into NAMI’s clutches. I blame the broader systems (including NAMI) that make that so damn hard to avoid. So, ultimately, I agree with oldhead… if NAMI were gone, we wouldn’t have keep worrying about all this… but that’s certainly not to say that people don’t really struggle or need support. Just not the NAMI trap brand of it.


  • Systemic oppression and privilege do not preclude the success of members of those groups, but it does speak to the default design of society. For example, our holidays and workweek and how many people are afforded time off are structured around a Christian perspective. When kids are forced to stand and say the Pledge in school or people are asked to swear to tell the truth in courts, a Christian perspective on god works its way in. Presidential candidates suspected of not being Christian have had to go out of their way to prove that they are. These are just small examples, and don’t predict the outcome or impact for each individual which will vary significantly… but it seems strange to me to suggest that folks who follow a Christian practice aren’t privileged in this society in ways that make their way of life at least a bit easier.

    It doesn’t seem as if we will come to agreement on this. I believe that the insistence on seeing this as insult rather than a reality of the fabric of our society is a part of what keeps these things in place, and that seems really sad to me. But I don’t really know what else to say about it, and I don’t think it’s worthwhile to get into an extensive argument about it here.


  • I have to be honest, Oldhead, that sometimes I really do wish you’d give it a rest. You seem like you have so much time to spend in these comment sections actively derailing things, and it can be exhausting to even try to keep up.

    Her main point was that she felt I’d insulted white people, and discounted her experience. I did my best to illustrate how that is a misunderstanding of what I said which isn’t an insult toward white people at all.

    *You* are the one bent on dismissing that in the name of naming capitalism. Of course capitalism has a role in all this, including the fact that it is capitalism that drives big pharma to use groups like NAMI as they do. And that’s not the whole picture, and none of this – not even the white privilege part – was central to the actual point of this article… although overal features of systemic oppression certainly are.


  • Marie,

    I can’t be sorry that I included reference to white privilege in the article, because it’s real and it’s important to keep recognizing that fact. But, I am sorry that you received it as an attack, because it surely isn’t one at all. I know it can feel awful, however, to feel as if someone isn’t seeing your own suffering. I believe that you and your family have really struggled, and faced lots of adversity.

    I don’t think that that changes that you’ve received from benefit from your whiteness, but I believe that that’s been much harder to see or feel because of all the other benefits you haven’t received.

    In the end, privilege really isn’t about the person who possesses it being bad, or not having earned much of what they’ve gained. Rather, it’s about the reality that our society has been built and sustained by people who’ve had their own needs and wants and beliefs most in mind… That means that society centers and prioritizes mostly white, male, cisgender, christian, heterosexual, able-bodied folks with some wealth and education. And for each of those (and other relevant) qualities that one does not possess, there are at least a few more barriers in their way to the success… and people from the dominant groups blaming them for having a tougher time because many from those dominant groups can’t even *see* the barriers the marginalized group might be tripping over… because that’s how privilege works.

    Anyway, here’s a couple of samples of what’s out there about white privilege if it’s of interest:

    Joy Degruy presentation on Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome:

    Joy Degruy clip on white privilege:

    Article on white privilege:


  • Oldhead,

    Whoever said that to you was also being silly. The reasons why black and other non-white people aren’t more present here runs deep, and is reflected throughout any movement closely associated with pushing back on the psychiatric system. The reasons run from the fact that people of different backgrounds and privileges are shuffled into different systems, to how the psychiatric system and racism already intersect to even further marginalize non-white people, to how shitty white people are at making space and centering voices other than their own or hearing and respecting people other than those they see as representing their own image, and beyond. Whether you call people asking folks here not to use the term “psychiatric slavery” as appropriation or simply a show of lack of respect for the multiple black voices who’ve come here and said it doesn’t sit well with them… it doesn’t really matter. If becoming less white were more important to folks around here, they’ve be willing to give on these points even if they don’t fully agree.

    But regardless… I’m not going to continue arguing about this. We’ve been round this circle before.

  • Will spent a fair amount of lines on ‘peer respite, Frank. It wasn’t just one casual mention. And I think it was out of place. I actually think Will fairly frequently has include off handed lines in several of his blogs here that are targeted at particular people or groups in ways that don’t feel honest to me. This is but one example.

    That aside, your reference to “adult babysitting” just tells me you don’t know much about what peer respites are actually intended to be or what the ones done with integrity have to offer, and you are missing my point entirely. I also think it’s strangely naive to suggest that creating alternative supports is a waste of time… that echoes of the criticism many of us often receive about pretending nothing is wrong when we argue against the medical model. Mostly, people who hurl that criticism aren’t actually paying attention… because often many of us *are* acknowledging fully that something may be wrong for lots of people… that their pain and struggles are legit and that they deserve support. Just not within the framework the system has to offer.

