Why A Cross-Movement Vision Matters: Lessons in Transformative Mental Health

Noah Gokul and Jessie Roth

The Institute for the Development of Human Arts (IDHA) is a transformative mental health training institute. Our educational offerings are firmly grounded in the voices and experiences of those most impacted by the mental health system, including psychiatric survivors, trauma survivors, peers, current and prior service users, mad and disabled activists, and artists. We teach critical history that demonstrates the carceral and oppressive roots of the mental health system, and share practical frameworks and skills that transcend dominant medicalized approaches. Our vision is of a more liberated future of care that prioritizes self-determination, accounts for the complexity of personal, social, and collective traumas, and opens up our narrow definition of ‘normal’ to honor the full range of human experience.

This presentation will focus on one of IDHA’s three core strategies: cross-movement organizing. We prioritize bridge-building and collaborative organizing throughout our work, rooted in an understanding that we do not hold all of the pieces of the puzzle, but rather, must consistently learn from other unique perspectives. Many social movements have become siloed, and there is often not a clear step forward without shared wisdom. IDHA brings multiple perspectives to the forefront, shining a light on the multiple root causes of what causes mental health challenges and what is needed to support collective liberation for all.

The presentation will share IDHA’s key learnings from offering cross-movement programming over the past 4 years. We will present the Decarcerating Care series as a key example of a cross-movement project that connects the dots among movements that have shared goals, but often use different language and tactics – such as mad pride, psychiatric survivors, disability justice, healing justice, and abolition. For example, in the quest to dismantle carceral punishment, prison abolitionists may present the expansion of mental health services as a viable alternative. Although the proposal to ‘replace cops with care’ can be well intentioned, such framing does not account for the fact that the mental health system is itself oppressive, rooted in a vast history of harm and culminating today in the rapid expansion of forced commitment directives. If we don’t build solidarity across movements for mad liberation, disability justice, and abolition, we risk swapping out one carceral system for another.

We will also discuss the importance of intersectionality and centering those most impacted in social change efforts – a lesson we learn from disability justice and other movements led by BIPOC, queer, and trans community members. There is an ongoing need to decenter whiteness in mad liberation spaces, and to continually reflect on power and privilege in our movements. In doing so, we can more readily craft antidotes to all the forms of ill-health made manifest in a society based on exploitation, racism, heterosexism, and colonialism.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Compare and contrast the distinct perspectives on what constitutes liberation for social movements across time and geographies
  2. Demonstrate the importance of a cross-movement approach to mental health and disability activism
  3. Identify key considerations and ingredients for a meaningfully intersectional approach to mental health work