Call Me Crazy: Stories from the Mad Movement combines my personal history (first as a young mental patient and then as an activist) with the stories of other activists and our ideas about alternatives to psychiatry. I wanted to show that people like me can reject our diagnoses and embrace and celebrate our “difference” as a positive aspect of mental diversity, or at least learn better ways of coping. I wanted people to know that it is possible to move out of the patient role and into a rich, fulfilling life, and that what helped me most was helping others emerge from the murky depths of psychiatric zombiehood.
My youthful experiences with psychiatry constituted a long and tedious nightmare. After several traumas that occurred during one dreadful summer, I lost my mind and ended up being locked up and forcibly drugged for many months at a time, in three different hospitals, between 1978 and 1980. In 1980 I tried to kill myself because I thought I’d be stuck in psychiatry forever. I failed, of course, and eventually got over what had seemed like a terminal case of (understandable) self-pity.
I credit my recovery from the effects of psychiatrization largely to the late Chris Bearchell. Chris, a journalist and gay activist of extraordinary power, talent and compassion, introduced me to activism after we became lovers in 1984. We lived together in Toronto from then until 1993, and then on Lasqueti Island from 2001 until her death in 2007.
Chris introduced me to the person who led me to the editorship of the national magazine Phoenix Rising: The Voice of the Psychiatrized in 1986. She was always fiercely supportive of my antipsychiatry efforts, although she herself had never been psychiatrized. We put together the last several issues of Phoenix, some of which she designed, in the basement of our home on Walnut Avenue.
In 1990 I co-founded and was elected coordinator of the Ontario Psychiatric Survivors’ Alliance (OPSA), and in 1991 and 1992 I presented two multi-part CBC Ideas programs: “Analyzing Psychiatry” and “By Reason of Insanity.”
In 1993, I moved from Toronto to Vancouver. My great friend David Reville is an NDP party member who served as a Toronto MLA from 1985 to 1990 and has always been open about his past as an incarcerated mental patient. It was David who encouraged me to speak out in public for the first time, at an event at the Parkdale Activity and Recreation Centre. And it was David who told me, before I moved away, that I had to write a book; that it was my responsibility to document my extraordinary experiences in the psychiatric survivor movement.
And so it came to pass that I applied for, and received, a Canada Council Explorations grant to write Call Me Crazy. I think I scored it mostly on the strength of glowing references from the CBC’s Max Allen, who produced my radio shows, and from respected mental health lawyer Carla McKague, who, along with David, ended up being one of my interviewees.
It also helped a lot that I already had a publisher before I started to write the book. I had completed, in 1985, a two-year community college program in book editing and design, during which I did a work placement with Women’s Press in Toronto. After I moved to Vancouver, these credentials impressed the excellent women at Press Gang Publishers, another small feminist publisher, enough that they were happy to hire me for some contract work. When I told them I was applying for the grant and showed them an outline, they agreed to be the publisher, so I was able to strengthen my application with that fact.
Working with Press Gang was a delight. Everyone on staff was enthusiastic about the project, and our interactions were always amicable and usually fun. Thanks to my warm relationship with everyone on staff and the small-scale of the operation, I’m sure I had a lot more input into the process than authors usually do, right down to picking the image and background colour for the cover. The Press Gang women were as supportive and patient as they could possibly have been.
Everyone I interviewed for Call Me Crazy was thrilled to participate, and happy to provide accommodation, food, and warm companionship. I don’t think I was allowed to spend a penny of my own money during any of the interview trips. And of course I learned a great deal about what had been, and was, going on in the Canadian movement.
The people whose voices fill my book are those who were fortunate enough to be able to step out of the psychiatric morass altogether. (I myself fell back into it several times between 1998 and 2007, but have been psychiatry-free since then, as of this writing.) Most were people I knew, or knew of, through my work at Phoenix Rising and at OPSA, but some I’d never heard of. People at Whitehorse’s Second Opinion Society introduced me to the wonderful Judi Johnny; David Cohen in Montreal put me on to Paul Morin and Les frères et soeurs d’Emile Nelligan.
After Call Me Crazy came out, I was flooded with grateful letters (which, horribly, I no longer have – often when I’ve been locked up I have lost all my possessions while absent from my real life). People wrote to tell me that they’d always been ashamed of their psychiatric histories and that my book had helped them “come out.” Many had had no idea that anybody anywhere was organizing against psychiatric oppression, and had always felt desperately isolated. Reading Call Me Crazy helped them realize that they were part of a strong and proud community. The most touching letters were from people who were inspired to get off “meds” and start getting their lives back.
Together, the people in my book, and some of its readers, have found strength in exposing and fighting back against psychiatric abuses, and in discovering, practising and promoting creative, holistic alternatives to psychiatry. I hope these pages help others find that strength.
