I saw Peter Campbell, on a stage, before I actually met him. It was 1986 at Kensington Town Hall, the MIND conference where Survivors Speak Out was founded. He said many things but including “I feel positive” which I did not, having just lost my job through distress. But those words prompted me to sign up for Camden Mental Health Consortium, my local user/survivor group – which I had never heard of before then. In time, he was Secretary and I was Chair – though it might have been the other way round as these things go in mad politics.
I learned so much. Diplomacy – with obnoxious senior managers of Friern Hospital which was being closed at the time. Humour – from dry wit to hilarity and sometimes both at once. I met you there and you seemed so YOUNG. The National Self Harm Network changed me in learning I was not alone and things could be understood differently. That was Peter – things can be understood differently and spread differently, from conference speeches to Poetry Sessions (the Pineapple in Kentish Town was my favourite). It was a new world for me and the beginning of a journey that is not over and Peter was a natural, if oh-so-modest, leader. His mind quick, his poetry passionate, his friendship loyal.
I was more on the periphery of Survivors Speak Out, happiest in local activism. But I met so many impressive people – gatherings in Peter’s flat in Cricklewood, planning, strategizing and just being loonies together. I miss that sense of solidarity, Peter embodied it. He explained to me why writing the Constitution of Survivors Speak Out took so long. Many groups grabbed a template to formalise themselves. But for Peter the membership had to be consulted and properly however long it took: “it was the proper thing to do, the democratic thing to do”.
Then there were the hospital visits – whoever was in the Bin was not left to rot, Peter visited me and me him, others too, you too. Even there the activism did not stop and neither did the humour. It’s quite a thing to make a mad person laugh genuinely. The last time I saw him, so ill, so frail, I remarked that he had a Scottish accent again (well, I wrote it down because he could not hear). He smiled: “do I?”. Roots we shared.
Myself I became an academic again. In a University where Peter taught philosophy classes. The students would say: “how do you survive in this place?” Co-opted, seduced but soon disenchanted. Nobody would co-opt Peter. Teaching was activism for us both.
Peter was ahead of his time, always. Last year he said he had always thought that mental ‘health’ should be taken out of ‘health’. He said he was a psychiatric SYSTEM survivor because that system was not just psychiatry, it was society-wide. We should do more work on poverty he said but referred to himself wryly as ‘retired’.
And finally, until this year, we had a ritual of visiting Peter at the beginning of the New Year which was also his birthday. This year we were not in England so Peter and I exchanged emails instead. Then came March, his collapse in the Park and four weeks later his death. I will always be grateful that I knew and learned so much from Peter, that he was my friend, and I know that there are people all over the world who feel the same.
I still remember the first time I met Peter and the conversation we had over 30 years ago. He was so good at giving survivors a hands up, like inviting you to join his training session and watch, participate for a short while, a great mentor. I remember one time, I was young starting out in my 20s, speaking at a conference where this bastard psychiatrist made it his goal of the day to follow me around and constantly interrupt really unpleasantly.
I’d learnt from Peter, don’t react to profs deliberately goading for response. I rang him before I left, he met me at the station. We had tea as I tearfully debriefed. That was true survivor solidarity in action. The time he spoke to a nursing congress and finished with a poem, he held the room in his hands with quiet authority.
I remember us doing teaching on bipolar and psychosis, both of us giving experience and how easy it was to work with him. One of his phrases (on diagnostic abuse), “you can say I’m a plum not a tomato but if you sit on me the bruises still feel the same”. Perfect!
He welcomed me into his home in Cricklewood when I commuted from Sussex, I remember sitting with him at his table, tea, putting the world to rights together, talking through issues of the day, his encyclopaedias, his piggies, his sharp little cartoons for the newsletter, his strong support of survivor publications. We shared a lot of laughs, like for a time he became The Man from Lentheric and afterwards about one of his manic phases when he was walking so fast I was scurrying to keep up. We sat in a church and he thought we’d got married!
Kind, supportive, gentle, accepting, powerful with words but never attacking of survivors, never competing, self-effacing humility. That’s what made Survivors Speak Out so special, his accepting, caring, kindness which emanated from Peter’s leadership, he led that culture of kind, thoughtful, enquiring, wanting to learn from everyone solidarity. His contribution to survivor activism was so much and to professionals education would need a couple of books to fully convey the magnitude of it, suffice to say that we all stand on the shoulders of the work of those before us and his is massive.
A gentle giant, an elder statesman and back bone of survivor history.
Much of what people can do today, is in part on the shoulders of pioneers work such as Peter, carving a path for us and with us. He embodied inclusive, thoughtful, compassionate activism with no edge nor ego, it’s a rare quality.
His sharp intellect and wit, Mike Lawson described Peter as a Desmond Tutu, a brother to all of us, “Having a universal friendly gentle approach, characteristic along with a very keen awareness of how to listen to very distressed folk”
Peter wrote in my copy of ‘Brown Linoleum, Green Lawns’, (my all time favouite poetry book) “I will never forget how you gently introduced Dr P to advocacy!” and he wrote a poem for me based on my advocacy, ‘Crisis Advocate’.
