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  • Writer's pictureTamar

Mad Studies: David tackles 'Madness & The Demand for Recognition'

The Easter break saw much smaller group convene for Mad Studies. We had a very informal meetup, and spent the first half of the meeting sharing experiences and discussing issues pertaining to service user involvement, activism and working. Although this wasn't planned, it felt as though it suited a need and fit with the core aim of the group, which is to support Lived Experience Practitioners through sharing knowledge from an experiential lens - it just so happened that the knowledge was coming from within the group rather than the two planned literature readings.

We discussed one of the two reading assignments - the first half of Chapter 1 of Mohammed Abouelleil Rashed's 'Madness and the Demand for Recognition'.

Group member David Gibbs kindly led the discussion with his synopsis of the reading, which is below:

Mental health activism and the demand for recognition

By Mohammed Abouelleil Rashed

Synopsis of pages 1-17


The purpose of mad studies activism is to “push back … against disqualification and discrimination” (page 3) and to have a voice in the conversation about treatment and recovery for users and survivors of mental health services. It is a fight about identity, recognition and the use of language in society.


The author gives an historical overview of activism drawing links with civil and gay rights and other movements with their quests to fight stigma, for the right to self-determination and identification. He identifies a conservative tendency in the early 20th century that detained patients for moral as well as medical reasons which was resisted. In the 1960s the “antipsychiatrists” appeared to be sympathetic and resisted the established views about the reasons for and treatment of mental health. The 70s highlighted the suspicion that surrounded psychiatry and medication but instead was more favourable to group therapy and “consciousness-raising” (9) to identify real issues, resisting stereotypes and the pathology of madness.

The 80s saw a move with patients recognised as “users of services” (10) becoming a part of or co-opted in policy making, advocacy and self help groups. It saw the emergence of two groups in the 90s “first orientated toward consumer discourse and involvement and the second toward survivors, with a relatively more radical tone and concern for human rights.” (11) Throughout he argues that this is a contested and ambiguous history which included different views that influenced both practice and resistance.

Survivor identity

The author describes the move from the imposed identity of patient to the self-defined term and what is regarded as more positive title, survivor. However, he raises an interesting point has one survived the institution or the illness? “Central to survivor identity is the importance of the voice of survivors and their ability to tell their own stories” (13) because they are the experts by their own experience of treatment, stigma and discrimination.

The meaning of madness

He outlines the fuzzy boundaries in mental health diagnosis and the philosophy of essentialism. He argues that identity is to place oneself in a relationship with different categories e.g. madness; we are asking what does it mean? However, they are open to redefinition “hence collective activism to reclaim certain categories and redefine them in positive ways.” (16)

“Mad activism starts with shared experiences of oppression, stigma, and mistreatment, it continues with the rejection of biomedical language and reclamation of the term mad, and proceeds by developing content to madness and hence to Mad identity.” (17)

Massive thank you to David for the above synopsis and leading the discussion on this. David has also offered to present a synopsis of 'A Call For Social Justice', at our next meeting - which is tomorrow at 5pm, 52, Pritchatts Road, Birmingham. You can find a copy of the synopsis for this here.

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