In the Blog
Empowering psychiatric survivors
As the activist at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape (TRCC/MWAR) who gets the awesome privilege of being in leadership of the annual event, Take Back the Night, my brain is already on themes for the event (TBTN is a global event which happens in many cities to protest our right to walk the streets free of violence).
I reflected on the idea of counseling in this city. As a counselor, I keep seeing women, trans people, youth and children accessing support from psychiatrists and institutions, and taking more prescribed drugs for what folks are being diagnosed with. So I thought a Take Back the Night event about the pathologizing/medicalizing of our experiences of violence would make sense. More and more, I see that survivors of sexual violence, lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer people, poor people, young people, and so many more are being diagnosed with things like depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, divided disorder, ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder), borderline personality, etc. Further, there are already many movements in Toronto that are making central the issue of psychiatric survivorship and the links between our bodies, our identities, psychiatric pharmaceuticals, electroshock, mental health institutions and the medicalization of our minds.
On May 6th, I went to an event/protest called Occupy Psychiatry, planned by Voices Against Psychiatric Assault and Occupy Toronto. The following is the speech I read at the event:
Hello, my name is deb singh and I am an activist and counselor at the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape. I want to begin by saying thank you to the Coaltion Against Psychiatric Assault and Occupy Toronto for having the TRCC/MWAR speak at this event. I also want to say thank you to all those who identify with the issues presented at today’s protest, those who are living with or loving someone who has been affected by the medicalization of our minds and thanks to you for making your experiences an activist issue through planning this event. i would also like to acknowledge that we are on Indigenous land of the Mississauga New Credit territories of the Anishnaabe peoples. At the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape, we are affected by the medicalization and psychiatrization of the mental health model. We are survivors who have been diagnosed with mental health disorders because we are survivors of sexual violence, domestic violence, childhood sexual abuse and institutional violence. We are survivors who have been discarded, incarcerated, stigmatized and invisibilized by the medical system of mental health. We are voices to our own struggle, who have been disempowered by the very institutions that say they are here to “help” (a colonial term at that). We are Indigenous women, women of colour, queer/trans/lesbian/bisexual people, we are cisgender men, we are poor, we have disAbilities. We are courageous. As a counselor at the TRCC/MWAR, we have watched institutions give women electroshock, stigmatize women in ways that further impact their lives, perpetuate violence on womens bodies, incarcerate women against their will and take away her freedom to live in her reality, as it is. We have also seen the money that gets poured into the psychiatrization of our lives, through the building of more mental health prisons, more “research” on mental health “disorders” and more drugs to subdue us into submission. We have also seen less money go to organizations and groups that provide peer based, feminist, anti-oppressive counseling. We have seen places like rape crisis centres and the Women’s Counseling, Referral and Education centre close its doors due to quote, lack of funding. But those of us who are here now know this is not about lack of funding. This is about social control, medicalizing our experiences of survivorship, criminalizing poor people through psychiatric incarceration and promoting psychiatry. SHAME! As a 38-year-old organization, the TRCC/MWAR continues to take leadership from communities who idenify as survivors of the psychiatry. We are aligned with survivors who have been told they have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). We are aligned with folks who have been diagnosed and both do, as well as don’t, agree/believe in their diagnosis. We are aligned with what survivors believe is the right support for them, within or outside the medical model of psychiartry. We believe survivors are the best resources for ourselves. We are against the state’s insistence that they know the answer to our “problems”: by the swallow of a pill or by a shock to our brains. We know that the struggle for justice is a long road, as the brilliant Bonnie Burstow shared with me last week; that psychiatry and its medicalization is affecting the lives of every day people vastly more than even 10 years ago. At the TRCC/MWAR, we want to empower all survivors to find pathways to their own healing. That will look different for every survivor. But we believe where psychiatry is and where it is headed it not the answer for us as a local and global community. We believe the answer to healing is within ourselves. Thank you.