    I also think you are giving Will way too much credit in what you ascribe to what he was saying there.

  • Sam,

    I would frame what I’m doing here largely as offering food for thought, and material to counter those who continue to argue in favor of these large entities like NAMI, MHA, etc without unpacking what’s really going on.

    That’s neither as personal as venting, nor as productive as offering a solution… but I do see it as being on the road to the latter… or at least a necessary part of ever getting there.


  • Will,

    I’m not too sure what to make of this article. It seems a little all over the place. I *think* I appreciate the challenge to using the “creative maladjustment” term as its always struck me as appropriative rather than unifying in any way. But, overall, I’m finding myself a little lost in your point.

    I’m also a little perplexed as to why you zeroed in on “peer respite” here. I’m not super fond of that terminology because of the word “peer” and how strangely it’s come to be understood and used within the mental health system. However, your focus on it here suggests to me you have some deeper issue against peer respite (or the people connected to them) than anything else. Ultimately, “hospital alternative” strikes me as no solution, although it’s often a piece of the explanation as to what “peer respite” is. Certainly, I’d see little to no improvement in automatic understanding if I began using that terminology instead of “peer respite” , and may actually see an *increase* in people who *think* they understand what I’m talking about but don’t.

    I’m all for looking deeply at the power of language, and I’m not at all against looking for an alternative to “peer respite” , but I question the reason for your focus here.


  • That’s pretty reductive, Oldhead. I don’t think anyone believes that “psychiatric slavery” is what has chase black and other people of color away from here. In general, non-white people weren’t here to begin with. But weirdly appropriative stuff like the insistence on clinging to that particular phrase, along with appropriation related to MLK and so on certainly doesn’t help.

  • Thanks, yeah_I_survived.. .For reading and sharing some of your own experience. I missed that Mother Jones article (ugh), but yeah, I wish the “liberal” ends of our media and society in general weren’t so hell bent on keeping their head in the sand where psychiatric oppression is concerned. I actually wrote an article about that at one point, too… :p

    In case anyone’s curious about that one:


  • Seltz6912,

    I’m not sure who this comment is directed at? Did you take my article to be suggesting that only the “sunny side” of voice hearing, etc be shared? That’s certainly not what I was saying… not even close… and I don’t think anyone else was saying that either, tho maybe I missed something?

    If that is what you took away from this article at first glance, I hope you’ll read through it again, as it’s just not what it actually says.



  • Steve,

    There’s one that supposedly Pat Deegan put together, but I’m skeptical of *all* the pre-recorded nonsense for all the reasons I already named. I *will* say, though, that the reason I titled the article “almost” is because there are trainings – such as the ones offered through the western mass rlc – that offer live simulations. That means that people – often including many people who have heard or do hear voices – provided a live simulation experience. We have found some value in that because a) it is offered contextually and b) it is debriefed after the simulation at length and most importantly c) it’s embedded in a broader training that talks about all the other pieces of the experience including how different it can look from person to person and moment to moment.

    AND as also noted in the article above, the exercise *still* runs the risk of encouraging people to take away sensationalized ideas and/or generalize… but that is at least also discussed in the debriefing process.

    Ultimately, I don’t think even the recorded simulation exercises constructed by people who hear voices could ever not be hugely problematic.


  • Hey Sam,

    I tend to believe you aren’t replicating the NAMI stuff I speak of. However, my believing that doesn’t mean that I suddenly think it’s a good idea to confuse the language, as that opens the door for further issues with others. I believe you that you and your wife have played the meaningful healing roles for one another that you describe, but I do think It’s much more useful when you use that language as opposed to language that’s been claimed in other ways. (Although, iin general, I hate the ‘peer’ language in the way it’s used today almost entirely across the board._

  • Sam,

    Thanks for your comment, and I certainly remember you from other posts. You are welcome to come visit, btw!

    I think where I remember us diverging most is around what ‘peer’ and the role of family is specifically… that said, I’m not sure we diverge all that much. I *do* think it’s essential to *not* confuse family members with ‘peer supporter’ not because family can’t be key, but because NAMI, the whole ‘family partner’ peer scene, etc have had truly dangerous and damaging implications in how they’ve confused those things… and centered family voices *over* the voices of those most directly impacted.

    I also do believe that ‘peer’ is more about how two people interact and the nature of their connection, and I remember you resonating with that… but I just think that needs to work in concert with having key experiences (being in the system, etc) in common or else it drifts too quickly into nami land. Although, as I say that, I can also say that our community takes a pretty broad perspective on what ‘peer’ means, too… So, it’s gray.

