Name of Innovative Program:
Navigating the Space Between Brilliance and Madness
The Icarus Project
Name of Innovative Program Lead:
Sascha Altman DuBrul
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
The Icarus Project is a radical mental health support network, online community, and alternative media project by and for people struggling with extreme emotional distress that often gets labeled as mental illness. We envision a new culture and language that resonates with our actual experiences rather than trying to fit our lives into a conventional framework. We believe these experiences are dangerous gifts needing cultivation and care, rather than diseases or disorders. We support alternatives to the medical model and acknowledge the traumatic legacy of psychiatric abuse. We call for more options in understanding and treating emotional distress, and we advocate for everyone to have access to these choices. We respect diversity and embrace harm-reduction and self-determination in treatment decisions. By joining together as individuals and as a community, the intertwined threads of madness, creativity, and collaboration can inspire hope and transformation in an oppressive and damaged world.
Creativity and Innovation:
We understand that we are members of a group that has been misunderstood and persecuted throughout history, but has also been responsible for some of its most brilliant creations. The ancient myth of Icarus serves as a guiding metaphor for double-edged blessings — the ability to ﬂy to places of great vision and creativity, as well as the potential to ﬂy dangerously close to the sun in delusion and crash into the sea in despair. By offering a peer support network combined with a framework for understanding one’s experiences outside the disease model, we help people to stay balanced and grounded so they can use their powers and sensitivities to make the world we live in better, more beautiful, and way more interesting. Together we strive to create full and independent lives for ourselves where the ultimate goal is not just to survive, but to thrive and transform.
We bring the Icarus vision to reality through a national organizing staff and a grassroots network of autonomous local and campus groups. The Icarus staff support the Icarus vision and serve and nourish local groups by facilitating a website community, distributing publications, educating the public, offering tools, sharing skills, creating art, engaging in advocacy and activism, training volunteers and providing inspiration and solidarity. In the local groups people gather for education, support, mutual aid, art, activism, access to alternatives, and any creative ventures they can dream up. The Icarus message of “You are not alone” reflects our goal of breaking down the walls of isolation and alienation, and drawing strength from community and collective liberation. We draw inspiration from the tangled and intertwined roots of forest ecosystems that allow trees to lean out at all kinds of gravity-defying angles, bending but not breaking in the strongest winds.
The Icarus Project currently has a staff of 8 people that includes a development coordinator, local groups and online community support coordinators, a multilingual resources coordinator, and a tech team of web developers/admins and designers. Although dispersed throughout the country, each member of the staff is able to participate in weekly staff calls and meetings through video conferencing. Last year we raised over $100,000 and expect to raise more than that in 2014 through major donors, revenue from book sales, member contributions and grants. The money will go to fund two big projects. First is our upcoming website redesign to support multiple languages, better interface with current social media technology, increase accessibility and reach more diverse populations. The second is the Mad Maps guide: a new book that will draw on the accumulated wisdom of our membership and detail comprehensive plans for developing strategies for self-determined well-being.
The simple (but novel) idea of speaking about mental health in a language that is created by mental health survivors (and that is actually useful to them) is easily adapted — and it has spread like wildfire, inspiring people around the world to create groups such as (Mind)ful Liberation in Virginia and the Wildflowers Movement in LA. In Argentina, the core ideas of Icarus were fundamental in the creation of the first peer support group in the country and influenced important mental health reform. In our “Friends Make the Best Medicine” manual we teach the steps for organizing local groups and events, and offer plans of action for educating allies, sharing skills and resources, and helping each other feel less alone. This can be downloaded free from our website along with a dozen other publications by The Icarus Project and Icarus members.
The Icarus Project has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to captivate and reach a growing underserved population of people that are not finding real help in the current mental health system. We have produced effective and strikingly creative educational materials, and stimulated significant interest in issues of mental health and wellness among those who previously went without connection or help. Our publications (some in their 10th printing) have touched many people and compelled volunteers to translate them into Spanish, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Greek, and Bosnian/Croatian. We have sold tens of thousands of publications over the past decade (10,000 copies of Navigating the Space Between Brilliance & Madness alone) and hundreds are downloaded monthly from our website. Our online discussion forums and Facebook group have become thriving online communities of thousands of members, in addition to the communities of local groups spread across the country and the world.