Making Change Module
- Recognize the importance of mad activism as a social and cultural movement which fosters positive individual and community identity
- Distinguish between advocacy and activism and explain their roles in social change
- Understand how mad activism and advocacy reorders power structures, affording new and different alliances and services
- Recognize the range of tools for advocacy and activism
- A documentary about the Utopian MPA, a radical mental patients’ organization that formed in Vancouver in the early 1970s
- A virtual scrapbook by David Reville, a patient who made madness political by becoming activist, politician and educator
- A 15 minute video about Toronto’s mental health activists, highlighting issues and personal stories
- A song that celebrates madness and autonomy by community expert Irit Shimrat, a former patient who rejects mainstream treatment models
Ask your students to write a 250-word letter about their understanding of the essential role of advocacy and activism, both in the lives of people with mental health difficulties, and in their own practice. Students should use the artefacts that they have examined in this module to develop their points in their letter and address their letter to one of the following people:
- Lanny Beckman
- Don Weitz
- Mel Starkman
- Irit Shimrat
Module Learning Lens
The MPA saved my life.
These were the profound words of Alex Verkade, one of the community experts who contributed to this project. They rang true with many of us who have come to understand the vital role that engagement in empowering communities plays in our lives.
These communities develop when people who struggle with their mental health come together alongside others with shared experiences, and their allies, to become not only receivers of services, but instead taking active roles as citizens and community members in shaping the circumstances of their own lives. Alex Verkade, like other mad activists, found work and a positive self-identity in helping create grassroots mental health services and pushing for change within the mental health system. Community experts told us that what is needed in the mental health system is more than service providers providing the same services with a smile and pleasant demeanour. Instead, practitioners need to see advocacy and activism organizations as positive forces, both as healing for service users and as places for finding knowledgeable allies and helpful signposts to best mental health practice.
Historically, this has occurred through activist organizations like the Mental Patients Association, which provides an example of how a community created their own solutions to unjust treatment and lack of supports, while also advocating for wider systems change. Today, it happens when we celebrate rather than condemn madness – for example through the Mad Pride movement and Icarus Project – and when we advocate for empowering changes in the mental health system.
This module asks students to consider the role of advocacy and activism, both in the lives of people with mental health difficulties, and in all of the attitudes and practices of people who support them. As Alex shared, this work saves lives.