'Mad Pride' Activists Say They're Unique, Not Sick

Some worry that refusing meds is a dangerous game for people with mental illness, especially after hearing about cases such as the University of North Carolina law student who, in January 1995, gunned down a popular lacrosse student and a McDonald's manager because he suffered schizophrenic delusions; or the Virginia Tech shooter Seung-hui Cho, who killed 32 people and wounded 25; and, of course, the infamous John Hinckley Jr., who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and was eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity.

In each incident, people believed to suffer from mental illness were believed to be unmedicated and untreated at the time of their crimes.

Mad Pride Activists Say They Are 'Anti-Bullying,' Not Anti-Medication

But David Oaks, a prominent Mad Pride activist and a leader of the advocacy organization MindFreedom International, agreed with others in the Mad Pride movement who feel stereotyping the mentally ill is a serious mistake.

"The vast majority of people with psychiatric diagnoses," Oaks said, "including serious psychiatric diagnoses like schizophrenia and psychosis and bipolar -- we're law-abiding, we're peaceful."

Oaks said MindFreedom International seeks to work for social change in the mental health system. He stresses that Mad Pride is not anti-medication, but rather it is anti-bullying, and he asserts that it should be a patient's choice whether or not to accept medication.

"Most of our members have experienced things like forced drugging," Oaks said. "We are people who have experienced human rights abuses in the mental health system."

Oaks' personal experience propelled his involvement in mental health advocacy. Oaks is a Harvard graduate who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder in the 1970s, while still a student at the prestigious university.

"I thought the CIA was making my teeth grow, I thought the TV was personally talking just to me, that the radio had the voice of God," Oaks recalled.

Overwhelmed by delusions, Oaks was admitted into a psychiatric institution, where he says he was treated aggressively and forcibly medicated.

"They brought me to a solitary confinement room, and I always remember being pushed down on a bare mattress and having my pants ripped down and getting forced injections more than once," Oaks said.

Today, 33 years later, he proudly calls himself a "psychiatric survivor." Oaks chooses to treat his mental problems with alternatives to medication, such as specialized nutrition, exercise and gardening.

Critics Say Rejecting Medication Is Nothing But Reckless

But critics argue that rejecting one's medication in favor of using alternative treatments alone is nothing but reckless. Art Caplan, a professor of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, said Mad Pride shouldn't take a one-size-fits-all policy, and the movement doesn't take into account those suffering mental illness who are a danger to themselves or others if they remain un-medicated.

"There are people who turn violent," Caplan said. "They don't want to take their medications. ... I'd rather see situations where we protect other people by sometimes forcing medicine, if that's the situation."

However, similar to Oaks, Shive chooses alternatives to monitor her emotional episodes and also uses what she calls her "mad map" instead of taking medication. On paper, she plots out the triggers that can lead to mania, and couples them with her coping mechanisms.

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