Irit Shimrat, Vancouver, 2014
Irit – Current Statement
The mad movement is busting out all over! When I became an activist, in the 1980s, the idea that mental illness is a social construct and psychiatric “treatment” is unscientific and harmful was beyond the pale. Now, it is getting harder for Big Pharma to dominate the discussion. Grassroots support, advocacy and activist groups (see, e.g., MindFreedom); investigative journalists (Mad In America, Rob Wipond) and other writers, many diagnosed; human rights groups; dissident professionals; academics; and families hurt by psychiatry are. Alternatives are springing up and succeeding, and abuses are increasingly exposed. We have a long way to go, of course. The mental illness industry is thriving; forced drugging in the community and the use of ECT are on the rise. Yet for someone who, like me, has been damaged by hospital procedures and psychiatric “medications,” it is gradually becoming easier to find a way out: people to talk to; groups to join; and unbiased information about how to get out of the system, off the drugs and back into the real world.
Irit Shimrat travelled to Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Whitehorse to interview key movement people. For this exhibit, a selection of her interview audio-recordings were restored and digitized, and the interviewees were asked to share then and now photos of themselves alongside their reflection on the current mad movement.
"There is enormous creativity and inventiveness in what might be called the Mad Movement today. There is also a greater social awareness of the weaknesses of psychiatry. However, although many people today consider themselves psychiatric critics -- for example, they're aware of medication abuses or the extent to which drug companies have ruled psychiatric practice and research, or the invalidity of DSM psychiatric diagnoses -- psychiatry has grown and prospered enormously over the past few decades.
In my view, that's because the myth of mental illness persists, and because few people in or out of the helping professions reject psychiatric coercion on human rights grounds. The idea that "mental illness" is an actual, real entity remains as strong as ever. The problem is that although everyone knows how to recognize a mental illness, no one knows what it is. And the practice of locking people up on the basis that they suffer from a mental illness and therefore might be dangerous is as popular as ever. Coercion remains the only constant in psychiatric practice, and it's invoked most intensely precisely when psychiatric treatments fail to deliver as promised."
20 Reasons to Abolish Psychiatry (by Don Weitz)
* What follows is an edited version of a statement that first appeared in "What DifferEnCe Does IT Make?" The Journey of a Soul Survivor (Wendy Funk, Wild Flower Publishing, pp.159-161).
- Psychiatrists cause death, of not only the body but also the mind and spirit.
- Psychiatrists frequently violate the Hippocratic Oath.
- Psychiatrists disempower their patients and deceive the public.
- Psychiatry is not a medical science. It has no diagnostic tests or testable hypotheses, let alone cures.
- Psychiatrists cannot predict violence yet promote the "dangerous mental patient" myth / stereotype.
- Psychiatrists have caused an epidemic of brain damage by promoting neuroleptics, antidepressants, electroshock, and psychosurgery.
- Psychiatrists manufacture "mental disorders" in their witch-hunting manual, the DSM. Such "disorders" are simply moral judgments of dissident ways of coping and alternative ways of interpreting/being in the world.
- Psychiatrists pathologize legitimate existential crises as "symptoms" of "illness.”
- Psychiatrists have no evidence for their claim that "mental disorders" are caused by "biochemical imbalances" and "genetic predispositions.”
- Psychiatrists falsely claim that neurotoxins (“medications”), electroshock, and other behaviour modification procedures are "safe, effective and lifesaving". The exact opposite is tragically true.
- Psychiatrists routinely violate the principle of informed consent by failing to tell patients about the disabling effects of neuroleptics: memory loss, tardive dyskinesia, tardive psychosis, parkinsonism, dementia.
- Psychiatrists frequently fail to inform patients about non-medical therapeutic alternatives such as survivor-controlled crisis centres, advocacy groups, diet, holistic medicine, and affordable housing.
- Psychiatrists are sexist in stereotyping women as "over-emotional", blaming women whenever for their own problems, and even sexually assaulting them.
- Psychiatrists once considered homosexuality a "mental illness" and have used electroshock on lesbians to coerce them into adopting heteronormative lifestyles.
- Psychiatrists are ageist in prescribing drugs and electroshock to disproportionately large numbers of elderly people.
- Psychiatrists are racist in disproportionately incarcerating, drugging, and labeling people of colour.
- Psychiatrists routinely violate civil rights by imprisoning people without a trial and subjecting them to physical, electrical, and chemical tortures.
- Psychiatrists masterminded the murder of hundreds of thousands during the Nazi Holocaust (the "T-4 euthanasia" program) - historical facts still missing in psychiatric textbooks today.
- Psychiatrists have administered mind-control experiments throughout North America since the 1950s.
- Psychiatry is a form of social control, not treatment. It is a direct threat to democracy, human rights and life.