You are here

The mad movement, Marxism, and mad activism today

Kevin Jackson

July 8, 2013

July 8-14 is Mad Pride week in Toronto. Mad activist Kevin Jackson reviews the history and politics of this liberation movement.
In 1886, a woman named Elizabeth Ware Packard, a former mental hospital patient, founded the Anti-Insane Asylum Society. Packard began publishing a series of books and pamphlets challenging the subordination of women to their husbands, and the lack of response by government and psychiatrists to that subordination.
In 1977, anti-psychiatry and social justice activists like Don Weitz founded the first Toronto psych survivor awareness and support group, called Ontario Mental Patient’s Association (an offshoot of the Vancouver Mental Patient’s Association), which changed its name to On Our Own—the first enduring group by and for psychiatric survivors in Ontario.
Then came the Mad Pride movement in Toronto in 1993, and California in 2003 when a group of six people declared a hunger strike against biological approaches to psychiatry and the widespread use of prescription drugs for mental health.
The mad movement, as it currently appears, has arisen out of such examples of resistance to oppression, born out of distrust of mainstream psychiatry and its self-serving over-exaggeration of psychiatric pathology and enforced conformity. The long tradition of resistance, intrinsic to the mad movement, continues to challenge power structures that oppress and suppress the body, mind, and spirit of people who think and act in a manner that’s different from the norm.
Electroshock ‘therapy’
Mad and anti-psychiatry activists alike are highly critical of this terribly dangerous form of treatment. In fact, we do not see it as a “treatment” but as a form of torture based on psychiatric pseudo-science.
Electroshock is widely used, and is not the safe or effective treatment that psychiatrists would have the public believe. Psychiatric assault victims have long stated the horrible side effects: confusion, memory loss, creativity loss—essentially, brain damage.
Psychiatric drugs and forced drugging
American mad activist Jim Gottstein, of PsychRights (a Law Project for Psychiatric Rights), sums up the mad and anti-psychiatry activist position on psychiatric drugs well. He writes, “ devoted to the defense of people facing the horrors of forced psychiatric drugging and electroshock. We are further dedicated to exposing the truth about these drugs and the courts being misled into ordering people to be drugged and subjected to other brain and body damaging interventions against their will.”
One side effect of psychiatric drugs is the Parkinsonian effect: an emotional blunting and demotivational effect. This is not a side effect of psychiatric drugs but the actual intended mechanism by which they work. I believe that the use of neuroleptics is a practice more akin to chemical lobotomy than an ethical or safe treatment.
Being a mad person in the age of the asylum meant you were at risk of being harmed or even killed for your ideas. This is still true today. A mad person with dissenting actions and thoughts is labeled deviant—not from the norms of people in the community, but according to the values of capitalism. When it comes to chemical lobotomies, it’s all about social control—with all of the profits going to big pharma. This circular model of forced consumerism and profiteering needs to be scrutinized and dismantled.
Commodity fetishism and false consciousness
Capitalist societies, through the use of the media, create a desire for items and behaviours that the person wouldn’t naturally possess. This can be extended within the mad discourse to identify how people have been told by the media, their families, physicians and psychiatrists that their behaviour and actions are contrary to that of the majority, and therefore that they are flawed and in need of mental health interventions.
In the face of such allegations, mad persons may feel depressed or just “wrong” because they are told that they don’t fit the mold of what a good capitalist should be; thus in order to fit in and be a good consumer, the person in psychic crisis often succumbs to dangerous psychiatric treatments.
When looked at from a perspective of instilled false consciousness, mad people, free thinkers, and revolutionaries will never fit in, as they are contrary to the goals of capitalism, which is to be a good consumer and not to challenge the status quo. Those who resist this are often forced to take psychiatric medications or risk police intervention.
Although the interests of the mad movement are fairly specific, I believe that mad people’s struggles will only marginally improve if we continue to act as tightly grouped activists within a constellation of mad discourses. However, mad activists such as Judi Chamberlin have for a long time advocated cross-disability coalitions and working relationships.
A contemporary example of this type of inclusive activism is the Toronto Disability Pride March, the first cross-disability solidarity march in recent history. Born out of the Occupy Movement, it is bringing together people who have experienced physical, mental, and social oppressions.
Disabled people pose much less of a threat to the authoritarian conservative Harper government if they exist in isolation. But if we organize as a cohesive group with each other’s interests as our collective goal, we may become a political powerhouse that will be able to effect positive and substantive change for all disabled people, as well as for other oppressed groups.
For more information on Mad Pride visit

Geo Tags: 

Featured Event



Visit our YouTube Channel for more videos: Our Youtube Channel
Visit our UStream Channel for live videos: Our Ustream Channel