Mental Patients’ Liberation Through Anti-psychiatry Activism: A Return To Movement Roots

Beginning with the dawn of the 1970s myriad very small groups with names like Insane Liberation Front, Mental Patients’ Liberation Front, and the Mental Patients’ Liberation Project sprang up here and there primarily in or near major metropolitan areas. The idea was that these groups of people, who saw themselves as former mental patients, could help to liberate others from what they saw as psychiatric oppression, and the mental patient role that went along with it.

Fast forward to 2014. Now there are people who, coming from treatment in the mental health system, feel that they are entitled to jobs in the mental health system. The aberrant anomaly they endured as a patient feels so much like home to them now that they’ve staked a claim to it. If the job isn’t one of ‘chronic’ mental patient, it’s one of peer support specialist, a mental health paraprofessional position, or some have even gone onto pursue degrees in the business of surveillance and monitoring people they, tongue-in-cheek, claim an experiential kinship with.

Rewind to the year 1985. 1985 was the year of the great government buy out. 1985 was the year of the last International Conference on Human Rights and against Psychiatric Oppression, an annual conference paid for and put on by survivors of psychiatry. 1985 was also the year of the first Alternatives Conference, paid for by taxpayers through government agencies, NIMH then, SAMHSA today. You no longer had a psychiatric survivor movement made up of former mental patients, instead you had a consumer/survivor/ex-patient, or c/s/x/, movement, and with that linguistic twist, the mental patients’ liberation movement devolved into a mental patients’ movement and, in large measure, joined the mental health movement.

Let’s get something straight, the mental health movement is not about mental health, it’s about mental illness. The mental health movement would take more taxpayer money from the federal government for the mental health maintenance of those people labeled “mentally ill”. Doing so, mental health treatment, the business, and mental illness, the epidemic, both expand. The mental illness epidemic, as it were, is good for business, this mental health business anyway. Talk ‘broken system’ as much as you desire, the problem is not that the system is broken, the problem is that the system works all too well. To repeat, the mental health movement is not about mental health, it’s about treatment and labeling.

Continue rewinding until you get to the year 1967. In 1967 David Graham Cooper, a psychiatrist and colleague of the more famous R. D. Laing, published a book entitled Psychiatry and Anti-psychiatry. Cooper in his treatise juxtaposes conventional biological medical model psychiatry with his own brand of therapy based on different principles. Since Cooper’s time, anti-psychiatry has continued to evolve. A psychiatrist who uses the term to describe himself in today’s world could easily find his career terminated. Anti-psychiatry, as it was initially conceived, would more than likely fall under the more recent category of Critical Psychiatry in contemporary parlance.

Anti-psychiatry itself hasn’t vanished. It has just been reinvigorated by an influx of new blood, more of it belonging to former patients than previously, dissatisfied with the mental health movement and the cowardice of former associates, abandoning the sinking ship so-to-speak of mental health services. The term is still current, only now it has a harder edge, embracing those who oppose the mental health mental illness business in its entirety. It is this updated objection to the centuries old ‘trade in lunacy’ that might spare a good portion of the movement from the errors of their fellows. Now you can actually, in good faith, work for a contraction of the mental health mental illness system, and by extension, its death shudder and, hopefully, final fateful extinction.

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