Darby Penney is a long-time activist in the movement to protect the human rights of people with psychiatric disabilities. For nine years, she was Director of Recipient Affairs at the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH), where she was responsible for bringing the perspectives of people with psychiatric disabilities into the policy-making process. In 1993, she was a founding member of the National Association of Consumer/Survivor Mental Health Administrators (NAC/SMHA), and served as the group’s president from 1995-98. Formerly a Senior Fellow at the Alden March Institute for Bioethics at Albany Medical College, she now works as Senior Research Associate with Advocates for Human Potential, Inc., a company that does research, evaluation, training and technical assistance on mental health and substance abuse issues.
Since 1999, much of Darby’s work has focused on the history of psychiatry from the perspective of patients. From 2001-2003, she worked as Director of Historical Projects at OMH.
She founded the Consumer/Survivor/Ex-patient Oral History Project in 1999; she and her colleague Steven Periard received the New York State Board of Regents’ 2003 Archives Award for Excellence in Historical Documentation for the project’s work in collecting over 200 oral histories. In 2003, Darby produced a video and curated an exhibit at the Arts Center of the Capital Region, both entitled “Here Lies?: Abandoned Asylum Cemeteries.” With Peter Stastny, she was Guest Curator for the New York State Museum’s 2004 exhibit “Lost Cases, Recovered Lives: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic.” Peter and Darby continue their work on this project, with the launch in September 2006 of a portable traveling version of the exhibit; they are also writing a book on the subject.
An experienced trainer and qualitative researcher with a background in state mental health planning, Darby has written, presented and consulted nationally and internationally on a wide range of issues concerning empowerment, inclusion, rights, and other topics. With other ex-patients and allies, she was a founder of the International Network for Treatment Alternatives to Recovery (INTAR), which held its first meeting of alternative practitioners and psychiatric survivors in 2004. Darby was honored for her work promoting the civil and human rights of people with psychiatric disabilities by being named a 2005 Fellow by the Petra Foundation.