Lesson 2: Organizing for Change

Caring Minds (Grades 7-12) > Self-Determination and Activism > Lesson 2: Organizing for Change

Lesson 2: Organizing for Change

Starter: Community Action (5-10 minutes)

  • Share poem and graphics from the early patient rights movement that followed the shift from institutional to community care. Ask students what they think was the point of the psychiatric survivor or consumer movement? (RESOURCE 2A)

Discussion: Movement for Change (15-20 minutes)

  • During the 1970s, alongside other social movements of the time (women’s rights, human rights, gay rights), former mental health patients, many of whom claimed the identity “psychiatric survivor”, began to speak up about the issues they had faced and were continuing to face in the communities. Politicized ex-patients came together to work collectively and improve living conditions, create work opportunities, and find a social life among people who did not stigmatize them as “mentally ill.”
  • Psychiatric survivors/consumers created organizations and support groups like the Mental Patients’ Association (Vancouver 1971) and On Our Own (Toronto 1977). These are two large urban organizations, but there were many more across the country from Windsor, Ontario to BC’s Cowichan Valley. Many of these organizations still exist in some form today and early and emerging activists continue their work. A good place to explore this history is through the Psychiatric Survivor Archives of Toronto.
  • Ask the students about speaking out regarding issues that affect them and their peers. How might they do that? (blog, article in the newspaper, rallies ?) One way (ex)patients spoke out was through the creation of consumer/survivor magazines. In Vancouver In a Nutshell began publishing in 1971, while Toronto’s Phoenix Rising had a ten year run from1980 to 1990. Both publications played an important role in politicizing the mental health community.
  • Explain that ex-patients or psychiatric survivors identified a whole range of different human rights concerns and abuses, both relating to institutional care and to their lives in the community. Some worked collectively to fight for better rights. These efforts continue today.

Activity 1: Looking at Survivor Organizations (20 minutes)

  • Provide students with a copy of one of articles in RESOURCE 2B and have them complete a chart summarizing their organization’s historical emergence and listing what the organization did to contribute to positive change.
  • Following completion of the chart have the students answer the following questions:
  • Given what you have read and heard so far, what were the reasons for (ex)patients to organize? What were the issues?
  • What made it possible for (ex)patients to organize in the 70s/80s?
  • What was the role of organizations such as the one you have studied?
  • Discuss answers as a whole class.

Activity 2: Patient Rights (30 minutes)

  • Brainstorm with students about what they know regarding human rights. What is a human right? How do they differ from other types of rights? What are examples of human rights? (Charter of rights & freedoms, charter for Public Education). (Definition of Human Rights: The basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled, often held to include the right to life and liberty, freedom of thought and expression, and equality before the law.)
  • Divide students into groups of 4-5. Have each group brainstorm a list of human rights and write them on a sheet of flip chart paper – Have the students pick top five or most important (indicate with an asterisk) and provide a reason for their choices. Have the students share their top five with the rest of the class.
  • For former mental health patients, the shift to community living provided new opportunities for political organization, but highlighted human rights issues as well. Provide students with resources, each of which spotlights a different aspect of human rights and mental health from a different era. (RESOURCE 2C) and ask them to pull out the top five rights as indicated by patients and provide their reasons why. Have students write the top five down on a piece of flip chart paper. Then have the students share the top five with the rest of the class.
  • Have the students compare their top five and those of the (ex)patients – are they similar or different? What are the similarities and differences? Do they notice continuities and/or changes across time periods?
  • Have the students then take both lists and create a new top five list and include a rationale for their decisions. Have the students share their results with their peers.
  • As a concluding activity create a class list of the top ten rights. Have students debate the pros and cons of each right. What makes one right more important than another?

Extension Activity: Writing about Rights

  • Have students compare their lists with historical and current Mental Health Bills of Rights. (see Additional Resources 2D) – What is similar and what is different in the documents? Do they notice continuities and/or changes across time periods? Is there anything they would remove or add? Why? Why not?

Activity 3: The Right to Vote (15 minutes)

  • Explain to students that Canadian mental health patients who were institutionalized did not have the right to vote until 1988.
  • Show the 1988 video from CBC archives and/or share articles from the same era culled from Toronto psychiatric magazine Phoenix Rising. (RESOURCE 2E)
  • Ask the students:
    • Why were the federal election candidates at the Queen Street Mental Health Centre?
    • What was the argument against granting mental health patients in institutions the vote? What was the argument for?
    • Why do you think it took until 1988 for institutionalized mental health patients to get the right to vote?

Activity 4: Current Issues (30-40 minutes)

  • Review with students what they know about the history of mental health in Canada.
  • Ask the students if they think the situation is different for people with mental health difficulties today? Now that we are in the 21st century?
  • Divide the students into groups and have them examine recent articles about mental health in Canada today (RESOURCE 2F).
  • Ask students to think about the following questions:
  • What are the major issues that people with mental health problems face today? How are these concerns similar or different to the issues in institutions and during deinstitutionalization?
  • Do people with mental health difficulties have more, less or the same rights as in the past? How have patient rights changed?

Extension Activity: Journaling about the Issues

  • Have students create a journal article about a current mental health issue.

Closure:  (5 minutes)

  • Have students reflect on the following:
    • What is the importance of human rights for you? For someone with a mental health problem? Does it depend on the problem? Why or why not?


2A Community Action
2B Looking at Psychiatric Survivor Organizations
2C Patient Rights
2D Writing about Rights
2E The Right to Vote
2F Current Issues

Additional Resources