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FAMILY MEMBERS, THE SSO AND SURVIVORS

 Since my feelings around the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario and how best to approach/deal with these people have been the source of considerable friction lately, I feel the need to (hopefully once and for all) clarify the context in which I've been putting forth my views. The same applies to the recent attempt to bring survivors and their relatives together in a joint undertaking to battle coercion.

 If the SSO people were merely members of a peer support network, or were offering genuine ground and support to their ‘loved ones',  my only sentiment towards them would be good luck and godspeed. 

 Unfortunately, this isn't the case - instead, they have become a formidable political lobby engaging in activities which have extreme implications for the  human rights of their relatives (and many others). To this end, they have utilized campaigns of misinformation, stereotyping and even outright lies. They have clung to a scientifically unverified (and unverifiable) doctrine as basis for their activities, and have actively suppressed alternative points of view.

 It is my feeling that people entering this organization (no matter how sincere or well-meaning they may appear to  be) are for the most part fundamentally in agreement with its philosophy and tactics, and as such bear their own share of responsibility for the outcome of the SSO's efforts. This is what I mean when I say that there are no ‘innocents' in this situation - if ever the expression about the road to hell being paved with good intentions applied more than to this bunch, I have yet to encounter such an instance.

 It is because of this that our truths must be brought home to these people - all of them; not just those in leadership roles - in no uncertain terms. In addition this must be carried out as publicly as possible, to allow the light of day to penetrate the Stygian mess the SSO has created for not only Psychiatric Survivors, but also those family members who are genuinely well-intentioned, and disinclined towards the violent tendencies of this group. It is this no-nonsense forwarding of our truths that will in fact bring such individuals to us - not the other way around. 

 As for the ‘hard-core' leadership, I see little chance of winning them over. Due  to the potentially  destructive outcome their tactics will have for so many, however, confronting them publicly becomes just as vitally important - not only for the immediate purpose of defending vulnerable people, but to penetrate the veil of lies and myths this organization is hiding behind.

 There is no doubt that the various  human phenomena that get labeled as ‘schizophrenia' are very real to those who experience them, and often exquisitely painful for everyone involved.  However, this doesn't qualify such phenomena as being the result of a disease process - in fact, all the valid evidence appears to point to the exact opposite as being the truth.  ‘Schizophrenia' is only a verbal label that serves the agenda of a small collection of special interests, and does no justice or service to the collection of human traits that it purports to describe. 

 It is equally true that coercion or violence (and the two words are synonymous, to my mind) are the absolute worst approach one can make towards a person who is already frightened or in emotional pain. All this does is worsen the original trauma. Yet promoting this coercive behavior forms the cornerstone of what the SSO is about, just as it does for their U.S. counterparts in the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the Treatment Advocacy Centre.

  As it stands, it is the sacred  duty of all responsible citizens to do whatever  they can to resist this violence.

FAMILY MEMBERS & SURVIVORS - AN UNEASY ALLIANCE

 More recent has been the attempt to bring survivors and ‘supportive' family members to the table together in a shared approach to rights protection and mutual support.

 The primary flaw in how this is being approached is the lack of clear analysis of the power differential that exists between the two groups, and a demonstrated unwillingness to hash out a mutually agreeable set of guidelines as basis for the relationship to proceed. 

 My sense (from what I've witnessed) is this primarily results from family members' reluctance to surrender any of the obvious privilege they bring to the relationship, and the sense that despite their professed ‘support' for alternative approaches, they nonetheless still desire to maintain  a high level of power and control over their relatives' lives. 

 Even though they aren't advocating outright coercion, when a family member enters the relationship from this perspective, they are nonetheless demanding a leadership role in a situation where trust has likely not been established, and where true listening has yet to occur. Frankly, this approach much more resembles a hostile takeover than real solidarity.

 I have repeatedly heard that this relationship depends upon a ‘balanced perspective.' However, this is impossible to attain in a context where the balance has consistently been slanted towards the more powerful ‘partner'. This situation as it now exists  has been entrenched in our social consciousness  for literally centuries - one can't expect to bring such disparate individuals to the table and suddenly, magically make it ‘all better' by waving some illusory wand of democracy. 

 While all input and opinions certainly should be welcomed in this situation, it is the oppressed themselves who have to be the ones to establish the political agenda, and play the pivotal role in defining the relationship. Family members who ignore this, and insist upon immediately establishing themselves in a position at the ‘head of the pack', are not true allies. The principle of ‘democracy from below' has to be the guiding factor to establishing trust and true solidarity here.

 At the same time, credit and heartfelt thanks has to be given to the largely invisible group of family members who have provided, without seeking personal fanfare, the kind of quiet, solid personal support that has the potential to make a real difference in peoples' lives, and who have fought fiercely to defend their loved ones from the kind of forced interventions promoted by the SSO and similar mainstream family advocacy organizations. 

 It is these courageous souls who frequently spell the difference between someone receiving the kind of loving, voluntary emotional support that is ultimately the only real ‘cure' for what gets labeled ‘mental illness', and them being subjected instead to the violent lockups and chemical rape that form the basis of medical model interventions. 

 These are our true allies among family members - not the politically shrewd but power-hungry ‘activists' who come to the table professing solidarity while still refusing to really listen, and maintaining that they ‘have all the answers.' 

 On this basis, our best approach is one that maintains and strengthens ties with those family members who have demonstrated through their actions to be true friends, and which leaves the doors open to those others who show a willingness to do what is needed to earn our trust. 

 Somehow I very strongly doubt that we will see  many members of the SSO in either of these groups.

Graeme Bacque
May 29, 2000