Kathleen Sumilas. Advocate/Activist, Victoria, BC
My Experience as a First Time Advocate/Activist
I was thrust into becoming an advocate/activist as a user of the mental health system when it was announced on May 30, 2007 that Laurel House, an activity centre for the mentally ill in Victoria, BC, was going to be closed on September 30, 2007. I will share with you all my first-time experiences of how I survived the stress, and the huge learning curve that I had to deal with on a rigid time-line. Most of all, I will share with you the positive impact it has had on my life, and those for whom I was helping to advocate, who are being greatly affected by the outcome of the Laurel House struggle with the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) and the Capital Mental Health Association.
J.T. Sandhu, AKA Ruby Diamond. Activist and Author, Vancouver, BC
The Dignity of the Mad
My paper wishes to expose the present day consensus that all mental illnesses have their root in biochemical deformity as both dangerous and misguided. This paradigm allows for the dismissal of psycho-spiritual crisis as being influenced by societal and family dysfunction. It allows for the victim of trauma or other emotional distress as having defective genes and then completely justifies and ignores his or her social context. While schizophrenia may be based in a chemical imbalance, not all mental illnesses have their root in biological deformity.
If schizophrenia is due to a biochemical imbalance, which it may indeed be, why is it we are rarely treated with empathy and respect the same way a cancer patient would be treated? We must understand the language of the mentally ill person by engaging in that person’s world view and by understanding the context and personal history of that person.
Some of us are labelled mad because we do not conform to what is real crazymaking. Systemic racism, sexism, poverty and homophobia are true crazy making. However, these ideologies are ignored and not understood or explained by most mental health professionals further contributing to being a sick society. In fact marginalized groups who seek out or by force are introduced to the mental health system are often misunderstood, cannot voice their opinion safely, face a lack of empathy and understanding for their emotional turmoil caused by their status of being marginalized members of society. Instead of gaining understanding they are further stigmatized by the label of mental illness and retraumatized by the practices of electro-shock therapy, forced medication and confinement. The history of the asylum and its practices are steeped in human rights violations. This is the legacy and historical context within which the present day mental health farms operate. Just as we cannot ignore the social and historical context of slavery within which African American experience is based, so we cannot forget that the madhouse of the past has influenced the psychiatric institutions of