Friday, March 21, 2008

Psychiatric Rehabilitation in the US: The consumer movement

There is a growing movement throughout the United States (and the world) of people calling themselves consumers, survivors, or ex-patients--who have been diagnosed with mental disorders and are working together to make change in the mental health system and in society. The consumer movement grew out of the idea that individuals who have experienced similar problems, life situations, or crises can effectively provide support to one another. According Sally Clay, one of the leaders of this movement,

The Consumer/Survivor Communities began 25 years ago with the anti-psychiatry movement. In the 1980's, ex-mental patients began to organize drop-in centers, artistic endeavors, and businesses. Now hundreds of such groups are flourishing throughout the country. Our conferences (many sponsored by NIMH) have been attended by thousands of people. More and more, consumers participate in the rest of the mental health system as members of policy-making boards and agencies.

When it began, there was an initial hostility toward the mental health system, but the consumer movement has evolved into a recovery model that encompasses everyone involved in caring for people with mental disorders.

From around the country, people who had been in treatment for schizophrenia and other forms of serious mental illness began coming out of the shadows and identifying ourselves. We were no longer willing to remain hiding, quietly suffering the ridicule and hostility that too often characterize people's reactions to serious mental illness. Slowly, we began to organize, forming local, state, and then national organizations for recovering persons and our allies. We advocated, trying to regain our rights as human beings. For the most part, the more articulate consumer-advocates felt that professionals, who so readily dismissed our point-of-view when we had been patients, were not to be trusted. Many of us felt we could make it "on our own." And why not? All of us had been diagnosed with having serious mental illnesses...About twelve years ago, however, some consumer-advocates began to suggest that many of us, particularly those who were most disabled, could not so easily make it "on our own."We suggested that most of us did indeed need other people: family members, friends, and often the help of experienced mental health professionals.

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