Many groups have led social change movements around the world, but most people have not heard of community organizing and activism led by survivors of human rights violations committed by the mental health system.
People who have experienced mental health challenges are often quiet about their lives — people can lose their jobs, housing, friends, and liberty if the wrong person finds out their story. Over the years, many survivors of psychiatric human rights violations have bravely spoken out and led the movement for human rights of those harmed by the psychiatric system. Historically, the movement has gone by many names, such as the mad movement, consumer movement, survivor movement, and ex-patient movement. The all-inclusive name is the CSX movement.
[Featured photos: Howie the Harp, Mary Maddock, Jim Gottstein, Leonard Roy Frank, Judi Chamberlin, Sally Zinman, Patch Adams, Peter Lehmann, David Oaks]
Following the commercialization of the first psychiatric drugs in the 1950s and ’60s, deinstitutionalization moved to the forefront in various countries. This led to far too many abandoned ex-patients struggling, with little to no expectation of recovery.
By the early 1970s, groups of ex-patients in the U.S. started meeting to create spaces for peer support and political organizing.
One of the most effective leaders of the CSX movement has been Oregon-based activist David Oaks.
The pioneers discovered they were not alone in the hurt and anger they felt toward the psychiatric system. They united in small communities and found understanding, meaning, and personal healing.
Word of the movement reached psychiatric survivors around the world through publications such as the San Francisco-based journal “Madness Network News.” The first organizers found allies in other social change movements, as well as professionals such as the late psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Szasz, who openly criticized coercive psychiatry in his book “The Manufacture of Madness.”
As more groups formed, annual meetings took place connecting survivors around the world. The first International Conference on Human Rights and Against Psychiatric Oppression took place in 1973. Small groups met to discuss goals of the ex-patients’ liberation movement.
This momentum slowed as the ’70s came to an end. Psychiatric survivors, still dealing with heavy oppression from their mistreatment in the mental health system, struggled to get along with one another, leading to divisiveness in the movement. Self-help and alternative programs soon started accepting government funding, with many members combining traditional and nontraditional support services.
By the mid-1980s, the movement became dependent on government funding, which brought an end to radical organizing. Madness Network News and the International Conference on Human Rights and Against Psychiatric Oppression came to an end, and the first government-funded Alternatives Conference was held.
At the start of the ’90s, many psychiatric survivors decided the movement needed to unify. On one hand, were people who rejected the medical model and fought to abolish psychiatry. On the other hand, were people who accepted their diagnosis and fought to get more funding for psychiatric services.
Both sides agreed on the need for human rights in the mental health system and rejected forced drugging, solitary confinement, restraint, involuntary commitment, and electroshock.
To advance this mission, Support Coalition, which is present-day MindFreedom International, emerged under the leadership of Janet Foner and David Oaks.
As the movement grew, Support Coalition organized a retreat in March of 2000 in an effort to form a more unified movement. Thirty leading activists came together and devised the unanimous Highlander Statement of Concern and Call to Action.
The group of activists, called the “Highlander 30,” returned home at the end of the three-day retreat feeling inspired and ready to act individually and collectively.
Now that we have journeyed through the origins of the CSX movement, in our next segment, we will hear how individuals and groups are approaching community organizing today.
“PIANO SONATA NO. 11 IN A MAJOR, K.331” Written by WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART Recording provided by EUROPEAN ARCHIVE
“SKYLIGHT” Written & produced by MARK STURGESS & ADAM CARVER
“SONATA NO. 2 IN B-FLAT MINOR, OP. 35” Written by FREDERIC CHOPIN Performed by ANDREAS XENOPOULOS