Two weeks ago, on Friday September 18 2015, people assembled at Ontario Institute for Education of the University of Toronto for the last of the three international book launches for Psychiatry and the Business of Madness, preceded that same day by a press conference. While others also spoke, major scheduled speakers included the author (me), Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP) Cheri DiNovo, and leading Canadian mental health lawyer Anita Szigeti. There were many wonderful highlights of the evening. Ones that immediately come to mind are: the articulation of the findings of the research, all leading to the inescapable conclusion that psychiatry has no foundation and should be phased out (and while admittedly, it would be difficult under the circumstances, not a soul raised an objection). Member of Parliament Cheri DiNovo’s thrilling statement that while it was virtually impossible to move on “reining in psychiatry” before, “now we have the facts -- and now there is no excuse.” Leading mental health lawyer Anita Szigeti declaring Psychiatry and the Business of Madness a must-read for lawyers and professionals everywhere. ECT survivor Connie Neil bearing witness to the atrocity to which she was subjected. All good. All riveting.
That said, there are several astounding facts about the Toronto book launch that are not captured in this description. Half an hour into the launch, according to the official count, there were 158 people in attendance. I kid you not! 158! And an hour later, there were at least 15 additional people. This is an amazing turnout for the launch of any book, never mind something as far from the mainstream as antipsychiatry. And what adds to the triumph, well before the launch began, there was standing room only, with the Nexus Lounge at OISE (room where the launch was held) virtually packed to the rafters. “Bonnie, never in its history has any event in the Nexus Lounge drawn so many,” observed one excited OISE staff member in amazement. Moreover, people remained the full two hours, including the people who were standing. Which leads me to ask these questions:
How is it that such a huge crowd showed up? And how is it that so many people, who after all were only able to stand, remained without budging a full two hours?
Something of an enigma, though there are a number of possible answers. To touch on a few of these:
Answer One: All of the speakers were well known. Absolutely true. And without question, the reputation of the speakers was a factor. That said, reputation is clearly not the whole of it for we have had a number of these speakers together on a stage before, with nothing like such a stellar result.
Answer Two: The organizers did a great job publicizing. Again, true—and much thanks to everyone for the hard work. However, despite doing what was ostensibly a first rate job of publicizing before—at one point several years ago, note, we even had a professional publicist helping us—never have we drawn an audience of this proportion.
Answer Three: The book was known to be controversial: This is the least compelling of the answers for everything critical of psychiatry is controversial. And again, historically, such events have not tended to deliver anything close to this turnout.
Which brings me to a final answer—one that I am suggesting has considerable explanatory value: There is a hunger out there for a foundational critique of psychiatry—something that pulls no punches, minces no words. That is, there is a hunger for a reasoned antipsychiatry position. Something that explains how we ended up here, provides solid evidence that psychiatry should be abandoned, and begins theorizing what we might do instead. Moreover—and here we connect up with the first answer—people were acutely aware that this is exactly what this book and this launch were all about.
Elsewhere I have written that the tide is turning against psychiatry (see http://www.madinamerica.com/2015/09/yes-the-tide-is-turning-against-psychiatry/). May I suggest that the turnout on September 18th is yet another indicator that this is so.
What is, as it were, an accompanying indicator, besides that the audience were hanging on the various presenters' every word, who was present was not just “the usual suspects.” In attendance was a clear cross section of society, from youth to the elderly, from survivors to professionals, from the mainstream to the counter culture, from the poor to the ostensibly well off. Again, all of which would have been unthinkable but a few years ago.
There is a change in the air. People have come to strongly suspect that the emperor “has no clothes.” A minority for sure, but a healthy minority are ready to start entertaining modes of living together and of approaching human distress in profoundly different ways. And indeed, the people in attendance could sense that change, additionally could sense that everyone around them could sense it too. Hence the high spirits.
The point here is, while social change agents often declare events historical moments which prove not to be, and oftentimes we are simply hoping that our words will be self-fulfilling, there was a palpable feeling in the room that we had genuinely arrived at one such moment. Only time will tell whether rightly or wrongly.
Was there any downside to the day? There was, and fellow old-timers in the movement may well be able to guess what–-the conspicuous absence of the media.
How many “regular” members of “The Fifth Estate” turned up? Despite a major effort on the part of the organizers, including reaching out to over 300 media people, in a word, none. But in this very conundrum or rather in our response to it lay part of the beauty and the brilliance of that day. We responded in the only way that made sense—proactively. Having been “around the block” enough times that we had more than an inkling that this would happen, we met four days prior to the event to strategize. We proceeded to create our own press—“The Peoples' Press”—and that press turned up in full force at both events, asked insightful questions, and covered and indeed covered brilliantly several of the more stirring highlights of the day—of the press conference in particular (for highlights of the press conference, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjtJvjDG4uM).
So the bad news is, the mainstream media is still ignoring this book (Burstow, 2015). They are likewise ignoring Whitaker's and Cosgrove's (2015) book and indeed, all the leading antipsychiatry and critical psychiatry publications that have come out this year (for a discussion of why and for a number of suggestions about what to do about it, see http://www.madinamerica.com/2015/04/getting-anticritical-psychiatry-authors-read-case-book-activism/). The good news is the organizers did not rely on the traditional media (a default mode which ill serves us). We were proactive. And thanks to a combined effort, both the book and the event are literally “all over” the social media—and note, as long as this is the case, sooner or later the mainstream press will be forced to take note.
The power of the social media—herein lay the new reality. Albeit hardly everything—and we ignore its limitations to our detriment—it substantially alters the “playing field.” Moreover and more to the point, it works to the advantage of those of us involved in counterhegemonic struggle.
To end this article with one final highlight of that memorable day, that evening Member of Parliament Cheri DiNovo spoke confidently of our winning this fight—a note that we had not heard struck by a legislator heretofore. Correspondingly, she reminded us of the famous Gandhi quote: “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. And then you win.” (see http://philosiblog.com/2011/05/25/first-they-ignore-you/).
I would add, while we are still in the “ignoring” stage, there are distinct signs of fighting here and there (e.g., the special issue of Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica; see http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acps.2014.131.issue-1/issuetoc).
Moreover, 158 people plus from all walks of life turning up at a launch of this ilk is hardly being ignored!
Burstow, B. (2015). Psychiatry and the business of madness. New York; Palgrave.