MFI First Conference on Choices in Mental Health, "Creative Revolution: Turning Our Minds Around"
Here's a report following the MindFreedom's conference/retreat about creating and promoting human alternatives to the conventional mental health system. [Revised 1 August 2007.]
Participants Praise the MindFreedom 2007 Conference
by Janet Foner, Choices in MH Conference Committee Chair
The conference was held with about 90 people, at a beautiful, welcoming retreat center, Wisdom House, in rural Connecticut, USA, for four days in July 2007.
Attending were five people from Iceland, one from England, two from Ireland, three from different Provinces of Canada, and several originally from other countries, who are now living in the USA.
People came from many parts of the USA, including Oregon, California, Alaska, Virginia, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York. It was a gathering of people mostly new to each other and to MFI, most of whom had a lot to share with each other about alternative recovery processes and/or places.
At the end of the conference, we held a farewell circle, with about 60 people who were able to stay for the ending. Each person said something about the conference.
We asked that suggestions for improvement be sent to our campaign email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Virtually all of the participants sounded very satisfied, and we closed with "The Hug Song" and actual hugs. At least ten or more people said that this was the best conference they had ever attended. Judi Chamberlin said she didn't want to go home.
Quotes from other participants included:
Andrew Friedman of NY city said he realized at the conference that, "We are not people with illnesses that are in remission, we are human beings with souls that are in progression."
Auour Axelsdottir from Iceland said,"I really feel inspired to keep up the fight in Iceland."
Jim Maddock, from Ireland, talked about what David Oaks said when he was in Ireland, that Jim had felt at the conference what David mentioned, "The exhilaration of being in the front line of this battle."
Debbie Whittle, of Massachusetts, USA, said, "We share a common vision of transforming hospitals into sanctuaries where people can heal."
David Oaks said earlier, at the Mad Pride festival Friday evening, that, "Mutual support and creativity form a nonviolent 'nuclear bomb' that will peacefully 'blow up' mental health system oppression."
After the conference, MindFreedom continues to receive rave reviews, including from Jenny Branks, who wrote:
"MindFreedom's recent conference was a life changing experience for me. I cannot express my relief to be able to meet and spend time with people who feel as I do. It was a cathartic experience to meet so many others who have, like me, recovered. I want you all to know, that I know, I have never been in better company.
"People ask me how the conference was & I respond 'If MindFreedom were a town I'd move there today.' I will do everything I can to make our local mental health services reflect all the values and innovations I encountered at the MindFreedom conference. Thank you all for a years worth of hard work to create a truly revolutionary conference."
The conference was not only about sharing information about alternatives, but also seemed to be a spontaneous forming of a mutually supportive community of people working in and building alternatives to the mental health system.
There were a very few, minor rough spots, that were quickly resolved by the organizers. The latter group functioned like a well-oiled machine, though definitely human!
Celia Brown, as Conference Coordinator, was well supported by Matt Morrissey, Florence Brown and Janet Foner, who all took care of many tasks. The MindFreedom office staff and volunteers -- including David Oaks, director, Martin Rafferty, office manager, and Violet Oaks, volunteer -- are also deeply appreciated. Additionally, MFI Board members (besides Celia, Matt, & Janet) Judi Chamberlin and Al Galves, as well as many volunteers at the conference, pitched in to make sure things went well.
MFI's main goals for results from the conference were met on Saturday evening. Two different discussion groups talked about setting up an MFI directory of alternatives, that will be on the MFI website, and about forming a supportive, ongoing network of people doing alternatives, as a subgroup of MFI. The directory is now in process of being set up.
The supportive network has formed, and will continue to develop a statement of principles, via email of the participants, and then will become open to additional participants who agree with said principles. Other discussion groups were also held, including fundraising for alternatives, and defining "recovery." Chris Hansen led a discussion on the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities,
Additionally, there was an opening plenary speech and two plenary meeting panels of four speakers each. The first speech was called "Inspiration for a Creative Revolution", given by Janet Foner, chair of the MFI Choices in Mental Health campaign committee, which organized this conference.
The panel the next day was "Outside the Mainstream: People Creating Healing Alternatives", with speakers Matthew Morrissey of the former Full Spectrum; Susan Musante, of Soteria Alaska; Joe Gallagher, of the Pajaro Valley Sunrise Center, and Norma Friedman, of INTAR. The other panel was "How we Heal: Diverse Tools for Recovery," with Jenny Branks of the Hearing Voices Network, Judi Chamberlin of the National Empowerment Center, Mary Maddock, of MindFreedom Ireland, and Shery Mead.
The latter panel was followed by a most informative and interesting discussion by much of the audience about how mental patients can leave the mental health system and truly integrate into the broader community.
There were 26 workshops presented on a wide range of topics, from Tai Chi to meditation, from getting off psychiatric drugs to writing about one's mental health history, from alternative housing to holistic medicine. There were "Healing Activities for Body and Mind" available every day, on subjects from walking to yoga to dance, improvisational theater, and art work, as well as a swimming pool.
"Mad Pride Minutes" were videotaped from several participants talking about their psychiatric survivor experiences, and what alternatives they would rather have.
On two evenings, videos of upbeat, alternative-oriented mental health-related movies were shown, such as The Couch Trip, and A Thousand Clowns.
The Mad Pride Festival Celebration, held Friday evening, was a fairly spontaneous (people only had 24 hrs. notice) evening of creative expressions performed by conference participants. This included standup comedians, poetry (some of it performed, not just read), nonsense poetry, skits, (including one with a rubber chicken & "normality screening"), dance, reading of a memoir, singing, and a play put on by the conference organizers and others, "A Quiet Night on Roundhay Wing", about the escape of some mental patients, written by Terry Simpson, former director of United Kingdom Advocacy Network.
That same evening, participants unanimously endorsed the creation of a dream of Martin Luther King, Jr., The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment (IAACM). The celebration was an incredibly rich cornucopia, as was the entire conference. Many are eager for the next one, possibly in a few years.