MAD! Pride Breaks the Stigma of Mental Illness
With the sad deaths of Toronto DJ Martin Streek and former Member of Parliament Dave Batters in the news recently, there's certainly more room for an honest discussion about mental illness. Often, the only time we reveal our own true psychological well-being is during crisis, tragedy or emergency.
Whether you know it or not, an organized effort among consumer/survivors to eschew the stigma of mental illness is constantly ongoing. Like other medical conditions, there are advocates who push for better understanding and a stronger organized movement towards change and hope as core elements of health management.
That's where MAD! Pride comes in.
July 13th to 17th has been proclaimed MAD! Pride Week by the City of Toronto. Despite the inside workers strike, a week-long festival recognizing psychiatric survivors, consumers and other mad folks - originally scheduled for the Metro Hall Rotunda - will go ahead all week long at the May Robinson Auditorium in Parkdale.
Most of us know someone who has been afflicted with mental illness. It strikes one in four Canadians. Whether it might be a family member with bipolar disorder, the suicide of a co-worker or those anti-depressants hidden in a purse or bathroom cabinet, generally we tend to tread extremely lightly when discussing the thoughts in our heads, official diagnosis and the methods we employ - some wise, some unwise - to maintain our wits about us.
MAD! Pride Week is a time of year when anyone suffering mental health hardship can break free from isolation to network with others and embrace education and enlightenment as a means to improve public perception.
Sponsors of the event include the Toronto Arts Council, the Gerstein Centre, community housing organization Houselink, the Consumer/Survivor Information Centre of Toronto, the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health and other agencies that work tirelessly to improve the lives of those living with mental illness in Toronto.
Tuesday kicks off with World MAD! Pride Day and an opening ceremony attended by Lieutenant Governor of Ontario David Onley. Other events and presentations scheduled during the week will highlight the efforts of prominent members of the MAD! community in Toronto including historian Geoffrey Reaume, Beth Pelton of Street Health Community Nursing and Peggy-Gail DeHal-Ramson of Parkdale Community Legal Services.
Parkdale itself is an area that has felt the sting of stigma. One event planned for the week includes the annual MAD! Pride Bed Push. Advocates, protesters and survivors gather outside of CAMH on Queen Street West to march across the neighbourhood dressed in hospital gowns and pushing a gurney to draw attention to consumer/survivor issues.
"There's a real movement to have Parkdale re-christened as a MAD! village," says Ruth Ruth Stackhouse, a MAD! Pride Week organizer and director of The Friendly Spike theatre group.
"MAD! Pride draws attention to the issues we all face in our neighbourhoods. Homelessness, disability, labels. These are real issues and Parkdale is one place we can find a stronger community to work with to create working voices for the future."
Photo by Peter Harris