The Icarus Project began in 2003, in an effort to build community support among people who felt isolated by the mental health mainstream. In 2002, one of our co-founders, Sascha Altman DuBrul, published an article in the San Francisco Bay Guardian about his bipolar diagnosis and experiences of mental health-based oppression. His story resonated with many who had also been stigmatized and isolated by dominant approaches to emotional wellness. In 2003, he teamed up with Jacks McNamara, to create a website where people could find community around both the challenges and gifts of their own mental health experiences, and the Icarus Project was born.
They called it the Icarus Project after the myth of Icarus, a boy who was gifted wax wings but warned not to fly too close to the sun. Icarus did not heed the warning, however, and soon found himself tumbling into the ocean after his wings melted from the sun’s rays. The original vision statement stated, in part, “With this double-edged blessing, we have the ability to fly to places of great vision and creativity, but like the mythical boy Icarus, we also have the potential to fly dangerously close to the sun ‘into realms of delusion and psychosis’ and crash in a blaze of fire and confusion.”
This inspiring project gained momentum and membership and expanded rapidly to include publications and workshops aimed at crafting a new language and culture around mental health and emotional distress. People who had experienced alienation at the hands of psychiatrists, counselors, hospitals, and even mental health advocacy organizations found a home in the Icarus community. Icarus has always had an analysis of mental health and distress as being directly linked to experiences of social oppression and trauma, asking questions like, “What does it mean to be crazy in a world gone mad?”
As the organization grew, it expanded to include a wider range of mental health struggles, and this increasingly diverse online community manifested real time gatherings. Icaristas came together across the country and the world to form peer support groups, organize campaigns, and join in broader efforts to combat stigma and work towards healing justice. Time and time again, the Icarus Project has heard from members that this community made the difference between belonging and isolation, support and stigma, and in some cases, even life and death.
Most recently, the Icarus Project has deepened its anti-oppressive practices by focusing on the mental health needs and experiences of the most marginalized among us. Icarus’s resources, online forums, and workshops explore the intersections of mental health with issues like homophobia, transphobia, racism, and other forms of oppression. The Icarus Project is strengthening relationships with partner organizations that center the voices of people of color, LGBTQI people, women, and other marginalized communities. More firmly situated than ever in contemporary social justice struggles, The Icarus Project builds on its legacy of radical mental health peer support to work towards collective liberation.