David Oaks, Director: MindFreedom International

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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.”


Read a profile of Oaks from the Los Angeles Times Sunday Magazine. Listen to Oaks discuss forced psychiatric treatment on National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation, and see him discuss myriad mental-health topics in an interview filmed at a conference of the World Association for Psychosocial Rehabilitation. Read why he thinks psychiatric survivors and the disability rights movement should work together at Enabled Online. Finally, check out the article from Minneapolis alternative weekly City Pages about Ray Sandford, a man subject to forced electroshock treatment whose cause has been taken up by MindFreedom.

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