MPA History Project

MPA History Project

Vancouver’s Mental Patient Association (MPA) was formed in 1971 in response to tragic shortcomings in early community mental health. The group had a well-deserved reputation for radicalism in its founding years, bolstered by media interest in the country’s first “mental health self-help group.” Indeed, as a self-run, user-led community, MPA challenged fundamental tenants of psychiatry by empowering patients to provide their own supports. The group created a system of elected coordinators to run its drop-in, co-op homes, and numerous research and educational initiatives. It never relied on mental health professionals. Its arresting tabloid paper, In A Nutshell, was a leader in critical thinking about psychiatry, patient rights and mental health policy, often turning a searching eye on the internal workings of the group.

In June of 2010 two academic historians Geertje Borshma (UBC – Nursing) and Megan Davies (York – Health & Society) and Marina Morrow (SFU – Health Policy) began research on MPA’s history by interviewing ten early members (former patients and allies), and two psychiatrists and one politician who had been connected to the organization in its founding years. With the exception of Lanny Beckman, the original instigator of the group, all the interviews were filmed. Beckman’s interview can be found in Sound section of Resources.

Later in the winter of 2010-2011 a group of MPA Founders and Borshma, Davies and Morrow agreed to create a historical documentary about MPA and several further interviews were done.  This was part of the CIHR-funded After the Asylum project, the first national study of the history of deinstitutionalization that had been undertaken in Canada.

Click on the links in the right hand menu to access the complete video-taped MPA interviews and a CBC Hourglass documentary from January 1973 on MPA where members Franc Phillips, Lanny Beckman, Patty Gazzola and Dave Beamish were interviewed.  All interviews used in the Inmates film project were transcribed and these are included alongside a short biographical note about the interviewee(s).

Other MPA material in Madness Canada’s Resources includes:  Lanny Beckman PapersHugh Parfitt Papers; McCann Photographs; Patty Gazzola Photographs; Eve Hamilton Photographs; MPA – In A Nutshell Collection; MPA – Publications; Women Look at Psychiatry: I’m Not Mad I’m Angry.

Madness Canada exhibits about the MPA include

Publications relating to this work include:

Lanny Beckman and Megan J. Davies (2013). Democracy is a Very Radical Idea. In Brenda LeFrancois, Robert Menzies, and Geoffrey Reaume, Eds., Mad Matters: A Critical Reader in Canadian Mad Studies, pp. 49–63. Toronto: Canadian Scholars.

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Stories from the MPA. DVD, 36 minutes, created by the MPA Founders’ Collective. Producer: Megan Davies, Co-Producer: Marina Morrow, Associate Co-Producer: Geertje Boschma (History of Madness Productions 2013).

Geertje Boschma, Megan Davies, and Marina Morrow (2014). “Those people known as mental patients…”: Professional and patient engagement in community mental health in Vancouver, BC in the 1970s. Oral History Forum d’histoire orale 34 (2014) and is used with permission.