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Judi Chamberlin

10/30/1944 – 01/16/2010

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Judi Chamberlin

The Judi Chamberlin Papers Now Available at UMass Amherst Library

A pioneer in the psychiatric survivors' movement, Judi Chamberlin spent four decades as an activist for the civil rights of mental patients.

In her early 20s, Ms. Chamberlin was hospitalized in a state institution and was declared schizophrenic. She soon discovered that as a psychiatric patient, she had no legal rights. This realization was the catalyst for her career as an activist, which began in the early 1970s when she co-founded the Mental Patients Liberation Front.

Author of the groundbreaking book "On Our Own: Patient-Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System," (1978), Ms Chamberlin died in 2010.

An important record of the development of the psychiatric survivors' movement from its earliest days, the Chamberlin Papers include rich correspondence between Chamberlin, fellow activists, survivors, and medical professionals; records of her work with the MPLF and other rights organizations, conferences and meetings, and her efforts to build the movement internationally.

More info at the Special Collections and University Archibes | UMass Amherst Libraries [30 boxes (45 linear ft.)]

Judi Chamberlin passed away on Saturday, January 16th

Judi changed many lives throughout the world with her passionate speaking and writing to stand up for the rights of people who have been labeled with mental illness. We will miss her. We feel blessed to have known and worked with Judi.

To enter the permanent online memorial to honor and celebrate Judi's life; click here.

View Judi's Tribute Book at www.power2u.org/judi-tribute-book.html

From the New York Times, 1/26/2010

Judi Chamberlin, 65, Is Dead; Fought for Rights for Mental Health Patients

Judi Chamberlin, whose involuntary confinement in a mental hospital in the 1960s propelled her into a lifelong leading role in the movement to guarantee basic human rights to psychiatric patients, died on Jan. 16 at her home in Arlington, Mass. She was 65.

The cause was pulmonary disease, said Martin Federman, her companion since 2006.

“It was not into one of those horror-story-type places” that Ms. Chamberlin was committed in 1966, Mr. Federman said. Still, those five months in a state hospital in New York City for a diagnosis of chronic depression were enough to shock her into action.

She was then Judi Ross, 22 years old, and had suffered a miscarriage. “She didn’t get over that, as people kept telling her she would,” Mr. Federman said. After several voluntary hospitalizations, she was involuntarily committed. [Read obituary at the New York Times...]

From the Washington Post, 1/21/2010

Judi Chamberlin Disability Rights Advocate

Judi Chamberlin, 65, a disability rights advocate and author of the groundbreaking book "On Our Own: Patient-Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System," (1978) died Jan. 16 at her home in Arlington, Mass., of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

In her early 20s, Ms. Chamberlin was hospitalized in a state institution and was declared schizophrenic. She soon discovered that as a psychiatric patient, she had no legal rights. This realization was the catalyst for her career as an activist, which began in the early 1970s when she co-founded the Mental Patients Liberation Front. [Read obituary at the Washington Post...]

From the Boston Sunday Globe, 1/20/2010

Judi Chamberlin, writings took on mental health care

In 1966 at age 21, Judi Chamberlin was locked in a New York state mental ward against her will after the newlywed suffered a miscarriage and couldn’t stop crying.

“A depression is something to get rid of and the goal of psychiatry is to ’cure’ people of depression,’’ she wrote in a 1978 book that became a cornerstone of the “Mad Pride’’ movement among mental health patients. “That my depression might be telling me something about my own life was a possibility no one considered, including me.’’

Ms. Chamberlin, who wrote “On Our Own: Patient-Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System,’’ died Saturday at her Arlington home from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, a lung disease. She was 65. [Read obituary at Boston Globe...]

From the National Public Radio, 1/19/2010

Advocate For People With Mental Illnesses Dies

Judi Chamberlin, who died this weekend at age 65, was a civil rights hero from a civil rights movement you may have never heard of. She took her inspiration from the heroes of other civil rights movements to start something she liked to call Mad Pride — a movement for the rights and dignity of people with mental illness.

It started in 1966, when Chamberlin was 21 years old and seeing her doctor because she was dealing with a deep depression. "After a while, he suggested I sign myself into a hospital because I was just not functioning, I was so depressed. And I just thought, 'Oh a hospital's a place where you get help.' [View 1/19/2020 article at NPR.org by Joseph Shapiro]

From the Boston Sunday Globe, 5/22/2009

Advocate for others fights to die at home

Insurer says hospice coverage used up

Hospitalized against her will for depression 43 years ago, Judi Chamberlin of Arlington has devoted the decades since to championing patients' rights. She authored a seminal book touting patient control in mental health treatment, helped mobilize a movement, and won a following.

Now the 64-year-old activist is dying of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, an incurable lung disorder. Chamberlin's final wishes are to die the way she has lived, on her own terms. Late last year she halted hospitalizations and instead opted for home hospice care, which manages pain and emotional needs, but offers no curative treatments. [Click to view the full article - Advocate for others fights to die at home (includes a video interview "A wish to die at home")]

On Our Own
By Judi Chamberlin

Click for More

From the Boston Sunday Globe, 3/22/2009

A talk with Judi Chamberlin

Facing death, a plea for the dignity of psychiatric patients

Interview by Carey Goldberg:

"NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US."  That is the motto of a grass-roots movement that has carried various names over the last generation, but has always revolved around a single principle: self-determination for people diagnosed with mental illness. Call them psychiatric patients or consumers or survivors, they are fighting together to gain more control over their treatment, and more say in the mental health system overall. And they have won some striking successes in recent years, gaining more input into official policy and creating new jobs for people who, 12-step-style, have recovered from the worst of their illness and now want to help others in crisis.

