Imagine these scenarios: A woman with OCD who washes her hands raw a dozen times an hour says, “There’s nothing wrong with me, it’s only a damaged society that says I don’t fit in. Living like this is just a variation on “normality”, as if that could be defined. I’m proud to obsess like this and experience an alternative way of being. I believe the cracked skin on my hands makes me more beautiful and the pain from scrubbing informs my art.” Or, a man who’s severely depressed says, “I never want to feel any different. Why should I? The mental health system is nothing but fascist social control. I like being depressed.” Or, a heroin addict says, “Hey man, it’s totally cool to shoot up eight times a day, steal to pay for it and neglect everything else to go find more. I shouldn’t be judged for that. Oh, and all this weight loss makes me look hot. Being an addict is great. Junkie pride, woot!”
A movement called Mad Pride does declare these sorts of things about other disorders. It began in 1997 with Pete Shaughnessy, a London man diagnosed as bipolar who rejected stigma, glorified madness and sought to turn it into a revolution. Co-founder Robert Dellar edited the groundbreaking book Mad Pride: A Celebration of Mad Culture which struck a chord that still resonates. The movement is growing in popularity with exposure in leftist media like Adbusters and Mother Jones. Concepts like cognitive liberty (to think and behave however one chooses) and no forced treatment appeal to human rights activists (who may or – more likely – may not consider protecting people from imminently harming themselves or others). Scientology’s muscles also inadvertently support the cause by spreading its famous views on drugs.
Though antipsychiatry is related to Mad Pride and involves some of the same people, it’s really a different thing. Mad Pride delights in uniqueness, helps build self-esteem and seeks a place in society. It celebrates madness instead of denying it exists. Mad Pride asserts that if you’re having hallucinations or manic episodes, work with and through them in cultural expressions like film, painting and other art forms. Find the positive and be visible.
Not everyone who supports Mad Pride is opposed to treatment; indeed, a newer facet of the movement works within the mental health system to provide outlets for creative expression that are both therapeutic and profitable for its members. Montreal’s Les Impatients art center is a terrific example. One man who creates art in their studio keeps a very inspiring and touching blog called Doc GM Splash Fly. He sells the works online and writes about managing schizophrenia and cultivating his strengths instead of refusing to accept labels or treatment.
From Pete Shaughnessy’s original agitations to art organizations like The Icarus Project and Gallery Gachet, positive aspects of Mad Pride run the gamut. Film festivals, picnics, and demonstrations take place around the world throughout July, declared Mad Pride Month. International Mad Pride Day on July 14 is now blandly mainstream in Toronto.
Expecting people with every type of mental health issue to revel in their symptoms and disdain treatment, as in the first paragraph, is absurd and trivializes their pain. But for those who feel that psychosis, mania, autism, etc. bring something special to their lives and want to fight stigma while connecting with others, Mad Pride can be very empowering. Happy Mad Pride Month!