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Mad in America: Rethinking Mental Health

The Mad in America podcast, hosted by James Moore, examines mental health with a critical eye by speaking with psychologists, psychiatrists and people with lived experience.

When you hear such conversations, you realise that much of what is believed to be settled in mental health is actually up for debate. Is mental health a matter of faulty biology or is there more to it? Are the treatments used in psychiatry helpful or harmful in the long term? Are psychiatric diagnoses reliable? With the help of our guests, we examine these questions and so much more. 

This podcast is part of Mad in America’s mission to serve as a catalyst for rethinking psychiatric care and mental health. We believe that the current drug-based paradigm of care has failed our society and that scientific research, as well as the lived experience of those who have been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, calls for profound change. 

On the podcast over the coming weeks, we will have interviews with experts and those with lived experience of the psychiatric system. Thank you for joining us as we discuss the many issues around rethinking mental health around the world.

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Oct 7, 2017

This week, Mad in America editor Emily Sheera Cutler presents the first in a series of interviews that examine the many important issues around forced treatment and cognitive liberty. The series will examine philosophical, theological, and sociological perspectives on coercive treatment.

In this first part, Emily interviews two well known and very respected academics and activists Bonnie Burstow and Nick Walker. Central to both Bonnie and Nick’s work is the concept of cognitive liberty or freedom and integrity of the mind. Early proponents of cognitive liberty have defined it as the right to control one’s own consciousness and be free from mind-altering drugs and technologies, as well as the right to use mind-enhancing drugs and technologies without facing legal consequences. Contemporary proponents of cognitive liberty have expanded the definition to include the right to experience and express each and every thought, feeling, state of mind, and belief as long as it does not harm anyone else. Both Bonnie and Nick describe cognitive liberty as the right to express oneself authentically. In this first episode, they get to the core of why so many human rights activists oppose forced treatment – it can interfere with people’s rights to be themselves.

In this episode we discuss:

  • How Bonnie became an antipsychiatry activist and scholar, and why she sees the institution of psychiatry as a human rights violation
  • How Nick became a neurodiversity scholar through his involvement with the Autistic rights movement
  • The difference between the neurodiversity paradigm, which views neurological, mental, and cognitive differences on the natural spectrum of human diversity, and the pathology paradigm, which assumes there is a right way or healthy way of being and to differ from it is unhealthy
  • What it means for each person to have cognitive liberty and be able to express their own unique way of being and processing the world without repercussions
  • How psychiatry curtails our cognitive liberty and freedom of mind by pathologizing difference to justify forceful and coercive measures
  • The social model of disability, which states that people are disabled by lack of access and discrimination, not by medical conditions or internal deficits
  • How the social model of disability intersects with neurodiversity and antipsychiatry but also falls short
  • That Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) constitutes a human rights abuse against Autistic children, forcing and coercing them to act more normal and less different
  • That other behaviour therapies and even humanistic therapies can be coercive as well
  • That the autism industry profits off of the pathology paradigm, convincing parents there is something wrong with their Autistic children and that it is not okay to be Autistic, and their children need to be subjected to ABA and other “treatments”
  • How antipsychiatry and neurodiversity intersect with feminism and queer studies
  • Why it is necessary for educators to teach students “mad literacy” from an early age
  • The importance of writing and publishing literature with accurate, positive representations of neurodivergent and Mad people
  • How we can build communities in which people support one another through emotional distress without violating anyone’s autonomy or restricting anyone’s freedom
  • Why the conventional notion of “suicide prevention” is problematic and can serve to take away people’s coping skills
  • How the ideas of somatic therapy can help us support people in distress

Relevant Links

Bonnie Burstow

Nick Walker

Bonnie Burstow’s articles for Mad in America

The Bonnie Burstow Scholarship in Antipsychiatry

Autonomous Press

Throw Away the Master’s Tools: Liberating Ourselves from the Pathology Paradigm by Nick Walker

Neuroqueer: An Introduction by Nick Walker

The social model of disability vs. the medical model of disability

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© Mad in America 2017