David Oaks, Director: MindFreedom International

Utne Reader visionary


| November-December 2009



David Oaks

Cue the psychotic murderer.

ABC News had just done a feature on mental health and had prominently featured MindFreedom International, a group that advocates for “psychiatric survivors” who have battled mental and emotional problems. But the second half of the show hinged on the lurid tale of a guy who had gone off his meds and committed an ax murder. Typical media sensationalism, says MindFreedom director David Oaks.

“How do you debate an ax murderer?” he vents. “There are no issues there. We’re pro-choice on taking psych drugs. So that was very frustrating.”

Despite constant frustrations like this—in fact, because of them—Oaks works to raise awareness about mental health issues and fight the media biases that he says reinforce cultural stigmas. His group’s members flaunt their “mad pride” and their right not to take medications, and they tell hair-raising stories of systemic abuses. Oaks himself is a psychiatric survivor who battled severe mental and emotional problems as a Harvard student decades ago.

“The human spirit is eccentric and unique and unconquerable and bizarre and unstoppable and wonderful,” he says. “So this is really about reclaiming what it is to be human in the face of so-called normality.”

Extras:

Mindy
11/24/2010 9:43:10 AM

I agree that David Oaks is a visionary. He has certainly changed the world, and he has been an inspiration to me. However, I do not believe that he will lead the revolution to reform the mental health system. I was on his e-mail list for five years. I made many suggestions for the "revolution." In recent times, I have tried phoning his office, (David Oaks accused me of being "rude" when I told his administrative assistant firmly but politely that I was unable to "hold" on the phone, but would have to call back), contacting an attorney who is a supporter of MindFreedom, and contacting the President of the MindFreedom Board of Directors-- all to make suggestions for the "revolution," and I have been rebuffed. The fact is that in many ways, oppression is getting only worse for individuals diagnosed with chronic and persistent mental illnesses. Inpatient commitment is horrendous, but at least once an individual is discharged from the hospital, he or she is free to find a new provider and quickly get re-evaluated. Now, with increasing push for "outpatient commitment" or mandated outpatient treatment, people can be sentenced to long-term forced "treatments," and possibly the wrong treatments, and even worse, for a misdiagnosis, and the consequences can be potentially grave. Who knows how long it could be until someone is entitled to return to Court for a reconsidered decision? One could certainly die in the meantime. -from another psychiatric survivor


Mindy
11/24/2010 9:35:15 AM

I agree that David Oaks is a visionary. He has certainly changed the world, and he has been an inspiration to me. However, I do not believe that he will lead the revolution to reform the mental health system. I was on his e-mail list for five years. I made many suggestions for the "revolution." In recent times, I have tried phoning his office, (David Oaks accused me of being "rude" when I told his administrative assistant firmly but politely that I was unable to "hold" on the phone, but would have to call back), contacting an attorney who is a supportor of MindFreedom, and contacting the President of the MindFreedom Board of Directors-- all to make suggestions for the "revolution," and I have been rebuffed. The fact is that in many ways, oppression is getting only worse for individuals diagnosed with chronic and persistent mental illnesses. Inpatient commitment is horrendous, but at least once an individual is discharged from the hospital, he or she is free to find a new provider and quickly get re-evaluated. Now, with increasing push for "outpatient commitment" or mandated outpatient treatment, people can be sentenced to long-term forced "treatments," and possibly the wrong treatments, and even worse, for a misdiagnosis, and the consequences can be potentially grave. Who knows how long it could be until someone is entitled to return to Court for a reconsidered decision? One could certainly die in the meantime. -from another psychiatric survivor


antthony_1
1/19/2010 6:59:42 AM

I have been following the mad pride movement for years and feel deeply encouraged by there work and endorse them with all my heart david oaks is a genius he has my respect


louis kayser_3
11/7/2009 3:52:26 PM

I met David Oaks at a ect protest in St. Paul,Mn.He is very dedicated to his work and i see no fault about him at all, he is definately for real.


Bob Bennett
10/21/2009 1:18:34 AM

David has done a lot of good work over the years, and a fair portion of advances made in mental health can be attributed, in part, to the pressure he has put on the establishment. However, as is all too common in human endeavors, he is running the risk of refighting the last war. It is time for re-evualtion, recognizing gains made... and setting new goals. I do wish him (and us) well.


Ptery Lieght_1
10/20/2009 10:41:00 PM

Bravo, Unte, Aside from the toning down of how awful Psychiatry is, I am really glad someone noticed David Oaks' genius and gave him credit. He has been the king of networking and organizing, getting others to work together and supported sooooo many people in his wake. Hopefully, more people will get curious and look into what he has been battling, and start talking about it. No-one should have to endure forced treatment and experimentation.


Bill O'Dowd
10/20/2009 8:51:18 PM

This is a pathetic article. It gets almost as much wrong as the ABC piece. For starters, a psychiatric survivor isn't someone who has 'battled emotional problems'... a psychiatric survivor is someone who has survived the human rights atrocities of coercive psychiatry. It is analogous to a holocaust survivor or torture survivor. I say that knowing full well, unlike the rest of the world, that 300,000 estimated people with psych labels were liquidated in the holocaust. It's offensive, that these 'media organizations' consistently, without fail, get stories on psychiatric survivors dead wrong. I'm appalled. I'm absolutely appalled.


Ana_1
10/20/2009 6:11:04 PM

I'm sorry! It's not David Oaks who is working in a governmental commission. It's Daniel Fisher from National Empowerment Center. I'm very glad that he is doing it. We need it all.


Ana_1
10/20/2009 5:54:29 PM

I did a comment with a link to PHILIP DAWDY's blog. Please take the link away and publish the comment. I will not write it again because I'm not spaming but I'm sure it will not be published.


Ana_1
10/20/2009 5:53:14 PM

Well deserved! Finally someone remember of mental health. I would like to remember that Philip Dawdy is doing a lot at his blog Furious Seasons: http://www.furiousseasons.com/ He is dedicating his life and career to raise awareness on the harms of psych-drugs. I know we are far from having this scandal being at the mainstream media but someone has to start. I'm glad that David has his recognition but one has to remember that he is working on a governmental institution. Hat tip for him.


Nicolas Martin
10/20/2009 5:01:34 PM

Mr. Oaks admirably continues a battle started by the great Thomas Szasz in 1961 with the publication of his book, "The Myth of Mental Illness." Psychiatry is a fraud and a menace. It's scientific pretensions have been thoroughly debunked by Szasz; now it is time to strip it of its coercive powers. No person should be subject to any medical treatment against his will.


Vicki Fox Smith
10/20/2009 5:00:45 PM

David Oaks has worked long and hard with, and for, people who consider mental health treatment to be a social justice issue. It's a never-ending battle and David gets up every morning and just "does it." He is always professional and always warmly human. Despite having to fight the same battles over and over again, he never gives up. I am proud to call him a friend and colleague.