Recovery from serious mental illness may be a long process. If it is successful, it will certainly end with personal empowerment. But for any individual, success may require unpredictable elements and quantities of education, organization, research and experiment, soul searching, honest conversation, collaboration and compromise, perhaps even recalcitrance or courage.
In any event, recovery can only start with non-compliance.
My project outline here begs several questions, of course....
The first one is the validity of the concept of "serious mental illness" to begin with. When I use that term I do not imply any "diagnosis". People from Fuller Torrey's Treatment Advocacy Center (I'd rather call it "torture advocacy center", which still abbreviates to T.A.C. and is much more honest), and Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, must pretend that this is an objective category. Usually, they include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression as "serious mental illness" automatically, with no attention to who made the "diagnosis", when, by what criteria, etc.
This is a useless pretense, or myth of disease. It only benefits Pharma and the incomes of "experts". It assuredly does not benefit any patient anywhere, or society.
I suppose when I say "serious mental illness" I simply mean behavior which has landed somebody in sufficient trouble to be sold into psychiatric slavery (e.g., NGRI, unfit to stand trial, or otherwise involuntarily committed and coerced into "treatment").
The next issue is the nature of compliance or non-compliance. I once attended a serious seminar at an APA annual meeting, all about how patient "adherence" to prescribed medication, not compliance, is the better way to look at it. The psychs don't like to face up to their dependence on coercion. This is one of their major weak points.
I prefer to see this as a question of agency and nobility. There's a distinction between obedience and compliance, by the way. These are not interchangeable synonyms. Nietzsche told us that obedience can be noble (not in slaves, but in un-conscripted soldiers). My point might be that when one obeys, he knows he's obeying someone, and he usually knows who it is. It's personal.
Compliance is just being a willing part of the machine. It's almost an unconscious or automatic conformity, often with no personal implication, responsibility or redress, at all.
Too much compliance might be a cause of mental illness. What is acting out but compliance with one's own unsocial instincts and selfish desires? What is auditory hallucination or dissociation but compliance with one's own thoughts?
Non-compliance above all establishes personal agency. In our culture people find non-compliance more convincing (or maybe just easier to accept) when it is accompanied by reasons, arguments, evidence, etc. If this goes far enough, non-compliance can become so subtle that "the machine is on the other foot" so-to-speak. Those who become convinced that a certain type of non-compliance is utterly rational and justified end up complying with the viewpoint that was originally contrary.
In any event, a psychiatric slave who is non-compliant with "treatment" (drugs) may or may not find it immediately easy to get along. But he or she will be recognized right away, and there sure will be a higher demand for reasons, arguments and evidence. Then the trick will become the alert mixture of courage, recalcitrance, compromise, collaboration, honest conversation, soul searching, research and experiment, organization and education.
Hell of a project, perhaps! But there is only disempowerment from psychiatry, only the loss of personhood. And the drugs are their most heinous weapon.
So recovery starts with non-compliance.