Mental Health Consumer Movement

What is the mental health consumer movement?

There is a growing movement throughout the country (and the world) of people--calling themselves consumers, survivors, or ex-patients--who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses and are working together to make change in the mental health system and in society. 

Advocacy--both self-advocacy and systems advocacy--is a key component of the mental health consumer movement. Individual mental health consumers continue to become powerful advocates on their own behalf, and coalitions seek to reform mental health care and fight the stigma society places on mental illness. 

Mutual support is another foundation of the mental health consumer movement. Throughout the country (and the world), consumers are creating self-help groups (also called support groups, peer-run services, consumer-run services, or alternative services), which respond more readily to their members' needs than traditional providers do. The consumer movement grew out of the idea that individuals who have experienced similar problems, life situations, or crises can effectively provide support to one another.

Self-help groups are formed by peers, they are small and voluntary, and they are set up to accomplish goals through mutual aid. Members of self-help groups assume personal responsibility for their own treatment. Self-help groups offer mental health consumers an opportunity to bring about both personal and social change.

Support groups offer an opportunity to be productive, to work together with others to find solutions to a variety of obstacles. Mental health consumers can offer each other support based on first hand experiences with issues such as medication, over-medication, social security disability, housing, employment, human service agencies, families and friends, neglect, and many others. 

Individuals who had experienced psychiatric hospitalization started the first mental health consumer groups in an effort to provide alternatives to what they saw as an oppressive and abusive mental health system. They also sought to join with others to fight the economic and social discrimination faced by individuals with psychiatric histories.

These groups, like the consumer run groups of today, offered emotional support, friendship, individual advocacy, information about mental health issues and a way to improve the mental health system. 

Why do these groups work? Self-Help groups have proven to be effective on a number of levels:

The act of joining together with others who have walked in your shoes enables individuals to recognize that they are not alone, that other people have had similar experiences and feelings. 

Individuals in the mental health system often do not have the support of family and friends. Self-help groups can provide the support that may be missing from these other systems. 

Self-help groups offer a safe place for self- disclosure. 

Self-help groups encourage personal responsibility and control over ones own treatment. Because group members are actively helping others, they gain a sense of their own competence. 

In contrast to the professional /client relationship, members of self-help groups are equals. 

Information from:



HOME  OFFICE LOCATIONS    Wisconsin Independent Living Centers    Independent Living Services