Fifty-Eight Years Beyond the Community Mental Health Act, 1963

Advocacy for the caring of survivors of trauma and difference began much, much earlier than before 1963 when Kennedy passed the Community Mental Health Act. However, at that time, the vision was that training and housing be provided in communities by communities.

“Glass at Night” by Jane Engleman

If I had been in the Movement at that time, my goals would have been:

1. Respect for those who “survived the camps.” The full acknowledgment of the intelligence and personal responsibility shown by anyone who has lived through violence, cultural influence, psychological gaslighting and the economic shutdown of those who choose not to comply. Eurocentric education established in Washington DC insists on assimilation to masculine logic to the exclusion of feminine principles of loving observation, patient wait for progress and the collaboration of independent groups.

2. Integration of the body with the Mind. Particularly for those who have experienced only radical insanity between what is said and what is practiced, it is not possible to engineer “Recovery” by sitting around with a Google printout on how to have a relationship or how to build a resume. When Norman Sartorius, the president of the APA stated in 1984 that psychiatry cannot cure the mentally ill, he was making an understatement. People need minds and bodies to find our way through the terrible suffering that does not end, but is a challenge and opportunity for strength, resilience and blessing. Cognition is not brainwork; it must be moved to the muscle.

3. Finding mercy for others must be a lifelong process of finding forgiveness and mercy for ourselves. If we do not see our own arrogance and ethnocentrism, we will never see the first step needed to heal our families of choice, which is acceptance of our own mental illness and the possibility of our own healing the moment we are born again to the awareness that we are still alive.

4. Understanding that brains work in many ways; competent survivors of individual differences are desperately needed as expert guides on these trails. We can work together. Had Steven Hawking or Temple Grandin or Maya Angelou been in this System without some physical support or teaching, they would not have survived high school. Why are our children, 17 and 18 and 19 and 20, going off to the freedom of college, only to gas themselves in a car in the parking lot on campus, jumping off any bridge not chained off, or using illegal drugs to wipe their minds clear of our established insanity?

5. Establishment of families. Most of our survivors have never seen a family, never had a family who did not either beat or neglect them. Some of our survivors have kept body and soul together in families of extreme wealth, and complete neglect and the poverty of the soul. They have never seen a gun, and have never been hugged. Some have been simple victims of simple ignorance which do not require scalpels, but a comedy show and a roadmap. Surgery can do so much damage when all that was needed was a massage and a week in a hot tub. Some of our colleagues are so different they struggle everyday just for the privilege to breathe. I hope we can establish a community where hugging and laughter and diversity are the norm.

6. The development of personal competent compassion. There is a wisdom in knowing what kind of tool will be most helpful in a given individual situation. There can be an education over time in the difference between igniting, sharing, torturing, isolating, drugging, coaching, rewarding and training. Part of that is finding a way to get competent long-term depth psychotherapy for our students without having to sacrifice their dignity to papers and an investment firm. This must be provided in the original language of the student.

7. Professional career, whether or not it complies to current EuroAmerican educational outlines. Since our fingerprints and documents and diagnoses have been smeared all over our records, there seems currently in LA County only one career path suggested for survivors, that is “Peer Support” in the System that created this mess in the first place. Survivors of even the worst violence and neglect can find our own niche, to be our own medicine. The coping skills we choose to use are the gifts we bring to the community. The clubhouse must have a clear survivor bridge to community colleges with dorms.

8. Development of professional careers through portfolio and project. Neither Steve Jobs and or Annie Dodge Wauneka had a BA when they began their careers. People born into trauma, who have become completely dysregulated emotionally, CANNOT work 9-5 for five days in a row. We must begin to train. We can coach collage and voice and dance at the beginning, matriculating to the Dodgers, Mars, a family or the Taj Mahal. In time. If we so choose.

9. Openness to the idea that if you do not hear voices, it may simply be that you are not connected. Perhaps before Tesla and Einstein, we could assume that if electromagnetic energy could not be seen, quantified or accessed outside material wires and telescopes, they must not exist and that the experience of them must be a “disorder.” But since 1984, this psychiatric “fact” can no longer be assumed.

Generational, like geographical, sound frequencies travel through time and space. These have been seen and experienced by millions. Scientists have been focused only on the bits in front of their eyes. Yet physicists, mothers, shamans and gurus speak with unseen “beings” and intuition as a matter of course. How can any voice not become violent when oppressed, drugged, dismissed, disrespected, when they have vital warnings and histories to guide us? Alchemy, witchcraft, government, snake oil and Christianity have not been discredited because they contained no truth or medicine, but because organizations chose to counterfeit them for.

10. We do not care only because patients have potential of full sufficiency, but because we all die on pallets. There is now a crisis of suffering of the neglect of the maintenance of our individual and collective souls. I have no answer to “Laura’s Law” or to a debate as to whether or not to provide 3800 beds in a prison for the mentally oppressed, except for a great quote from a fellow survivor: “Do unto others what you would have them do to you.”

11. Appreciation and respect for the nomads and the gypsies. Why have we no respect for those who choose not to pay rent on occupied land? Why like Hitler, have we decided constant harrying and disruption of any community that is established. When will we come back to the place where birds know how to nest, restored to natural habitats in the patience of time and with the mutual accompaniment of loving learners?

12. The archiving of the DSM as a relic of the racist past.

A Mission Statement Guideline

Do not focus on “getting more beds” or “providing better treatment.” Focus on homes with windows and giant gardens where survivors can be coached to rebel, the weak can be strengthened, and performers can be trained to dance with wild abandon. Human independence and contribution is the most fecund outside the walls of forced democracy and assimilation to what you think. Parents and coaches are parents and coaches forever with the clear and agonizing relief of knowing that one day healthy babies will graduate and the disabled accepted and cared for by teams of mothers.

Like fractals, we cannot know what tiny pattern, replicated, will emerge. It is infinite. Focus on the light at the edge of the universe. Then focus your love of yourself and your own body infinitely. Replicate the mercy and forgiveness you find for yourself. Know yourself. Know what you need. Know who you love. Know yourself as a daughter of a mother with a grandmother from East Africa. The fractal will emerge, emerge, emerge in living color from the focus.

Focus on building a home. Once that home is established, others will follow, not by force or cop or economic policy, but by drumbeat and fresh produce, sport and play and sheltering. Focus on the living room, however that comes to look.


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.

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