Listening to Madness

From Newsweek
by Alissa Quart
Saturday, May 2, 2009

Why some mentally ill patients are rejecting their medication and making the case for ‘mad pride.’

madlibs_slah-verticalWe don’t want to be normal,” Will Hall tells me. The 43-year-old has been diagnosed as schizophrenic, and doctors have prescribed antipsychotic medication for him. But Hall would rather value his mentally extreme states than try to suppress them, so he doesn’t take his meds. Instead, he practices yoga and avoids coffee and sugar. He is delicate and thin, with dark plum polish on his fingernails and black fashion sneakers on his feet, his half Native American ancestry evident in his dark hair and dark eyes. Cultivated and charismatic, he is also unusually energetic, so much so that he seems to be vibrating even when sitting still.

I met Hall one night at the offices of the Icarus Project in Manhattan. He became a leader of the group—a “mad pride” collective—in 2005 as a way to promote the idea that mental-health diagnoses like bipolar disorder are “dangerous gifts” rather than illnesses. While we talked, members of the group—Icaristas, as they call themselves—scurried around in the purple-painted office, collating mad-pride fliers. Hall explained how the medical establishment has for too long relied heavily on medication and repression of behavior of those deemed “not normal.” Icarus and groups like it are challenging the science that psychiatry says is on its side. Hall believes that psychiatrists are prone to making arbitrary distinctions between “crazy” and “healthy,” and to using medication as tranquilizers.

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