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A friend reflects on the anniversary of the death of David Hilton of New Hampshire, a national leader in the mental health consumer/psychiatric survivor movement. David was also a long-time supporter of MindFreedom, and was a solidarity hunger-striker in the 2003 MindFreedom Fast for Freedom in Mental Health. .

Anniversaries are for Remembering: David Hilton, Visionary Movement Leader

Date Published:

Aug 08, 2008 01:00 AM

Author: Ken Braiterman

Source: for MindFreedom

David Hilton was 50 when he took his own life on September 11, 2004. He was the father of the recovery/empowerment movement in New Hampshire, a leader of the national movement, the first director of a state Office of Consumer Affairs, the catalyst behind a statewide network of consumer-run peer support centers, and the reason New Hampshire adopted Mary Ellen Copeland’s Wellness and Recovery Action Plan (WRAP), the first state to do so.

In 2006, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) gave the NH mental health system a grade of D-Plus, but specifically praised our peer support centers and “culture of recovery,” the legacy of this life-long NAMI-hater.

He was also my best friend, and my mentor in the NH empowerment movement. He got me working for a recovery-based system as chair of the state Mental Health Consumer Council, got me scholarships to two Alternatives conferences, and for my training as a WRAP trainer. He introduced me to MindFreedom. Before I met him, all I knew about mental health was brain disorders, chemical imbalances, and medication.

David never resolved the conflict of working for incremental change within a system he really wanted to tear down and replace with something totally different. For a person who did not believe in incremental change, he was responsible for more of it than anyone I’ve ever known. I believe that unresolved conflict shortened his life.

He hated being called a radical, even though radicals change the world. He thought the label was the Establishment’s way of marginalizing him. To him, his radical ideas were just common sense that the Establishment was too blind, self-interested, or change-averse to see. Most of his radical ideas are now mainstream or mainstream progressive, not radical at all.

Every two years or so, he would stop taking his medicine and get dragged back to the hospital against his will. He would calm down in three or four months, and be released with a court order saying he’d be brought back if he stopped his medicine again. Certainly, 13 years of constant, severe stress swimming against the tide in the mental health bureaucracy could ruin anybody’s health.

I don’t know if David was off his medication when he died, but his last conditional discharge had expired, and he was no longer forced to take his medicine. He started showing his familiar early warning signs, and pushing his best friends away. We had seen it all many times.

He never enjoyed how far we’ve come, but worried non-stop about how far we still have to go. Never seeing the donut, and always seeing the hole, is not a formula for a long or happy life. I hope, wherever he is, he can finally rest, and enjoy his remarkable legacy.

Ken Braiterman is working on a history of the recovery and empowerment movement. He can be reached at