In a previous post I introduced the key themes of my current thinking about suicide – i.e. the key themes that underpin the activism side of my work. This post is the first of a series that will explore each of these key themes in more detail.
Key Themes 1 – The Survivor Voice
The psychiatric survivor community represents a political movement calling for radical change in how we think about emotional distress. It is a diverse community with a wide-ranging agenda. What unites us is the demand that we speak for ourselves and that our voices be heard.
Other terms used to identify us are ‘consumer’ and, mainly in the UK, ‘service user’, which is often abbreviated to just ‘user’. For me, user usually means a drug user, which I used to be, but is not what’s meant here. And service user is not OK as many of us no longer use mental health services, plus we don’t want to be defined based on the services we use(d). The term consumer suffers a similar problem – just what precisely am I consuming? But more than this, for me these other terms are the language of those who oppress us, the language of the medical model of madness.
I can respect those who identify themselves using this language, many of whom are working for change from within the system. But this never worked for me. As a consumer I constantly felt patronised, put down, marginalised and/or co-opted by the hierarchy of our mental health systems. For me, adopting the survivor identity is a political statement that I refuse to participate in my own oppression.
I think the academic sections of the website are pretty self-explanatory. But I feel that my use of the term ‘activism’ for my other activities requires some introduction/explanation. So copied here is the ‘About Activism‘ page …
Widespread fears of an apocalyptic future elicit equally dangerous responses: nihilistic thoughts and decadent lifestyles that accelerate environmental destruction, or fundamentalist intolerance that exacerbates social-political conflict. The only safe approach to suspicions of the apocalypse is adaptation through activism. (Richard Eckersley*)
In his article (which I urge you to read – find link below) Eckersley talks of the “hope and creative energy of activism” in contrast to the “decadence and degeneracy of nihilism” and the “dogma and rigidity of fundamentalism”.
This notion of activism is the best word I have for what I’ve been doing since (and indeed during) my PhD work. My PhD was primarily motivated by wanting to bring spirituality into the discourse around suicide and suicide prevention. OK, this was always going to be tough within academia, though we sort of got there on the end. But I was not prepared for the brick wall of dogma and prejudice that I found in contemporary Suicidology, and also in the field of mental health more generally, and then, even more widely, in the campaign for the rights of all people with disabilities.