23 Jan 2003 : Pete Shaughnessy - Campaigner who took the stigma out of insanity.

Pete Shaughnessy, who has died aged 40, was one of the founders and driving forces behind Mad Pride, which emerged in 1999 to challenge government moves towards what it saw as more coercive mental health legislation.

The concept of Mad Pride was simple: like Gay Pride or Black Pride, a stigmatised, stereotyped group - the mentally ill - reappropriated language and forced society to face its prejudices. At last, the voices of patients themselves, not just psychiatrists or government ministers
or charity spokespeople, were heard in policy debates. And in the formidably articulate Shaughnessy, Mad Pride had a master of the pithy soundbite and the well-staged, often humorous, direct action protest.

Born in south London, Pete grew up in a working-class Irish household in East Dulwich, and was educated in Dulwich and Battersea.

After studying drama at the Rose Bruford College, Sidcup, from 1983 to 1986, he worked in a children's home, and then as a carer for people with disabilities.

In 1990, he realised a childhood dream by becoming a bus driver, and taking the number 36 out of Peckham garage; it was in the course of this work in April 1992 that he was launched on the spiral into mental illness. He was already under pressure: his long-term relationship with his partner Lucy had foundered a couple of years earlier, while the dispute over the privatisation of the bus service was also taking its toll. Pete, coming to the aid of a conductor who was being attacked by a passenger, was severely assaulted with an iron bar.

Shortly afterwards, he went on a silent hunger strike outside the bus garage, and by the end of the year he was hospitalised, having been found walking half-naked on a bridge in Ireland. He was diagnosed as suffering from manic depression. A life of constant medication,
regular spells in hospital and brilliant activism followed.

In 1997, the Bethlem and Maudsley NHS Trust marked the Bethlem hospital's 750th anniversary with a series of celebrations. Pete, who had been a patient at the Maudsley, saw nothing to celebrate in either the original Bedlam ("a symbol for man's inhumanity to man, for callousness and cruelty," in historian Roy Porter's words), or the state of mental health care.

So he started a counter-movement: Reclaim Bedlam. Hundreds of mental patients around the country supported it, and the BBC2 series From The Edge made a programme about it. At a time of many community-care horror stories, a very different message was finally getting out.

Then came Mad Pride. "Telling people I am mad is taking control of my madness and accepting it," Pete said. "By reclaiming language I'm turning my prison into a fortress."

The group produced an anthology of writing (Mad Pride: A
Celebration Of Mad Culture, 2001), a compilation CD (Nutters With Attitude) and put on frequent live gigs. Demonstrations were held to highlight prejudice against the mentally ill and register outrage at the government's proposals to extend powers of compulsory treatment.

Pete also threw himself into the most contentious area in mental health care. In 1995 his younger sister Theresa had been killed by her boyfriend, whom psychiatrists later deemed to be in a state of paranoid psychosis.

Pete's response was to immerse himself in the issue of how society treats the "criminally insane". He worked as an advocate for patients at Broadmoor, and when a cluster of suicides at the high security hospital three years ago coincided with severe staffing shortages, brought the issue into the public domain.

In 1999 he moved to Worthing with his partner Penny, whom he married a year later, and her son Daniel. There he got involved with direct action newsletters and worked as a volunteer with vendors at the Big Issue.

Although his last months were marked by deep depression, Pete continued to campaign against the draft mental health bill. In November, his usual dynamism buffeted by illness and heavy medication, he still managed to manoeuvre himself into a position behind health minister Jacqui Smith on the platform at the Mind mental health conference in Cardiff.

The message on his T-shirt was visible to all: "No Force". He is survived by his wife Penny, stepson Daniel, and his children Francesca, Sam and Nathan from his relationship with Lucy. Peter Anthony Thomas Shaughnessy, campaigner, born September 14 1962; died December 15 2002

Mark Olden
Source: GUARDIAN 23/01/2003 P22


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