Components: Self-Guided

Three green gears working togetherComponents: From Stigma to Action – Self-Guided Learning

Timing: 30 Minutes
Mode: In-Class; Online

Living on the frontlines of community mental health during her stay at the Parkdale boarding house, Pat Capponi found an identity and a purpose there, creating coherence out of the chaos of early deinstitutionalization. What makes her story such an excellent teaching tool is that it makes real the discriminatory and deeply stigmatizing aspects of the deinstitutionalization project.  Students can work with Capponi’s thought-provoking components either online or in class.  These self-guided resources are well suited for flipped classroom use with an in-class or online discussion or learning activity.

Capponi’s portraits of poverty with their details of deprivation and depression make even less sense when the reader tries to match them up with the phrases “independent living” and “community living’, buzzwords of the new era of mental health ushered in when the old guard institutions closed their doors. Download and read her description of winter in the Parkdale boarding house.  Transcription

In 2009, historian Megan Davies spoke to Pat Capponi about deinstitutionalization and life in the Parkdale boarding house. Listen to Capponi share her memories of mice infestations in the larder, the lack of personal safety and privacy, and the bedroom fires where she was left wondering, “Did everyone get out alright?”


A young woman with a college education, Capponi found boarding house society with its faces of madness, eccentric behaviours, and bodies clad in mismatched clothing hard to handle.  But over time stereotypes became people, some of them firm friends, others to be handled with additional caution or kindness.  Download and read what she wrote about this in her bookTranscription

Another thing happened to Capponi during this period. Tutored by experience as a student activist at college, she came to understand the systematic contours of discrimination in the post-asylum world.   Download and read this Capponi quote on housing as a human rights issue which splashed across page 9 of the November 1982 issue of Phoenix Rising, Toronto’s psychiatric survivor tabloid.  Transcription

Capponi’s emerging understandings of the situation of people with mental health histories as systemic discrimination fueled the emergence of an activist willing to take on the system.  Listen to her talking with Davies about early tactics that she and others employed to pull media cameras into the boarding houses and push the government into action. 


Download and read about Capponi’s career as an activist after she left the boarding house. Appreciate the role of empathic knowledge informed by lived experience in fostering successful advocacy and activism.  Transcription