From Asylums to Recovery


I really feel that people can recover in their own time. I feel peer support is everything.
-Most important for recovery is having somebody who believes in you, somebody who loves you, somebody you can love, someone who understands you…
-We really needed to stand up, just like the civil rights movement for people – African-American people, or the civil rights movement for women – we needed a civil rights movement for people with psychiatric diagnoses, with a psychiatric label I was first locked up on December 4 – Sunday December 4, 1960, about noon, driven out to this hospital in Massachusetts which I didn’t even really realize where I was going, because I’d first been taken to the Mass General hospital after doing – having an overdose, really depressed, taking an overdose of aspirin, taken to Mass General by my parents, because I was really sad and lonely and had overdosed. And then this psychiatrist came and said to me we’re going to send you to a sanitarium, and I thought, “I guess I have TB,” you know, I mean, I didn’t even know what it meant What was day 1 like for the mental patient liberation movement and the consumer movement and whatever they want to call it Okay well day 1 was when there was one of a woman by the name of Dorothy who was living in Portland, Oregon, who had this idea that the way she was treated in mental hospitals and the way other people were treated in mental hospitals wasn’t right and that there are better ways that people should be treated and there were alternatives that people need – to be created, alternatives to mental hospitals, to the psychiatric system, and later on she got some articles printed in a local underground paper called the Willamette Bridge and brought together some people in a group called the Insane Liberation Front. This is in late 1970, early ’71, and basically they tried to distribute literature in mental hospitals, and they had an 11-point program – because a lot of people had 10-point programs, and that’s the difference An eleven point program that involves things like an end to involuntary commitment, an end to forced drugging, information about medications, alternatives which you would call freakout centers, that are now called drop-in centers or client-run centers, a lot of the same things that the movement is believing in now. She got the group started and I was living in Eugene Oregon at the time, which isn’t too far from Portland, and went up to Portland to meet her and was kind of – I found my calling, and my whole life changed at that point and I decided that I – that this would be what I would do for the rest of my life; went back to New York City, started the Insane Liberation Front in New York City, printed an article called the Insane Manifesto in a very new paper called The Radical Therapist Journal, which was new at that time, running out of Boston, and later on we change the name of the organization to the Mental Patients Liberation Project, which got some national media attention and then groups started springing up all around the country. Dorothy – we tried to stay in touch with her several years later we learned that she had died and that she never really knew – because we could never reach her – she never really knew what she had started, had grown into what is now an international movement. There were huge numbers of people in institutions at that time and the conditions under which they lived were number one they were used this force labor and many of them were shocked treated many of them forced with medications and also many of them were dying and there were no investigations or no real reasons as to why people were dying and the network and psychiatric assault put out a newsletter called bad if network news that started to go out all over the country and joined other inmates other survivors if you will people that were being be institutionalized and we’re gathering in different cities i first heard about the movement when i was reading a newsletter at the library it came out from a group called the radical therapist and it was a group of psychologists primarily who had formed a community collective in boston area believed and they were exploring different ways alternative treatments they came kind of from a left political viewpoint they thought that there could be more democratic left autocratic ways for them to practice as mental health professionals and they didn’t even is that they were very progressive they didn’t think about the idea that we we might be able to run our own services but they at least you’re thinking about people with mental illness people with psychiatric diagnosis at in a different way and trying to figure out a different way to provide those services through that magazine i heard about the international conference on human rights and again psychiatric oppression and that was very exciting to me a look at that kind of appeal to that to the new agey lefty sixties kind of fellow that I was so i got on an airplane and went to their to the to my first meeting I think it’s maybe their tents meeting and that meeting was in Toronto in Canada and there i met Judy chamberlain and david oakes a lot of people that are still active duty no longer with us but people that were some people like David was still active and organizing and they were very much into a man anti-psychiatry push in fact i use the term anti-psychiatry that right now that’s probably not a term that people use but the idea that we needed to challenge the psychiatric oppression system that was tied up with the big drug companies and was you know part of the state machine of oppression until we got in the car i’m sitting in front seat 1960 you know one seat three people in the front father driving mother over here and me 19 years old and we get out to this barn house in the middle of the woods and I realized suddenly we go in and people are just in white you know this is nurse and she told me to take off my belt at that moment give her any you know pen pencil take off my belt then I knew wait a minute this is not good I knew immediately but I didn’t even have know what was about to happen so there I was and within a few days I mean I literally stopped talking because i was so petrified and within a few days they said I’m schizophrenics and they started giving me insulin shock electric shock one of these times when i was in solitary confinement I remember I told us many times looking at the impenetrable shield screen at the window on day two day three or something like that and I just remember pounding at that screen and i know nothing’s going to happen but it sounds it myself when I get out of here I’m gonna I’m gonna do something to change many demonstrations were held again they were being held at different parts in Philadelphia and New York City in the west coast and Kansas and also again and San Francisco independent Bay Area one of them was a demonstration that that took place and at that time Governor Jerry Brown’s office and it was quite an undertaking in that we we took over his not his office that part of the lobby areas i recall it’s kind of hard because at this point it’s maybe 40 to 50 years and I don’t want to say 50 but it might be at least 40 years ago but what I recall is are being in a long hallway in our of the sleeping bags lined up on either side a protest it wasn’t going to give up i think a really big event was meeting Judy chamberlain and our movement is the person a person movement it’s it’s a it’s kind of a spiritual minute the force and the energy and enthusiasm and passion for of personal person goes personal person and she transmitted her spirit I feel like I still carry it with me and 1979 remember very clearly how I met her it was through a client handed me a form to be filled out of Social Security Forum she said now look inside this form and inside was a flyer for Judy Chamberlain’s