Will Hall and Icarus featured in Newsweek

Will Hall’s recovery story is here on this blog.

The Newsweek article is here.
This is an excerpt:

We 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.

“For most people, it used to be, ‘Mental illness is a disease—here is a pill you take for it’,” says Hall. “Now that’s breaking down.” Indeed, Hall came of age in the era of the book “Listening to Prozac.” He initially took Prozac after it was prescribed to him for depression in 1990. But he was not simply depressed, and he soon had a manic reaction to Prozac, a not uncommon side effect. In his frenetic state, Hall went on to lose a job at an environmental organization. He soon descended into poverty and started to hear furious voices in his head; he walked the streets of San Francisco night after night, but the voices never quieted. Eventually, he went to a mental-health clinic and was swiftly locked up. Soon after, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was put in restraints and hospitalized against his will, he says. For the next year, he bounced in and out of a public psychiatric hospital that he likens to a prison. The humiliation and what he experienced as the failure of the medication were what turned him against traditional treatment. Since then, Hall has been asking whether his treatment was really necessary. He felt sloshily medicated, as if he couldn’t really live his life. (more here)

Artwork by Will and some of the Icaristas can be seen here.

Congratulations Will and Icarus!! Different voices must be heard and Newsweek is a large mainstream voice. This is a major achievement. Will’s hard work for so many years is bearing fruit.

17 thoughts on “Will Hall and Icarus featured in Newsweek

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  1. The hate and bigotry in the comments is just so upsetting. There are two categories – the NAMI-like family members who insist that their kids NEED help and the drugs are the only help that work… and those who know nothing about “mental illness” and link it to violence and advocate forced treatment… the sad truth is, they’re all a step away from being diagnosed and possibly forcibly drugged then… and then they would see just how well these “meds” (right) work.

  2. Naturalgal: I wanted to say the same as what Gianna stated so beautifully above. The most painful part of my experiences has always been not understanding and therefor fighting, instead of accepting, what was going on, which caused me a lot of fear. Once I understood, I could turn the suffering into something creative and constructive. The lack of understanding seems to me to be the most painful factor, both for the person who has the experience, and not least also for his/her surroundings. That said, it is certainly not a delight to face one’s trauma. But to me it is more liberating than anything else ever could be, and is, without doubt, worth the pain.

  3. Will,
    thanks for the input and the heads up about the comments over there. I couldn’t read them right now…

    well I read a few of them by people I know, but I can’t handle the haters…too sensitive due to the withdrawals..

    those with strong stomachs should go on over and add to the discussion!

  4. NG,
    psychosis and hallucinations aren’t fun either—certainly not a good part of the time, though they can sometimes be, yes.

    some of us see our pain as beautiful opportunities to grow. It’s not that we’re having a good time or not suffering.

    we are—but we’ve discovered we learn and grow from it and that is beautiful.

    and then there are also moments of abject beauty…and wonder…

    some of us simply try to embrace whatever our experience…

    I’m suffering horribly right now…I can trust that I will grow from it and something beautiful will come of it…

    most psychiatrists would drug the crap out of me and we’d never know.

  5. We are all entitled to our own feelings in the article Will is attributed with:

    “…. argues that mental-health conditions can be made into “something beautiful.” They mean that one can transform what are often considered simply horrible diseases into an ecstatic, creative, productive or broadly “spiritual” condition. As Hall puts it, he hopes Icarus will “push the emergence of mental diversity.”

    I never had a “beautiful experience.” If I had, I would have never sought “help.” My experiences were painful and awful. But then I never had a psychotic experience either…and at first I asked why I was being prescribed anti-psychotics if I wasn’t psychotic?

    It seems there are two threads going on. One is the drugging of people going through painful times. The other is the drugging of people experiencing “hallucinations” or experiencing the world in ways that others do not.

  6. Hi everybody,

    Thanks for the words of support and thanks Gianna as always for your work.

    Overall I think the journalist did a reasonably good job given the context of Newsweek and the role of the editors. As I was being interviewed by her I feel she made an effort to get it right, more so than a lot of journalists I have worked with.

    The end result is not what I would have written myself, and there are some problems with it that readers here are rightly pointing out. (For example, I would have liked a stronger critique of the science of labels and medications, and some references to pharmaceutical company corruption. In general there were many mainstream medical assumptions that could have been challenged more strongly.) Gianna I agree with you that “madness” deserves more careful discussion than just a slogan and a sound bite.

