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Still Mad After All These Years

Publié le 1 septembre, 2008 | Pas de commentaires

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‘Mad,’ ‘Psychiatric Survivor,’ ‘Crazy,’ ‘Lunatic,’ and ‘Inmate’ are terms being (re)claimed by those who are a part of a human rights movement resisting ‘normal’ culture and reformulating what it means to be a person who has been labeled and treated as crazy. Two separate events – one in July, the other in September – will represent different political factions within this movement on the streets of Toronto.

Bio: Shaindl Diamond is studying counselling psychology at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, UofT, is a member of the Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault, and is an organizer of Toronto’s Psychiatric Survivor Pride.

This way to consumeristic madness!
macinate, This way to consumeristic madness!, 2007
Certains droits réservés.

Mad Pride has become the most visible part of the movement, with annual Mad Pride events organized by groups in at least seven countries around the world, drawing crowds of thousands to celebrate mad identity and culture. Mad Pride participants address issues facing mad people and psychiatric survivors in artistic and theatrical ways: escaping a psychiatric facility with a hospital bed in a public march in Toronto, using straight jackets and six foot-long hypodermic needles to illustrate psychiatric violence at a protest in Vancouver; or, celebrating Mad Pride at Bonkersfest, an annual festival held in England designed to ‘de-normalize’ the masses.

The first Pride Day event organized in Canada was in 1993 in the Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto, Ontario. Organizers explained that the event’s objectives were: “to combat stigma; to celebrate psychiatric survivors as active members of Canadian society; to present the history and culture of psychiatric survivors from the perspective of those who lived (…) this experience; to link up with other marginalized groups [including] persons with disabilities, people of colour, first nations, in rejecting oppressive cultural stereotypes; to connect with other community based groups in Parkdale to ensure visibility and acceptance of persons with psychiatric histories; and to empower those (…) previously excluded, to participate in the creation and preservation of our contribution to Canadian culture(1)”. The name of the first annual event was “Psychiatric Survivor Pride Day”. The term ‘psychiatric survivor’ was chosen to demonstrate that those who had experienced the psychiatric system were proud to have survived a system that imposed both medical definitions of self and harmful ‘treatment’ interventions.

As the psychiatric survivor movement evolved, controversy sparked around the terminology used to represent it, given that not all of those who experienced the psychiatric system agreed that it was an oppressive system which one survived. Some began to use the term ‘consumer,’ suggesting that people had the choice to access the psychiatric system and its treatments. While the term ‘consumer’ was picked up by some individuals and government-funded initiatives, others in the movement resisted the use of the term, feeling that it made invisible how institutional psychiatry was, for many, a major source of oppression (2).

Toronto organizers continued to celebrate Psychiatric Survivor Pride in the fall on an almost annual basis until the year 2000, when the celebration was moved to July to align with Mad Pride Day events taking place in other countries (3). The July date coincided with Bastille Day, marking the beginning of the French Revolution when the French citizens stormed the Bastille, freeing prisoners and some psychiatric inmates (4).

In Toronto, however, there was resistance to adopting the term ‘mad’ to represent the community and its pride events. Reflecting the ambivalence surrounding the choice of terminology, Psychiatric Survivor Pride Day was initially changed to “Instance of Resistance” in 2000 and then to “Psyche Survivor Pride Day” in 2001, until finally the organizers agreed to use “Mad Pride” in 2002 (5).

The term ‘mad’ quickly spread in the psychiatric survivor movement and started to be used in attempts to bridge the political differences among survivors. As with the reclaiming of `queer` as an identity, the reclaiming of `mad’ became an umbrella term used to represent disparate meanings. In the conservative sense, `mad` was used by those who accepted the biological notion of mental illness and celebrated its difference. Those who used `mad` as a synonym for mental illness were stating their pride and voicing that they were not ashamed of their illness. In the radical sense, the key concept underlying the term `mad` was the oppression experienced by those who cope with or process events in ways deemed abnormal.

