Updated 21 September 2015:
If you live on Earth and breathe, then you must overthrow what is mistakenly called “normal” and the mental health industry. Why?
Homecare worker Jillian sticks out her tongue while hugging the cat, Bongo. Emergency Rooms look for this sign of distress and name it the Qsign (the tongue looks like the tail of the letter Q)!
Today, our planet is faced with an unprecedented emergency, according to the vast majority of scientists, wise people and just about everybody else. Smart folks tell us that we have the technology, smarts, and economy to address these urgent crises, but do we have the will? It seems that the general public is paralyzed, and as our leaders continue to procrastinate, we are collectively entering into the beginning of chaos.
As my friend “the real” Patch Adams, MD has explained to me for 23 years, one of the most effective ways to reach people is their sense of humor. Yes, the feature movie in 1998 about Patch is a bit syrupy-sweet, but you have to admit the power of wearing a red nose! Seriously, laughter is of course powerful. And we may need a touch of comedy to even look at the absurd reality around us now. That is why some folks are sticking out their tongues (see the photo here of Jillian for example); jokingly, maybe our leaders are waiting for us all to show some signs of distress such as the Qsign!
Obviously, you can glance at the daily news headlines and pick from one of the signs of our undeniable global pending catastrophes: massive droughts, enormous wild fires, bizarre storms, record high temperatures for still another decade, etc. Yet one glance out of our car windows will reveal thousands of our neighbors driving literally like “there is no tomorrow,” and business as usual continues unabated. Must we wait until it really is too late and we have gone over some awful tipping point, before we act like there is an actual disaster?
Psychiatric Issues in a Bigger Way!
The average person probably thinks of the mental health system as impacting about 15% of the general public, or maybe 20%. But for nearly four decades I have worked in the obscure field of independent activism for psychiatric survivors, and as I never tire of telling people, my main lesson is that the actual number of folks impacted by mental health issues is 100%. Every person alive, from womb to tomb, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, is affected by this topic.
In order to survive, we must get a little crazy, we need to address mental wellness issues in a far bigger way, in a planetary way in fact.
Fear can be, as an insightful speaker explained, either a force for paralysis or a powerful motivator for action, the choice is ours. While this essay is not a personal post, I must mention briefly that 33 months ago, at the end of 2012, I broke my neck and I am now labeled a quad in a power chair with a few other disabilities such as a paralyzed vocal chord. Without dwelling on my life, I will say that there are a number of disability leaders who have studied the topic of being empowered after experiencing paralysis.
The time seems right for the general public to turn to one of the biggest social change mobilizations in history, the disability movement, for tips about getting up off the ground and being resilient!
- Your Local Businesses in the USA: Those of us in the USA have an easy, dramatic way to address the climate crisis in our towns and cities. Many of the small restaurants, retail stores, mom & pop companies, news weeklies, etc. belong to small chambers of commerce. These thousands of local chambers tend to actually be fairly independent from the major, head US Chamber of Commerce based in Washington, DC. They well-respected climate crisis group, 350, has had a campaign for several years to ask small, local chambers to issue statements that the awful US Chamber does not speak for them when it comes to global warming. So, you can check to see if your favorite local business is a member of your local chamber (the one in Eugene here has a convenient web site to do just that), and then you can ask this business owner to bring up climate crisis with the chamber. For more information, see my section about the worst case scenario for global warming, what I call normalgeddon. To do the Qsign face and post your selfie to Facebook, Twitter, or both, click here.
- My Friends in Norway: Yes, your country is the location of the fun Netflix series, Lilyhammer (2014), in which a fictional mob leader resettles in one of your cities. However, your country is the real setting for a major study by one of our academic scholars, Kari Norgaard. This University of Oregon associate professor and author has researched why the public is not taking enough action about the climate crisis, the biggest challenge in human history. She chose the progressive, educated, informed country of her heritage, Norway, to address the riddle of global warming denial by the population. I had the honor of introducing Kari earlier this summer when she spoke in her first off-campus speaking engagement in our local city. Kari mentions how radio personality Rush Limbaugh attacked her verbally, based on a lie of course, helping her career. You may read about my intro of Kari here.
- Video Game Players in China: There is a wonderful documentary (Web Junkie, 2013, 1 hr. 15 min.) which you may watch on Netflix about how thousands of teens and young adults in China are being psychiatrized because of their interest in video gaming. That is right, incredibly the tyrannical government in China views the phenomenon of mainly young men gathering in computer salons for hours of gaming as a major threat! With the poignant complicity of their worried parents, Chinese psychiatrists are locking up countless youth in dozens of special mental health institutions, where abuses such as solitary confinement, strange group therapy, and of course massive forced psychiatric drugging, are routine. China is now the top emitter of greenhouse gases, but rather than treat this as a priority, apparently mobilizing for contests via the Internet is viewed by those unelected leaders as a monstrosity. Be sure to see how normality is enforced in a distant land, and you can gain an insight into how normality is artificially created right here, every day.
- The Personal is the Political: Many social change movements need to address a central challenge of class, that is, there is a tendency for privilege to help certain groups have a dominant voice. For example, our great friends in academia, the law, and various professions will often have more credibility with the media, elected leaders, and the general public, than us psychiatric survivors, who have gained our knowledge from personal experience. (Because of brevity, my deep apology that I am only addressing this tangentially; hey, better than nothing!) Think about the power of peer support. The power of being a peer comes from our personal lives. When I started being an activist in the Mad Movement back in the 1970’s we often used the motto, “The personal is the political.” Feminists were one of the first groups to discover that when every day women gathered together they often discovered that their personal lives taught a collective lesson that oppression, not their minds or genes, held back their liberation.
- Connect the Dots: Martin Luther King, Jr. ran into some of the fiercest opposition from other progressive folks when he took on opposing the war in Vietnam. In no way to compare ourselves with MLK, but I have noticed that when my blog connects mental health activism and global warming, sprinkled among the many comments on my blog’s re-broadcast on Mad in America website, we often find respectful folks who feel that the climate crisis is irrelevant to changing psychiatry. But we must connect the various issues because in a way we are in one big movement, and we always have been in what MLK called “the beloved community.” I end this blog entry not by talking about my personal five lock-ups in psychiatric facilities where I was called psychotic and given dangerous drugs; instead I will end this by re-printing a recent letter to the editor from me that was published by the Eugene Weekly (30 July 2015). You see, there is another APA besides the American Psychiatric Association. Professionals who lead in the mental health industry who are not medical doctors are often psychologists and they have the American Psychological Association. Recently it was revealed that this other APA was very involved in torture by the Bush administration. Here is my letter:
While it is great that groups representing psychologists are speaking out against collusion with torture, this can potentially expose a whole iceberg of human rights violations.
For about four decades I have worked as an activist for a peaceful revolution in the mental health industry. This U.S. government scandal reveals that we have collectively been far too soft on psychologists while focusing instead on psychiatrists.
For instance, my friend and author Bob Whitaker has just co-written a book about corruption in psychiatry. Yes, Bob and his blog “Mad In America” are today’s leaders in this reform field. But psychologists need to speak out about way more, including rampant abuse throughout mental health care and even the way trauma caused by oppression holds us back from addressing crises in our world such as global warming.
David W. Oaks, Eugene