What are mad maps?

What are Mad Maps? 

Written by Bailey Patterson

Mad Maps are a crisis intervention and personal expression tool created by and for people with lived experience of psychiatric disability. Mad Maps are a way to externalize elements that affect someone in a crisis state and can act as a guide for their future self who might need some grounding. They include things that give the person who created them joy and a road to feeling better.

Mad Maps were created by the Icarus Project. The Icarus Project was a collection of peer support networks and advocacy groups made up of people who identify as Mad, mentally ill, and/or neurodivergent. This group eventually evolved into the Fireweed Collective, which it is known as today. 

Mad Maps are intended to be a more personal alternative to traditional crisis plans. In The Icarus Project’s guidebook, “Madness and Oppression: Paths to Personal Transformation & Collective Liberation”,  readers who intend to create Mad Maps are asked to think deeply about the types of oppression they experienced and how that oppression affected them and their mental wellbeing. This guidebook encourages readers to connect ways to manage and dismantle oppression through coping methods. Through this, Mad Maps acknowledge the systemic factors that lead to crisis and distress within individuals. 

scan of someone's mad map. on the left, there is original artwork with a sentence, "how do you mend a broken heart?....." in the middle, there are things the person is worried about (not being allowed to express themself, not feeling loved, etc.), on the right says "self love!" with drawings that make them happy
Image from Madness & Oppression, Paths to Personal Transformation and & Collective Liberation: A Mad Maps Guide by The Icarus Project entitled “IMad Maps In Process image courtesy of Sacramento Icarus Project”

How to Make a Mad Map:

The medium for Mad Maps can be as traditional or as expansive as you choose. A map can be created with pencil and paper, an online document, with collage, in a zine, in a sculpture, or other mediums. 

The actual elements of a Mad Map can include anything but typically include information that would be good to have accessible in a crisis or state of distress. 

These elements might include daily routines that are useful to your mental health, signs that a crisis might be coming on, and your wishes for friends and family for how they can support you at this time. 

Practical Information to Include

For this information to be helpful, it is important to add details. You might want to include: 

  • Names and phone numbers of support people, 
  • Specific medications or interventions you consent to and those you would not consent to
  • Recipes for foods that are easy to manage when experiencing a crisis

These pieces of information can act as a lifeline if you need direction and specific help. 

Other Things to Include

Map Maps should also include sources of joy and inspiration that have been helpful to you in the past. This could include:

  • Names of your favorite songs
  • Shows and movies you like to watch
  • Quotes
  • Pictures of pets and friends
  • Anything that helps you navigate a difficult state 

All of these elements can be connected visually or in any way that makes sense to you. This is your roadmap for navigating your own body-mind, so make sure to make it personal, easy to use, and something you would want to use. 

Everyone is constantly evolving and changing, so leave space on your Mad Map to add new things as time goes on. Over time, you will learn new skills and find new sources of joy you might want to include in your map. 

Overall, make sure that your map is true to you and helpful in the ways that you need. Modify, add on, or rewrite the narrative to suit you.  

For more information and inspiration, check out these additional resources and guides about Mad Mapping:

Fireweed Collective Madness and Oppression Guide

Icarus Project – Mapping Our Madness