The organized psychiatric inmates’ liberation movement in North America began in 1970 with the founding of the Insane Liberation Front in Portland, Oregon. Dorothy Weiner and Howie the Harp are the people usually associated with its creation. Soon thereafter, activist groups of psychiatric survivors sprang up in New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Vancouver. By the early ‘80s, there were 70 such groups in North America, Europe, and Australia.
Madness Network News, founded in 1972 by two women inmates of Agnews State Hospital, was an anti-psychiatry journal that served as the focal point for organizing throughout North America, and even overseas. From 1976 to its demise in 1986, the journal was written, edited, and produced entirely by psychiatric survivors (people who had been in psychiatric institutions), with the exception of one spouse of a survivor. In addition to its role in inspiring ex-psychiatric inmates to take political action, it also served as a place where people could truthfully write about their experiences as mad people, and survivors of psychiatric oppression.
In an office next door was its sister organization, Network Against Psychiatric Assault, or NAPA, which organized protests and educational events regarding extreme human rights violations and psychological oppression being perpetuated against current and former inmates of psychiatric hospitals. NAPA was started by Leonard Frank and Wade Hudson, in order to oppose all forms of forced psychiatric treatment.
In addition to numerous demonstrations against ECT (electro-convulsive treatment), NAPA presented frequent film showings and seminars on topics related to the issue of forced drugging. (The films “Hurry Tomorrow” and “Do No Harm” were often shown.) NAPA also produced and sold literature about the harmful effects of ECT and drugs, including Leonard Frank’s book “The History of Shock Treatment” and Dr. Caligari’s booklet “Psychiatric Drugs,” which became an underground classic.
MNN and NAPA rejected the term “mental illness.” They did not believe that psychiatric survivors had any particular illness or mental impairment, other than the emotional and physical damage created by brain-damaging tranquilizers, electroshock, poverty, institutionalization, oppressive family situations, and/or the stigma against people who had been in psychiatric institutions.
While the terms “mentally ill” and “mental patient” are often associated with the mass murderers and others who threaten the social fabric, rarely are successful and creative people identified that way. Yet many ex-inmate members of NAPA became (or already were) lawyers, journalists, book authors, editors, musicians, program administrators, professional patient advocates, artists—as well as a researcher for a large hospital, a neurologist, an acupuncturist, a college professor, a nurse, and a landscape designer.
The well-known feminist author Kate Millett was briefly a member, and said later that her contact with the ex-inmate movement helped inspire her to write the book “The Loony Bin Trip” about her own experiences of incarceration.
Madness Network News and the NAPA offices were located first on Market Street in San Francisco for many years, then on Capp Street in San Francisco, and finally on University Avenue in Berkeley. In addition to the two inmates who founded the paper, in the beginning, the paper was the creation of both psychiatric survivors and dissident mental health professionals.
As it evolved after its inception, aside from the participation of one ex-inmate, the staff consisted entirely of dissident mental health professionals. In 1976, the psychiatric survivors who were involved with NAPA protested against what they perceived as a pattern of repeated discrimination and exclusion of ex-inmates from participation in running the paper. When confronted, the mental health professionals claimed that the paper’s staff had always been open to anyone.
The response of the ex-inmates to this bit of obfuscation was to demand to know when the next staff meeting was, since the editors had never been willing to tell any of them when the meetings were occurring. They were given a date and time, and when the appointed time arrived, none of the mental health professionals showed up. The one ex-inmate who was on the staff did show up, and tried to cancel the meeting, but the group of ex-inmates refused to let it be cancelled.
Without any communication or explanation, none of the mental health professionals ever returned to work on the paper, but one of them, Dr. Caligari, was kind enough to show one of the new editors the mechanics of doing lay-out and where to take it to get printed.
From then on, Madness Network News became the legendary voice of the psychiatric survivor movement. While many activists came and went at the paper, the primary staff of Madness during the ten-year period when it represented the survivor movement were: myself (often using the pen name of Arrow), Tanya Temkin, Dianne Walker, Kelso Walker, Judy Hughes, and Anne Boldt.
Those who also made valuable contributions during their brief periods of involvement as staff members (during the period when it was produced by psych survivors) were Howie Harp, Leonard Frank, Sally Zinman, Ted Chabasinksi, Jeannie Andrews, Deedee NiHera—and others too numerous to mention. Hundreds of people were involved as contributors of articles, poetry, and art work. Tanya Temkin’s brilliant artwork was featured on numerous Madness covers.
