Icarus Peer Ed Model Based On LGBT Programs by Dorsi Bonner Fall 2006


Icarus Project Proposal                        December 2006
By Dorsi Bonner

For the last five years I have been an active leader in the queer communities of both San Francisco and NYU. I first heard of the Icarus Project during a continuing education program through the LGBT Student Services Office and thought that it sounded like a dynamic organization and a great resource for LGBT students at NYU.

The Mad Pride movement, (which began in the 60’s around the same time as the Gay Liberation movement) started with the overall rejection of psych labels. The Icarus Project, which has its origins in a younger generation of activists, seeks to create radical mental health support systems and redefine the entire paradigm of mental wellness and illness. The organization begins from a place of pride and acknowledges psych labels as long as they are empowering and useful to the person indentifying with the label.

I came out for the first time as Queer when I was a sophomore in high school and I continue to come out on a daily basis. Coming out is a very individual and personal process that varies from person to person based on aspects of life such as culture, religion, location etc. Over the last three years it seems that an overwhelming number of my closest friends, who are scattered around the world, have contacted me with news that they have been diagnosed with things like bipolar disorder, depression, delusions, ADD, and/or high anxiety. My friends, by telling me that they were diagnosed with psyciatric labels, also were going through a coming out process.  (Now that you’ve drawn the comparison between Queer Pride and Mad Pride, here is where you need to clearly articulate the difference between them.)

There are two main personal reasons why I wanted to get involved with the Icarus Project. The first was to better understand what my friends are dealing with and to be able to support them in a positive way. The second reason is that I see many parallels between the struggles of the Mad community and the Queer community.  By using new positive labels such as “dangerous gifts” and reclaiming words like “crazy” and “mad”, the Icarus Project is following the example of the Queer community which moved away from the clinical term “homosexual” and reclaimed words like ‘dyke’ and ‘queer’ which is now associated as a positive umbrella term. Also the Queer community, (ike Icarus, is in a state of constant evolution and continues to coin new words to represent the diversity of identities.

Within the last year I realized that coming out was not just a continuing process for people in the Queer community, but that coming out is a continuing process for people in all marginalized groups. Coming out as having a diagnosis of mental illness and thinking about how that label forms one’s identity can be especially hard, and has its unique set of challenges.

Two of my closest friends have had a particularly hard year and I know that it is difficult for them to talk about their mental conditions, even with me and other close friends. Both dropped out of college in their sophomore year, one to attend two emotional growth boarding programs and the other to seek peace of mind in her mother’s home. I talk to my friends regularly about life, depression, and struggles with psychiatric medication. It is through these talks that my friends and I have come to realize that one cannot make blanket statements about mental illness and health just as one cannot generalize about the Queer community.

It makes me happy that I can support my friends the way that they supported me when I was struggling with my identity. Through conversations, we have helped each other cope with depression, drugs, and discrimination. My friends’ situations sparked a curiosity and passion in me to investigate into the world of mental health, psychiatric drugs and treatments. Over the last few months, I have explored psychic differences by taking an interdisciplinary science course on mental health as well as by involving myself with the Icarus Project as an intern.

The Icarus Project seems to me to be at the forefront of a very important, very intense, and very personal battle. My generation has been imbued with psych drugs since we were in elementary school. This issue, which is completely linked to the power and influence of pharmaceutical companies, is gaining momentum in the media and becoming a discussion topic on college campuses because many college students have been on psych drugs for several years and require various resources from their institutions of higher education. The Icarus Project provides people with resources that enable them to lead healthy lives and is especially dedicated to youth outreach. 

The Queer movement has been ignited by passion, propelled by the youth from each generation, and maintained by people who are invested in the cause. It has spanned several generations, with each new generation drawing inspiration from the previous one.  It has gained great momentum and I am proud to be apart of it, but now I want to expand my knowledge further and use my skills in a new arena. I believe that the Icarus Project is on the brink of something spectacular. With it’s accessable and captivating critiques of mainstream notions of ‘normality’, the Icarus Project is clearly has the potential to be a catalyst for large scale social change. I am excited to be a part of a (young) movement that is uniting a diverse number of people to build a social and political network to provide mental health support while acknowledging that there are many alternatives to current societal norms.

