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About David W. Oaks, former MindFreedom International Executive Director

David W. Oaks has been a community organizer for human rights in mental health since 1976. He's a psychiatric survivor and acted as director of MindFreedom International until 2013. You'll find a capsule summary here about David, along with links about how to contact and support him.

David W. Oaks, Executive Director, MindFreedom International



A brief biography about David W. Oaks

David W. Oaks, co-founder and former Executive Director of MindFreedom International, has been a psychiatric survivor human rights activist since 1976. David is also on the Board of Directors of the United States International Council on Disability and Oregon Consumer/Survivor Coalition.


"My recruitment room..."

David was born on 16 September 1955 in Chicago, Illinois, USA. All of his grandparents were immigrants from Lithuania. Both of his grandfathers were coal miners in rural Illinois before moving to Chicago.

David's parents were working class, loving parents who both worked in offices. David had a brief encounter with mental health care after his high school graduation from St. Ignatius College Prep in 1973.

In the Fall of 1973 David attended Harvard University on scholarships, including one from his father's Teamster's Union.

In David's sophomore, junior and senior year he experienced the psychiatric system. David was placed in psychiatric institutions five times. He was diagnosed both "schizophrenic" and "manic depressive" (now known as "bipolar") and underwent forced psychiatric drugging and solitary confinement. David has been given neuroleptics (including Thorazine, Stelazine, Haldol, Mellaril, Navane), lithium, anti-depressants, etc.

It was while in a psychiatric solitary confinement cell in Bowditch Hall in McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, that David decided he wanted, once freed, to take action to improve the mental health system.

A psychiatrist at McLean Hospital, a Harvard teaching institution, told David that because he had a genetically-caused chemical imbalance he would have to remain on powerful neuroleptic psychiatric drugs the rest of his life.

That psychiatrist turned out to be incorrect.


Community Organizer Since 1976

In 1976, Harvard's student volunteer agency Phillips Brooks House placed David as an intern with one of the early psychiatric survivor human rights organizations, Mental Patients Liberation Front, which met at Vocations for Social Change near Central Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. David wrote his senior paper about this experience of community organizing with psychiatric survivors, and graduated with honors in 1977.

With support from peers and his family, David used exercise, nutrition, counseling, wilderness trips, protest, and employment to recover mental and emotional well being. He has been off all psychiatric drugs since 1977.

David helped form one of the first user-run psychiatric survivor activist drop-in centers with MPLF at the Stone Soup Art and Poetry Gallery, and later at an MPLF office across from the Boston Garden.

As well as his activist work in the field of human rights in the mental health system, David has also worked in the environmental, peace and social justice movements.

In 1986, David helped found what was to become MindFreedom International, which an independent activist coalition united to win human rights and alternatives in mental health. MFI is now one of the main organizations winning campaigns for the vision of a peaceful revolution in the mental health system. While a majority of the members identify as individuals who have experienced human rights violations in the mental health system, MFI also includes family members, attorneys, mental health professionals and supportive members of the general public. 

David lives with his wife Debra in Oregon and loves camping and gardening. David helped found and is a member of a men's support group which has met since 1989.

David was named by Utne Reader in 2009 as one of "50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World." 

David has received several other awards and honors, to read about these click here, or click on "Related Content" below.

How to Inquire About Workshops, Presentations and Interviews with David W. Oaks


David has presented on topics such as "community organizing for independent systems change in the mental health system" and working with the cross-disability movement, to a diverse range of participants including in Chile, Norway, Ireland, Turkey, Italy, Germany, Canada, Ghana, Mexico and throughout the USA.

You may read recommendations about some of these speaking engagements by clicking here.

Psychiatrist and author Loren Mosher, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health Scizophrenia section, said in an LA Times Sunday Magazine article featuring David: "The fact that the movement has survived is due in large part to David's ability to work like a dog for almost no money and his ability to mollify those people who are outraged. He has managed to keep a lot of disparate opinions under the tent."

David's response to that quote, saying, "While I don't agree with my late friend Loren about that, I appreciate his humorous and loving support. And it's the mutual support between thousands in our movement that has kept the activism going. I've been privileged to witness in our movement the human spirit never giving up."

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E-mail address to reach David: oaks (at)

David W. Oaks also has a personal web site with more info about speeches, training, articles, etc., here:

A few other resources:

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Judi Chamberlin

Judi (1944 to 2010) was one of the most effective international psychiatric survivor activists. Judi is shown here holding the National Council on Disability report From Privileges to Rights, which her good friend the late Rae Unzicker helped create. Judi served for years on the MFI board. (Photo by Tom Olin)
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