The History of the Mental Health Consumer Movement

This is a book on the history of the mental health consumer movement.

A History of Recovery


In researching the history of the mental health consumer-recovery movement, we come upon many obstacles. These obstacles range from a lack of clarity over terminology, miscommunication or misunderstanding of what recovery is.

When asking about the history being told to consider books by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey or the Williard suitcase exhibit which are quite interesting to any person who would be interested in learning about mental illness and the history of mental illness; but not necessarily about recovery. Other consumer efforts such as Patricia Deegan’s activism to reclaim the history of lives lost due to the uncaring mental health system of the past hundred years are by all means worthy to mention.

This is known as “recovery of our heritage as consumers.” Tragic as it is, and we do not want to disregard the waste of human life, this is not the history of recovery but the history we need to recover.

The history of recovery must be about recovery. In the Williard suitcase exhibit part of the work of Darby Penney and Peter Statsny “The Lives They Left Behind” also tells of more tragic stories of human lives disregarded and gives us a better understanding of psychosocial aspects of mental illness. But again the creation of the exhibit as well as the reclaiming of history are current events and therefore do not constitute the history of recovery but more so are the making of history that will endure.

Many users (clients) of mental health services refer to themselves as “consumers.” This term “consumer” is often resented by those being labeled as such. They feel that being a consumer erroneously signifies that service users have the power to choose services most suitable to their needs. Others feel it is an affirmation of “empowerment” as a part of the supply and demand cycle.

Those who object contend that consumers have neither choices, leverage, nor power to select services. Instead, some consumers refer to themselves as “survivors” or “ex-patients” to denote that they have survived what they experienced as oppression by the mental health system. This distinction can best be understood in its historical context.

Some may break down the Mental Health Consumer Movement into to two other movements such as the psychiatric survivor movement and the consumer movement; one side of the recovery spectrum as being more propsychiatry while the prior being more closer identified with the antipsychiatry movement.


  1. The Rise of the Consumer Movement