Anarchist Mental Health Support

Despite the efforts of many, mental illness remains somewhat of a taboo subject in wider society, and, sadly, even in our supposedly more open minded anarchist community. Many of us suffer from mental illnesses such as clinical depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD, schizophrenia and others. This is rarely talked about in our community however, and nothing exists to help us deal with it.

As one anarchist said to me recently, “the only time depression matters to the community is when people burn out and stop doing activism”. This definately rung true with me – while individual friends might care, on a community level there seems to be little to nothing. We are therefore forced into choosing between societies method for dealing with the issues via piles of pills and counseling, or ignoring the problem in the vain hope it will go away.

How can we deal with this? Firstly, we must create a more supportive culture in our community, where opening up about the issues in our lives is not just accepted, but encouraged. This will require a change from each and every one of us. We need to become better listeners, but perhaps even more importantly, we need to be better talkers. Society teaches us, especially men, to bottle up our feelings and thoughts, even more so if they differ from “acceptable norms”. This can’t help but divorce us from ourselves, as we repress our true selves in favour of a sanitised personality more palatable to our friends and family.

Secondly, we have to recognise that mental illness is acceptable, and that sometimes talking about it won’t make it go away. If I hear the patronising comment of “all mental illness is just a result of this capitalist society” one more time, I think I’m gonna scream. Yes, it is entirely possible (and even likely) that the current society does make mental illness more common. But, just like how even in an anarchist society cancer would still exist, influenza would still exist, likewise mental illness would still exist. You might think you’re making a political statement when you say it, but what you’re really doing is invalidating the feelings and experiences of your friends and family that suffer every day.

No, I don’t have any magic answers. In fact, I don’t think there ever can be any. There are always going to be people in our community with mental illness. There are always going to be times when we simply can’t interact with others, let alone go to a demo. What we need is support and understanding, and a community which is prepared to accept us as we are, openly and warmly, rather than making us feel like we have to hide a large part of ourselves.

11 Responses to Anarchist Mental Health Support

  1. Caroline Gilson says:

    Mental illness is not the same thing as cancer or influenza. Flu and cancer are actual physical illness and there is no doubt about their physical existence. Mental illness does not exist in the same way at all. No schizophrenia virus, bacteria or gene has ever been found and no physical abnormality has been found to exist in those labelled schizophrenic. Yes, people have breakdowns. They go mad. But there is no evidence to prove that this is illness. But the people thus labelled have no human rights,see section 5 of European convention, are imprisoned against their will and forcibly injected with a deadly poisonous organic pesticide called phenothiazine which comes with all sorts of fancy brand names.

  2. Pharmaceutical companies sell pharmaceuticals. Along with selling prescription drugs, these companies play a role in the selling of “diseases” they were developed to treat. The latest edition of Psychiatry’s Bible the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual has almost 400 “diseases” listed. The next edition will have even more “diseases” listed. Some of these future “diseases” don’t “exist” today. What we refer to as “mental illness” has grown at epidemic rates since the introduction of some of these pharmaceutical products. “Medication maintenance”, rather than full recovery, is the best some people are told to expect from mental health treatment. Read between the lines. In the past people were labeled less frequently and took fewer psychiatric drugs. In a couple of words they could be said to have been “mentally healthier”. You can find a book on the bookshelves titled Bipolar For Dummies, and you can find a book titled Schizophrenia For Dummies. Unfortunately there is no book titled Mental Health For Dummies. I would imagine it would be possible to take a Bipolar or Schizophrenia For Dummies book, and by reverse logic, figure out what the “symptoms” would be for mental healthiness. You’d also have to see the bullshit for the bullshit it is regarding the “physical” nature of what are commonly referred to as “mental illnesses”. In summary, the doctor is not always right, and sometimes it’s a good idea to go elsewhere, or, at least, seek a second opinion.

