Clearing a Path: A Psychiatric Survivor Anti-Violence Framework

This post was written by instructor Danielle Landry.

Photograph of the backs of a seated audience members listening to a woman speak in the background
Jane Doe speaks at the PDAC Report Launch, December 10 2015.

Launching the Final Report

This past December, the Psychiatric Survivor Anti-Violence Coalition (PDAC) hosted a community event in Parkdale to release its final report. The project leads, Peggy-Gail DeHal Guraj from Parkdale Community Legal Services, Lucy Costa from the Empowerment Council and Andrea Daley from York University’s School of Social Work, were on hand to introduce the event. Together they spoke about the significance of the work undertaken by this coalition, how the group first came together following a series of assaults against residents of a Parkdale boarding home in 2011, and the subsequent community response, which aimed to ensure that incidents like these never happened again. 

“Why is the media only interested when we’re dead?”

– Lucy Costa, December 10 2015 PDAC Report Launch

Author of the book The Story of Jane Doe: A Book About Rape (2004), activist, educator and litigant Jane Doe (Jane Doe vs. Toronto Police), gave a compelling talk to a room of about 50 keen listeners. She spoke openly about how at the trial to convict her rapist, the cross-examiner sought to discredit her testimony by asking about her mental health history and her interest in reading ‘feminist literature’. The audience was aghast, but not entirely surprised by the experience she recounted.

Creatively designed by Lisa Walter, PDAC’s final report is written in easy to understand non-academic language. At the launch event she spoke about how the anti-violence framework inspired her design. A timeline diagram runs along the bottom of the page, giving readers a sense of significant events that have occurred during the time this coalition has been active. The report’s text uses the metaphor of ‘clearing a path’ to illustrate how we can build on both what psychiatric survivors already collectively know about the violence that permeates their lives and the anti-violence work that has been undertaken to date. Instead of learning about structural violence anew, the coalition sought to ‘clear a path’, to make visible a road that already exists and challenge familiar roadblocks, such as “lack of committed funding, organizational policy constraints and apathy” (p.29). As stated in the report, “psychiatric survivors’ pressing needs — and indeed, their right — to safety and wellness demand that we use novel approaches to break them down.” (p.29)

“Redignified lives. Now that’s a revolution”

– Lisa Walter, December 10 2015 PDAC Report Launch

Working with the Coalition

The organizing members of PDAC share a desire and commitment to address the discrimination, exclusion and violence experienced by people with psychiatric disabilities. In 2011, the originating members reached out to other people with a vested interest in this issue, including community members, professionals, academics and members of government, asking them to bring their knowledge, experience, and resources to the table.

In 2012, I joined the coalition as a volunteer representative of the School of Disability Studies and as someone who is mad-identified. At the time I was working as a Research Assistant to Dr. Kathryn Church and looking to complete a capstone project for the certificate in Advancing the AODA through the Chang School (now known as Accessibility Practices: AODA and Beyond). I was able to put my research for my capstone to use by building a literature review on psychiatric disability and violence. I quickly discovered, as you might imagine, that a lot more has been written about the trope of mad people as violent than work investigating the many forms of violence experienced by mad people. Looking at the literature on structural violence experienced by people with psychiatric disabilities, I noted that there are many conceptual frameworks for understanding violence and disability, such as: human rights, hate crimes, social determinants of health, and more… but the literature on violence written from a psychiatric survivor perspective was harder to find. Unfortunately, community knowledge of this sort frequently goes unpublished or only appears in the ‘grey literature’, which can be harder to track down.

Many of you connected to the School of Disability Studies have likely heard me talk about the work of the coalition at some point over the past few years; I’ve spoken about it to numerous DST 501 classes, presented at CDSA on the findings of my capstone project, and participated in panel at Mad Pride with A History of Madness instructor Jenna Reid. Now years later, I’m excited to share what this coalition has produced.


Report cover. Photo of shadow figure on rocky path. Text underneath: CLEARING A PATH: A PSYCHIATRIC SURVIVOR ANTI-VIOLENCE FRAMEWORK
Cover image of PDAC’s final report

Using the Anti-Violence Framework

PDAC’s final report documents the coalition’s work over the last 4 years to address the structural violence experienced by people with psychiatric disabilities. Here violence is defined as:

actions, words, attitudes, structures, or systems that cause physical or psychological harm to a vulnerable individual, or that cause such an individual to be placed in harm’s way (adapted from Fisher, Abdi, Ludin, Smith, Williams, & Williams, 2000). ‘Structural violence’ describes social structures — economic, political, legal, religious, and cultural — that put vulnerable individuals and populations in harm’s way (adapted from Gilligan, J., 1997 and Farmer, P.E., 2004 as cited in Farmer, Nizeye, Stulac, & Keshavjee, 2006). Violence against people with psychiatric disabilities occurs both through intended and unintended acts of violence and omission (Ontario Human Rights Commission [OHRC], 2012).” (Psychiatric Disabilities Anti-Violence Coalition, 2015, p.9)

The report outlines our psychiatric survivor-led research process, the findings from our community consultations in 2014/2015, and the anti-violence framework which sets guidelines to examine, analyze and respond to violence in the community.

The anti-violence framework PDAC has developed can be taken up and applied by different organizations in their own settings. Instead of producing another set of recommendations that could be overlooked or collect dust on a shelf, we’ve developed a framework that’s more of a “how to” than a “what to do”, so service providers and other stakeholder groups have a method to conduct their own psychiatric survivor analysis. I encourage each of you to read the report and consider how it could be taken up in the groups and organizations you belong to.

A copy of the final report “Clearing a Path: A Psychiatric Survivor Anti-Violence Framework” is available for download here:



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