    But somehow, I think we need to continue to hold the tension that exists between family (especially chosen family like significant others) having really important roles *and* recognizing that very often they still come with power dynamics and other complexities and historical trends that mean differentiating is also important.

    I fear I’m rambling… perhaps due to being in a vacation state of mind… but ultimately, I’d be all for more trainings, supports, and opportunities for patterns and other family to have positive impact in someone’s struggles… just not to the point of confusing that with the expectation that someone can typically be in that role *and* be in a ‘peer supporter’ role such as we are usually talking about It here.


  • Thanks for sharing your experience, rachel777. I think everyone’s experiences are different/unique in some way, but what you described sounds similar to many I’ve heard… especially how the voices connect to something in the environment and self-blame somehow, as well as how the psych drugs didn’t actually make the voices go away. So true for so many people. In any case, thank you for sharing a piece of your experience here.

  • Thanks, Mark. I think for me, the art has a lot to do with how it’s conveyed… if it’s an art display expressly by “crazy” people – like what nami periodically offers and basically just saying “hey crazy people make good pictures too” – then yeah, not a fan. However, if it’s an art installation respecting people’s experiences, or the difference and brilliance that brings that art forth… I can certainly respect that!

  • It’s absolutely true, Kindredspirit. And, in fact, there is research at this point I believe that suggests that people’s sense of having control and understanding over what’s happening means they’ll be less negatively impacted by it.

    How something impacts us and our lives really *is* the key point… although the mental health system doesn’t necessarily see it that way, and the simulations certainly don’t convey that point at all. For example, I used to have visions telling me to hurt or kill my daughter when she was a baby. I eventually figure out why… they were a message to me about how I was blaming my body for the babies that died by miscarriage before she was born. Once I figured that out, they lost a lot of their power over me. Before that, I at least knew better than to tell anyone about them… I don’t think the system would have cared at all what the visions meant…

  • Madmom,

    I wouldn’t suggest IPS for hearing voices at all, actually. I think the 5 day IPS core training is useful for lots of things, but not that.

    However, there are alternatives already established. I struggle with not being too self-promoting, so I left out some of the work we do at my workplace but perhaps I shouldn’t have, so let me offer it here now:

    We offer three day trainings intended primarily for current and future hearing voices facilitators and sometimes others join those trainings, as well… but they are long.

    My co-worker, Caroline Mazel-Carlton coordinated a webinar specifically geared toward family, and I’m sure she’ll do that again in the future.

    She and another co-worker of mine, Marty Hadge, fairly regularly offer three-hour trainings on trauma-informed strategies for working with voice hearing like this one:

    Caroline, Marty and several others on our team also do a variety of other hearing voices trainings. Everyone who trains on this topic either currently hears voices (true of the majority of our trainers), or has had experiences that fit under the Hearing Voices umbrella.

    And we certainly arent the only ones. We have brought out Peter Bullimore and company from England several times, and will have them out again in April. in fact, if you look at our January newsletter, you’ll find information about what Peter and Shaun Hunt will be offering in MA and FL in the spring.

    There is no excuse for the simulations as they are offered. I understand what you are saying, but there *are* better options that simply don’t have the backing of the simulations so people don’t hear about them. That is the result of NAMI and all the other marketing behemoths (see the next article I hope to publish for more on this point). But the options *do* exist. And often they are low cost or free, offered by people who have that experience, and far more meaningful.

  • Nik,

    We aim to make things accessible. Typically, getting the fee waived is just about e-mailing us to say you want it waived. Although the fees are helpful to sustainability of our work, we don’t count on them. In general, we only say no to someone who’s asked for a fee to be waived when we also just don’t have enough space to offer them a spot.

    If you don’t already get it, sign up for our e-newsletter at our website (, so you’ll get notified when the next trainings are coming around. 🙂

    Thanks for your input on the name! I imagine we will be putting out some thoughts on the choices we come up with in December!! 🙂



  • CryAngerNow,

    Soooo, it’s Community not Center, but yes to the rest! But most begrudgingly for the majority of us who work here. Along those lines, you may want to check this out:

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, and feel free to give feedback on our name via that survey! 🙂 In terms of trainings we offer, the vast majority of our trainings are free to in-state folks. There’s a $100 fee for out-of-state people, but it can be waived if it’s cost prohibitive. 🙂

    Thank you! 🙂


  • Out,

    A good point. I’ve certainly been in a *LOT* of settings where making those in power/in the roles with the power ‘uncomfortable’ sure was frowned upon… and the sensitivity of those folks in power was NOT seen as *their* issue but mine or the others making them uncomfortable.


