The Gainesville Icarus Project is a “radical mental health” group that acts as a safe space for folks to talk about what’s on their minds, free from the limiting and often damaging stereotypes of the psychiatric industry.

The group meets once a month with the short-term aim of supporting each other, and with the long-term vision of fostering a new worldview in which “issues” aren’t synonymous with “illnesses,” and where psychosis is seen as a societal problem and not a personal one.

Folks in the group see the greed of capitalism, the exclusivity of gender-roles, and the moral stigmas of religiosity— to name a few things— as true madness. The Gainesville Icarus Project is a much-needed sidestream offering hope to those struggling against the current of the mainstream.

The Icarus Project is a wide-spread network that was conceived of and born in 2002 near California’s Bay Area, where it is still based. The original project was the formation of a website intended to unite those who are living with and/or affected by depression, anxiety, anger, mutiple-personalities or other experiences that are commonly labeled as psychiatric conditions, yet who want to approach such experiences from a different angle. It didn’t take long for this small project to turn into a nation-wide movement.

Local groups have been popping up around the country independently, without any sort of push from the Bay Area. The Icarus Project website, and the original Bay Area group, now act as a resource and toolbox for the various groups around the country. Though these groups share the uniquenvision of shifting the paradigm of mental health, they remain autonomous and each exhibit unique identities.

The Gainesville Icarus Project is still in the process of forging its own identity. The group was formed in Oct. 2010 in the wake of Free University’s DIY Fest during a workshop on radical mental health. The conversation made it clear that our community could greatly benefit from an Icarus-style group.

So far the turnout has averaged 6-10 people, and the group has done well to create a safe and welcoming space for support and encouragement. There are no leaders. Interested folks have simply come together with the common goal of supporting each other. I’ve watched folks who don’t know each other openly share their struggles and offer advice, all with a spirit of compassion and understanding.

The Icarus Project acknowledges that issues are serious and can be extremely difficult to navigate, and that professional care is sometimes necessary. We encourage individuals to make their own decisions about the care they receive.

Some of us pay a professional counselor, and some of us don’t trust authority, or lack the funds for “professional advice.” Some of us are on meds, and some of us are adamantly opposed to them. What we have in common is a desire to support each other as friends, and a deep suspicion of this pathological society that has enough disregard to label us the crazy ones.

We hold meetings on the third Thursday of each month at 7pm in the back courtyard of the Civic Media Center (433 S. Main Street). All are welcome. We sit around a bonfire, sharing snacks and stories, conspiring the creation of a new world where friends are our counselors, community is our hospital, and conversation is our medicine.

As we venture down the sidestreams, and as our wings of imperfection fly us dangerously close to the sun, we discover things only seen by a crazy few.

To learn more, check out The Icarus Project online.

This piece was printed as our Monthly Manifesto for Feb. 2010. The Monthly Manifesto is an outlet for local organizations to share their vision with the rest of Gainesville. If you’re part of an organization that may be interested, email us at alt.publication@gmail.com.