Submitted by shana on Sun, 09/21/2014 - 17:57
The Freedom Center is transforming! Please see our update post for info.

The Freedom Center is a support and activism community run by and for people labeled with severe 'mental disorders.' We call for compassion, human rights, self-determination, and holistic options. We create alternatives to the mental health system's widespread despair, abuse, fraudulent science and dangerous treatments. We are based in pro-choice harm reduction philosophy regarding medical treatments, and include people taking or not talking medications.

The Freedom Center is one of the only Pioneer Valley advocacy groups run by and for people labeled with severe 'mental illnesses.' We are also a member of the Mind Freedom Support Coalition International, a United Nations-recognized Non-Governmental Organization network of grassroots groups worldwide working to transform psychiatry and the mental health system, the Statewide Harm Reduction Coalition, and part of M-POWER, the state-wide advocacy group of people receiving mental health services in Massachusetts. We are associated with The Icarus Project and ARISE for Social Justice. The Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community grew out of years of organizing efforts including work by the Freedom Center and is now a leading resource for psychiatric survivors in the area.

If you are labeled with 'mental illness,' are a psychiatric abuse survivor, or go through extreme mental and emotional states, we invite you to join us. Allies and supporters willing to share their personal experiences are also welcome (mental health staff allies are welcome but should contact us first). We alert people to the serious dangers of psychiatric drugs so that they can make truly informed decisions, and we oppose how the system pushes drugs on people, but we support everyone's choice in their own recovery as they define it for themselves. We don't judge people. Whether you take psychiatric drugs or you don't take psychiatric drugs, you are welcome at the Freedom Center. We respect self-determination and choice, and approach all drug use and lifestyle choices from a harm reduction philosophy.

Freedom Center is a valuable option for many of our residents. It is a welcome addition to services available to citizens of our city.
-- Mary Clare Higgins, Mayor of Northampton

The Freedom Center is one of a collection of grassroots organizations springing up across the country in reaction to the prevalance of medication in America. It alerts people to the downside of psychiatric drugs but does not try to force people off them: it seeks instead to help sufferers find the best methods of coping, even if their solution is unconventional by the standards of the medical establishment.
-- Forbes magazine, Sept. 6, 2004, p.122

The Freedom Center's goals are:
  • to end all force and coercion, including involuntary treatment and forced drugging;
  • to ensure access to resources such as housing without strings and not conditional on treatment "compliance;"
  • to defend human rights and ensure protective laws and regulations are enforced;
  • to ensure all treatment decisions are based on true informed consent and accurate information about risks;
  • to change drugging as the medical standard of care for psychosis;
  • to end institutionalized psych drugging of children and offer alternatives instead;
  • to support effective alternatives such as nutrition, exercise, holistic health care, nature and animals;
  • to provide voluntary, non-paternalistic social supports such as peer-run programs, housing, income, and individual and family therapy;
  • to create Soteria House style options;
  • to expose psychiatric and pharmaceutical industry myths, propaganda, and corruption;
  • to end wasteful bureaucracies and funding wasted on expensive professional elites;
  • to break the silence around trauma and abuse;
  • to end fear and misunderstanding of "madness" and extreme states of consciousness;
  • and to make common cause with progressive movements for social justice and ecological balance.

The Freedom Center has offered support groups such as the Extreme States Peer Support Group, free yoga classes, advocacy against coercion and dehumanization, protest against dehumanizing treatment in area psychiatric facilities, effective holistic alternatives education, support in continuing/reducing/going off psychiatric drugs, support against housing discrimination, general resource referrals, and public speaking about our experiences as survivors of psychiatric violence.

Currently, we are working to revitalize support groups and other community events.

Please check out our Resources page for information on these issues and the movement we are part of.

Please download and distribute our general brochure (legal size paper).

We also have a weekly live FM radio show and an archive of past audio interviews with psychiatric survivors and activists you can listen to. Subscribe to our radio show podcast by adding this link to your iTunes or other music player: subscribe to podcast:"http://feeds.feedburner.com/madnessradio"

Feel free to sign up to receive email on our list by emailing fc-discuss-subscribe@lists.riseup.net. You will also find the archives of our email lists here.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought.
-- Article 18, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Gazette Acupuncture Clinic Cover Story image

We welcome and are always looking for volunteers and supporters! To get involved, please email freedomcenter.northampton@gmail.com

Please note that we have a tiny budget and are all volunteer. We are people who are surviving and struggling with psych diagnoses and extreme states of consciousness. We receive more requests for advocacy, information, and other help than we can handle -- from throughout MA and beyond, even internationally sometimes. We have very limited resources and we do what we can.