  • Thanks so much, Irit. Yes, sometimes people who speak loudly and firmly may lose some people, but also act as an important ‘beacon’ of sorts for those who’ve had similar thoughts and haven’t known what to do with them. It can be so important. 🙂

    Admittedly, I do use the term ‘provider’ a bunch because I haven’t felt moved to worry too much about the impact of that one-word label on folks working in the system… but it’s a good point that I should probably think harder about the term and what it conveys to everyone about that role.



  • Don,

    I find that referring to things as ‘politically correct’ is a way to devalue or cut off the conversation. It communicates that someone is “just doing it to seem cool” or “in the know” or “woke” enough. I’m not saying that that is how you intended that term to come across, but it is how it is very often used (as something derisive in some way) and I can’t help be hear it that way.

    The RLC dropped the term ‘peer’ from job titles some years ago, and moved to Advocate. That’s also an imperfect word, but at least moves away from the idea that our job titles need be inextricably linked to something some people will see as part of our identities. I’m sure there are other options, all flawed in some way, but what I also say in this article is that it is less about a list of good and bad words than understanding values and aims.

    So, if we know that it’s one of our values to not lock people into mental health-system attached identities, then using *ANY* single word to routinely always refer to ‘them’ probably isn’t consistent with what we are working toward. Not client, not participant, not peer, not individual, not acorn. It’s the institutinalization of the language and the person right along with it that is the problem above all else.

    So, I’d be leading people astray if I listed out a bunch of words that are ‘okay’. That’s not the point. The point is figuring out what we are actually trying to accomplish in all this?


  • Hi Sandy,

    Thanks for reading. 🙂 Unfortunately, in my experience, any time a word starts to become a ‘buzz word’ for SAMHSA, the mental health system, etc., it just starts to become hollow. Perhaps there’s something about words uttered by oppressors cannot simultaneously hold value for the oppressed… I think there is sometimes an impossible tension for some folks (particularly those focused on reform rather than abolition, but who still hold some pretty clear lines) who fight for providers to let them define the language, but then should the provider finally listen and use the language as requested by those who’ve until then been ignored or marginalized… it’s anticlimactic because then the language stops sounding so good. So, sure, some of that.

    However, some of that is driven by something deeper… So, for example, most providers who use ‘recovery’ language haven’t actually changed a damn thing about the potential they see for people in the system. They consider an acceptable or even *normal* version of ‘recovery’ to be (as I think I mentioned somewhere above in one of the other comments) sitting on the couch, zombified, and just ‘staying out of trouble’. It would *never* be good enough for themselves, but somehow it’s ‘success’ when looking as those in the system. One of the state hospitals in Massachusetts changed its name (when it wasted millions on rebuilding) to a ‘Recovery Center and Hospital’. So, now they’re using ‘recovery’ in relation to forced incarceration. Great.

    Additionally, sometimes better language simply gets used to win grants and look good. So, for example, not too long ago, we had to re-bid for our primary contract that funds the RLC and we found ourselves up against a clinical provider…. And it happened to be a clinical provider who’d invested a *LOT* of time learning our language and approach. And they essentially used our own work and words to try and take it from us.

    Words are meaningful, but they can also be rendered hollow when they are wielded by people who don’t understand more than their most basic definition, or who then believe that superficial ‘goodness’ is still good when it becomes forced or made hollow by overuse in under informed hands…

    Does that make sense? I think there’s probably a lot more to be said on this topic, but hopefully that helps some. 🙂


  • Thanks for reading, J! I do think that a lot of people do find liberty when they just completely reject what they’ve been told! Not always an easy journey, and I’m never going to personally be one who tells people which journey is right for them (because, at the very least, benevolent force is still force), but I know I personally felt an important shift when I moved from somewhat rebellious to just “fuck off”. 🙂


  • Ron,

    That’s not my experience… that it’s easy to repurpose or reframe words in conversation within the mental health system. Rather, my experience is that routine use of words leads to routine ways of thinking and routine ways of responding to people… And that sometimes it’s absolutely necessary to change the language to signal that people need to change the way they’re thinking and doing things.

    In other words, everyone – on every side – gets institutionalized to some degree.

    But I do hear what you are saying, and I think that will work some of the time.



  • Ron,

    Fair enough on the broader potential for ‘recover’, but I do believe that the reality is that when it is used within the mental health system the vast majority of people are referring to ‘recovering’ from an ‘illness’, and I think it’s important to not lose sight of that even if it means something different (just like ‘peer’, etc does) outside of the system.



  • yeah_i_survived,

    You make an excellent point. Some of the people with whom I’ve intersected and who refer to themselves as ‘in recovery’ are shaking from psych drugs, unable to work (in spite of wanting to), etc. I’ve heard stories from others now living full lives who were told they were doing ‘great’ when they were unable to get off their couch or do more than smoke and drink coffee because of how sedated they were. It’s painful to see. Although who am I to say what someone *should* look like, it’s awful to see that so many have been sold this particular ‘recovery’ bill of goods.