book and then to fill today on our own excitation control alternatives to the mental health system I find writing a lot of people some people who write well because real easy for them i find writing really difficult i struggle with their you and the typewriter and this black piece of 200 anything look at this life piece of paper anymore but I really are kept at it and while i was working i kept thinking there are people out there there are male patients and xml patients and potential mental patients who are going to read this book is going to make a difference in their life teachers and and you know in part of you that yeah sure come on Tom be so grandiose suffered more than the paper instead of daydreaming but the most gratifying thing has been over the years of letters and phone calls from people that got method this book really helped me this book hook me up with things in this book let me know that I wasn’t alone the state told me that there was another way this book told me that it wasn’t crazy therefore they put that in the little no longer in the barn house but we were taken into kind of a little cement barracks kind of place it was like one cement structure with a day room nurses behind glass like two nurses behind glass and two other rooms with 4 beds in each and there were four of us girls teenagers all of us no boys just girls every morning woken up at six in the morning dressed in Johnny’s way down on our backs on these beds they would give us an injection of insulin which was supposed to put us in a coma but they started out with just a little bit that you don’t really go into a coma for quite a while so many days ago back before actually went into a coma well eventually we advocated with the community support program because they had a of this learning community conference and we would go we’d be invited a group of us eventually are about 60 or so coming to the learning community conference which happened i think every other year and about the third conference that i was involved and we had about 60 or so consumer survivors ex-patients gathered at that conference and we did a caucus we were just one-third of the conference and we in our caucus we said we shouldn’t we have a conference of our own should there be an opportunity for these emerging groups to come together and organized on a national basis maybe even create a national organization sort of like national lines for the mentally ill was for family members we thought there should be a national mental health consumers association for consumers so we went to the Center for mental health services and ask them to find a conference and they agreed in the they funded a conference that was hosted by the honor own group in Baltimore and with a conference in baltimore and we thought maybe we’d get 50 or 60 people and I think we ended up with nearly 500 people from all over the United States at this first national conference that we ended up calling the alternatives conference because we were looking for ways to create alternatives within and without the mental health system 1985 was a big year actually 1985 federal government for the first time funded a the first alternatives conference it was in Baltimore and I just happen i groan what happened to be involved more at the time and so nice it will stop on by so I stopped behind somebody said pointing me out so you should get up and say a few words at I was like I said two words but I was not in the inner circle of probably two dozen leaders at that time that we’re jockin for what will be the nature of the future for this movement and they had a big meeting and had a lot of anger fights about to basic branches to basic takes and on the one hand there were the survivors they catch survivors who said we’ve been damaged the system’s broken throw it away we’ll do our own thing goodbye and they were called to the anti-psychiatry group and on the other hand you have the consumers health consumers and so what we just need you know kinder gentler system and you know support systems basically all right and they form two groups to different national groups at that time national association of psychiatric survivors mint and national association of mental health consumers don’t forget something like that and they each have their own leaders and they fought tooth-and-nail there was so there are big changes we also start collaborating more and from the 80 and some things as I said that stopped for instance the first year of alternatives conferences 1985 and that was the last year the international conference on human rights against like natural depression met and that’s not a coincidence if those old tools created an environment that new tools of organizing work shit the management review stop being published in nineteen in 1986 because there were so many groups and there was a different ways of organizing I think they built what we have today but they had they had that’s what they have done they had built the next to change the environment so much that you need other ways of organizing then three times we shot the ECP electroconvulsive therapy dr. would come in with a like he had a black suit on he had a little black suitcase in that suitcase was the shock machine which I now realize because I now I’ve done research and I know what it looks like that’s what he was carrying his little black suitcase and you would put it behind my head and hook me up you know with these electrodes and no anesthesia back down and then they would have a nurse on each limb hold me down get really emotional because it was so horrible leichhardt and then they would say is everybody ready but they were talking to me with island now we’re talking to the people hold me down with a ready and done and so then they would adopt me and when I came to I would have I would throw up vomiting vomiting vomiting and terrible terrible headache and this one to six weeks basically and and about halfway through my 17 year old roommate literally died in the bed next to me and they filter programs across the country while with madness network news there was a list on one page of the consumer run programs one page now there are three technical assistance center funded by the federal government just to keep track of all the consumer run programs and keeps a fulfillment also offer them peer support that what’s interesting is I can see the fruition of so many of ideas that i also can see new ideas that we did not have at the time such as a piece was working in the mental health system we would never have conceded that normal we have wanted to on those campgrounds because we’ve been a whole system of your enemy if someone had talked about the idea of consumers working in the medical system wouldn’t want to work there I mean the government wanted one group they didn’t like having all that she’s more infraction and and also the government fall and Niamh in fact was at that point the the any government ironically that was supportive of this this movement or the and some of it and they wanted representatives the takings work with because they saw start to see that their advocacy especially could come from those bus live experience and there was a woman in the government actually add niamh named Jackie parish who played a very important role in nurturing sort of from the outside very respectfully some of the early leaders poop to get involved in policy and not just be outside you know throwing stones and I’m literally always looking to try to find people who are locked up with me and all these years it’s been more than 50 years I have never found anyone who was locked up and those for mental institutions with me but there’s always hope that maybe at the conference or somewhere i’ll find find somebody we we’ve worked with the system against the system around the system and my friend Helen Hart because they real reactions to real life problems

