History of the Movement

The following information was created and provided by CAMHPRO’s executive direction, Sally Zinman. The information is from a PowerPoint presentation she did with SAMHSA in 2009. Please contact Sally if you have any questions, comments, or feedback.

Learn the history of our movement in order to rededicate ourselves to its core values and inform our ongoing work.

  • —1960s and 1970s social change movements
    • —Civil rights movement; African-American, women, gays, and people with physical disabilities organized
    • —For decades, mental patients were denied basic civil liberties and suffered systemic inhumane treatment
      • —Spent lifetimes locked up in State hospitals.
    • —New laws limited involuntary commitment
    • —Now big State hospitals were shut down and people released

New Liberation Movement

  • —Once released from the hospital people held groups
    • —Former “patients” shared anger about their abusive treatment
    • —Their peers validated their feelings.
    • —Expressed the need for independent living in the community
  • —A new civil rights movement was born from these isolated groups across the country
    • —Based on the desire for personal freedom and radical systemic change
    • —A liberation movement

The Beginnings – 1970’s  

HoM01It was a time …

  • —Of finding each other
  • —Of realizing that we were not alone
  • —Of militant groups and actions
  • —Of self and group education
  • —Of defining our core values
  • —Of finding and growing our voice out of the anger and hurt bred by the oppression of the mental health system.
  • —Of separatism as a means of empowering ourselves.

Processes …

  • —Groups autonomous, belief in local control
  • —No money from mental health system
  • —Separatist
  • —No major outreach

Principles …

  • —All within context of a civil rights movement for people diagnosed with mental illness, we were:
    • —Against Forced Treatment
    • —Against Inhumane Treatment – medications, ECT, lobotomy, seclusion and restraints
    • —Sanism
    • —Anti-Medical Model verging on anti-psychiatry
    • —Emergence of concept of mental patient run alternatives to mental health system and peer support
    • —Involvement in every aspect of mental health system

Activities …

  • —Political militant activism – demonstrations
  • —Developing and defining values and positions
  • —Annual Conference on Human Rights and Against Psychiatric Oppression
  • —held at campgrounds, college campuses, unfunded
    • —Madness Network News –news vehicle for communication
  • —Small groups, mostly on two coasts
    • —Militant names, e.g., Network Against Psychiatric Assault, Insane Liberation Front, Mental Patient Liberation Front
  • —Most common self-description is as “psychiatric inmate.”
  • —Self and group information and education
  • —Support, consciousness raising groups

Landmark book published 1978 … 

On Our Own: Patient Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System by Judi Chamberlin


Transitions in 1980s …

Howie The Harp

  • —The 1980s was a transitional time
  • —We made major movement decisions that left many of the more purist activists behind.
  • —We began the process of reentering the world that had so hurt us.
  • —It was a time that some significant founding endeavors ended, and new ventures began.
  • —There were indications that many of our goals were beginning to be realized, a transitioning from words to deeds, conceptualizing to implementing.
  • Mainstreaming – began to outreach to the thousands and thousand of consumers that never heard of a mental patient liberation movement,
  • Centralizing – Instead of the local, autonomous groups began forming state networks
  • Money – Taking money from the mental health system was very controversial. Need money to move from words to deeds, from conceptualization to implementation. To open up a drop-in center. To serve your peers in a consistent way. This was a very hotly debated decision and many people left our movement when we began taking money from the mental health system.
  • Collaborations – began working more with other groups, reentering the world so to speak


  • —Growth of mental health system funded consumer run and staffed/peer support programs, early drop-in centers
    • —1983 On Our Own in Baltimore, Maryland
    • —1985 Berkeley Drop-In Center, Berkeley CA
    • —1985 Ruby Rogers Drop In Center Cambridge Mass.
    • —1986 Oakland Independence Support Center, Oakland CA
  • —Federal government, Community Support Program, NIMH, begins to fund consumer/survivor-run programs
    • —1988 13 consumer run demonstration projects funded
  • —Beginning of statewide consumer run organizations
    • —1983, California Network of Mental Health Clients

More Shifts

  • —Discontinuation
    • —of Madness Network News and decline of radical militant groups
    • —of Conference on Human Rights and Against Psychiatric Oppression
  • —Many MH system funded trainings and conferences
    • —First national Alternatives Conference 1985
  • —Rights Protection gains/legislation
    • —Growth of rights protection organizations
      • Protection and Advocacy, Inc.
  • —Beginning to walk inside, social change from the inside as well as the outside
    • —More “clients”, “consumers” sitting on decision making bodies

Getting What We Wanted …

  • —Fruition of changes that we had sought in the mental health system
  • —Basic values remain the same, we rephrase them
  • —Consumer/survivor- run programs, employment, and educational opportunities flourish
  • —Attitudes about recovery change


  • The same principles as the earlier days expressed in positive rather than negative ways
    • —Self Determination and Choice
    • —Rights protections
    • —Stigma and Discrimination reduction
    • —Services responding to multiple life needs of person: friends, housing, jobs, community.
    • —Self- Help/Peer Support programs
    • —Involvement in every aspect of mental health system
      • —“Nothing About Us Without Us”
  • —Concept of Recovery – encompassing all of the above

Where We Have Come …

  • —Employment, in addition to in consumer run programs
    • —In mental health system
    • —Consumer/survivors in MH management level jobs
    • —Offices of Consumer Affairs
  • —Big growth in consumer run/peer support programs with system funding
  • —Incorporation of consumer run/peer support into system, such as Recovery/Wellness Centers, peer support specialists, peer certification, and medi-cal funded peer support
  • —Peer Certification is implemented in 34 States

More Progress …

  • —Multiple training opportunities, including consumer developed trainings
  • —Meaningful consumer involvement at most levels of mental health system
  • —Consumer participation and partnership with other constituency mental health groups
  • —Research on consumer run programs/peer support, and emergence of consumer researchers
  • —Working with policy makers to legislate and otherwise change policy
  • —Development of new consumer driven models such as peer run respite centers and self directed care.
  • More diverse and inclusive consumer movement
  • —Creation of National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery, a national advocacy voice for consumer/survivors, and International Association of Peer Supporters  that promotes the use of peer support services worldwide
  • — Effective advocacy from the inside—

System Culture Change …

  • —Evidence of system culture change as a result of consumer involvement at all levels of MH system.
  • —Consumer values embedded in California’s Mental Health Services Act (MHSA)
    • —Voluntary
    • —Promotion of self-help/peer support programs
    • —Involvement of consumers at all levels of MH system
    • —Involvement of consumers as part of and in training of MH workforce
    • —Promotion of recovery as a goal
  • —Concept of Recovery inspired by and attributed to consumers
  • —Recovery replaces maintenance as the goal for people diagnosed with mental illness
  • — Consumers have initiated new genres of services
    • —Consumer run programs and peer support are essential components of most mental health systems and designated best practices

—Liberation …

  • —Initial goal is to advocate for others
    • —Liberate others so they will not experience same abuse we did, so people who follow us will not have the same horrendous experiences that we did.
  • —Realize in the very process of advocating for others
    • —We are freeing ourselves
    • —Raising ourselves above internalized self-disparaging images
    • —Recreating ourselves in new empowered ways.
    • —Creating new people
    • —Redefining ourselves, individually and collectively
    • —Created new program genres
      • —Client-run drop-in centers and other client run programs
      • —Influential in development of supportive housing and recovery.
  • —Final understanding: we are also liberating the system
    • —Making it better for everyone that works in the mental health system, a liberating and healing environment for all.

The scope of our achievements of the past is an indicator of the possibilities for our future


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