The mother of that movement, many people would say, is Judi Chamberlin of Arlington.

Chamberlin was hospitalized against her will for depression in 1966, and shocked by how she was treated. Her seminal book, "On Our Own: Patient-Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System," came out in 1978, and became a manifesto for the movement. Chamberlin's activism for patients' rights spanned the next 31 years, and evolved with the history of mental health treatment in this country. [Click to view the full article - A talk with Judi Chamberlin]

Judi ChamberlinInterview with Judi Chamberlin

By Leah Harris July/Aug 2003

lh: How did you come to do the work that you do?

jc: It was all based on my own experiences with the mental health system. I saw that something was very wrong and that people needed to do something about it- especially the people that this was currently happening to. Five years after I got out of the hospital, I found one of the [ex-patient] groups in New York. I found out that there were other people who felt the same way! It just seemed so logical to us that locking people up and depriving them of their basic humanity couldn't possibly be good for anybody.

lh: What issues did you focus on when you first organized over thirty years ago?

jc: It's the same stuff we're doing now. Just trying to get the issues across. That this is about rights, it isn't about "better treatment" or about needing people to take care of us. We're human beings, we're citizens. Why don't we have these rights that supposedly the Constitution and the Bill of Rights talk about? Why does it suddenly not apply to us? [Click to view the full article - Interview with Judi Chamberlin]

Dan Fisher and Judi Chamberlin were guests on MindFreedom Live Free Web Radio

Every second Saturday, MindFreedom International executive director David Oaks hosts MindFreedom Free Live Web Radio on BlogTalk Radio with topics that include: Mad Pride, alternatives to traditional mental health care, and campaigns for human rights in psychiatry. On his March 14, 2009 show, he interviewed two special guests:

DAN FISHER, MD psychiatric survivor and psychiatrist, was one of two key advisors to Barack Obama's presidential campaign about mental health issues. Dan will talk about his goals for the mental health system under the Obama administration, and about his recent international organizing in Australia/New  Zealand.

JUDI CHAMBERLIN is an historic leader in the movement led by mental health consumers and psychiatric survivors. Judi has publicly announced that because of severe health problems she is now in hospice with a life expectancy that is not very long. Judi will try to answer your questions on air, but if her health prohibits this we will play a specially-recorded message from Judi to you.

DAVID W. OAKS has worked for more than three decades as a human rights activist in the field of mental health. He directs the nonprofit MindFreedom International.

Dan, Judi and David all met in the "mad movement" in the 1970's in Massachusetts.  On the show, they also exchanged a few stories about our roots.

To listen to the archived show, go to: www.blogtalkradio.com/davidwoaks.

A Message from Judi

January 2009

Dear Friends,

As many of you may know (but some may not), for some years I have been dealing with a lung condition, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). For many years, this condition didn't much affect my day-to-day life. Sure, I got out of breath climbing a flight of stairs, but so do many people. However, in the last year and a half or so, things have been getting worse. I am on continuous oxygen and become out of breath after even the most minor exertion. I have explored the possibility of a lung transplant, at this time it seems as if that will not work for me.

These days, I'm pretty much confined to home, although I do get out when I can (I saw my older granddaughter in a play recently, for example). With my health declining, I have made the decision to enter a home hospice care program. This program will provide me with both medical and emotional support, and I hope will considerably improve the quality of my life.

Meanwhile, I'm determined to live to the fullest and enjoy my time as best as I can. I recently read Art Buchwald's book about his hospice experience ("Too Soon to Say Goodbye")--he was told that his kidneys had shut down and without dialysis he would die within days. Instead he decided to enter a residential hospice, where, to everyone's surprise, including his, he did not die, and he found himself hosting a "salon" in the hospice living room (he drops the names of all the famous people who stopped by). So...I've decided to start my own salon, and all of you are invited. Let's have some great conversation, share some laughs, celebrate the upcoming inauguration, drink some good wine, and, in general, enjoy ourselves.

WHAT IS HOSPICE? Hospice is a program that helps seriously ill people to live the best possible lives, paying primary attention to physical and emotional comfort. The program I am in is home-based; they do also have a residential unit that might be an option for me at some point, although my plan is to remain at home. The hospice program provides me with in-home services including nursing, social work, spiritual counseling, volunteer visitors, and others.

My blog: http://judi-lifeasahospicepatient.blogspot.com

With love,

Video of Judi Chamberlin at the World Psychiatric Association conference on ‘coercive treatment in psychiatry’

Thanks to Louise Pembroke, UK for the following:

To understand what Judi gave us all over 30 years of her life listen to her speak at the 2007 World Psychiatric Association conference on ‘coercive treatment in psychiatry’, even if you never knew her or her work, listen to this 30 minute talk which is a bright shining beacon to survivors across the world; http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3396224219182374265. Her last sentence ‘nothing about us without us’ will live in my heart forever.