My previous post on my struggle with mental illness really seems to have struck a nerve with many readers. I recieved a number of emails (anarchiazine [at] gmail [dot] com) from others who struggle (or have struggled) with mental illness, telling me their stories – some from friends, others from people I have never met. Those emails, combined with a line from Maia in a comment – “Do you have any ideas about where we could start to make things better?” – and some discussions with friends has really strengthened by desire to begin imagining the next step.
Before I continue, I’d like to mention that I have issues with using the term “mad”, but I’m yet to discover a better term, so in the interim I will continue to use it.
There seems to be a dearth of information on the internet relating to anarchism (or even other radical politics) and mental illness, and what little there is predominantly focuses on medical analyses of mental illness – looking at alternative methods of treatment, critiquing the medical establishment’s view of mental illness and the like. While this is no doubt important, what seems to be missing is a political analysis of mental illness, a discussion of how we can create “mad” friendly communities and indeed what those communities would even look like.
There is the odd site such as Mad Pride (not updated since 2001) that seemed to have potential to foster that discussion, and I have heard 2nd or 3rd hand stories of collectives/groups working on mental illness issues in various radical communities around the world, but for the most part it seems to be something that I’d need to start from scratch, and thats a thought that really scares me.
I remember having discussions with a couple of other people in the Wellington anarchist community in 2005. We had the idea of having an anarchist mental illness support group in Wellington, where we would get together and share our stories, and support each other in our personal struggles. The group never took shape, for a number of reasons, but thinking back now, I wonder whether we could have created a space/atmosphere where we all felt safe and comfortable opening up to each other. I also recall with sadness the fear I felt at the time about how such a group would be recieved by the community as a whole – a fear which, while it may have been unfounded (who knows?), was certainly very real.
Perhaps here we have much we could potentially learn from survivors of and those working on issues of intimate violence. I’m not wishing to compare the struggles in any way – they are clearly very different – but in terms of creating safe spaces for open and passionate discussion, it seems like it may be a worthwhile place to start.
I think community-based support groups such as this are a good beginning – while everyone’s experiences are undoubtably different, I feel much more comfortable talking about my struggle with others who at least have some real understanding of where I’m coming from. Once these groups are more established, they could also make excellent staging grounds for working with the wider community on “mad” issues – both in terms of education and in terms of proactively creating a framework for a more “mad” friendly community. Because, as much as solidarity from others is important, ultimately, any changes must be driven by those who are currently marginalised, who’s voices are currently unheard.