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.