What is Radical Mental Health?

A constantly evolving, collaborative document
[Plain language version coming soon]
Last updated June 12, 2020

Radical Mental Health is difficult to define, as it encompasses so many concepts and intersections. The short definition we tend to use at Inside Our Minds is as follows: “Radical mental health is a dynamic and innovative term that describes how individuals and groups are finding new ways to understand and conceptualize mental health, mental illness, madness, and trauma. Radical mental health supports more expansive and social justice-oriented perspectives on mental health, prioritizing the voices of people with lived experience as educators and experts and centering the experiences of oppressed individuals and communities.” [Reference: Mindful Occupation]

How can we expand this definition further?

Anti-Oppressive Framework

“Sanism is systemic discrimination and oppression against people who have, or who are labeled or perceived as having, a mental trait or difference that is currently deemed abnormal, unhealthy, or unacceptable in society. Sanism is rooted in other forms of oppression, such as racism and ableism, in order to pathologize reactions to trauma and oppression, repress rebellion or protest, and control the minds and bodies of marginalized individuals.”

The mental health system is not broken, it is working how it was designed.

Fighting Epistemic Injustice / Valuing All Knowledge and Identities

  • Beyond medical model language: we recognize identity language is personal and politicized. Accepting Mad, Crazy, mentally ill, neurodivergent, psychiatric survivor, drug user, and other marginalized identity terms alongside medical model / DSM language. However you choose to identify is valid.
  • Beyond Eurocentric, westernized, English language dominant perspectives of mental health: there are ways of viewing and engaging with mental health beyond the DSM. Other cultures have necessary expertise that our current system in the US is lacking and actively silencing.
  • Beyond professional-only expertise: lived experience is necessary expertise in systems that affect us. People with lived experience need to be represented in all major mental health organizations, movements, and initiatives, in meaningful leadership positions and key decision-making roles.

Autonomy and Self-Determination

  • The right to choose or refuse all types of mental health interventions.
  • Rallying against coercive and forced interventions:
    • Involuntary commitment (302’ing in PA)
    • Forced medication / drugging / electroconvulsive (ECT)
    • Assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) or legal coercion
    • Physical restraints
    • Chemical restraints (using psychiatric medications in non-therapeutic ways to control someone)
    • Seclusion / solitary confinement
    • Non-consenual active rescue interventions (calling 911 on someone in a crisis without their consent, wellness checks, including by suicide lifelines) [Here are some resources that do not engage in non-consenual active rescue: TransLifeline, Peerly Human]
    • Anosognosia (“lack of insight”)
    • Caring coercion: information asymmetry, all-or-nothing arguments, “for your own good.”
  • Access to honest and open conversations with mental health professionals, especially in regards to diagnosis, treatments / medications, and other interventions.
  • Access to patient advocates in mental health settings.
  • Mandated informed consent and open access medical knowledge.

Access and Equity

  • Alongside the right to choose or refuse all types of interventions, there needs to be access to affordable, accessible, culturally-responsive, anti-oppressive mental health treatment.
  • Access to treatment includes access to alternatives, such as virtual therapy, art or expressive therapy, mindfulness or spirituality-based support, peer support, and peer respites.
  • Access to treatment for all bodies and minds, including disinvesting from fatphobia, ableist / white supremacist conceptualizations of health and wellness.
  • Advocating for universal healthcare coverage, robust services and livable income for those on SSI/SSDI, robust services for unhoused individuals and people / families in poverty.

Mutual Aid

  • Throughout history, oppressed communities have formed underground mutual aid networks when denied access to resources, opportunities, and institutions. Mutual aid exists because our basic needs are not being met.
  • Mental health mutual aid spaces allow for our community to have access to intentional spaces run by people with lived experience for people with lived experience, without the power dynamics present in traditional mental health spaces. 
  • Mutual aid should always be led by those directly impacted, never co-opted, centralized, or approached from a charity or savior mindset.

Harm Reduction

  • People who use drugs have the right to access confidential and safe harm reduction resources, such as safe injection sites, needle exchanges, and drug testing kits, as well as services to help reduce the impacts of negative drug use.
  • Medication use is a personal decision, including psychiatric medication use, and people have the right to choose or refuse medications for any reason with informed consent and open access to vital medication information (therapeutic effects, side effects, drug interactions).
  • People use self-injury (self-harm) for many reasons, including as a coping mechanism. All-or-nothing approaches to reducing self-injury (e.g. requiring a person to completely abstain from self-injury in order to utilize a mental health service) are oppressive. [Self-Injury Resource Website]
  • Suicidality is a spectrum, and those who experience suicidal thoughts, urges, and intent have the right to access confidential mental health resources to share their experience without fear of persecution, involuntary interventions, harm, or violence.

Further Reading

We’ve Been Too Patient: Voices from Radical Mental Health by L.D. Green & Kelechi Ubozoh (Book, Radical Mental Health)

Ableism 2020: An Updated Definition by TL Lewis and Dustin Gibson (Web Post, Disability Justice)

Skin, Tooth, and Bone: The Basis of Movement is Our People by Sins Invalid (Book, Disability Justice)

Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (Book, Disability Justice)

On Our Own: Patient-Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System by Judi Chamberlin (Book, Consumer/Psychiatric Survivor/Ex-Patient)

Mindful Occupation: Rising Up Without Burning Out (Online Zine, Radical Mental Health)