People USA was born directly out of a struggle for civil rights, from what is known generally as the Consumer/Survivor/Ex-Patient Movement.
Inspired by other social movements of the 1960s, survivors of psychiatric abuse, and ex-patients began to break themselves and their peers out of state-run psychiatric centers, forced treatment, and a broader system of care where discouragement and perpetual illness were the expectations. Coinciding with an overall drive towards deinstitutionalization, the movement grew into a force pushing back against that system: from forming groups, to developing services, and starting whole peer-run agencies.
In the 1980s, people being discharged from New York State’s Hudson River Psychiatric Center began to come together to educate, advocate for, and support each other as they built or re-built their lives.
They quickly realized that they needed an organization operated of and by people with their own similar lived experiences.
In 1990, Sally Clay organized these peer groups into PEOPLe, Inc. (Projects to Empower and Organize the Psychiatrically Labeled), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in Poughkeepsie, NY. Diane Coté became our first Executive Director. Sally, Diane, and our board of directors, staff, and volunteers began working to lay the foundations for People USA today.
Demanding a system that allowed them to stay integrated in the community, that respected their self-determination, and that never gave up on the promise that people living with behavioral health issues can and do get better.
To this day, in all that we do, we continue to educate, advocate for, and support each other. We continue to push back against the traditional system, so that it works better for people and communities. That’s where we came from, and we will never forget.