First Person Accounts

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The federal government's 2000 National Council on Disabilities Report: From Privileges to Rights: People Labeled with Psychiatric Disabilities Speak for Themselves is an incredible and indispensible testimony of the second-class citizenship and routine mistreatment faced by people labeled with 'mental illness.' Includes statements by many psychiatric abuse survivor movement leaders, who worked very hard under Clinton to get this report released.

In the 1970's Dave Burns lived for several years at the Philadelphia Association therapeutic communities in London, including Kingsley Hall, where he knew and spent time with infamous radical Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing. Dave's essay about this incredible experience describes in detail the people who lived in these experimental safe houses and the kinds of healing that took place there.

Teenage Lobotomy is an activist zine looking for submissions on the incarceration of youth in psych facilities and coercive behvioral modification schools. Run by youth activists Nick, Sarah, and Michael, the organizers collaborate with the Icarus Project and are initiating activist efforts to support incarcerated teens.

Dante's Cure: A Journey Out of Madness
by Dr. Daniel Dorman is an account of a seven year therapy process that guided a mute and catatonic patient out of her suffering and to full recovery -- without any psychiatric medications whatsoever. The book "reveals how madness is inherent to the human condition and therefore ought to be treated as such. To restore patientsí trust in their power to recover, rather than robbing them of their agency in the name of medical knowledge, is the true moral of this remarkable journey out of madness."

Gail Hornstein is a Professor of Psychology, Mount Holyoke College, vocal ally of the psychiatric survivor movement, and an active organizer with the Freedom Center. She is author of the biography of Frieda Fromm-Reichman, and her Chronicle of Higher Education article "Narratives of Madness: Voices from Within" describes writing by patients as "a kind of protest literature, like slave narratives or witness testimonies." Gail recently called on therapists and society in general to listen to the voices of people labeled mentally ill. Her Bibliography of First-Person Narratives of Madness has more than 500 references to published personal accounts of 'mental illness.'

Oryx Cohen's Masters thesis in Public Administration is a very readable, concise overview of the consumer/survivor movement and a critique of the mental health system, as well as being a quantified study of alternative recovery. Download "Psychiatric Survivor Oral Histories: Implications for Contemporary Health Policy"(202K). It was also published in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, vol 45, #3, Summer 2005 as How Do We Recover? An Analysis of Psychiatric Survivor Oral Histories" (11 meg download).

Nancy Foley wrote a powerful account of her stay at Providence Hospital that appeared as the cover story in the Valley Advocate weekly newspaper 03/07/02. You can also read the supportive Letters to the Editor that appeared in response from the Freedom Center and from a local psychiatric nurse.

Maia Duerr's thesis "Hearing Voices: Resistance Among Psychiatric Survivors and Consumers" is based on ten interviews with activists, looks at common roots with other emancipation groups (including the civil rights movement), and discusses resistance strategies. The full 100 page version (500 KB) and a 10-page shorter version (50KB) are both available for download as PDF files.

Check out Alexandra Adame's master's thesis Recovered Voices, Recovered Lives: A Narrative Analysis of Psychiatric Survivors' Experiences of Recovery". Alex works closely with Gail Hornstein and this is a great detaild academic analysis of the dominant psychiatric narrative and how personal experience challenges it.

Ron Bassman's essay "Overcoming the Impossible: My Journey Through Schizophrenia" was featured in the Feb 2001 issue of Psychology Today and discusses his recovery and work as a leader in the psych survivor movement.

Paul Levy had a powerful experience of light while meditating that landed him in an abusive mental hospital, where he received a "bipolar" label and was told he had to be on medications the rest of his life. Instead, Paul deepened his commitment to spiritual practice, working with some of the greatest Tibetan Buddhist teachers. He created an entire teaching and healing approach called "Awakening In The Dream" based on the realization that we are all dreaming a single mind. He now leads groups, works as a counselor, does public teaching -- and even has psychiatrists coming to him for consultation. Check out his great website and his essay "Spiritual Emergence" about his awakening process.

Deb Reidy wrote the detailed study "'Stigma is Social Death': Mental Health Consumers/Survivors Talk About Stigma In Their Lives," which interviews 34 psychiatric consumers/survivors and discusses power differences, privacy, information access, and other ways that people in the mental health system are stigmatized. (186K)

Sascha Altman DuBrul's excellent journalistic article Bipolar World published in the San Francisco Bay Guardian tells the story of his experience as a young radical activist in the anti-authoritarian scene dealing with personal episodes of madness. The article's success led to the creation of the Icarus Project online community. You can also download a 20 minute talk by Sascha here.

Off Their Meds: Modern psychiatrists prescribe pills for hundreds of "biological" disorders. The radical mental health movement isn't so sure By Stefanie Kalem is a great article from the East Bay Express featuring Daniel Dorman, David Oaks, and the Icarus Project's Ashley McNamara.

Leonard Roy Frank is one of the founders of the modern psychiatric patient advocacy movement. He was subjected to forced treatment, insulin coma, and electroshock for his religious views, and has become an eloquent and powerful voice against psychiatry. You can read an in-depth interview with Leonard from the Street Spirit homeless newspaper about what happened to him and his views, and his article from Ideas on Liberty magazine describes how psychiatry violates basic principles of freedom in the US.