Women Against Psychiatric Assault (WAPA) was formed when a 17-year-old girl was being given ECT against her will at Herrick Hospital in Berkeley. A hospital staff person contacted NAPA and a demonstration was held, consisting of many women not previously involved. This then became the core of WAPA. (The demonstration was successful in stopping the shock treatment of this young woman.) WAPA was both a support group for women psychiatric survivors and a political action group.
In 1976, NAPA members came up with the idea for a sit-in at Governor Jerry Brown’s office, to protest forced labor without pay and forced treatment and incarceration in state hospitals. Wade Hudson and myself were the organizers of the sit-in. Jackie Daymoon and Saralinda Grimes brought a strong contingent of women from WAPA.
The sit-in, held in Jerry Brown’s outer office, was so successful that the group decided to keep it going for another two weeks, with an around-the-clock presence in his outer office at the state capitol.
An MNN cover showing some members of the sit-in in Gov. Brown’s office in 1976. (Photo by Richard Cohen, courtesy of Richard Cohen films.)
During the sit-in, NAPA and WAPA organized a Tribunal on Psychiatric Crimes which was held in the governor’s outer office on July 14, 1976. It was attended by approximately 150 people, many of whom gave testimony about the terrible and inhumane treatment they had experienced. The Tribunal received excellent media coverage, including a front-page article in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle.
During the sit-in, some members of the group met with Gov. Brown to discuss the issues and show him Richard Cohen’s film “Hurry Tomorrow,” a devastating documentary about life on a locked psychiatric ward. The immediate effect of the sit-in was to spark an investigation into inmate deaths in the California state hospital system, which received a tremendous amount of publicity.
Although the sit-in was not successful in ending forced drugging and forced labor without pay, it did shine a spotlight on the issue of forced drugging and over-medication, and set the stage for the legal and legislative battle that followed some years later—the Riese v. St. Mary’s Hospital court case. (The story of Eleanor Riese and her attorneys Colette Hughes and Mort Cohen was recently dramatized in a major motion picture called 55 Steps.)
After the CA Supreme Court affirmed the right of short-term involuntary patients to give informed consent or refusal to psychiatric drugs in the Riese case, there was a huge battle in the legislature to get it passed there. (Since the court case was based on CA legislation, the legislature had the ability to overturn it.) Members of the California Network of Mental Health Clients played a decisive role in getting the legislation passed, along with dedicated patient advocates and lawyers, and the ACLU.
NAPA’s frequent protests and the attendant publicity regarding forced psychiatric treatment undoubtedly helped speed up the creation of a statewide patients’ rights advocacy system, with a government-funded Office of Patients Rights in each county in California.
In the early days of the movement, ex-inmate activists organized an annual International Conference on Human Rights and Psychiatric Oppression. Although only two of these conferences were held in the Bay Area (Tilden Park in Berkeley and at an art museum in SF), the staff of Madness Network News coordinated the conferences that were held every year in different parts of the country. Each year during the International Conference, the participants held a demonstration at an appropriate location.
In 1978, hundreds of Conference participants and friends demonstrated at the Smith, Kline, and French headquarters in Philadelphia to protest the vast profits made from dangerous mind-control chemicals, such as Thorazine and Stelazine. Also at that conference, a national boycott of all SKF products was organized. In 1977, the Conference called for a national day of protest against psychosurgy (lobotomy), and demonstrations were later held in eight cities.
In 1982, 16 Conference participants, who called themselves the Psychiatric Inmates Liberation Lobby, were arrested while holding a silent vigil in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel in Toronto, where they were protesting the Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
During the protest, demonstrators sat silently in a circle on the floor, holding signs assailing such psychiatric crimes as forced treatment with brain-damaging drugs, electroshock, and psychosurgery. A large crowd of supporters, police, hotel security, reporters, and smirking psychiatrists gathered around the silent group. After an hour and a half, supporters were forced to leave the lobby, and members of the vigil were dragged to waiting police vans.
Later, psychiatric survivors became active as legal advocates and began attending the annual conference of the National Association of Rights Protection and Advocacy (NARPA), where a number of them served on the Board of Directors. This conference, consisting of lawyers, advocates, and psychiatric survivors, eventually took the place of the Conference on Human Rights and Psychiatric Oppression. Psychiatric survivors were frequent presenters at the annual NARPA conference, and that of other state and national patients’ rights legal organizations.
