American mental health advocate/activist Judi Chamberlin was a powerhouse, a beacon in the fight for equal rights for people with mental illnesses. A psychiatric survivor, she was considered the "grandmother of the mad pride movement."
She died peacefully, at 65, on Saturday in her Arlington, Massachusetts home after a long fight with lung disease.
For the last two years, Judi was a hospice patient, living with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) for which she never had any risk factors. She never smoked.
She discussed her medical history candidly on her blog, Life as a Hospice Patient, where she wrote courageously and with brutal honesty, giving a voice to a group of people you rarely hear from – people who are dying in hospice care.
Yet despite her illness, Judi lived out loud every moment of her life and never stopped fighting for people's civil rights, especially people with mental illnesses. That was her fight.
Notice of her death will not be carried in the mainstream press. This is a tragedy. She left her mark on the American mental health care scene and touched the lives of people with mental illnesses around the world.
Her book, On Our Own, was published in the U.S. in 1978 (later in England and in Italy) where it is considered a manifesto by people with mental illnesses fighting to be treated in hospitals and by health care professionals with the same dignity and humanity as people with physical illnesses.
She was originally treated in a state mental hospital for depression in 1966.
"Very quickly, (I) found out that once you sign papers to go in on a voluntary basis, but then you can't leave when you want to leave, which was absolutely shocking to me," she said, according to the NPR obituary.
"She got out of that state hospital and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where she lived with other people who'd been diagnosed with mental illnesses but who'd then gotten government money to develop their own treatments.
After recovering, she moved to Boston and started working with other former American psychiatric patients who "wanted to change the system." In many ways, she did.
She published widely, travelled far and inspired hope in people all over the world.
I'm sorry I never met her.