The Intersection of the Public Mental Health System and the Mad Underground

I’m watching something really interesting happening in the extended New York City mental health support community: the coming together of the Peer Specialist world based in the public service system and the radical mental health movement based in grassroots and online networks like The Icarus Project and the Hearing Voices Network.

Last week I attended the monthly NYC Icarus event at Bluestockings which was a perfect example of what I’m talking about: the first half of the event was an experiential exploration of gender fluidity and where the facilitator led the crowd in a guided meditation and then has us all talk about our personal relationships to our gender identity. The second half of the event was a presentation about the Howie the Harp program in Harlem, a 20 week Peer Specialist training that is at the heart of the Peer Specialist workforce in NYC. The crowd was a mix of Icarus regulars and people wanting to learn more about what it means to be a Peer Specialist working in the system.

As someone who is now working in the public mental health system, I am seeing first hand how critical it is that the Peer Specialist movement cross-pollinates with the groups of activists more grounded in social justice politics and the creative arts. Too often the Peer Specialist world, at one thought of as an alternative to the mainstream biomedical model, ends up being defined and shaped by the same system it was designed to counter. For creative evolution to take place within the mental health system there needs to be more emphasis on developing these kind of connections.

On June 10th there’s going to be another cross-pollination of peer wisdom and alternative mental health ideas, this time a daylong event organized by the Institute for the Development of the Human Arts (IDHA) , a new organization which describes itself as “A School for Innovative Voices and Transformative Visions.” I’ll be there lending my support, I hope you can come out for it too!

Here are some details.

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