“Mental Health” Liberation

Our ability to handle the current crises and build a new society is intimately tied to overcoming the harshness of “mental health” oppression. The enforced holding back of discharge, the terror installed by the oppression, and the pressure to be “normal” make it hard to think about the big changes that need to be made. It is also hard to think about these changes because making them directly challenges “mental health” oppression and all other oppressions. We need to create a space that is safe enough to allow millions of people to discharge and work together. This will help all the liberation movements succeed and lead the way to a cooperative society.


As the climate-change and world economic crises worsen and many oppressions, like racism and sexism, become more blatant, more of us are feeling stressed, doubting our minds, and questioning whether we can find solutions.

More people outside RC are feeling like they “can’t handle the situation in the world” and are turning to the “mental health” system; taking psychiatric or other drugs; or trying to commit suicide. This is partially due to the effects of “mental health” oppression: to people not realizing they can get emotional help from each other and feeling like they have to hold things in.

The current crises are restimulating us in RC as well—restimulating our internalized “mental health” oppression (for example, being cut off from discharge in early life) along with our distresses from other heavy early hurts. To move forward, we need to build the resources and attention to be able to handle this. Given the current situation, a key issue for my constituency, “mental health” system survivors, is getting and staying present. And actually everyone is in my constituency, since “mental health” oppression affects everyone.


Working on getting present and staying that way builds resource in our lives and communities and helps us stay relaxed enough to think clearly and handle things as conditions get worse in our collapsing society. Besides discharging on our early hurts, we need to repeatedly make and discharge on the decision to get and stay present.

The oppressive society we live in is giving people a harder and harder time. We can be pulled to focus on the hard things and to work more and harder and do everything but what we want. To get present, we have to make a concerted effort to fight off the mindset the society pushes on us and notice when we aren’t thinking in present time. If we are distracted by distress and overwhelmed, we are not in present time, and probably not noticing that we’re not. (For a way to work on getting present and staying that way, which I have called my Five-Point Program for Getting Present, see <www.rc.org/page/liberationtheory/rr6_028_jf> on the RC website. And see Recovery and Re-emergence No. 7, the upcoming issue of the RC journal about “mental health” liberation, for a more detailed version of the program.)

We need to set things up to nurture ourselves and make our lives go well. This will help create the conditions for a more rational society, as others around us will be drawn into present time by our actions and attitudes.


“Mental health” oppression backs up and legitimizes classism and capitalism. It makes us terrified to value anything but what the oppressive society says is important: making money, working all the time, and keeping the class system going.

People raised with “normal” patterns (the patterns of oppressor roles, such as white, Protestant, male, middle class) have been trained not to notice or admit how bad things are. They don’t usually understand what it’s like to be confronted with the full force of institutionalized oppression, with no recourse and no way to get away from it. If you are the way society “wants” you to be, then it’s hard to see what the problem is.

In the United States, the harmful nature of the system is obvious to Black people, Native people, Muslims, “mental patients” in “mental hospitals,” undocumented immigrants, people in jail, and poor people, among others. Once you’ve been through certain kinds of experiences and been “outside” the society, you understand how the society works. You can see how it uses “mental health” oppression to shift attention away from systemic oppression onto blaming individuals for their problems. You can see how people who are “acceptable” are forced to become confused and numb.

Because of the way our society operates, some people are “acceptable” and others are not. When people look like they’ve been badly hurt, many “normal” people find it hard to look at them or connect with them. This is because most “normal” people were made to feel like people should not show their distress that much.

When you are at the bottom of the system, the system treats you as worthless and despised, isolates and shames you, and throws you away as an outcast. We are all made to believe that we could end up there, so we are careful not to “lose it” [become unable to function in a “normal” way]. If we stop trying to be “normal” for a second, we could end up at the bottom of the system with nowhere else to go.

We want to create something quite different from what happens to “mental patients” and other oppressed groups due to the intertwining of classism and “mental health” oppression. It’s hard for people raised “normal” to see “normality” as a set of patterns, but discharging on how they got hurt into those patterns will help them see them and face what happens to people who are “thrown away.” Then they’ll be able to work together with everyone to fight the oppression rather than leaving some people on the “outside.”

