Where Is Our Mental Health Culture?

NARSAD Artworks Sells Posters by People in Recovery

NARSAD Artworks Sells Posters by People in Recovery

I’m an oboist who just happens to have a diagnosis, but there are very very few opportunities for me to get together with others in the mental health community to make music. We should do this outside our community, but when I had an episode, I  lost my ability to read and play music. A mental health culture — others who might have similar problems — would help me get it back before I try again in the larger community.

Mental Health Culture:  Making  Our Own Art, Music, and History

By mental health culture, I don’t mean all the artists we think had what is called “mental illness.”  They were not part of any movement.  Those masters were not known for promoting human rights for others with “mental illnesses,” who were locked away in asylums when these artists were alive,

I’m talking about a mental health culture generated by out movement, like happened in the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the LGBT movement.

Where are there any bars or restaurants where you can go and feel free to be “psychotic,” or OCD, or suicidal?

Where are the “crazy folk” choruses like gay men’s choruses? Where are there sports leagues like the Gay Olympics, Special Olympics, women’s golf and soccer, and the Para-Olympics?

How about basketball teams or volleyball leagues for mental health “clubhouses” or centers?

We Don’t Know Our Own History

We don’t even have a written history of the early folks like Judi Chamberlin, Joe and Susan Rogers, Laura Van Tosh, Sally Zinman, David Oaks, etc.  People don’t remember the big debate within the movement over whether Alternatives should accept federal money, and move from campgrounds and campuses to convention hotels.

It became an enormous conference, but in return, we had to agree not to launch demonstrations from there, and submit our list of speakers to SAMHSA in advance.

People don’t even know that Fountain House was started by a group of ex-patients, but was later taken over by staff.

We shouldn’t be stuck in ghettos to do cultural things, but there is nothing wrong with using them as stepping stones if we need to. I think that doing these things would be very healing, and much more beneficial than the day treatment and clubhouses we now have.

Where  is Our Art, Flag and Movement Songs?

Do we have a flag like LGBT folks? Do we have songs we all know and sing like “We Shall Overcome”?

I’m talking about mental health culture, not just goals or values.  I mean music, art, literature, dance, fashion, hair styles, myths, stories, history, habits, language, stuff like that.

Gayle Bluebird is a top advocate for mental health culture

Gayle Bluebird is a top advocate for mental health culture

I think that we have been terribly oppressed and repressed into thinking that anything we might create in our mental health culture has no value.   Gayle Bluebird has really made an effort, as well as things like the copyrighted Suitcase Project. I think we need to do more!

NARSAD Artworks offers a wide selection of poster art by people in recovery on its website, www.narsadartworks.org/art.html

Part of that is that “they” want to control our culture, not “us.”  I think there is some sense among a lot of providers that nothing that a “consumer” does has the same worth as others who do similar work in the larger community.

NARSAD now calls itself the “Brain Research Foundation (formerly NARSAD).”  It funds disease model brain research, and has a commercial division that sells consumer art.  I don’t like to think I’m supporting the brain disease model by supporting artists who aren’t part of mental health culture.
NARSAD Artworks appears to be  a separate non-profit entity– a dot org corporation.

Is your self-expression limited by our limited mental health culture?

Diane Engster

Wordworks Blog Author: Diane Engster

Diane Engster has been a mental health civil rights leader for over 30 years. She currently spends time in Florida, Washington, D.C., and other national hot spots for advocacy. She is a frequent visitor to Alternatives Facebook discussion groups and is often willing to challenge peoples' basic assumptions.

2 comments to Where Is Our Mental Health Culture?

  • […] There is a mistaken belief that in concentrating our energies upon what is not working for us psycho…True health comes when their is a sprint in the step, a twinkle in the eye. A joy for life based on […]

  • Diane, I just sent you a private email, but wanted to post a link to this website for all to see. We have just finished the first concert season with a new orchestra in Burlington, VT called “ME2/orchestra”. This orchestra was created for individuals with mental illness and the people who support them. Our members include people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, addiction, PTSD, and anxiety…. as well as folks who have family members with a diagnosis or who just felt moved to join the ensemble and show their support for others. Please visit us at http://www.ME2orchestra.org … I hope we’ll be writing that “mental health anthem” and creating a mental health culture and that others may be inspired by our work. Thank you for this post!