Mad Pride: The Mental Health Movement in America
Shared stories increase awareness
Gabrielle Glaser
Prev « Article 13 of 32 » Next
In the YouTube video, Liz Spikol is smiling and animated, the light glinting off her large hoop earrings. Deadpan, she holds up a diaper. It is not, she explains, a hygienic item for a giantess, but rather a prop to illustrate how much control people lose when they undergo electro-convulsive therapy, or ECT, as she did 12 years ago.
In other videos and blog postings, Ms. Spikol, a 39-year-old writer in Philadelphia who has bipolar disorder, describes a period of psychosis so severe that she jumped out of her mother’s car and ran away like a scared dog.
In lecture across the country, Elyn Saks, a law professor and associate dean at the University of Southern California, recounts the florid visions she has experienced during her lifelong battle with schizophrenia—dancing ashtrays, houses that spoke to her—hospitalizations where she was strapped down with leather restraints and force-fed medications.
Like many Americans who have severe forms of mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, Ms. Saks and Ms. Spikol are speaking candidly and publicly about their demons. Their frank talk is part of a conversation about mental illness (or as some prefer to put it, “extreme mental states”) that stretches from college campuses to community health centers, and from YouTube to online forums.
“Until now, the acceptance of mental illness has pretty much stopped at depression,” said Charles Barber, lecturer in psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine. “But a newer generation, fueled by the Internet and other sophisticated delivery systems, is saying, ‘We deserve to be heard, too.’”
About 5.7 million Americans over age 18 have bipolar disorder, which is classified as a mood disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Another 2.4 million have schizophrenia, which is considered a thought disorder. The small slice of this disparate population who have chosen to share their experiences with the public liken their efforts to those of the gay-rights and similar movements of a generation ago.
Just as gay-rights activists reclaimed the word ‘queer’ as a badge of honor rather than a slur, these advocates proudly call themselves ‘mad’; they say their conditions do not preclude them from productive lives.
Mad Pride events, organized by loosely connected groups in at least seven countries including Australia, South Africa and the United States, draw thousands of participants, said David W. Oaks, the director of MindFreedom International, a nonprofit group in Eugene, Ore., that tracks the events and says it has 10,000 members.
Recent Mad Pride activities include a Mad Pride Cabaret in Vancouver, British Columbia; a Mad Pride Mark in Accra, Ghana; and Bonkersfest in London that drew 3,000 participants. (A follow-up Bonkersfest is planned next month at the site of the original Bedlam asylum.)
Members of the mad pride movement do not always agree on their aims and intentions. For some, the objective is to continue the de-stigmatization of mental illness. A vocal, controversial wing rejects the need to treat mental afflictions with psychotropic drugs and seeks alternatives to the shifting, often inconsistent care offered by the medical establishment. Many members of the movement say they are publicly discussing their own struggles to help those with similar conditions and to inform the general public.
“It used to be you were labeled with your diagnosis and that was it; you were marginalized,” said Molly Sprengelmeyer, an organizer for the Asheville Radical Mental Health Collective, a Mad Pride group in North Carolina. “If people found out, it was a death sentence, professionally and socially.” She added, “We are hoping to change all that by talking.”
The confessional mood encouraged by memoirs and blogs, as well as the self-help advocacy movement in mental health, have deepened the understanding of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Books such as Kay Redfield Jamison’s autobiography, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, have raised awareness of bipolar disorder, and movies like “Shine” and “A Beautiful Mind” have opened discussion on schizophrenia and related illnesses. In recent years, groups have started anti-stigma campaigns, and even the federal government embraces the message, with an ad campaign aimed at young adults to encourage them to support friends with mental illness.
Prev « Article 13 of 32 » Next
The content on this website represents the diversity of viewpoints on the subjects of mental health and mental illness and
does not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of City Voices or its staff and volunteers.
Copyright © 1997-2007 New York City Voices: A Peer Journal for Mental Health Advocacy
Site Design by Diana Jackson/Web3D | Contact Webmaster