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Listening to Madness: The growing push for "Mad Pride".

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posted on May, 6 2009 @ 09:37 PM
I rather like the stance of "this is what I am" they are taking here and rejecting others "healing" them into acceptable social norms. So long as they don't harm others it is their right, or should be.

Listening to Madness
Why some mentally ill patients are rejecting their medication and making the case for 'mad pride.'

We don't want to be normal," Will Hall tells me. The 43-year-old has been diagnosed as schizophrenic, and doctors have prescribed antipsychotic medication for him. But Hall would rather value his mentally extreme states than try to suppress them, so he doesn't take his meds. Instead, he practices yoga and avoids coffee and sugar. He is delicate and thin, with dark plum polish on his fingernails and black fashion sneakers on his feet, his half Native American ancestry evident in his dark hair and dark eyes. Cultivated and charismatic, he is also unusually energetic, so much so that he seems to be vibrating even when sitting still.

I met Hall one night at the offices of the Icarus Project in Manhattan. He became a leader of the group—a "mad pride" collective—in 2005 as a way to promote the idea that mental-health diagnoses like bipolar disorder are "dangerous gifts" rather than illnesses. While we talked, members of the group—Icaristas, as they call themselves—scurried around in the purple-painted office, collating mad-pride fliers. Hall explained how the medical establishment has for too long relied heavily on medication and repression of behavior of those deemed "not normal." Icarus and groups like it are challenging the science that psychiatry says is on its side. Hall believes that psychiatrists are prone to making arbitrary distinctions between "crazy" and "healthy," and to using medication as tranquilizers.

"For most people, it used to be, 'Mental illness is a disease—here is a pill you take for it'," says Hall. "Now that's breaking down." Indeed, Hall came of age in the era of the book "Listening to Prozac." He initially took Prozac after it was prescribed to him for depression in 1990. But he was not simply depressed, and he soon had a manic reaction to Prozac, a not uncommon side effect. In his frenetic state, Hall went on to lose a job at an environmental organization. He soon descended into poverty and started to hear furious voices in his head; he walked the streets of San Francisco night after night, but the voices never quieted. Eventually, he went to a mental-health clinic and was swiftly locked up. Soon after, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was put in restraints and hospitalized against his will, he says. For the next year, he bounced in and out of a public psychiatric hospital that he likens to a prison. The humiliation and what he experienced as the failure of the medication were what turned him against traditional treatment. Since then, Hall has been asking whether his treatment was really necessary. He felt sloshily medicated, as if he couldn't really live his life.

Hall and Icarus are not alone in asking these questions. They are part of a new generation of activists trying to change the treatment and stigma attached to mental illness. Welcome to Mad Pride, a budding grassroots movement, where people who have been defined as mentally ill reframe their conditions and celebrate unusual (some call them "spectacular") ways of processing information and emotion.

Just as some deaf activists prefer to embrace their inability to hear rather than "cure" it with cochlear implants, members of Icarus reject the notion that the things that are called mental illness are simply something to be rid of. Icarus members cast themselves as a dam in the cascade of new diagnoses like bipolar and ADHD. The group, which now has a membership of 8,000 people across the U.S., argues that mental-health conditions can be made into "something beautiful." They mean that one can transform what are often considered simply horrible diseases into an ecstatic, creative, productive or broadly "spiritual" condition. As Hall puts it, he hopes Icarus will "push the emergence of mental diversity."

Embracing "mental diversity" is one thing, but questioning the need for medication in today's pill-popping world is controversial—and there have been instances in which those who experience mental extremes harm themselves or others. Icaristas argue that some of the severely mentally ill may avoid taking medication, because for some the drugs don't seem to help, yet produce difficult side effects. And while some side effects like cognitive impairment are surely debilitating, others are more subtle, such as the vague feeling that people are not themselves. Icaristas call themselves "pro-choice" about meds—some do take their drugs, but others refuse.

Mad pride has its roots in the mad-liberation movement of the 1960s and '70s, when maverick psychiatrists started questioning the boundaries between sane and insane, and patients began to resist psychiatric care that they considered coercive. But today the emphasis is on support groups, alternative health and reconsidering diagnostic labeling that can still doom patients to a lifetime of battling stigma. Icarus also frames its mission as a somewhat literary one—helping "to navigate the space between brilliance and madness." Even the name Icarus, with its origin in the Greek myth of a boy who flew to great heights (brilliance) but then came too close to the sun (madness) and hurtled to his death, has a literary cast.

Although Icarus and Hall focus on those diagnosed as mentally ill, their work has much broader implications. Talking to Hall, I was acutely aware just how much their stance reflects on the rest of us—the "normal" minds that can't read through a book undistracted, the lightly depressed people, the everyday drunks who tend toward volatility, the people who "just" have trouble making eye contact, those ordinary Americans who memorize every possible detail about Angelina Jolie.

After all, aren't we all more odd than we are normal? And aren't so many of us one bad experience away from a mental-health diagnosis that could potentially limit us? Aren't "normal" minds now struggling with questions of competence, consistency or sincerity? Icarus is likewise asking why we are so keen to correct every little deficit—it argues that we instead need to embrace the range of human existence.

While some critics might view Icaristas as irresponsible, their skepticism about drugs isn't entirely unfounded. Lately, a number of antipsychotic drugs have been found to cause some troubling side effects.

There are, of course, questions as to whether mad pride and Icarus have gone too far. While to his knowledge no members have gravely harmed themselves (or others), Hall acknowledges that not everyone can handle the Icarus approach. "People can go too fast and get too excited about not using medication, and we warn people against throwing their meds away, being too ambitious and doing it alone," he says.

