David Oaks is always in the audience when I speak at the Oregon Country Fair. He lives in Eugene and is the founder of Mind Freedom International (MFI) a global, activist coalition, united to promoting alternatives in mental health care, and human rights for mental patients.
David knows what he’s talking about, he is a former psychiatric patient, who at age 18, in his sophomore year at Harvard, had a classic psychotic breakdown, hearing voices and communicating with God. He was hospitalized, medicated, and when he was discharged told that his disease was chronic, and that he would be on drugs for the rest of his life. Over the next 2 years David was hospitalized 5 times, and his experiences are a harrowing tale. (www.mindfreedom.org).
Before graduating from Harvard, David wrote his senior paper on community organizing with psychiatric survivors; he has made activism for the rights of psychiatric survivors his life’s work. David is now 55 years old and in 2009 was named by the Utne Reader as one of the “50 visionaries who are changing your world”.
We both decry the pervasiveness of medicating every facet of human behavior. We are making too many diagnoses and we are prescribing too many pills. One in four Americans is now diagnosed as suffering from a mental illness, and one in six children is labeled as mentally disabled. This is the direct result of the psychiatric profession deciding to label unacceptable behaviors as mental illnesses. The bible of psychiatric disease is called the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual). It first appeared 40 years ago and contained 100 diseases; the next one DSM # 5 will be published in 2013 and will have over 500.
In our culture, if you’re feeling anything other than wonderful in every moment you could be suffering from a disease, which drugs can cure. The pervasiveness of this norm saddens me, because with time and support most people will recover and learn to take control of their lives.
David and other mental health activists are planning a global demonstration on the day the DSM 5 is published. They call it MAD PRIDE DAY, and people all over the world will come together to say we are all vulnerable, and we need to find alternatives to a dangerously coercive mental health system that is fragmented, discontinuous, and often unavailable. On that day I will stand with them (maybe in my colorful clown persona), and say “we’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore”.