My involvement within the Queer community has been based in peer education and youth empowerment. Peer education is valued in the Queer community because it brings people from various backgrounds together and creates a conscious base of activists who recognize the intersections of oppression, and can convey this information in a way that provokes people to join or to be allies to the overall movement. I believe that education is the key to understanding, tolerance, and enlightenment. I also believe that through an on-campus Icarus Project peer education program, dedicated to providing diverse information and resources about mental health, the NYU community will benefit greatly. With the support of the student body and the administration, we are paving the way for national changes in perceptions about mental health support and wellness. An Icarus Project peer education program at NYU has the potential to create a much needed safe space for a new generation of students -- to feel pride in themselves, foster a greater sense of community, and make room for the inevitable and much needed societial changes coming in the 21st century.

The following are some ideas of the shape of an Icarus peer education program on campus. I draw most of my inspiration from the work that I have done within the Queer community and incorporate what I have learned about mental health and the Mad Pride movement.  

Overview of the Icarus Project at NYU

The Icarus Project is a radical, community based website, support network and underground media project created by and for people struggling with “dangerous gifts” that are commonly labeled as mental illnesses, and their allies. The Icarus Project at NYU is part of a national movement to reframe society’s conceptions of what is considered “mental illness” and “mental health support”. We bring together anyone who can relate, whether through diagnosis, personal experience, or social consciousness. The group focuses on inward support as well as outward action. We take care of each other while working to creatively change aspects of the world that make our lives more difficult.

Overview of Peer Education Program Designed Specifically to Enlist NYU Students to Participate as a Peer Educator

The Icarus Project Peer Education Program at New York University is an ongoing student led program geared to educate and train students at NYU to be well versed in issues regarding many diverse aspects of mental health. By participating in the peer education program, students will be interactively educated in various mental health arenas, while receiving training in facilitation skills. The Icarus Project Peer Education Program seeks to further NYU students’ understanding of metal health as well as supplying resources for all NYU students. This program allows participants to explore and expand definitions of mental health and mental health awareness, while providing a social activist peer support system. By working within a group of dedicated peers, students will learn, construct, organize and lead workshops designed to educate the NYU community about mental health issues in a supportive, creative, and rewarding environment.    

Goals of The Peer Education Program

-Breakdown the western medical model and make the history, theory, and language of the mental health realm accessible to students.
-Provide in depth workshops on metal health alternatives (acupuncture, shamanism, yoga, etc) and to provide resources about alternatives.
-Maintain a constant dialogue about how mental health is perceived, stigmatized, ignored and changing.
-To help people step outside the binary of sane and crazy. To help people recognize psychic difference as a spectrum.
-To educate about drugs and the pharmaceutical companies
-Provide participants with listening, teaching and facilitation skills as well as sensitivity training.
-Provide a safe apace for people to share the narratives of their lives.

Peer Educators
In my experience I have found that there are a number of enthusiastic, talented, smart, active, and articulate young adults who are excited about changing the world through education. I have also found that it is hard to be a part of an organization that does not feed ones soul, regardless of how that manifests. I envision the Icarus Peer Education Program as a student led group in which the educators undergo an enlightening and fun training period that is as academically active as a class and as social as a club.  Participants should, in theory, feel a sense of community and support within the group and feel that they are learning a number of skills around organizing and activism, which help them disseminate the information they receive to the NYU community.

Outline of What a Workshop Might Look Like

-What is the Icarus Project?
-Why we are here today
-Why there is a need for Icarus in the world and on campus

Name Game
Exercise taken from Liz Swados, director and producer of The Reality Show at NYU.
Everyone stands in a circle and a facilitator starts a beat and maintains it throughout the exercise. A tennis ball is passed around the circle. When a person receives the tennis ball they say their name and one interesting fact about themselves on the beat. This activity is suppose to be fun, it gets people active from the start, unites the group and is an icebreaker.

Personal Story
At the Icarus Project we believe that there is a wealth of knowledge to be learned through sharing personal narratives. At this point someone related to the organization will give a brief account of an event in their life that was particularly meaningful or a brief account of a struggle or an account of their life journey in a crazy crazy world. At the beginning this person should do a little into about why personal narratives are powerful. This section should be about 10min long.

There are lists at the front of the room that are mental categories from the DSM IV. Participants tape up their cards based on which category they think their illness falls into. Facilitators go through the list briefly reading each description. Facilitators then ask questions such as What is mental illness? Who decides and diagnoses people? Is their an authority on mental health topics? What are the resources for the people who make the diagnoses? What does it mean to have a label of a mental health diagnoses? How might this labels make people feel and how do they affect peoples’lives?

What is the DSM IV and Mental History
Small lecture section on the history of the DSM. Larger lecture section on the history of mental health.