3 thoughts on “From Asylums to Recovery

  1. Excellent documentation on these historical facts on asylums, the treatment of human lives and those who have made advanced strides to promote awareness and change. I thoroughly enjoyed considering this information. Thanks for sharing!

  2. We all know about the liberation of mental patients. That happened back in the ‘60’s. Large state hospitals were emptied and closed. The stiffest mental health laws in the country and the world were instituted. These laws, however, are not enforced on behalf of the new patients, who are denied access to the courts.

    The rights of mental patients are protected by federal law, which requires a state protection and advocacy system. California law additionally requires rights advocates at the county level. They exist and are paid millions of taxpayer dollars. Yet, both sets of organizations deliberately turn a blind eye to the abuses and even the existence of the largest class of clients.

    The rights of mental patients were advocated in the ‘60’s because of widespread publication of the abhorrent conditions in state mental hospitals. Now, however, patients are subject to the worst abuses as outpatients. Photographs would not communicate them. The news media, too, has turned a blind eye.

    The first rule of public relations is to consider who is speaking. Who is speaking determines how the hearer will respond to the message. The new patients cannot say who they are. They have no identity. They are silenced.

    The laws instituted to protect patients have actually become instruments of oppression. Tales of abuse are not believed, because patients obviously have rights. If they haven’t got rights, they must not be patients.

    The new outpatients are monitored using surveillance. Any social group that they enter, their complaints of abuse and involuntary treatment are derided as delusions and symptoms of mental illness. They are coerced to seek treatment for their “illness” voluntarily. Anyone who is ignorant of what is going on is pulled over to the side of the ones chanting this loud mantra.

    The same surveillance that monitors the new patients prevents them from ever meeting one another, though they number in the tens of thousands in this San Francisco alone. Confidentiality laws, intended to protect them, prevent them from finding one another or even learning of their own identity. They cannot organize to fight for their rights. They are powerless. Exposed, their vulnerability is exploited to the fullest. Every wrong is committed against them because it is wrong, in hopes of provoking them to violence, so that revenge may quickly be taken. Revenge for what? For being who they are.

    It began in 2001. Some planes, some buildings in New York City, a change in the surveillance law, an authorization to use military force. Applications for involuntary treatment orders in San Francisco – 3,000 miles away! – shot up by a factor of 19 and continued to rise. From two per week to ten per day, more than non-traffic misdemeanors in recent years, closing in on felony complaints. Somehow, one judge handles all of this caseload, which would take over seven of his colleagues in the criminal department. How does he do it? Hypotheses: Ex parte, in camera procedures; No witnesses, no evidence; All records sealed; The existence of records sealed – completely sealed cases; No one can even find out the cases exist, least of all their hapless subjects, but they show up on the court statistics still, as a single number. 37,000 people in San Francisco! 4% of the population! One San Franciscan in 25 has been subject to an involuntary treatment order – and perhaps still is – in this century. They are *invisible*!

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