Mad Pride in Geneva aims to destigmatise mental illnesses

Participants in Geneva's Mad Pride Keystone

Some 500 people have taken to the streets of Geneva as part of the first Mad Pride to be held in Switzerland. The festive procession of patients and their relatives as well as carers aimed to remove the stigma from psychological illness. 

This content was published on October 10, 2019 - 18:50

“Let’s be crazy, let’s be us!” chanted many participants on Thursday, World Mental Health Day. Signs addressed mental illness in a humorous way, using the French words for nutters, fruitcakes and screwballs. Some people wore funnels on their head. 

“They’re playing with their own image instead of hiding,” said Michel Pluss, director of the Trajets foundationExternal link, which since 1979 has promoted the social and professional integration of people with mental problems. 

Pluss initiated this event along with CoraaspExternal link, an umbrella group for associations that deal with mental health in French-speaking Switzerland.  

“We’re like everyone else with our small and big worries,” said Carole, who lives in the village of Aigues-VertesExternal link, an institution for people with disabilities. 

Adéi, another participant, wanted to raise awareness of personality disorders. 

‘Can affect us all’ 

Mad Pride is held in the same spirit as the Gay Prides with the idea of using the city to get across a message on mental health, diversity and citizenship, according to Coraasp. 

“It’s time to be able to talk about mental health the way we talk about physical health, to be able to say that we suffer from depression or schizophrenia the way we say we suffer from cancer or heart disease,” the organisers said. 

“Mental illness can affect us all at some point in our lives,” Pluss said. 

According to the Swiss Health ObservatoryExternal link, mental illnesses are among the most common and disabling diseases. Their 2016 report on psychological health in SwitzerlandExternal link revealed that 18% of respondents believe they have significant or moderate psychological problems. Around 30% reported depressive symptoms and 2% quite severe symptoms.

Demand for psychological care has risen in recent years, the study said. In 1997, 4.1% of the population was treated for psychological problems; this rose to 5.4% in 2012. The number of people visiting psychiatric specialists has increased significantly over the past ten years, from 283,000 in 2006 to 447,000 in 2015.

The Mad Pride movement originated in Toronto in 1993 in response to prejudices against people with a psychiatric history. The basic idea was to turn negative stereotypes and images about mental illness into something positive. The movement has since spread around the world.

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