  • Judi,

    I don’t disagree with most of what you write as I understand it, but I guess I think there are different layers to the conversation. Even though I agree that the medical system has lied to people in ways that *should* have legal consequences, I don’t believe in forcing folks on the receiving end of that to give up words they find meaningful. I don’t find force helpful in general. If I am to regard at least some people who’ve been lied to in these ways as – say – trapped in a cave, I believe it’s my role to go in and shine a light on the pathways out that were previously in shadow and thus invisible. I don’t, however, believe it’s my role to grab them by their arm and drag them down the path I’ve chosen for them. That – more often than not – results in their pulling back and struggling with me, *or* in their coming along because they feel they have no choice, but not really feeling committed to that path themselves and so not really even knowing why they’re there (or necessarily staying). In order to be the best support, I believe I need to accept that people may choose to stay, even if they got their because of lies. It’s only by letting go of that agenda that I believe I make space for people *also* to decide differently and go down the path I was hoping they’d find.

    Hope that makes some sense.



  • Alex,

    I agree it can be a tricky balance, and that different communication styles match different intentions. For example, wanting to get media and general public’s attention may perfectly reasonably involve yelling at a building housing an org you’re protesting while carrying signs with catchy but ‘inflammatory’ slogans. On the other hand, if you actually want to have a conversation with someone, that’s probably not the best place to start.

    However, not bending on honest words and realities seems critical in either place. Thank you for not being willing to bend on words like ‘discrimination’, etc.



  • Thanks, out.

    I have mixed feelings about ‘content warnings’, but I do agree they are a vast improvement and potentially useful in some contexts… The best thing about them as compared to ‘trigger’ warnings is that they say ‘I want you to know what is included here’ vs. ‘This content may be harmful to you.’ Content warnings certainly don’t suggest in quite the same way that ‘trigger warnings’ do that we are all fragile folks that can’t handle certain topics. Yet, I still remain mixed about them, because I still see the heavy use of them resulting in some similar outcomes. Not quite sure where the ‘right’ balance is.

    And I hear you on the not wanting to forget, but not wanting to be paralyzed by anger (my own words, not sure if they resonate for you) forever. I can very much relate to that.



  • HH,

    Apologies for my delay in responding. I was mostly out of reach of a computer yesterday.

    In any case, rarely do I advocate for correcting people on their individual word choices for themselves. While I would, for example, correct a fellow team member in my work place (because I think it’s *ESSENTIAL* that they not be reinforcing negative stuff in their language choices, and that they be using words that leave space for other people to self-define), I wouldn’t typically correct someone speaking about themselves (nor advocate that anyone else do so). One of the most important things in many people’s own healing process is to be able to have the space to choose their own path, including the language they use to describe it. If someone came in using a word for themselves that felt really problematic to me or that I at least wanted to explore with them further, I’d simply ask what that word means to them (or similar). For example: “I’m bipolar.” “I’ve known a lot of people who’ve been given that diagnosis, and they and their experiences are so different. What does that look like for or mean to you?” Sometimes people really need to think through that answer because they’ve been given so much systems language that they just haven’t really thought about what it truly means to them. In other words, as you referenced, some people are just ‘parroting’ ideas, and that phenomenon can become dangerous and inhibit growth and progress and healing and freedom on many levels.

    That said, in order for people to be able to truly see possibilities beyond the crap the system feeds us, they need to be exposed to it and have opportunity to unpack what it all means to them personally… So, that still brings me back to how important it is that we not be unnecessarily perpetuating all this stuff.

    Also, you said?: “When I was trying to educate the Vermont legislature about the problems with forced drugging in institutional situations, I used the term “forced drugging” rather than “involuntary medication” because I thought it was more accurate. But some people who I really wanted to get to understand my ideas, were alienated and stopped listening because they found my language inflammatory and they saw me as not sympathetic to their point of view and not respectful of… yada yada.”

    In my experience, people who are in that place at that time will find something to disagree with no matter what you say. Because you are threatening a paradigm with which they are intertwined either through years of work/education, or through years of institutionalization. I also use psychiatric drugs instead of medication. Rarely do people respond to that in any way in either direction. However, I get called inflammatory, and difficult, and all sorts of things all the time. That includes before I was ever writing on Mad in America. Before I’d put out publicly some of the more controversial things I’ve said. Before we made any films. Etc. Simply because I was challenging a paradigm. I used to believe that if I just tried hard enough, I’d be able to find the right words to reach people who are in that place, and that that was my job. But after years of trying and still getting the same ‘you’re too radical’ or inflammatory or whatever, I’ve stopped trying so hard. Because it’s not about me. It’s about them. They are *INVESTED* in hearing me that way, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about that, unless I water down what I say so much that I’m basically just supporting them and have lost all of what I truly believe.

