Ron Coleman speaks at Empowerment Initiatives

Ron Coleman. (Image: Brian Steensma)

Ron Coleman. (Image: Brian Steensma)

By Jenny Westberg, Portland Mental Health Examiner

At a noontime gathering October 21, hosted by Empowerment Initiatives, the only peer-run and operated mental health service provider in Oregon, U.K. mental health worker Ron Coleman was speaking on – what else? – empowerment.

Empowerment is not a gift. No one is going to give us power. It is something we take.” – Ron Coleman

With less than a day’s notice, two dozen Portlanders filled the living and dining rooms of EI’s quarters on Hawthorne Boulevard — the former Asylum Avenue — to hear Coleman deliver an address that was part recovery story, part rallying cry.

“Who gave women the vote? Was it men? No, it was the suffragettes. They took power. Who gave black people civil liberties — white people?  No. It started with one person, Rosa Parks. She sat herself in her bus seat and said, ‘I’m not moving. What are you going to do about it?’ If we want the right to be normal, we’re going to have to take that right.” – Ron Coleman

In his trademark Scottish burr, Coleman described his own journey from “chronic schizophrenic” to  internationally known mental health advocate, speaker and trainer.  His voice-hearing is no longer an impediment to succeessful living, and he is medication-free. Coleman says his recovery is due in large part to Hearing Voices groups.

The medications, however, left him with insulin-dependent diabetes.

“We’re told, ‘This medication has no side effects’ or ‘the side effects are tolerable.’ Tolerable? It’s not okay to put on 60-70 pounds in three months because of a drug. That’s not a side effect, it’s a time bomb!”– Ron Coleman

Coleman criticized the psychiatric system for claiming “evidence-based  practice” while ignoring evidence-based diagnosis. Except for the dementias, he said, there is no scientific proof for any of the diagnoses in the DSM-IV.  And when the system doesn’t work, Coleman said, “they blame us – ‘treatment resistance,’ they call it.”

Coleman’s scheduled co-speaker, fellow U.K. advocate Paul Baker, was delayed, arriving at the finish of Coleman’s address with a wide smile and a trunkload of literature, including Baker’s own book The Voice Inside, A Practical Guide For and About People Who Hear Voices. That and many other works are available for purchase at Ron Coleman’s online store.

Throughout his speech, Coleman returned to the subject of empowerment and what he called “the first great civil rights movement of the century.”

“It’s our right to recover! Take power – and let’s set ourselves free.” – Ron Coleman

More information:

See more pictures from the event: Portland Mental Health Examiner

Hear Ron Coleman interviewed on Madness Radio

Working to Recovery (Ron  Coleman’s website)

Portland Hearing Voices support group (for anyone who’s experienced extreme states or madness — not limited to voice-hearers)

INTERVOICE, the international Hearing Voices network

Empowerment Initiatives