Madness, Brilliance, Brain Chemistry, and More

Debbie says:

I’ve had the good fortune to meet Will Hall in person a few times, most recently this past week at a conference called Worldwork . If you don’t know Will’s work (or if you do), he’s a mental health advocate with (in my experience) an extraordinary perspective. He’s been a patient in the mental health system, diagnosed with schizophrenia, and he is neither pro- nor anti- psychiatry, neither pro- nor anti- psychoactive medication, neither pro- nor anti- radical alternatives. Instead, he at least seems to practice what he preaches, which is mental health diversity and the belief that different combinations work for every individual.

As a teenager I became a community organizer in the peace, ecology, and anti-racism movements, but the traumas of my childhood and longtime struggles with emotional distress landed me in a psychiatric hospital at age 26. After a difficult year in San Francisco’s public mental health system, I slowly learned to live with and care for my madness through human connection, holistic health, and spiritual practice. I have founded and worked with several community organizations to promote mental health alternatives and help others. Today I teach what I have learned and use my experience to help guide others to their own discoveries of healing, and lead trainings and consult with organizations. I am actively involved in creating a new vision of mental health based on understanding the meaningfulness of what gets labeled as psychosis and madness. I am passionate about mental diversity and welcoming different states of consciousness as vital parts of the human community.

Since 2001 I have supported hundreds of people to better inform them around the complicated issues of psychiatric medication. While I am not a prescriber and do not offer medical advice, I help educate individuals to make wiser and more confident decisions about their treatment options. I am attentive both to the side effects of psychoactive substances, and to the meanings, fears, and hopes that are involved. While not anti-medication, I have a harm reduction perspective and take a very cautious approach to the risks of pharmacology, including often working with people to reduce and come off medications.

harm reduction guide cover

Will hosts Madness Radio on the Pacifica radio network and is a longtime organizer at The Icarus Project, whose slogan is “Navigating the Space Between Brilliance and Madness.” At the Worldwork conference, Will distributed (free) an Icarus Project booklet called “The Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs & Withdrawal”, which prompted me to write this post. The booklet’s text and illustrations are downloadable at the link, and it is practically a template for nonjudgmental, reasonably even-handed information which (among many other things) talks about the value of psychoactive medications in people’s lives while also analyzing who benefits from the social consensus that madness and mental illness are directly attributable to brain chemistry.

Madness, mental illness, psychiatric diagnosis, and related issues are under-explored and frequently oversimplified to the point of distortion. As a person who is both neurotypical and conventionally “sane,” I am very lucky not to have to navigate these issues for myself. Nonetheless, I personally find the booklet, Will’s work, and the Icarus Project to be a breath of fresh air; I can only imagine these resources being even more important to people who have been diagnosed or are in the psychiatric system.