If you try to reach us but don't hear back right away, please be persistent and just try again. The best way to contact us is in person, especially through our events and groups.

Also, we are a mutual aid community of equals, and we ask that everyone who receives any kind of help through the Freedom Center please turn around and help someone else in the future with your time, resources, or a money donation (money donations are always optional). This does not have to be 'officially' volunteering with the Freedom Center, it just means that in your life you need to turn around and help others when you've been helped and you're feeling able to do so. That way the whole world gets better.

MindFreedom psychiatric protest 1998

protesting for our rights

In order to learn more about the problems of psychiatric disability, the National Council on Disabilities conducted a hearing specifically on this topic and heard testimony from mental health professionals, lawyers, advocates, and relatives of people with psychiatric disabilities. However, unlike most investigations on the topic of psychiatric disability, the primary participants in this hearing were people with psychiatric disabilities themselves [...]
The testimony pointed to the inescapable fact that people with psychiatric disabilities are systematically and routinely deprived of their rights, and treated as less than full citizens or full human beings.
-- National Council on Disabilities Report:
From Privileges to Rights: People Labeled with Psychiatric Disabilities Speak for Themselves

...Restoring mental health does not mean simply adjusting individuals to the modern world of rapid economic growth. The world is ill, and adapting to an ill environment cannot bring real mental health. Psychiatric treatment requires environmental change and psychiatrists must participate in efforts to change the environment, but that is only half the task. The other half is to help individuals be themselves, not by helping them adapt to an ill environment, but by providing them with the strength to change it. To tranquilize them is not The Way. The explosion of bombs, the burning of napalm, the violent death of our neighbors and relatives, the pressure of time, noise, and pollution, the lonely crowds-- these have all been created by the disruptive course of our economic growth. They are all sources of mental illness, and they must be ended.
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist peace activist, from "The Path of Compassion" (1995)

patient in asylum
...neuroleptics [psychiatric drugs] are a medical treatment with roots in frontal lobotomy and the brain-damaging therapeutics of the eugenics era... If we wanted to be candid today in our talk about schizophrenia, we would admit this: little is known about what causes schizophrenia. Antipsychotic drugs do not fix any known brain abnormality, nor do they put brain chemistry back in balance. What they do is alter brain function in a manner that diminishes certain characteristic symptoms. We also know that they cause an increase in dopamine receptors, which is a change associated both with tardive dyskinesia and an increased biological vulnerability to psychosis, and that long-term outcomes are much better in countries where such medications are less frequently used. Such candor [...] might lead us to rethink what we, as a society, should do to help those who struggle with 'madness'.
-- Robert Whitaker, Pulitzer Prize nominated author of "Mad In America"

The Low Road
by Marge Piercy

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up. They can
bust you. They can break
your fingers. They can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can't walk, can't remember.
They can take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can't stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight.
You can refuse. You can
take what revenge you can.
But they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, and sex.

Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge.

With four,
you play bridge and start
an organization.

With six, you can
rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no seconds,
and hold a fund-raising party.

A dozen make a demonstration.

A hundred can fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity
and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your
own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time.
It starts when you care
to act. It starts when you do
it again after they said "No."
It starts when you say "We"
and know who you mean and
each day you mean one more.

  • Mental health and "mental illness" (and different types of mental "illness") shade into each other and are not separate categories. 10 to 15 percent of the population have heard voices or experienced hallucinations at some point in their life. These are frequently triggered by extreme experiences such as sleep deprivation.
  • It may be appropriate to think in terms of "stress vulnerability" when explaining psychotic experiences. People may have greater or lesser levels of vulnerability to this type of experience, which are triggered by greater or fewer numbers of stressful events experienced.
  • In some cultures hearing voices and seeing visions is seen as a spiritual gift rather than as a symptom of mental illness.
  • Services need to adopt an individual and holistic approach.
  • Services must respect each individual's understanding of their own experiences.
  • Service users should be acknowledged as experts on their own experiences.
  • The use of coercive powers (for instance detention under "Section" and forcible treatment) should not be further extended.
  • Prejudice and discrimination against people with mental health problems [are as unacceptable as any other forms of oppression.
-- Recent advances in understanding mental illness and psychotic experiences: A report by The British Psychological Society Division of Clinical Psychology