The Icarus Project celebrates a decade of redefining mental health
That was also the view of Ken Paul Rosenthal, whose film, Crooked Beauty, will be screened at the 10-year anniversary celebration.
"She who does not write is written upon," Rosenthal told me. "Society's narratives will overwrite your authentic self."
"I think more than anything, Icarus is about hearing stories," he said.
And that story telling is intimately connected to the building of community and networks.
Rosenthal first got acquainted with Icarus when he read a line Mcnamara had written: "The world seemed to hit me so much harder and fill me so much fuller than anyone else I knew. Slanted sunlight could make me dizzy with its beauty and witnessing unkindness filled me with physical pain."
"We really wanted to create materials that were beautiful and inspiring and that people actually wanted to read," said McNamara. "And that they could relate to if they came from more of a subcultural perspective or just had suspicions about the mental health industry and the ways that it diagnoses people and treats them. "
Icarus concepts also spread through means other than their support groups and publications.
"A lot of long-term Icarus members have gone on to become social workers, or to become therapists, or in various ways to have careers that are based in mental health and are bringing alternative perspectives," McNamara said.
One such Icarista is Kathy Rose. She met McNamara at a screening of Crooked Beauty in 2010, and began participating in support groups and volunteering with Icarus. A teacher at Five Keys Charter School, which operates in San Francisco county jails, Rose said that the understanding and language of mental health she got from Icarus have been useful in her classroom.
"I see how many of my students are struggling with their own mental health, how they are treated, and how so much is related to the trauma they've experienced in their lives and lack of support," said Rose. She said that she has used Icarus materials in the classroom and screened Crooked Beauty.
Those materials explore questions of over-medication and independence and autonomy in decision-making and question the role of institutions like psychiatric hospitals and prisons.
"Institutionalization in prisons and mental hospitals isn't helping anyone and isn't getting us anywhere," Rose said.
The Icarus Project isn't the first effort to resist the mental health establishment. The Mental Patients Liberation Front, and the larger Psychiatric Survivors movement grew out of civil rights efforts of the 1960s and 70s, as patients demanded an end to coerced and forced psychiatric interventions like electroshock. Today, Mind Freedom International and other groups continue that pressure; most recently, hundreds protested an American Psychiatric Associations meeting discussing new definitions for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition on May 5.
The Icarus Project is also intimately connected to activist movements, but plays a unique role.
"There's support networks that get started in activist communities, but there's a lot of ways that people have a really hard time being supportive of each other if they haven't done the work themselves to be able to be supportive of themselves," said DuBrul. "What happens in activist communities is that people burn out, which is kind of the ultimate Icarus project. I mean, that's the Icarus myth."
He called the Occupy movement, with its distinctive tent cities packed with people, many of whom were hurting financially and emotionally, a "test case" for implementing Icarus concepts.
In fact, Occupy has led to yet another Icarus-inspired book, Mindful Occupation, due to be released this year. The book "aims to address the need for attention to mental health, healing, and emotional first aid within Occupy and other movement groups."
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