Mad Matters: A Critical Reader in Canadian Mad Studies
Edited by: Brenda A. LeFrançois, Robert Menzies, and Geoffrey Reaume
Canadian Scholars’ Press Inc.
Review by: Kristen, Pride in a Madness
Mad Matters sits on my shelf alongside Anatomy of an Epidemic (Robert Whitaker, 2010), Talking Back to Psychiatry (Linda J. Morrison, 2009), Psychiatric Power and History of Madness (Foucault, 2008 and 2009) and Behind the Rhetoric (Jennifer Poole, 2011); books that have influenced my life as a Mad person and professional. This reader is now an important part of my activism. As psychiatry has its “bible”, the DSM, I would say that I now have mine. Mad Matters is beginning to fill a gap within education (in and outside of institutions) and mainstream discourse, showing the complexity of identities, exposing a side of psychiatry and society many prefer to ignore and by providing language to describe the experience: sanism. My only hope is that it has opened the doors for more to come and for Mad studies, scholars and people to be taken seriously.
Mad Matters is filled with diverse and key topics such as housing, media, mental health literacy, law, Indigenous ways of knowing and the oppressions of psychiatry (just to name a few). Names of contributors jump out at me like Irit Shimrat, David Reville, Don Weitz, Bonnie Burstow and Lanny Beckman, long time activists within the psychiatric survivor, antipsychiatry, ex-patient/inmate and Mad movements. Good people who eat, sleep and breathe the cause are inside these pages. The amount of lived experience in Mad Matters is nothing short of beautiful.
On a personal note, I have often said to friends, family and colleagues that I find it unacceptable and ridiculous that the western world has made great strides in bring critical of racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism etc. but sanism is still alive and well and at times outright denied to exist. I would like our system and our society to get to the point where, for example, my decision to not take psychiatric drugs is seen as a valid choice and not as wrong, a sign that I am not “truly in pain”, or as non-compliance and a symptom of “disorder”. I have received criticism for my Mad and antipsychiatry stance. They are identities I am still developing in a society that prefers I just think of myself as “sick”. I have engaged in a lot of self reflection while reading Mad Matters and this reader was a reminder that I am, as the ever famous anti-stigma campaign slogan states, “not alone”.
Mad Matters is a critical piece that I feel has been missing from the mental health dialogue and Mad studies is part of solution to changing these sanist perspectives, practices and values.
Purchase Mad Matters
I am burnt out. I feel like crying, cutting, screaming, sleeping, and walking into traffic. I need to do something about this so I am going to be taking a break from blogging, Facebook and Twitter until Friday. Before I do this I need to share something that I have been thinking about this past week or 2.
I would like to reintroduce myself and hope that many of you will still support me and see value in what I have to offer.
Since beginning this blog over a year ago I have come to realize that I am not being entirely true to myself. I am still saying what I feel is expected of me because I do not want to upset anyone. I have experienced a live of invalidation and I did not want experience that here. But, I need to break this cycle of fear and first validate myself.
My name is Kristen.
I am a Mad woman.
Mad is my identity and my politics.
I know that my intense sadness, self hatred and rage are apart of being human.
I know that I live in a world that does not appreciate emotional and mental differences.
I know that I am not sick but that I experience great pain caused by the experiences, violence and discrimination I have lived through.
I know that not allowing myself to be labelled as “sick” does not make my pain any less important or tolerable.
I know that being labelled “sick” only made me sicker and my true healing began when I abandoned the medical approach to my mind.
I know that I sometimes fall back into the mindset of being sick because that is what I have been told since I was a 13 and I will continue to be told by others what I am. I need to stop listening to them.
I know that psychiatry is too powerful and needs to be changed because I do think there can be a place for it, just not how it is currently.
I know that I will use mental health services when I need to but always on my terms.
I know that regardless of how I view my own mental well-being that discrimination, stigma, and violence are unacceptable events to occur towards those in the mental health, Mad, psychiatric survivor, antipsychiatry, consumer and ex-patient/inmate communities. I will speak out against human rights violations and support people in the ways they need to be supported.
I know that I have a lot of positive things to share with others if they are only willing to listen and open their minds.
I know there is a lot of be afraid of but that if we can stay together it doesn’t need to be so scary.
I know that I am just one voice but that I am important.
I know that I do not have all the answers but that I am onto something.
I know that many of you will judge me but as many of you know, the longer I ignore myself and keep it inside the worse I will feel. I am still like you.
I say “alternate” for a lack of a better word. Chapter 4 in Mad Matters is called, “What Makes Us a Community? Reflection on Building Solidarity in Anti-sanist Praxis” by Shaindl Diamond. She talks about 3 constituencies she researched in Toronto, Ontario that engage in alternate ways of engaging, politicizing and theorizing about mental health/illness. These constituencies are: the psychiatric survivor constituency, the Mad constituency, and the antipsychiatry constituency. I personally would place myself in the Mad constituency.
What I liked about Diamond’s essay (so far, I’m not finished) is that she broken down each group very well and it has helped give me a better understanding what each group stands for, where I fit in and why it is difficult for the groups to work together.
