Get your dancing shoes on.
Mental Health services Rio style, as reported in NY Times.
NYTimes 3rd Mar, 2014
RIO DE JANEIRO — Standing high atop a truck rigged with speakers, André da Silva Lisboa cried out to hundreds of drummers, dancers and costumed revelers gathering in the sun-drenched avenue below.
“Carnival has arrived,” shouted Mr. da Silva Lisboa, 38, a samba singer. “Come to the streets! We’re freaking out!”
It looks like any of the other 450 or so roving street parties, called Carnival blocks, that parade through Rio de Janeiro during the raucous pre-Lenten festivities that draw hundreds of thousands to the city each year. What makes this party different is its constituency of performers and organizers: psychiatric patients and their doctors, therapists, family members, neighbors and passers-by.
“Here we can show our creativity as human beings, regardless of the state of our health,” said Enéas Elpidio, 45, a guitar teacher who — like Mr. da Silva Lisboa — receives psychiatric treatment. “We are patients, but we are capable of creating a fabulous Carnival.”
In the block, everyone mixes. There is no telling who is who.
“We’re together, working because there is intense suffering, and we need to make something out of this suffering,” said Alexandre Ribeiro Wanderley, 42, a psychoanalyst and the group’s general coordinator, who co-founded the group in 2004. “The sadness is intense, but so is the joy.”
The group — called Tá Pirando, Pirado, Pirou! (which roughly translates to “We’re freaking out, we keep freaking out!”) — began at a time when Brazil was in the process of dismantling its century-old system of mental asylums. A law passed in 2001 called for long-term outpatient psychiatric care to be offered primarily in community treatment centers. The number of such clinics increased more than fivefold in the following decade, while the number of hospital beds for psychiatric patients dropped 40 percent nationwide.
In the same years, Rio saw a resurgence of street carnival, which eschews the pricey tickets that can cost more than $1,000 for Rio’s Sambadrome, where famous samba schools compete, in favor of hundreds of free party blocks across the city with newly invented themes and customs.
“When we go out, we’re in society,” Mr. Elpidio said. “We’re claiming our place symbolically, socially and politically in society and demystifying the illnesses that we carry due to misfortune or destiny or I don’t know what.”
Gilson Secundino, a founding member of the Carnival block and a client of Rio’s public mental health system, came up with the name Tá Pirando, Pirado, Pirou! to play on the yearly ritual when so-called normal people go wild in the streets, a nod to puncturing the boundaries between psychiatric illness and public life.
Tá Pirando is one of several groups that include mental health patients and bear deliberately humorous names — Suburban Madness, Nervous Shakes, Stress Out but Don’t Flip Out.
Rio’s Carnival has its origins in 17th-century street parties called entrudos, in which boisterous crowds threw lemon-scented water on one another. Throughout Brazil’s colonial period, Carnival was largely enjoyed by the lower classes, including slaves and freed blacks, who often satirized the dress and mannerisms of the elite.
Today’s street Carnival continues to be a stage for playfully challenging hierarchies and rules. Mr. da Silva Lisboa, who has been treated for schizophrenia, clears trash at a McDonalds in Rio’s working-class periphery six days a week. But during Carnival, he is a crucial leader in the streets.
“The lead singer for Tá Pirando has to animate everyone, to do the war cry, then bring the school to its landing point,” Mr. da Silva Lisboa, better known by his nickname, André Poetry, said.
The group’s theme for 2014, “Wake up, giant! One swallow does not a summer make,” is inspired partly from a quotation by Aristotle: “One swallow does not make a summer, neither does one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.”
The theme also nods to the protests that brought hundreds of thousands to the streets across Brazil in 2013 in the country’s largest demonstrations in more than two decades. Protesters demanded more affordable transportation and greater investments in public health and education.
“I think it’s perfect because it integrates the hope of the nation to wake up to our difficulties, to differences, to injustices,” said Marcela Weck, a psychotherapist and one of the block’s coordinators. “ ‘One swallow does not make a summer’ communicates the idea of the potential of collective effort.”
Other blocks are continuing the spirit of thedemonstrators this year, including a new one christened Occupy Carnival, which celebrated the impending exit of the state of Rio’s governor.
Like the elaborate samba schools that spend months rigorously selecting music, themes and costumes for carnival, Tá Pirando holds several weekly workshops year-round in psychiatric hospitals where inpatients and outpatients compose music and make decorations.
In early February, members and supporters of Tá Pirando gathered at Rio Scenarium, an upscale music club usually filled with foreign tourists and well-dressed locals. The artists performed their protest-themed sambas in a heated competition, which was won by André Poetry and his composing partner, Roni Valk.
Two weeks later, as initial parties for carnival got underway, the parade made its way past one of Latin America’s earliest mental institutions on Avenida Pasteur as André Poetry belted his song with the lyrics “A rubber bullet or some pepper spray can’t wound my citizen soul!”
Past years’ themes have taken a more personal turn. In 2010, the block sang the story of a fellow member, João Batista dos Santos, 56, who was hospitalized several times before learning that he had bipolar disorder and was treated with lithium:
In the asylum João Batista came to see “That being crazy is easy. What’s hard is being me.”
This year, Mr. dos Santos entertained children on the avenue in his rainbow-colored clown costume, topped with the official Tá Pirando T-shirt. The design, by Samy Chagas, a visual artist and mental health patient, shows a woman, Madame Bondão, whose thighs trace the twin hills of Rio’s iconic Sugarloaf Mountain, where the parade concludes. The cable car connecting the hills forms the top of her bikini.
As the evening darkened to a deep blue, the block party streamed into a wide plaza at the base of Sugarloaf and began to wind down. Under the streetlamps, a lime green banner danced in the hands of a reveler, its sequins spelling out the words “Here, sorrow jumps for joy.”