The Icarus Project is a media and activist endeavor broadly aligned to anti-psychiatry, arguing that mental illness should actually be regarded as “dangerous gifts”. The name is derived from Icarus, a hero in Greek mythology, and is metaphorically used to convey that these experiences can lead to “potential[ly] flying dangerously close to the sun.” 
In 2002, musician Sascha Altman DuBrul wrote “Bipolar World”, an article published in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. The article described his experiences being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Among the dozens of e-mails and other correspondence that he received after this publication was a letter from Ashley McNamara, now known as Jacks, an artist and writer who identified strongly with DuBrul’s experiences. DuBrul and McNamara corresponded for a few weeks before finally meeting in person and deciding to start The Icarus Project with musician-activist Bonfire Madigan Shive. DuBrul has been quoted as saying that he has “superpowers” due to his alleged acute sensitivity to his surroundings.
The first step, they decided, was creating a website where people who identified with “bipolar and other ‘mental illness’ [could] find real community and contribute to it.”
The Icarus Project’s stated aims are to provide a viable alternative to current methods of approaching and treating mental illnesses. The national Icarus Collective staff is set up to support local groups instead of creating the smaller organizations themselves. The responsibilities of the local group are to gather people locally for support, education, activism, and access to alternatives to mainstream medical diagnosis and treatment. The Project advocates self-determination and caution when approaching psychiatric care. It encourages harm reduction, alternatives to the prevailing medical model that is accepted by the vast majority of mental health professionals, and self-determination in treatment and diagnosis.
Journalist Jennifer Itzenson notes that the Icarus Project accepts those with a wide range of perspectives on mental health issues, but also describes “an edge of militancy within the group,” particularly among those who reject medication. Itzenson also writes that while medical professionals applaud groups like the Icarus Project for providing a sense of support and community, and combating social stigmas related to bipolar and other mental health issues, the group’s questioning of the medical paradigm is “misguided” and that rejecting medication is a “potentially fatal choice” for those with bipolar disorder.
As of early 2016, none of the staff or advisory council of the Icarus Project have any training, education, certification or licensing in any medical, mental health, social work or related disciplines. The groups’s leadership and members tend to describe themselves as artists and other creative types.
Structure / funding Edit
The Icarus Project is currently under the fiscal sponsorship of FJC, a non-profit 501(c)3 umbrella organization arm of an investment firm, based in New York City. The Icarus Project currently gets the bulk of its money from foundation grants, but also has many individual donors. There has been considerable talk for many years of alternate funding structures, and efforts are currently underway to explore 501c3 and cooperative structures. The Icarus Project maintains a financial transparency page which is current as of 2010, receiving grants totaling $16,000 and individual donations of about $3,500. The Icarus Project does not accept funding from pharmaceutical companies.
The Icarus Project network Edit
A full listing of local Icarus affiliated groups can be found on The Icarus Project’s website.
Some of the local groups currently meet in
Asheville, North Carolina
Los Angeles, California (Wildflowers’ Movement)
New York City, New York
Northampton, Massachusetts (Freedom Center)
San Francisco (Bay Area), California