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oliphant.jpegEve Oliphant, pioneer of family support and advocacy, died in northern Cal. two weeks shy of her 90th birthday. She had been ill with leukemia.

Oliphant is a subject of the recently released PBS documentary, When Medicine Got it Wrong, describing parent activists organizing in Northern California in the early 1970s. Oliphant was the founder of Parents of Adults Schizophrenics (PAS) in San Mateo in 1973.

PAS took shape after Oliphant invited people on a list from the Schizophrenia Association to her apartment to talk about parenting children diagnosed with a mental disorder. Fifteen people arrived. Within a couple of years the organization consisted of more than 200, and became one of several California groups demanding changes on behalf of their children. There were similarities to them all, but PAS received national attention after 1978 when Dr. Walter Menninger wrote a nationally syndicated column describing the organization. Soon a a blizzard of letters arrived from other parents, some of whom had started similar groups, others who asked for help to learn about how to lobby, organize, and protest the lack of services their children needed. She was already recognized as an outspoken critic of the failed policies closing state hospitals with insufficient community follow-up.

Oliphant addressed the World Congress on Psychiatry in 1977, and co-authored articles highlighting the needs of families and criticizing organized psychiatry, much of which still believed in Freud. Chief among her criticisms was the accusation "schizophrenogenic mother," a textbook theory blaming families. Outspoken, spunky, and fearless, she led marches, letter writing campaigns, and participated in the 1979 meeting in Madison, Wisc., where the National Alliance on Mental Illness was formed.

Comments (1)
Katie Cadigan:

Eve Oliphant is the ultimate example of how much of a difference anyone can make. In When Medicine Got it Wrong her daughter talks about being amazed at her mother's "180 degree change" from housewife into pioneering activist.

Eve once told me that her transformation began thanks to a comment from a friend. "After months of crying about Brett she turned to me and said - 'If you don't like what's happening, DO SOMETHING!"

She rallied parents to take on seemingly insurmountable odds - including a psychiatric establishment with no interest in hearing from families since, as theories of the time posited, parents were the reason their children were sick.

Until she stepped up to start fighting, Eve never imagined herself an outspoken advocate: her passion unleashed her hidden gifts which ultimately gave birth to family advocacy.

Imagine the face of mental health care if every one of us who is frustrated with our terribly broken system "did something."

Posted by Katie Cadigan | June 29, 2010 11:16 AM
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