Asylum’s tribute to Peter Campbell, 1949-2022

Peter Campbell was a gentle giant of the UK psychiatric survivors’ movement.

A mental health system survivor, writer and poet, he devoted his life and considerable talents to the pursuit of psychiatric survivors’ rights.

Peter became active in mental health politics in the early 1980’s and co-founded Survivors Speak Out in 1986. Although there were mental patients’ organisations before that time, notably the Mental Patients’ Unions in the 1970’s, Survivors Speak Out is often viewed as having marked the beginning of the modern psychiatric survivor’s movement in the UK. It was hugely influential in the broader landscape of mental health services and politics and Peter was undeniably central to its achievements.

In 1987, when he was interviewed about the ground-breaking, survivor-led documentary “We’re not mad…we’re angry”, Peter said:

What’s happening is more than simply a question of users standing up and shouting…it’s a broader attempt to not only radically change the psychiatric system, but society itself.

That same year, in a letter to the Guardian, he wrote:

I have been diagnosed as ‘manic depressive with schizophrenic tendencies’. While this may have helped the experts in prescribing me numerous “drug cocktails” over the years, it has not proved a notable cocktail on the dance floors of everyday life. One man’s diagnostic tool is another three’s insult”.

Peter had spent a lot of his adult life in and out of psychiatric hospitals and he made it his life-long mission to raise awareness about the plight of patients, to educate mental health professionals and to change policy. He felt especially strongly about seclusion and solitary confinement:

‘I have found myself locked up abandoned in a cell, deprived of human contact, observed but not comforted.’

Peter’s quiet and steadfast activism encouraged many survivors to speak out, influencing generations of mental health professionals, researchers and activists. He wasn’t dogmatic or ideologically driven and wanted the voices of all survivors to be heard and taken seriously – he was the embodiment of democracy and solidarity. Like many survivors, Peter’s activism took myriad forms, finding expression in diverse kinds of writing.. A gifted poet and performer, he co-founded Survivors’ Poetry in 1991 another hugely important organisation in our history.

Peter supported countless user-led groups over the years and latterly spent his time working with the Survivors History Group, helping to document, and reflect on, the history of the moment that he had helped to found, in the hope that current and future activists would continue to learn from it. Yet, his considerable achievements notwithstanding, Peter never placed himself at the centre of this history. The friends he made during decades worth of activism will continue to mourn his passing, thankful for his lasting friendship and enduring solidarity.

Peter was a long-term supporter and valued contributor to Asylum. We have published many of his poems and articles over the years, including some under his middle name (Niall). 10 years ago, we republished one of Peter’s better-known poems, The Mental Marching Band, a survivor movement anthem. Diana Rose adapted the famous song, Joe Hill, about a miner who was shot by his bosses and thereby founded a miners’ union:


I dreamed I saw Pete C last night,

Alive as you and me.

Said I, but Pete you now are gone.

I never died said he.


The RCP they killed you Pete,

They shot you up, said I.

Takes more than drugs to kill a man

Said Pete, I didn’t die.


Standing there as big as life,

And smiling with his eyes.

For those the system didn’t crush

Went on to organise.


From Manchester to Barnet Town,

In every user space,

Where lunatics defend their rights

It’s there you’ll find Pete C.


I dreamed I saw Pete C last night,

Alive as you and me.

And yes I did, I did see he,

I saw his LEGACY.


We are committed to honouring Peter’s legacy by continuing to offer a platform to current and future survivors – from whom we have so much still to learn. In this, and many other ways, Peter’s spirit will live on in us.

This is an article from the Summer 2022 issue of Asylum (29.2).  To read more, subscribe to Asylum magazine.