    That is a feature of co-optation and systemic oppression. It is not our job to make people comfortable all the time, and they are attempting to trick us into stopping altogether when they put in effort to convince that if ‘only we were nicer about it’ we’d get further. While I’m not suggesting screaming at people is effective in many instances, I’ve not found that watering down is either.


  • Thanks, Stephen. Yeah, I’ve had my share of experiences with the standard medical world, too. Both for myself, and with my kids. I’ve picked up the attitude (that I apply to most parts of my life at this point :p), that if you can’t tell me why (or if your ‘why’ is some stupid bureaucratic reason that has little to do with me), I’m probably not going to do it…

  • The_Cat,

    Hmmm, I flipped through a few reviews of the film before I wrote my own, but I’m not sure I looked at that one. Not surprisingly, some of them were pretty insulting in the way they talked about people who’ve been diagnosed, honestly, and I got tired of that. Ugh.


  • Hey, yeah_i_survived,

    It’s a good question. We focus here primarily on the psych industry, but there are issues all around with the medical field… starting with how much power we hand over to them simply by calling them ‘Dr. Whatevertheirlastnameis’ when we are all our first names…


  • It’s a good point. There was an awful situation (but much less unusual than they’re making it out to be) at this place in Connecticut where they finally saw on video footage someone hospitalized there being tortured and it became a big news story… but somewhere in there, I believe they also had to admit that most of the time they don’t look at the footage.

  • So, for those interested, here’s one document from the actual case decision:

    Here’s an interview with Helena on the film:

    And, I embedded the link to the film on Amazon, but some people don’t seem to realize it’s there, so here is the link to actually watch the film online:

  • Frank,

    It’s not about status. Even if involuntarily incarcerated, I believe the ruling prohibited forced drugging unless it was defined as an ’emergency’ in some way (and yes, I know that how ’emergencies’ are defined gets pretty sketchy, too). The film doesn’t really get too deeply into what happens between hospitalizations and forced drugging, or the Involuntary Outpatient Commitment laws and all that.

    However, like I said in the piece above, I think the film’s true significance is less about that ruling in California, and more about having a film circulating with mainstream actors that says some of these things, and puts it right out there that these drugs have killed people. (As well as some of the statements and fairly accurate representations of things like restraints that are offered along the way.)



  • CatNight,

    I think getting the courts to believe that harm was being caused was a long road. They didn’t win at first. In fact, they were barely given a chance to be heard. Eventually, they found some doctors willing to sign on and support their argument which helped. Collette’s having been a nurse and being willing to devote a ton of time to explaining the details of the harms caused was big, too. And then, even in spite of all that, I think people are still so often ignored. So, I’m just not sure beyond that, and I think there’s for sure a risk of any progress they made there being undone.


  • God. This is *so* incredibly frustrating. Perhaps most frustrating of all is I can’t get the website to stop sending me notifications so it’s easy to check out of this incredibly frustrating conversation.

    Somehow I can’t manage to not respond to this, so as briefly as I can…

    You said: “as long as we continue to use race as the sole or major theme to describe who is oppressed and who isn’t, or who is appropriating what, we lose sight of those pulling the strings at the top.” But I didnt say race is the sole theme.

    You said: “People of color do not own the term slavery and slavery as a general term refers to much more than the enslavement of African and Caribbean people of color by early Americans.” I didn’t say people of color own it or that that type of slavery is the only type of slavery. But it *sure* would be nice if white Americans would be willing to attend to the fact that it *sure* is that kind of slavery that is most relevant to our recent history and that it might be nice if we could respect that fact when some people of color express that it’s offensive… especially when there are *plenty* of other words to choose from.

    You said, “But when we get into the weeds over who is oppressed and who isn’t” but that has literally nothing to do with what I said. However, when we are talking about race it is okay to just talk about race. And when we are talking about sexism it is okay to make space to just talk about sexism. That doesn’t mean the others don’t count. I wonder why you hear it that way?

    You said “fashion.

    But when we get into the weeds over who is oppressed and who isn’t, I’m supposed to be greatful it isn’t worse” … again, nope. Didn’t say any of that.

    No one is nullifying anyone’s suffering. But it is super important that we ask ourselves why these conversations about one type of systemic oppression so often get lost in people wanting to say ‘not all white people’ or ‘not all men’ or ‘not all psychiatrist’ etc etc etc… or why a conversation about one type of systemic oppression suddenly becomes about taking care of someone else’s needs because talking about that systemic oppression somehow made them feel bad.

    Good goodness sake.

