I’ll be the first to admit that I am not in perfect mental health. Neither are most of my friends- birds of a feather, et cetera. We’ve all got problems. The Icarus Project calls it “mental dis-ease”- not a disease, something intrinsically wrong with us that needs to be fixed or cured, but something that, however frequently or infrequently, causes us some degree of discomfort.
We discovered the Richmond chapter of the Icarus Project- it’s a radical mental health network, focused on peer support, creativity, and collaboration- a couple months ago. Between us we made it to a couple meetings, but Richmond is really too far away to make it on a regular basis, so recently we started our own chapter here in Staunton. We’re taking our mental health into our own hands.
If you were to ask Lanthir or D.F. about current mental health practices, they could soapbox about psychiatric paternalism and abuse and the many-and-myriad problems with the DSM, all of which would be very informative and totally valid. I admit that I’m less well-informed, so I won’t get into all that. What I do know is that for me and for a lot of other people like me- broke and busy college students, people without transportation, people without insurance- it’s hard to find help.
Which brings me to why the Icarus Project’s mission is so important. The people I just described? That’s a lot of people. Add to that the people who have had bad experiences with therapists or psychiatrists, the people who have problems finding a professional who understands their particular issues well enough to be any help at all, the people who just don’t like to talk about personal things like mental health to anyone they don’t already know well, et cetera, et cetera, and you have a huge subset of the population. There are a lot of us for whom the benefits of the mental health industry are neglible, inapplicable, or inaccessible.
So with something collaborative and peer-run like an Icarus chapter, we can build a framework into which we actually fit. And which will address our specific situations without attempts to “fix” us, because let’s be honest, no one likes to think they’re broken.
But even beyond that- a collaborative mental health support system encourages us to examine ourselves, navigate our own minds, instead of relying on someone else to do it for us. There’s a feeling of accomplishment and progress that comes with identifying for yourself the idiosyncrasies of your own inner workings. There’s a sense of independence- it’s like owning a car that you never have to take to a mechanic, because you can do the maintenance yourself. Or, for a better analogy, with help from friends who you trust and who have similar experiences maintaining their own cars.
And for a support network, well, if I’m having a bad episode I’d rather my first call be a friend, who knows me and what I’m dealing with, than my therapist who’s got office hours and a file of notes on me.
I should say here that I’m not entirely discounting therapy, or psychiatric diagnosis or medication or what-have-you. All of that exists for a reason, however skewed bits of it may have become today. I’ve been to therapists- let me count- at least five of them, and that’s just off the top of my head. Some of them have been really helpful, some average, some kind of useless. I have friends who medication has set back, and friends who it’s helped immensely. Some of them are the same people. Like anything else, it’s a mixed bag. I won’t judge anyone who decides that professional help is their best option. But it’s not the best option for everyone, and it’s not the only option for anyone.