Mental Health Consumer Concerns (MHCC), founded by Jay Mahler in Contra Costa County, became a model ex-inmate-controlled Office of Patients Rights, a model which was then repeated in other counties. At MHCC, psychiatric survivors worked as patient advocates, representing people at their short-term certification hearings and assisting them in resolving complaints about hospital treatment and conditions.
Due to the heightened awareness of the ex-inmate advocates about what life was like for psychiatric inmates, and empathy for the circumstances that led to the person’s incarceration, MHCC had one of the highest patient release rates of any county in the state. Psychiatric survivors also served as the organization’s administrators.
In 1982, ex-inmate activists in Berkeley, organized as The Coalition to Stop Electroshock, put a measure on the city’s ballot to ban electroshock. Ted Chabasinski, who had received shock treatment at age six, took the lead in organizing the campaign. The measure made electroshock a crime in Berkeley, punishable by six months imprisonment, a fine of not more than $500, or both. An activist who was very talented as a singer and songwriter won the support of the black community by going to church services and singing about the death of Lynette Miller, a black teenager who was killed by ECT.
The shock ban was passed by an overwhelming number of votes. The psychiatric associations sued to have it overturned, and there followed a battle for many years to ensure that it be upheld in court. Since the city attorney was not familiar with patients’ rights issues, the Coalition to Stop Electroshock became an intervenor so they could have a patients’ rights attorney present arguments in the case. The case was ultimately dismissed by summary judgment, and the Coalition was not given the opportunity to participate.
The city appealed it to the California Supreme Court, where the justices refused to hear the case. A year or so later, when one of the Supreme Court justices was giving a presentation to the public about human rights at the UC Berkeley Law School, local activists held a demonstration and disrupted his speech to protest the court’s allowing the shock ban to be overturned without even a hearing of the case.
In the mid-seventies, psychiatric survivors had their own radio show on Pacifica radio station KPFA, entitled “Radio Free Madness.” They provided first hand coverage of the sit-in at the governor’s office and interviewed psychiatric survivors about their personal struggles and political activism.
NAPA organized repeated demonstrations against ECT in San Francisco. As a result, the city stopped performing ECT for 10 years. When a panel of government officials met in SF to discuss a plan to re-introduce lobotomies for children and prisoners, NAPA disrupted their meeting, and the plans to bring back lobotomy were dropped.
Every time the APA held their Annual Meeting in San Francisco, NAPA and members of other psychiatric survivor groups were there to protest. In later years, after the demise of NAPA and Madness Network News, Mind Freedom International (founded by David Oaks and located in Eugene, Oregon) continued with this tradition.
An MNN cover depicting a protest at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. Psychiatric survivors block the main entrance to the APA conference building. An unknown person removed some of the letters from the announcement for the meeting overhead. (Photo by Kelso Walker.)
The End of MNN
Why did Madness Network News come to an end? I have seen commentaries that explain that it got taken over by the “consumer” movement and that the creators decided to compromise their fiercely-held anti-psychiatry beliefs in exchange for cushy government-funded jobs in the mental illness industry.
That never happened. What happened is the longtime editors got burnt out. For many years, they were able to support the work of the paper and the movement fueled entirely by idealistic passion. The need for a secure income and stable future was of little or no concern.
Eventually, dedicating their lives 24/7 to fighting psychiatric oppression began to take its toll. One longtime staff person died at an early age. One developed major health challenges that required her to withdraw from activism for a while. Several left the paper to get advanced degrees or training, and went into careers that were unrelated to the mental health system. Only one staff person, who was a founder of the movement for peer-run drop-in centers and government-funded consumer groups, continued doing that work.
When the longtime editors could no longer put out the paper, they turned it over to an ex-inmate activist from another state who had experience editing an alternative journal. She, and the one remaining MNN staff person, changed the focus of the paper from organizing against psychiatry to denouncing the psychiatric survivors who they thought should be doing a better job of organizing against psychiatry.
They failed to note the irony of the fact that it was always the editors of MNN who had provided the impetus for the protests in the Bay Area, and for quite a few of the conferences and protests in other parts of the country. If “they” were no longer organizing protests, as the MNN editors were claiming, maybe they needed to look in the mirror for the source of that problem.
Eventually, and perhaps inevitably, the two remaining editors ended up denouncing each other, and the paper folded.
It is my hope, in writing this account of what could be described as the halcyon days of the psychiatric survivors’/anti-psychiatry movement, that other individuals and groups will take up the challenge and continue this tradition. There are already signs that new anti-psychiatry groups are beginning to emerge, and I hope this history will give a big boost to those, and similar, efforts.