    In the end though I do think she got a lot of valuable ideas across, and this article will help our movement, open some eyes, and get people thinking more deeply about the issues.

    If you want, head over to Newsweek and leave some comments on the comments thread for the article, there is some interesting dialog going on over there.

    — Will

  7. Erick: love your comment! One thing I find extraordinarily disturbing, apart from what you’ve mentioned, and both in regard to this and most mainstream-media articles on non-mainstream positions, is that they simply can’t resist but have to put these positions into some kind of mainstream perspective. Here represented by Jonathan Stanley/TAC – they couldn’t possibly have found someone/-thing more mainstream, could they?! – and Kramer. While maybe 10 per cent – probably less – of articles about the mainstream position leave room for non-mainstream positions to put the mainstream position into perspective.

    BTW: Does anyone know, where to get hold of Sustain??? Some nasty comments out there at the article – especially the one about the 8-year-old kid – that would need putting into perspective…

  8. Hey all,

    It’s great that we got this media presence! I know it’s only Newsweek editorial analysis, completely medical model, but in terms of advertising this is the good stuff. Negative advertising most of the way because of psychiatric industry petrification of the mainstream discourse. But whatever. Great copy for the movement.

    Of course some might want to see a better representation of what Will and others actually do, which is not as simple as “community”. The condescending support the author gives us is nauseating. How ridiculous, the author contending his own sanity, even if slightly ‘off’, as a mock parry to the identification of Mad. There is no problem with a Mad consciousness in my humble scholarly opinion.

    I find some of the article disturbing, like the allusions to “side” effects in drugs, as though the drug is a medicine for ‘mental illness’ unintentionally causing “side” effects! The press needs to accept one of their own debunking the industry for good. Since Robert Whitaker came aboard, news copiers should be aware of the real story.

    But there are more subtly disturbing ideas, such as the pairing of ‘mental illness’ (or madness-mythos) with “genius”. We need to critically examine mentalist and sanist narratives and terms.

    I think it’s great that the concept of non-compliance has been linked to ‘mad’ pride (which wasn’t happening in the May 11th article last year by the NY TImes). The editorial nation is conferring something to survivors with this. So, here we are, one step closer to defining a non-drug imposing and directed industry of social work (with peer connections and environments that take up survivor social research, for example)… can it work?

    Can any industry work well? I support guaranteed annual income for all before the deployment of institutional regimes.

    I liked Will Hall’s use of the arts as a ground for the whole Mad critique of modernist psychiatric practices (torture by UN standards), and as well the practical work we do to “Sustain” (lol) ourselves if possible. The arts recognize the body, and the play of language, and the relativity of beliefs, in ways polity and research cannot. They provide a space for fuller expression of self and ‘community’.

    We live in interesting times for mad-labelled people. Congrats to wye resisters!


  9. As a “continued survivor” of mental illness, I applaud Will for his tenacity and honesty on this issue. I also love the reference to “being normal”. Understanding this is difficult for those in the “normal state” of being, but that goes with the territory. We need to continue to speak out and advocate for our own state of well being and healing. Thanks Will.

  10. “We’re not crazy, the system is!” I love listening to Will Hall hosting Madness radio… the shows are just so interesting and inspiring.
    People like Will are very brave to resist the labelling and drugging. It takes some strength to do this. I really admire what Icarus project are doing. I think they are brilliant.

    I must say, he sounds like very attractive!

  11. Very interesting … but it did have alot of buzz words and very little quoting from Will.

    But I learned something new about the Icarus Project – I didn’t know what that was. Thanks Gianna!

  12. we actually had a conversation about that…frankly I don’t like calling myself or anyone else “mad” and don’t personally embrace the concept of mad pride…

    sound bytes make things tricky…

    in any case we both thought for newsweek it was a pretty good job…

    when you’re dealing with mass media you gotta expect a lot simply not being clear or obvious…and there is always risk of things going really really bad…

    I didn’t want to personally pick it apart…if Will wants to he can.

  13. I’ll be interested to know how Will feels about the article. For the most part, I thought it was a fair and positive take on the subject, although there were words and phrases that made me wince. I think it’s always tricky to talk to the mainstream media, you never know how they will twist things.

  14. As a “stable mentally ill” person who doesn’t take “meds”, its good to see examples of successful non compliant mentally ill person in print. Thanks for link-posting it Gianna.

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