- heart of the political community
- represents those who are deeply affected by the practice of biological psychiatry and sanism
- Not organized around a shared political ideology
- prioritize connecting with people who have experienced the system and improving the conditions of their lives
- peer support and consciousness raising initiatives are seen as foundations of the community
- major focus on stopping forced psychiatric interventions, ending stigma and discrimination, creating accessible survivor-positive employment, affordable housing options, and other non-psychiatric alternatives
- Examples of psychiatric survivor initiatives: Ontario Council of Alternative Businesses, The Gerstein Crisis Centre and Sound Times
- newer phenomenon within the community
- reflects contemporary complexities, divisions, and theoretical trends
- evolved out of psychiatric survivor constituency
- shift from focusing psychiatric oppression to the development of positive understandings of Mad identity and experience
- Mad is frequently used as an umbrella term to represent a diversity of identities that describe people who have been labelled and treated as crazy
- common emphasis on the oppression faced by people who have been oppressed as crazy
- the term covers a wide spectrum of discourses about madness and liberation
- Central concerns are similar to psychiatric survivors, accessible employment, and affordable housing
- greater emphasis on exploring and celebrating individual experiences of madness and developing Mad culture
- Example of Mad initiative: Mad Pride Toronto
- based on a rich history of resistance efforts
- primary goal is to abolish institutional psychiatry, or to at least undermine its power and authority
- often draw upon the theoretical and empirical work of professionals and academics who are critical of psychiatry as well as personal experiences of psychiatrized people
- main organizing principle is focused on political ideology, not identity politics discourses about shared experience
- open to all who are interested in undermining psychiatric dominance whether they have been psychiatrized or not
- Examples of antipsychiatry initiatives: Ontario Coalition Against Electroshock, Resistance Against Psychiatry, the Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault
FRIDAY FINDS showcases the books you ‘found’ and added to your To Be Read (TBR) list… whether you found them online, or in a bookstore, or in the library — wherever! (they aren’t necessarily books you purchased).
10 Reasons Survivors Might Know More Medicine Than Psychiatrists
We’ve been discussing a potential role for psychiatrists on this site, and I wanted some of the doctors to understand why many mental health escapees or graduates may know more about the mental health outcomes literature than doctors. One previous blogger pointed out that wearing a white coat and taking the Hippocratic Oath gave them some kind of expertise, but now the question is, “Who really is the expert?” Here are 10 reasons why it may not be the person with the degree and all the training.
This is an update of a post that appeared a month ago on Wellness Wordworks’ blog.
1) It’s life and death for us. That’s a pretty good motivator to learn new things.
2) Free time: Most Medical literature and medical education has been heavily influenced by the pharmacuetical industry. Most doctors have no formal exposure to mental health outcomes literature challenging the disease model of emotional suffering. My favorite blogger, 1boringoldman.com does an excellent job of explaining this. Doctors can only find truth through their own off the clock efforts, and 80 hours a week of med school and residency training doesn’t leave much off the clock time. Many mental health professionals also work a lot more than 40 hours a week, so even after their training they don’t have time. In contrary, many of us survivors have been fired repeatedly due to the labels we have been given, so we are a bit more likely to have time available.
3) Risk: Many people in recovery are often at the bottom of many pits before we start looking for new ideas. We have nothing to lose. Yet for professionals, it’s practically career suicide for them to question whether people can completely recover by exiting the mental health system and coming off medications if meds aren’t helping. Maria Bradshaw pointed out in a comment on this blog: Many doctors support struggling parent privately, but few of them are willing to risk supporting us publicly.
4) Public relations. Many people have never even heard that there might be another way to look at things, that we can improve mental health outcomes for practically free, practically overnight. We need to tell a story that we know how to help people recover, that we have a better way to do things than using labels and medications first, for everyone and forever. If we want people to leave the APA’s storytelling and tell ours, it has to be palatable. Linda Andre wrote an excellent book called, Doctors of Deception that outlined how a masterfully crafted public relations campaign has been able to show ECT as safe and effective when it’s neither.
5) Emotional toll: It’s tough to read that you’ve been harming people you wanted to help. Many more people in recovery know the true story on mental health outcomes because it’s a good news story to us, so it’s much easier to read and keep reading on our free time. It tells us we can be free again. It takes a lot of digging to come a place of intellectual honesty about deciding what is true. I read about 150 research articles, 15 books, and went to two conferences before I was sure that Whitaker was right. This is especially hard to follow through on when it means you have been hurting people your whole career. If survivors like me keep throwing up things like my 7 ECT’s, loss of grad school, loss of a chance to have kids, and loss of 10 years of my career in their face, they aren’t willing to pay that price.
6) An honorable way out: People might need a way out without admitting they have been wrong. Maybe we can figure out some way to show that life situations do intead cause our chemical changes and not just some random genetic or physical defect. This scientific explanation could satisfy the disease model advocates – simply explaining how much of our distress is due to trauma.
7) Future career plans: Many professionals don’t realize there’s a booming career in helping people get off meds or publishing medical literature about this practice.
8) The wrath of peers: Truamatized people hurt other people. This does not make hurting people right and honorable and just and excusable. Or productive. When we speak publicly in ways that scare off professionals, we get labeled with their N-word, which is the A-word in our field: antipsychiatrist. Yes, an antipsychiatrist is pretty much anyone saying anything they don’t want to hear. But, it’s also anyone who talks with emotion and anger and hurt. We need to figure out other ways to share our pain besides personal attacks on people who may or may not have caused it. This is very difficult, and I cannot always do it. Instead, I feel great respect for the advocates who snuck into the APA convention to present Max Fink with a platter of brains for his work promoting ECT.
9) Ego: To listen to survivors, you have to admit that our experience has meaning. This is contrary to the entire disease model paradigm, which says that our behavior is irrational, and not a normal response to our life situations.
10) Fear of other professionals: psychiatrists are already stigmatized compared to other medical specialties, and probably thus less likely to be able to admit they are wrong.