Saturday, 29 June 2013

Community and Hierarchy, Speaking Out and Being Silenced, on the Road to Activism and Campaigning

First edition cover
"All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others" from Animal Farm by George Orwell, an allegory of oppression, propaganda and tyranny.  It's also described as dystopian with characteristics of dehumanisation and totalitarianism.  Where a revolution results in the gradual replacing of one dictator with another.  A favourite story of mine since studying it in English class at secondary school in the 1960's.

I've been considering how I got to be an activist and campaigner in mental health matters, from the psychiatric survivor perspective, when I'd originally only got involved to promote the peer support model in the mental health setting, at the beginning of 2008, by setting up Peer Support Fife.  Then in the April of that year joining with the recovery movement by organising Celebrating Recovery in Fife, sponsored by Scottish Recovery Network, over 120 delegates attending.  However I soon found myself becoming a member of the resistance movement, straitjackets appearing in the attempts made to silence my voice.

I remember a fellow participant saying I was "scary" at the WRAP Facilitator training in June 2008 and was mystified because it's not something I'd been accused of before as a community development worker or in other settings.  A friend and ally said it was because I wasn't afraid to run with stuff, take risks.  I began to see that the mental health world had a different mindset to other communities of interest.  It felt like school or church, institutionalized thinking, something I'm not very good at, and the temptation to challenge or cause mischief is irresistible, especially if the leadership is authoritarian or appears weak and indecisive.  It's been my experience that hierarchical shenanigans abound in the mental health user movement as if perpetuating the psychiatric system's patriarchy or control.

It wasn't long before I realized that the peer support agenda was being assimilated into services rather than being an agent for change, which is why I'd got involved in the first place, having believed the blurb about people with lived experience having a voice and making a difference.  Silly me.  Maybe it was happening somewhere else but it wasn't happening where I live and I wasn't convinced it was that much different elsewhere.  The balance of power continues to be weighted in favour of the psychiatric system and government with professional service users making up the threesome.

I began to run local events on user involvement with the aim of encouraging people to speak out collectively, in community, and these were mostly attended by people from outwith my local area.  In October 2009 we had over 80 attending the United We Stand user and carer networking event.  Mary O'Hagan, NZ consultant and thought leader, came twice to Fife, in May 2010 and March 2011, leading workshops on service user participation and leadership.  Other events followed with involvement themes, in my attempts to stimulate local activism and collective voices nationally for psychiatric system change, alternatives for people in mental distress.  Finally I invited Bob Whitaker to give a lecture in Cupar, Fife, November 2011, having travelled to Ireland in the February to hear him speak.  Then 2012 was the year of taking a stand with my son against psychiatric system abuse in the form of restraint, seclusion and forced treatment.

And so I became a fully fledged blogger, psychiatric survivor activist and campaigner, speaking out against forced treatment, the psychiatric drugging of women and children, ECT and brain surgery for mental illness.  At the same time a carer and mother of sons in the psychiatric system.  Being warned by high heid yins not to speak out about psychiatric situations as it could affect their treatment.  Told to shut up and go to bed by fellow activists.  Systematic exclusion from WRAP and Peer Support developments since 2008 was particularly irritating as I'd been at the forefront in promoting ideas.  And still I wouldn't conform.  I've always been non-conformist or non-compliant, according to the psychiatric system.  It's why I survived and recovered.

June 26th was the UN International Day in Solidarity with Victims of  Torture and also my mother's birthday.  Over many years from the 1950′s onwards she was a psychiatric inpatient and outpatient, forcibly treated following ‘nervous breakdowns’. With many courses of shock treatment, locked in, drugged and latterly voluntarily going for a depot injection in the community, every three weeks, until her death in 1998 aged 68.  Despite this she was a gentle woman, did the best that she could for her family, lived a productive life and died peacefully.  I remember her with gratitude and believe that she didn't deserve the treatment she got in the psychiatric system.  There has to be a better way, a paradigm shift.

Tina Minkowitz, attorney and psychiatric survivor, Mad in America blogger, highlights human rights abuses in psychiatric treatment and that forced psychiatry is torture: "We are the ones who call for an absolute ban on forced psychiatry.  We are the ones who say, it is torture if it happens without the person’s own free and fully informed consent – that force is not only whether they hold you down and inject you but also what the neuroleptic does to you inside your brain and mind, even if you took it in your hand and put in your own mouth because you knew what would happen if you didn’t.".  I agree.

It's now midway through 2013 and I continue to support my sons in their recovery from psychiatric treatment, advocating as necessary, standing in the breach, giving peer support.  Writing and blogging are great ways of speaking out and resisting the straitjackets.  I don't mind the risks and welcome the challenges.  There are times when I have to withdraw from hierarchical groups where critical voices are silenced.  But opportunities have developed in national mental health group settings for speaking out and being heard that are more about community.  I am committed to being optimistic about mental health improvements and psychiatric system change.


  1. Congrats for your very positive action in Scotland Chrys. You are an example that one person can indeed make a big difference.
    I have been active in Ireland and abroad since 2,000 when I finally got free from the drugs which were killing me slowly in mind, body and spirit. To have these drugs forced on innocent, vulnerable people including children and the elderly is a crime against humanity. It is outrageous that some people think they can force their way on others for their own 'good' and do so legally. It is outrageous that pseudoscience is rampant in psychiatry. It is outrageous that psychiatrists can create 'diseases' and 'disorders'just from a show of hands. It is outrageous that no matter what they say or do as a group it is excepted as true. This kind of power knows no bounds. This kind of power works arm in arm with Big Pharma, which works as a business in the pursuit of enormous profits at any cost, in the guise of acting as mother Teresa!
    Thanks for playing your very important part to help to expose forced psychiatry as it is indeed TORTURE! Mary Maddock

    1. Thank you Mary, for your encouragement and for the work you do in Ireland, and have been doing for 13 years. It's great to be in solidarity, Chrys


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