To fight the misinformation that persists in our society, psychiatric survivors have mounted a campaign to educate the public.
Whitaker’s book “Mad in America” has been highly influential in reaching the public. Whitaker’s following grew into MadInAmerica.com, which publishes blogs and news articles about science, psychiatry, and social justice.
Creative works about the harm caused by psychiatry have included Ken Kesey’s novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which was later turned into a feature film.
Pamela Spiro Wagner shares her personal experiences with involuntary treatment through her artwork.
The documentary “Healing Voices” by Oryx Cohen and Patrick Moynihan captures experiences of people diagnosed with mental illness.
Former psychotherapist Daniel Mackler has created a series of four documentary films on YouTube about alternatives to the psychiatric system. Mackler also shares his critiques of psychiatry through original songs and music.
Podcasting has become an even more accessible medium, with Will Hall’s popular show called “Madness Radio.”
One major obstacle to public understanding has been the National Alliance for Mental Illness, or NAMI, which is a nonprofit started in 1979 by two mothers who each had a son diagnosed with schizophrenia. At the time, the mental health system was blaming emotional problems on family dynamics and NAMI fought to shift the focus away from the family and onto the individual.
NAMI has become a main promoter of the claim that neurochemical imbalances cause people’s emotional distress. Suspicions have existed that pharmaceutical companies fund NAMI, and in 2009, a U.S. Senate investigation revealed that three-quarters of NAMI’s annual funding comes from drug companies.
Despite the tremendous power and reach of NAMI’s misinformed message, MindFreedom’s Fast for Freedom hunger strike in 2003 was incredibly influential.
A group of seven activists refused to eat solid foods until the American Psychiatric Association, Surgeon General, and NAMI provided at least one scientific study proving the common industry claim that mental illness is biologically based.
Bed pushes have also been a popular protesting tactic to bring attention to the harsh realities of psychiatry by using humor to educate the public. In a bed push, activists dress up and push a hospital bed through the streets with a mannequin strapped down in four-point restraint. Bed pushes in the UK won national publicity on the BBC, and then were done in Germany, Canada, and the U.S.
While massive demonstrations like bed pushes and the hunger strike aimed to reach international audiences, activists have found power in appealing to their local communities, as well.
One successful event to shift public perception is the annual Mad Pride March, which has taken place every July since 1993. The march started in Toronto and has now spread to London, Ghana, Vancouver, and Montpelier.
In July 2014, Mad Pride Day was extended to an entire week of activity as it became part of Creative Maladjustment Week, inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., who was proud to be what psychologists labeled as “maladjusted.” As King wrote in his book Strength to Love, “The salvation of the world lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”
Changing public perception is the first step in shifting our culture. In our next segment, we will explore how the CSX movement has won tangible victories in improving the mental health system.
“THE FALLEN” Written & produced by MARK STURGESS
“SIXTEEN WALTZES, OP. 39: NO. 15, WALTZ IN A-FLAT MAJOR” Written by JOHANNES BRAHMS Performed by MARTHA GOLDSTEIN
“SNEAK ATTACK” Written & produced by MARK STURGESS