Peter also was a gentle and quietly authoritative advocate for others, he accompanied me to Accident & Emergency a few times.
Karen Campbell, the 1st survivor director of the then Manic Depression Fellowship said;
“I will never forget how kind and supportive he was to me when I was just starting out in user development in Cambridge – he was wonderful – he came up and supported me organising a conference and gave me such a confidence boost in a really difficult working environment. And being part of Survivors Speak Out was just a lifeline. Hard to believe it was thirty years ago”.
So much Peters hallmark – kindness, willing to help, facilitate, give a hand up to fellow survivors.
Phil Thomas said ;
“Peter’s influence was wide and deep, and without his work, and that of those survivors he inspired through SSO critical psychiatry would be different.
He coined the word postpsychiatry in 1996 in Speaking our Minds.
RIP Peter, your legacy continues”
Anne Plumb’s activist archive includes many of Peters papers, letters such as this from the Guardian 27/06/87 (Hugh Freeman v others)
“Sir, I feel I should declare that I have been diagnosed as ‘manic depressive with schizophrenic tendencies’ while this may have helped the experts in prescribing me numerous “drug cocktails ” over the years, it has not proved a notable cocktail on the dance floors of everyday life. One man’s diagnostic tool is another three’s insult. Yours sincerely,
Dr Claire Hilton at the Royal College of Psychiatrists said;
‘So sorry to hear about Peter Campbell, a very special person who has influenced the lives of so many people for the better. He was the star of our RCPsych 1960s witness seminar in 2019. Everything he said made an impact.’
Peter wrote extensively for Openmind, Asylum magazine, Mental Health Today, nursing journals. He taught all professional disciplines alongside supporting survivors, working with all groups, many campaigns. SSO designed information packs. Publications, the first crisis card, advance directive information, supported many advocacy and user/survivor groups. He co-founded Survivors Poetry and was a member of the Survivors History Group. His body of work will be collated and archived so the next generation to learn from.
Thankyou Peter for what you gave us as a movement, you were the embodiment of solidarity.
And for the love and friendship you gave us your friends, who were lucky to know you.
The Mental Marching Band
You’d better wet your whistles
For the Mental Marching Band
For we’re making a wee comeback
And it’s spreading through the land.
And we’d laugh you to distraction
If we thought you’d understand
About the Mental Marching Band.
There’s Danny Ogenkenyu
On the bagpipes by the way.
And when he’s took his Lithium
Sweet Jesus can he play.
You can denigrate the madness
The song won’t fade away
From the Mental Marching Band.
We’ll all be out and running
When the storm breaks.
Down the House of Commons
Wi’ our fruitcake
You’ll have to take your medication then
Just for the music’s sake
And the Mental Marching Band
We’ll not be taking prisoners
Under blood red skies.
We’ve had too much confinement
In our lives.
We’re getting our own World War out
That everyone survives.
Thanks to the Mental Marching Band.
Let’s hear it.
Hold me – cries the girl.
The girl in hospital clothes.
She kneels on tat carpet squares,
Knuckles the joins,
Rocks against the orange armchair,
Pressing her forehead into the texurene.
Hold me. Hold me – she cries
And turn that fucking television off.
The evening team are moving back out.
They have sat in the sluices,
Watching the clock pass eight.
Coolly they edge the room,
Reading their newspapers upside down.
Drift near the window curtains
Counting, counting, checking the back way out.
Hold me. Hold me.
Hold me. They gather round neatly,
Finger their cuffs in unison.
When will the slap come?
When will the blanket be brought?
Evans is Jesus.
Evans is the bastard.
Coming from the nursing station
With his blue suit on.
Every sympathy is order.
They take her to the treatment room,
They take her to seclusion.
Beyond harm’s reach
And just in time to enter on the shift report.
At twenty past nine we’ll make ourselves toast
And cluster in the servery.
We were the ones with the power to hold.
The power to make safe the danger.
Angling for leave under Section Three,
Dreaming of mealtimes outside Saint David’s.
We are the ones with the holding power.
Evans is our saver.
Evans is the bastard.
Drugtime Cowboy Joe
Wall to wall landscaping of the soul.
Always a rugged coast, salt-flecked but liveable.
Always a hero looking west,
Going on about the forward march of science.
You can have your sunsets cloudy bright,
Bright, bright to cloudy or extra bright
With cloudy intervals at intervals
And something special for that tickle
You can have them anyway you need.
But always numbing,
And always, everlastingly
To stand at the window, drinking the sunset down,
Tasting no rain.
Feeling the cracks in their spirit
Nutters get compulsory sunsets.
Always start writing back:
Wish we weren’t here.
They all smiled
But the drapes were down
Thirteen nutters seen this morning
Even the constitutional niceties
Sometimes wear thin.
She did not smile
Sat next to me
With Doc Martens boots on.
“We would get on much better, doctor,
If you didn’t keep interrupting him”.
There was a pause
The shifting of spines
A page in my history
We’re not mad we’re angry:
Mental Marching Band:
Brown Linoleum Green Lawns:
Peter Campbell 1949-2022