But is this stance the answer? Jonathan Stanley, a director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit working to provide treatment for the mentally ill, is somewhat critical. Stanley, who suffers from bipolar illness with psychotic features, argues that medication is indispensable for people with bipolar disease or with schizophrenia. Stanley's group also supports mandatory hospitalization for some people suffering severe mental illness—a practice that Icarus calls "forced treatment."

Continued next post....

posted on May, 6 2009 @ 09:37 PM

Scholars like Peter Kramer, author of "Listening to Prozac" and "Against Depression," also take a darker view of mental extremes. "Psychotic depression is a disease," Kramer says. As the intellectual who helped to popularize the widespread use of antidepressants, Kramer is nonetheless enthusiastic about Icarus as a community for mad pride. Yet he still argues that mental-health diagnoses are very significant. "In an ideal world, you'd want good peer support like Icarus—for people to speak up for what's right for them and have access to resources—and also medication and deep-brain stimulation," he says.

For his part, Hall remains articulate, impassioned and unmedicated. He lives independently, in an apartment with a roommate in Oregon, where he is getting a master's in psychology at a psychoanalytic institute. He maintains a large number of friendships, although his relationships, he says, are rather tumultuous.

Nevertheless, it's not so easy. Hall periodically descends into dreadful mental states. He considers harming himself or develops paranoid fantasies about his colleagues and neighbors. Occasionally, he thinks that plants are communicating with him. (Though in his mother's Native American culture, he points out, this would be valued as an ability to communicate with the spirit world.)

On another night, I had dinner with eight Icarus members at a Thai restaurant in midtown Manhattan. Over Singha beer, they joked about an imaginary psychoactive medication called Sustain, meant to cure "activist burnout." It was hard to imagine at the dinner what Hall had suffered. While he and his "mad" allies were still clearly outsiders, they had taken their suffering and created from it an all-too-rare thing: a community.

© 2009

posted on May, 8 2009 @ 05:05 AM
Very interesting. A few random thoughts in response....

1. There seems to be a pattern to the treatment of people exhibiting abnormal pyschology.

Treatment of abnormal behaviors is wholly based on the cultural perception of the abnormal. For ancient cultures that saw demonic possession, torture was an option as was trepanation or the drilling of a hole into a person's skull and allowing the demon or spirits to escape. In later centuries, individuals exhibiting abnormal behavior would be confined away from others giving rise to the asylums around the middle of the 16th century.

During the inquisition, individuals displaying deviant or abnormal behavior were subject to the Inquisition. The Malleus Maleficarum, a document drafted by two Catholic Inquisitors provided the reference manual to defining abnormal behavior in the Middle Ages. The Inquisition burned, pressed, hung and murdered hundreds of people deemed ‘deviant' or ‘abnormal' by those standards.

In the early part of the 20th century, asylums still existed, however the work of Sigmund Freud and others led to the development of psychotherapy to help treat those with ‘abnormal' behaviors. Modern science and physicians began to understand that ‘abnormal' behaviors were based on cultural relativism and were not always significant of a mental illness or a disease (Kowalski and Westen, 2005).

When people are classified and treated as animals, it is reprehensibile. It is unjust and in my opinion, plain wrong. Every human being should have their basic rights.

2. Another point to consider is the criminally insane; or more to the point how much potential has a person with a diagnosed psychiatric condition have to become criminally insane? Where their own personal safety, and the safety of those around them could become at much greater risk, is going drug free considered to be slipping out from under the evil influence of medication or pulling free of the tethers that hold them back from disasterous consequences?

3. The throw-away comment about the ability to communicate with plants would have been seen in his mother's native american society as a valued ability to communicate to the spirit world. Has anyone stopped to consider this thought with any weight? A prime example of this would be 'talking to God'. In today's society if I suddenly started telling people that I could hear the voice of God, and this is what 'he' said to me - would people write down the words of the voice I hear and believe me? Or would I be diagnosed and drugged. (rhetorical question).

4. Just how close to "insane" are "insane" people? And is it a deviant from the norm, or should they be considered a genuine yet distinct part of the norm? Is there any need to ostracize them so badly?

5. Of course I can understand the underlying fear that is apparent. But I do believe alot of the fear stems from the unknown, and unrelatable. If you yourself have not experienced what this other person speaks of, and it is so utterly foreign and alien to your life - what frame of reference could you use to relate to this person?

posted on May, 8 2009 @ 05:24 AM
so far as i can see, the proportion of insanity in the population could be measured as a bell curve, most people are somewhere in the middle, unbalanced and neurotic. conspiracy nuts might well be closer to the point than we'ld like to admit.

i can see why some would want the point between perceived normal insanity and abnormal insanity moved a bit so that they can live a better life but i think it's dangerous to imagine that this point should not exist.

on the other hand i wonder why anyone has a right to set the point, or do we all collectively take the right, i dunno. it raises some difficult questions.

posted on May, 8 2009 @ 05:32 AM
I would never want be so called normal. I will tell what so called sanity is our society. Here is a check list of what people that are sane are like.

1) destroying anyones life you want
2) Being as violent as you want to others, because you are part of the group that says this is sane
3) Having total apathy to anything wrong, so you find it absolutely hillarious the way victims in this society are treated
4) obsession with perving into others lifes and wanting to wreck as many lifes as you can.
5) getting government or police jobs so they can wreck anyones life they want and hold vendettas against people that have nothing to do with them.

F off if you think that is sane what i described above, but it describes most people, that society calls sane.

Does anyone want to be part of these people, i think not.

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