    Yes, sure, capitalism is a tool in strengthening or driving all these forms of oppression, and they all intersect, and psychiatry has also been used as a tool (as driven by capitalism and control from the ruling class) with all types of oppression. Yes, yes, and yes,

    And we still need to take a serious look at each piece on its own. Cause we continue to be super white, and we continue to ignore feedback from some of the very few people of color who have tried to speak up, and we continue to be *incredibly* defensive about the issue of racism pops up, and we continue to have enormous holes in what we know/think we know.

    Steve, As new moderator, could you make one of your first acts helping me find out why the “manage your subscriptions’ feature isn’t working so I can stop getting notifications about this thread!!



  • There is literally nothing… and I mean nothing… no past history, no commitment to anti-racist ideology or actions… that exempts one from being party to/unable to see their own contributions to racist and white supremacist structures, Oldhead.

    Elitism in my assumptions? First of all, I didn’t make the assumption that Richard ‘has no understanding or privilege’… I believe that suggesting that I said such a thing is what ‘they’ call a ‘straw man’ argument… Second, I wonder if you’re able to see the difference between what I said and your own commentary which is rather accusatory and skewing toward name calling.

    But really, what is your point here? As far as I can tell, the vast majority of the time, your point is simply to argue. Enjoy that.

    I’m going to unfollow this post at this point.

  • Richard,

    I can’t give you the apology you seek. What I can say is that I’m sorry it felt so personal to you. However, I am of the opinion that *all* white (and generally speaking, white passing) people have ways of being and moving through society that are based on benefiting from racism and white supremacy. And, I think that we *all* have blind spots as a result. And, my own experience and learning suggests that the more we have in common with the individual for whom this society was designed (the white, educated, male, cisgender, heterosexual, middle-class, able bodied, etc. individual), the harder it is to see all that and to not have those blind spots.

    So, I may be forgetting something (though I did skim back through the comment section of the blog to which you refer), but I don’t think I intended to ever say that *you* as an individual are especially racist. Simply put: Although I can see very clearly that you have invested a great deal of time in being good and moral and aware of oppression and the impact of capitalism, etc., that you – like most of us – have your blind spots made of the privilege you’ve experienced in moving through this world and/or the fact that you haven’t had to experience so many of these issues first hand. And that I do believe that at least some of the ways in which you seem to be using the terminology of ‘identity politics’ and denying the importance of hearing people of color when they ask people to not use terms like ‘psychiatric slavery’ and so on is born of some of that. But certainly not you alone. You alongside so many others, and in spite of that fact that I don’t think that’s how you mean any of it at all.

    You can call that divisive. But I look around here… Around this movement… This white, white movement… And I wonder why we can’t just do everything in a power to try and make space for that to change. Even if none of us have all the answers or are quite sure what will make the most difference.

    Anyway. I’m not going to be able to rehash most of this here. I’m about to start week two of being away from home facilitating Alternatives to Suicide trainings in Maine. I just really couldn’t avoid at least saying what I said about the ‘identity politics’ piece feeling dismissive. And I can appreciate why you wanted to reply back.



  • Shaun,

    I’d be silly, naive and whatever else if I claimed you were wrong when you said ‘Second, there are people who will do better after being sent to the hospital.’ We know it’s true because people’s responses vary, and all that.


    1. Why is it true? What about hospital *actually* helped the person? And what did they need to ignore/avoid/not be impacted by that was negative in order to achieve that positive?

    2. How are we defining ‘doing better’? Inevitably, we’d define that in different ways. (Not just you and I… but so many of us…) Some people have been trained to say ‘doing better’ when all they mean is ‘under control’? Some people have been trained to say ‘doing better’ when all that means is ‘numbed out’… Some people have been trained to say ‘doing better’ when what they mean is ‘right in this moment things look better, and to hell with how what we did to get this short-term result may impact things long-term…’

    3. Let’s assume we can find people we’d *ALL* agree are ‘doing better’ *after* hospitalization… There inevitably are such people. BUT, there are also people who appear to be ‘doing better’ after being tortured. (See the Judge Rotenberg Center as an example of a place that tortures people with painful electric shocks because some of them seem to ‘do better’ and stop serious and life threatening self injury after being so tortured.) How far are we willing to go with justifying torture because it seems to ‘help’ some people? What if something is just morally wrong even if it sometimes has some desirable outcome with a set of people? And what if it still hurts FAR more people than it helps? At what point does that intervention become unacceptable for *all* because it is morally wrong and/or hurts far more people than it helps?

    If we can agree that forced hospitalization is morally wrong and if we can agree (i.e., accept the growing body of research and wide array of individual reports) that it is causing FAR more harm than good… then whether or not it may occasionally ‘help’ some people simply becomes irrelevant.