  3. Ben Fenton says:

    @ So let’s get this straight: not only does mental illness not exist but, surprise surprise, you don’t have one. Gee, I’m so surprised that someone privileged enough not only to be mentally healthy but to marginalize those with mental illness has absolutely no idea what the definition of illness or disease is.
    I have spent extensive time with my schizo-bipolar effective friend Mike; I grew up with my own mental health issues from violence in the home as well as side effects from being pumped full of ritalin at the ripe ol’ age of five; I have friends with asperger’s and autism and a niece who has severe mental developmental disabilities affecting her ability to function.
    But to you we don’t even exist and it’s all just contrived. Thanks to this attitude within the anarchist community, those with needs that aren’t getting met are disparaged and relegated to non-existence itself. Ever see a person with mental and/or emotional challenges try to stand up against this stigma? Of course not. When we do, your reaction is to tell us not just what we are but who we are.
    This stuff needs to end in the anarchist communities. We will be much stronger when we stop ignoring this and start caring for ourselves and each other. There are people like myself desperately reaching out to the anarchist community for support on this and you are slapping our hand away.

  4. Ben Fenton says:

    My comment above was directed at Caroline Gilson’s response to the article.

  5. Anarchia says:

    This several year old article seems to be doing the rounds on Tumblr at the moment. Welcome anyone visiting from there :)

    I just want to make an important note based on one of the comments I saw on a tumblr.

    They interpreted my comment “We are therefore forced into choosing between societies method for dealing with the issues via piles of pills and counseling, or ignoring the problem in the vain hope it will go away.” as being critical of people’s choice to use ‘piles of pills’ – I just want to make it clear that I am in no way critical of that in any way, shape or form.

    I think we all need to choose our own coping mechanisms to deal with living with mental illness(es), and I don’t think it’s OK to judge these regardless of what form they take (as long as they aren’t directly oppressing others).

    I’ve certainly tried the ‘pile of pills’ method and if it had worked for me (it didn’t by a long shot) I’d still be on it today – and I have friends for whom medication is possibly the only reason they’re still alive and functioning.

    Actually, the anti-pills philosophy is one of the main reasons why I’ve moved away from having anything to do with a lot of the ideas/communities online that do radical mental health stuff, because most of them seem to hold it and it really pisses me off.

    So sorry if you were offended by what you thought I meant, I really didn’t!

  6. Anarchia says:

    And y’all will probably be more interested in this: Our Dark Passenger: Anarchists talk about mental illness and community support, a zine I put together a couple of years ago. Available for download at

    NOTE – This zine contains discussion of suicide and self-harm, if you think that might be negatively triggering for you, please don’t read it.

  7. I just came across this, but I’ve also found the anarchist community to be both patronizing and dismissive of those suffering from mental illness. It’s good to know I’m not alone.

  8. zanni says:

    ditto/samesies to you Michael Friesen. also found it a popular way of silencing people in activist communities :(

  9. Kashif Ansari says:

    mental illness is a tricky subject just like the mind and metaphysics. on the one hand are these people who go round in circles and would bore a gray wall and they are the so-called normal people in society. on the other are the psychopathically criminal who show no remorse in killing anyone at the drop of a hat and the bloody miracle is that they get away with it. these are ywo extremes with all the colorful bands of the spectrum – the colors of mankind – lying in between. there are ways of coping with this mission impossible (MI) but it doesn’t come easy. it is like curing obesity where 95% revert to their previous weight. the 5% who do succeed in maintaining their weight have to change their life-style forever. and change – mind you – is very stressful. yet that is just the point i’d like to make that a person who is already suffering so many pains as a mentally ill patient … when he or she is forced into the straitjacket of normality (like swathing a baby) that only compounds his or her pain. it is not the solution. rather the great outdoors, fresh air, sunlight, (N)(n)ature (both god-made and man-made) are the healers. and yes community too helps. but you see that community has to be natural and not like the artificial big city life you find so cancerously rampant at present. and love – crazy love – is the ultimate answer to the ultimate question when it comes to mental illness. the mind grows on love and not just knowledge. that is the deepest yearning…for touch and contact and affection. when that is thwarted it automatically leads to hatred and anger. failure at love leads to love of failure.

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