Unlike ‘psychiatric survivor’, the radical meaning of ‘mad’ goes beyond defining experience in relation to the psychiatric system, to include the mentalist oppression experienced by people in families, education, and other institutions. In fact, one does not need to have experienced the psychiatric system in order to identify as `mad,` because the emphasis lies with the experience of being perceived and treated as crazy within dominant culture. It recognizes that some individuals are vulnerable to being labeled as crazy for having certain experiences (i.e., hearing voices) or exhibiting certain behaviours (i.e., talking to oneself in public space) due to cultural norms, even if they do not end up in a hospital or a psychiatrist’s office. ‘Mad’ experiences are not considered to be the problem, but rather the limited range of human experience that is deemed to be acceptable.

While many have now embraced ‘Mad Pride,’ some psychiatric survivors still do not feel represented by the terminology. They feel that, as with the term ‘consumer,’ ‘mad’ renders the damage caused by psychiatry invisible. They also worry about being associated with a political movement that accepts the notion of mental illness as a biological reality or that endorses psychiatric interventions as helpful or necessary. For instance, while some survivors coming from an antipsychiatry politic completely reject the system and choose to work towards goals in line with the abolition of psychiatry, others might accept the psychiatric system as legitimate and take part in initiatives within or in cooperation with the psychiatric system. Irreconcilable differences are bound to arise in a community that represents both.

There have always been controversies and struggles in the organization of Pride Day events, with different political camps vying to get their message across to the community. In 2007, due to concerns of some psychiatric survivors and anti-psychiatry activists who felt that Mad Pride was taking over Psychiatric Survivor Pride, the organizing committee in Toronto came up with a solution that would hopefully capture the essence of different movement factions. They decided to hold Mad Pride in July at the same time as it was celebrated in other parts of the world and hold Psychiatric Survivor Pride in September when it was historically celebrated in Toronto. The festivities in July were largely focused on combating stigma and celebrating mad identity and culture, while the September celebration consisted of events that were more focused on psychiatric oppression and liberation.

This tradition will continue in Toronto in 2008. Recently in July, Mad Pride was put on by members of the Friendly Spike Theatre Band, along with other mad activists. The event was celebrated over the span of one week, with educational sessions on issues facing mad people, such as the dangerous effects of antidepressants and able-ist discrimination in the workplace; theatre; art displays; music; and a Mad Pride Bed Push, representing an escape from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health to the Parkdale Community Centre, an important gathering place for mad people in Toronto. In September, the Coalition Against Psychiatric Assault, an antipsychiatry organization in Toronto, will be organizing Psychiatric Survivor Pride weekend, with film presentations about the harmful effects of psychiatric interventions, art exhibits, and workshops exploring oppression and resistance within the psychiatric survivor, mad and anti-psychiatry communities.(6)

Despite their political differences, both Mad Pride and Psychiatric Survivor Pride have offered individuals the means to present alternative perspectives on the marginalization of those who are labelled crazy and what needs to be done to foster communities that are accepting of diversity. Whether that manifests itself with demands of basic respect, inclusion in the community, basic needs such as healthy food and housing, or the dismantling of oppressive systems, such as psychiatry, the community is headed in a positive direction. It will be exciting to see the global impact of Mad Pride and Psychiatric Survivor Pride as these events evolve and grow, making a positive and critical difference in the world.


(1) G. Reaume, “A History of Psychiatric Survivor Pride Day during the 1990s.” Consumer/Survivor Information Resource Centre Bulletin (July, 2008).
(2) Don Weitz, “Call Me Antipsychiatry Activist–Not « Consumer. » Ethical human sciences and services: An international journal of critical inquiry 5.1 (2003): 71-72.
(3) Raume, ibid.
(4) M. Kovary. “The Origins of Bastille Day as a Celebration of Mental Patients’ Liberation.” [http://mindfreedom.org] (Retrieved on August 1, 2008).
(5) Raume, ibid.
(6)For more information about upcoming Psychiatric Survivor Pride events in Toronto, visit the Coali

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