Different Approaches to Therapy in the Western Medical Model
Series of short skits demonstrating the different models of psychoanalysis, psychotherapy etc.  Examine with group how these therapies are similar and different in a discussion. How might different approaches work for different cases and different people? How might these not work for someone? Where does spirituality, ethnicity, class, culture, age fit into these models?  Transition from therapy to drugs.

Drugs and the Pharmaceutical Companies
Have available magazine (or other material) ads from companies (tv ads if possible as well). Talk about representation—who is the target audience? What is being said about the drug? What is being said about the people who take the drugs and the people that the pharmaceutical companies want to take the drugs? Maybe more importantly, what isn’t being said? Are side effects listed? Is there even a description of what the drug is supposed to help with?

Handout—List of commonly prescribed drugs, what they are and what they do. Go over briefly. This is more of a tool that participants can keep for personal reference.

Alternative Health Choices
Concise but informative overviews of acupuncture and yoga and raki (what they are, where they cam from, how they can help). Handout—nutrition and mental health resource. State that there are other workshops that go into the practice of acupuncture and yoga and that people should be on the lookout for these Icarus Workshops. Also mention shamanism and meditation and anything else that might come up. Ask the audience to participate—What experience have people had with methods of healing and health? I have studied crystal healing—surprises could be very interesting!

Creative Reflection
Have some sort of artistic reflection. This is a time for people to reflect on their own state of mind. It could be related to the workshop or not. Give people 10-15 minutes some pens, crayons, tape, glue, magazine clippings and images. At the end have maybe a few people share if they want.

Handout information—talk about resources and other workshops that are taking place—Give an evaluation and express a hope for change through education. Thanks for coming!

Possible Program—Guess The Sane Person! (Modeled Entirely after Guess the Straight Person run through the LGBT Office of Student Services at NYU)

Goal: To breakdown stereotypes about people with dangerous gifts, psychic differences, and diagnoses of mental illnesses. To have people think about perceptions of mental health. To introduce the concept of mental states as a spectrum and not a binary.

Format: There is a panel of six people (Icarus Peer Educators or Other people involved with The Icarus Project. Every person but one has some association with dangerous gifts, psychic difference or a diagnoses. Example: One person may self-diagnose themselves as poly-polar, one person may identify as mad or crazy, one person may identify as having a dangerous gift, one person may have been diagnosed as manic depressive and embraces the term, one person may have been diagnosed as bi-polar but does not identify as bi-polar. This is where things get tricky, which fuels part of the point of the workshop making things a little less tricky. If someone is diagnosed with an “illness” but does not identify with the diagnoses and does not identify as anything but “sane” then this person is the “sane” person on the panel. The idea behind GTSP is to ultimately recognize that people are labeled by others and stuffed into boxes and binaries.
The workshop starts off with the facilitators’ overview of what the Icarus Project is, some common terms that need to be understood for the game such as “dangerous gifts”,  rules of the game and info about the panel.
Example (minus overview and terms): This panel contains one sane person. Every other person has some personal relation to psychic difference. In other words—5 people are crazy and one is not. The panelists are not trying to trick you in anyway. They are dressed as they would normally dress and will answer questions honestly based on their lives. In a moment you, the audience, will have an initial vote, purely based on looks who you think the “sane” person is. Then you will have opportunity to ask questions of the panel. Each person on the panel will answer each question. You cannot ask questions such as Are you crazy? Are you sane? Do you have a dangerous gift, illness, etc? The judges have the final say on any question that is too direct such as the ones listed above.

There is a first round of voting and then questions. Each question is written on a list by one facilitator (there should be at least two facilitators). At the end of the questioning period the audience votes again. Now there is a discussion about the initial vote and the final vote as well as the questions asked. Ex: Why did panelist 1 initially receive 10 votes and in the second vote only 3? Someone asked about the panelists relationship with their parents. Why would a panelist’s relationship with their parents reflect on their mental status? Someone asked about the sexual orientation of the panelists. Why would someone’s sexual orientation be linked to their mental state? Someone asked if any of the panelists have left school for any period of time, how does that link to their mental state? One of the questions asked was do you have a job? What does having a job or not tell you about a person’s mental state? This is the examination part of the program. After analysis of stereotypes, preconceptions, stigmas etc. reveal to the audience who the “sane” person is. Have each panelist explain how they identify. Take any questions and possibly have a small discussion about mental health in general and the new radical movement that is sweeping the nation.