A Fragile Revolution: Consumers and Psychiatric Survivors Confront the Power of the Mental Health System

A Fragile Revolution: Consumers and Psychiatric Survivors Confront the Power of the Mental Health System

A Fragile Revolution: Consumers and Psychiatric Survivors Confront the Power of the Mental Health System

A Fragile Revolution: Consumers and Psychiatric Survivors Confront the Power of the Mental Health System

Synopsis

Investigates the complex relationship between ex-mental patients, the government, the mental health system, and mental health professionals. It also explores how changes in policy have affected that relationship, creating new tensions and new opportunities. Using qualitative interviews with prominent consumer and survivor activists, Everett examines how consumers and survivors define themselves, how they define mental illness, and how their personal experience has been turned into political action.

Excerpt

Historically, no one has particularly cared what mental patients have thought about their treatment at the hands of the mental health system. They are outsiders, marginalized and excluded from the social, political, economic and medical discourses that struggle with defining the problem of mental illness and, by extension, what to do about it. Societies are obviously troubled with this complex and seemingly insoluble problem. Over the centuries, they have embraced a number of solutions, each of which started out with optimistic good intentions only to deteriorate into the embodiment of the very difficulties it was supposed to solve.

In the last decade, the Ontario government has been attempting yet another reform of the mental health system. This time, policy makers say it will work because we have learned from our past mistakes (Putting People First, 1993). One startling difference between the current period of reform and its predecessors is that government recruited members of a vociferous group of dissatisfied ex-psychiatric patients as part of the early planning process. These ex-patients represent a wider trend, loosely called a “social movement,” which is emerging in Canada, the United States and other parts of the world. Some members of this movement call themselves consumers. Others take a stronger stand, calling themselves psychiatric survivors because it is their contention that psychiatric treatment is not just unhelpful but “inhumane, hurtful, degrading and judgmental” (Unzicker, 1989, p. 71).

The first goal of this book is to study self-identified exmental patients who, despite their difficulties, lead full and useful lives and who, as part of their activism, lecture at universities, speak at legislative hearings, sit on powerful committees, lobby the government, lead rallies, make films, set legal precedent and on and on—achievements of which most of us only . . .

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