A goal of “mental health” liberation is for everyone to discharge the tendencies toward looking “normal,” get sessions when needed, show big struggles in sessions, show their real selves, handle challenging situations, and give up supporting the things that keep the oppressive society functioning.


People with histories of using the “mental health” system, and their relatives, can discharge enough on their “mental health” histories to not confuse those histories with the current crises. “Mental health” system survivors need to get in present time enough that their fears from “mental health” oppression don’t stop them from leading “mental health” liberation. We need their leadership to help people, inside and outside of RC, discharge “normality” and any feelings of “going crazy” or “needing” psychiatric drugs because of the current societal situation.


The use of psychiatric drugs is growing. Many RCers have friends, family members, or fundamentals students who are taking them. (A new law passed by the U.S. Congress funnels millions of dollars into forced psychiatric drugging.) The more people who are taking the drugs, the harder it is to find people who can think well and whom we can bring into RC.

The proliferation of psychiatric drugs is fueled by greed. It is extremely profitable to sell drugs for a condition, “mental illness,” that does not exist but that most people thoroughly believe does.

Psychiatric drugs make people numb and unable to think well. Then they have difficulty noticing how bad their situation is or the effects of the drugs on their minds. Psychiatric drugs also cause physical difficulties, which are often masked by the drugs. People’s condition, both emotional and physical, usually deteriorates as they continue using the drugs. Misinformation promoted by the “mental health” system and the drug companies makes it seem like more drugs are needed to solve this. Thus, ever-increasing profits are assured.

As the oppressive forces in society become more destructive, psychiatric drugs are used more and more as “solutions” to the resulting upsets. It is hard to say which comes first: the drugging of more people to stop them from having feelings about the society collapsing, or the society’s collapsing causing people to have more upset feelings that lead them to take more psychiatric drugs. In any case, the effect is the same: drugs are used as a “convenient” way to handle people’s feelings.

At the same time, discharge is being more widely prohibited. For example, children are being given psychiatric drugs more frequently and at younger and younger ages, even as babies. The resulting difficulties exacerbate the general perception that there is a “need” for more psychiatric drugs.


For the oppressive society to function the way it does, people have to support capitalism unquestioningly and all the oppressions have to be fostered. “Mental health” oppression provides the “muscle” to scare people into stopping feeling and thinking. It makes them afraid to step out of oppressed and oppressor roles and stand up against oppression. It silences people who might otherwise take action for social change, and those who are already taking action, by making them feel like they need to conform and will be punished if they don’t. We can discharge about being completely in charge of “mental health” liberation and deciding to end the oppression, about deciding to change the society no matter what, and about showing who we really are. This will help us think and act in bigger ways.


“Mental health” oppression also affects the RC Communities. I think that if there were no “mental health” oppression, the Communities would be much larger and more able to have a big impact on society.

Re-evaluation Counseling started when Harvey Jackins began to investigate why someone stuck in heavy distress and close to being locked up in a “mental hospital” was able to resume ordinary functioning. Harvey had never seen someone become present so rapidly. I don’t think it’s an accident that RC started that way. The “mental health” system attempts to understand how people’s minds function but gets completely confused and caught up in “mental health” oppression. Re-evaluation Counseling provides clarity on the functioning of human minds, which means that RC, by its very nature, contradicts “mental health” oppression. It is therefore a key organization leading “mental health” liberation in the world. It has figured out the stopping point, the place where people’s minds get confused, and how to go beyond that.

Yet at the same time, because in RC we promote discharge and emotional healing, people outside RC often mistake what we do for what the “mental health” system does, which confuses them about what we are really doing. Without “mental health” oppression and the confusion promoted by the “mental health” system, it would not be so confusing to talk about RC. Fewer RCers would be afraid of presenting RC out in the world, and fewer people would be confused by the ideas of RC.

It is not possible to chart the exact route to a cooperative society. However, I am confident that loosening the grip of “mental health” oppression on our ability to discharge, think, and act will help us find the way there.

Janet Foner

International Liberation Reference Person for “Mental Health” Liberation

New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, USA

(Present Time 188, July 2017)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00