Sunday, May 11, 2008

NY Times recognizes the Mad Pride movement

Liz Spikol blogs about her bipolar disorder.

Analogous to the mainstreaming of the gay rights movement, people with mental illnesses are coming out of the closet and speaking openly about themselves and how they see the world. And with The New York Times putting a story about Mad Pride in its Sunday style section May 11, the movement has arrived.

"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," The New York Times writes.

"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."

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 2.4 million Americans have schizophrenia, a thought disorder, and about 5.7 million Americans over 18 have bipolar disorder, which is classified as a mood disorder.

Liz Spikol (pictured above), 39, has bipolar disorder and uses the venue of videos and blog postings to describe her experiences. The writer from Philadelphia tells what electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is like and what happened when she experienced psychosis on her blog, the Trouble With Spikol (

“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. We are hoping to change all that by talking."

Some of the Mad Pride movement comes into conflict with the medical establishment, where many psychiatrists fear that patients may hurt themselves medically if they don't take their medications.

MindFreedom International (MFI) advocates for a non-violent revolution of mental health human rights and choice. It is a nonprofit coalition that defends human rights and promotes humane alternatives for mental and emotional well being, according to its Web site.

MFI director David Oaks has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and manic-depression and says in The NY Times that he maintains his mental health with exercise, diet, peer counseling and wilderness trips.

The disability rights movement and the Mad Pride movement have built bridges to advocate for their mutual goals during the past decade. MFI says Rae Unzicker (1948-2001), a psychiatric survivor activist, helped build bridges between the entire disability movement and the MindFreedom movement. She championed the National Council on Disability's (NCD) 2000 report, From Privileges to Rights: People Labeled with Psychiatric Disabilities Speaking For Themselves, which reported that "people with psychiatric disabilities are routinely deprived of their rights in a way no other disability group has been."