  • Yes, as I noted in my comment, where people aren’t in the same org and there are tensions or a lack of sense of comraderie between the two orgs it can function quite differently. But, in my experience (not just personal, but decades of experience supporting people in different environments who are going through their own experience with the system), the assumption on the part of those with that power that they can and should just do what whichever clinician contacting them says that they should is absolutely pervasive.

    (There’s a typo in my above comment btw… It should say that it’s not at all UNcommon that psych nurses get to just tell doctors what to do, etc.).


  • Although I realize this will take us right back to where we most went to head-to-head, Richard, I can’t help but state how troubling I find your comment here. There has been – and continues to be – lots that you bring to this site and to the world in general, but i find this ‘identity politics’ business to be incredibly dismissive.

    This continues to be a largely white-dominated site, and I for one would be *thrilled* if Mad in America could find a way to take a clearer stand on some of the language that re-enforces some of the white supremacist pieces that creep in here just as much as anywhere else… Including appropriation of terminology like ‘psychiatric slavery’. I’m not interested in re-hashing that particular debate again, so I’m not going to engage even if others comment to say how wrong I am…

    But I needed to say *something*. This isn’t just ‘identity politics’… I find that term just as dismissive as people who get irritated when someone else offers a correction that they feel is “politically correct”… Both suggest that the suggestions – usually based in actually being respectful and not replicating/changing the oppressive ways of the broader world – are trivial, and that honoring or truly hearing them are nothing more than appeasing some silly person. It’s a real problem.


  • Hi Steve,

    So, I know it’s already been head as I saw it come up in my skim of other comments, but I just wanted to echo that I also find the ‘sheriff’ reference to be problematic. Though, admittedly, it simultaneously made me less and more inclined to want to read the piece.

    I also wanted to push back against the don’t generalize piece… I don’t think it’s okay to equate generalizing experienced by groups of people as a feature of systemic oppression (such as people of color, etc.) with generalizing about groups of people who’ve been a part of the oppressive structure itself (e.g., psychiatrists). Sure, generalizations will never be entirely accurate, BUT one is coming out of ignorance and/or a desire to keep systemic oppression in place… The other is coming out of justified anger at the experience of systemic oppression, and even if each INDIVIDUAL doesn’t fit the stereotype or what have you, the point is that the generalization is much more accurate because it speaks to the realities of the *system* and what it charges those with keeping the system rolling to do, etc.

    I generally (to generalize) have appreciate your comments on Mad in America, so I suspect you’ll do a good job here, but I really hope you’ll give particularly this latter piece some thought as you move forward.



  • Thanks for this, Jess. I crossed paths with Kevin Hines at the Alternatives Conference in 2017 in Boston. I was pretty horrified. I don’t mean to draw into question the basics of his story, but he presents it in such a theatrical manner that it comes across more as one-many show than genuine sharing. And some of the ideas he promotes and/or re-enforces are just awful and damaging. Watching him ride that story to the level he has without question and with such … rockstarish admiration from others in the movement (and beyond) … has been so frustrating. But I appreciate your drawing out the reasons behind that. What he offers is not only incredibly theatrical and appealing in that story porn sort of way, but also doesn’t challenge the conventional paradigm. In the end, it is a part of what silences so many of the stories out there that are much more rooted in the things people need to hear to make the changes that are needed to stop hurting people.


  • Oldhead,

    Hopefully you picked up from what I wrote in the original piece that I *also* don’t think someone’s right to kill themselves is equal to their right to do so in front of me. And, I’d be hard pressed to stand by and do nothing if that’s the choice they made. But whatever I did… I’d do as a *human* and certainly not as any sort of ‘treatment’.

    Also, this piece isn’t about not calling the cops at all. If someone was in my home and refused to leave, I’d call the cops, for example. that said, I also think it’s true that all the white folk calling cops on black people for doing things like barbecuing in the park (etc.) *IS* atrocious and a threat of violence.

    We always bring a ton of intersectional buttons to give away whenever we go to a conference. At the last conference we attended, we premiered several new buttons. The most popular one asid, ‘Fuck your help. My cat saved my life’ But not far behind that were buttons that said ‘Calling the cops on a person of color = a threat of violence’ and ‘Calling the cops on a person in emotional distress – a threat of violence’. This wasn’t intended to mean that calling the cops on people who are literally threatening to/are taking steps to harm someone else is wrong… But I think people got the point, and those also flew of the table.

    I don’t think of that as ‘police shaming.’ I think of it as reality. Speaking of shaming, another couple of our buttons said ‘I’m not trying to pill shame you. I’m just sick of of watching people fucking die’ and ‘Speaking truth about bad science & psychiatric oppression does not equal pill shaming.’