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Are You Mad? There's A Pride For That!

Paul Denison

June 24, 2012

Mad Pride celebrations are coming to Toronto again this year, July 10 to 15. Mad Pride is an arts, culture, and heritage festival created by psychiatric survivors, mad people, folks the world has labelled “mentally ill” and those in solidarity with them.

Celebrated all over the world from Ghana to Ireland, Mad Pride had it’s origins in Toronto. The first known event that was specifically organized as a Pride event by psychiatric survivors “Psychiatric Survivor Pride Day” was held in the Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto on September 18, 1993—in response to discrimination from local residents against psychiatric survivors living in boarding homes.

In 2000 the Toronto Mad Pride was moved to July 14, the same date as the International Mad Pride Day—which coincides with Bastille day, the celebration of the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution, in which prisoners including those detained for being “mad” where freed. It was during the course of the revolution that Jean Baptiste Pussin, a recovered ex-inmate of the Bicetere asylum who later served as the governor of the asylum, worked along with his wife Marguerite and Phillipe Pinel, the director of Bicetere, to unshackle the inmates and innovate humane, compassionate, non-coercive treatments.

Mad Pride is a part of the psychiatric survivor movement, a civil rights movement that fights discrimination against people living with mental illness, fights for adequate social assistance rates and the right to employment with accommodations as needed, for the right to adequate, peer-driven, non-coercive services, the right for service users to define what treatments work for them, to question what normality is and what it is to be human. The use of the word “Mad” is a deliberate attempt to reclaim oppressive language in much the same way as LGBTQ communities are reclaiming the word “queer.”

Although advocacy by individuals and various patient rights groups has existed for centuries, the modern psychiatric survivor movement had its origins in the early seventies. Ex-patients formed groups like the Insane Liberation Front and the Network Against Psychiatric Assault to campaign for patient’s rights, and against discrimination and forced treatment. Some of these groups also developed peer-run services as an alternative to a mental health system they saw as inherently coercive. Through the 1970s and 1980s these alternative services developed to the extent that they are now seen as not only a viable alternative but are the current leading edge of service development in the mainstream mental health system.

In the 1980s and 1990s other “consumer/survivor initiatives” organizations run by and for psych survivors also grew; these include survivor run businesses, social service agencies and housing complexes. Often the only difference between these organizations and their conventional equivalents is that it is a discrimination-free environment where survivors can safely disclose, be themselves and get accommodation as needed. In my opinion, the movement’s success in establishing peer-run services and Consumer Survivor Initiatives (CSIs) is where it begins to challenge capitalist social relations. Simply by asking for an accommodation in work hours as a right, and to have services defined by the workers and the community that uses them is an attempt to make production serve the needs of the individual worker and the community rather than the solely the needs of capital.

Capitalism requires conformity to aid the smooth integration of individuals into the labour/consumption process. The oppression of psych survivors is integrated into capitalism via the psychiatric system which gets to decide what is normal behaviour and what is not. For example up until the 1970s homosexuality was defined as a mental illness; The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) expands every year creating new diagnostic labels which in turn creates new markets for the pharmaceutical companies and service providers. Mad pride questions “normality” and celebrates the different ways of being human; it celebrates the troublemakers, the round pegs who insist on inhabiting the square holes of capitalist society.

If you would like to participate, please consider attending some of the events during Mad Pride Week. There will be workshops, panel discussions, theatre, music and the culminating event is the Annual Bed Push march—where participants dressed in pyjamas push a hospital gurney from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) site at Queen and Ossington to the Parkdale Activity & Recreation Centre in Parkdale, the scene of much psych survivor history.

For more info on Mad Pride and a schedule of events see

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