Don Weitz – interview

Don Weitz – interview

Don Weitz first encountered psychiatry in the 1950s as a young man struggling with an identity crisis. Incarcerated for fifteen months in the McLean Hospital, Massachusetts, Weitz was forcibly administered sub-coma insulin shock. This shaped his life.

Weitz subsequently graduated with B.A. and M.A. degrees in psychology, from Boston University, he worked for 15 years as a psychologist in Cleveland and Toronto.  But the 1974 International Conference on Human Rights and Psychiatric Oppression in Topeka, Kansas, was a turning point for Weitz.  He stopped working within the mental health system and became active in what was then called “the mental patients liberation movement.” Inspired by the Mental Patient Association in Vancouver and Judi Chamberlin’s classic text On Our Own, in 1977 Weitz co-founded the Ontario Mental Patient Association with survivors Harvey (’Alf’) Jackson and Bob Carson. Later renamed On Our Own, the organization was the first self-help survivors group in Ontario.  Three years later Weitz teamed up with lawyer Carla McKague to launch Phoenix Rising – an important voice for psychiatric survivors in Canada for a decade.

Weitz covers these events in his 2009 oral history interview, framing them in the context of rights, social movements and civil disobedience. He also recounts his role in the Canadian struggle to abolish electroshock (ECT) and his work as a member of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP). He references many fellow activists including Bonnie Burstow, Carla McKague, David Reville, Mel Starkman, Pat Capponi and Geoffrey Reaume.  Weitz is the author of the e-book Rise Up/Fight Back: Selected Writings of an Antipsychiatry Activist (2011), and the e-book Resistance Matters: The Radical Vision of an Antipsychiatry Activist, edited by Irit Shimrat.

The recipient of  two social justice awards and CAPA’s lifetime achievement award for antipsychiatry activism, Don Weitz died in Toronto in September 2021.

Keywords: Phoenix Rising, Anti-psychiatry, patient rights, Shrink Resistant, Bonnie Burstow, civil disobedience, New Star Press, Mind Freedom International, Mel Starkman, PSAT, Geoffrey Reaume, electro shock therapy, David Reville, On Our Own, funding, Pat Capponi, Toronto Board of Health, Carla McKague, social movement, media, Clarke Institute, CAPA, psych Out Conference.