Saturday, October 07, 2006

What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding: World Mental Health Day - 10/10/06

A Saturday afternoon long(ish) rant and apologies, if because of the medication prescribed to you by your over-zealous shrink you end up nodding off in the middle of this post......

"Insanity - a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world" (RD Laing)

World Mental Health Day is happening next Tuesday the 10th October. A day to build awareness about mental distress and this year's event is around mental illness and suicide. As a former mental health user who has had a collection of psychiatric "labels"and had the displeasure to experience the "loony bin trip" I wanna ask, is society more aware and understanding about mental distress?

Statistically 1 in 4 people experience mental distress in their life time but I know having worked in mental health advocacy there are so many people out there who are scared to talk about their mental distress because of the reaction they will get and the impact this will have on their life. I don't tend to tell people (non-users) about my experiences only when I have built up trust but even then you can't be quite sure how people will react. Ignorance, lack of insight and understanding is what anyone with mental distress comes up against.

The mental health charity MIND reported the findings from one of their countless surveys that when there's whipped-up sensationalist news items about "Mad, Bad and Dangerous Nutters in the Community", a high proportion of people with mental health issues are scared to go out the front door as they feel they are being targeted.

The psychiatric system is still pretty much uninformed, rigid, and unenlightened. Blinded by its own arrogance, oppressive assumptions and right-wing thinking. And they wonder why users are angry with the system.

One woman I knew was sectioned because of her sexuality. In the words of the shrink, "The reasons you have mental health problems is because you are bent"! She spent 3 months in a psychiatric hospital. The same shrink tried to section me by explaining to me that it was my feminism which was screwing my head up. And there I was "blaming" capitalism and it was the damn feminism all along messing my head up...

You will be pleased to know he was eventually (yeah, eventually) struck off as even that hotbed of radicalism the Royal College of Psychiatrists couldn't stomach his misogyny and homophobia.
And mental health professionals wonder why users don't trust the system!

Another area which screws up the head of your average mental health user is employment.I along with countless other people, have been turned down for jobs 'cos of mental health history as they don't see the person just the label. I mean, if you're successful in getting the job you still have other hurdles to jump such as the intrusive interviews with Occupational Health and Human Resources departments. And the government wonders why many mental health users are put off applying for jobs and employment overall.

So instead of understanding there's the Welfare Reform Bill to look forward to with attacks on Incapacity benefit and the nasty non-compliance clause. Changes to the Mental Health Act will mean more coercion and containment therefore safeguarding the rights of the user isn't paramount in the minds of the architects of this Bill.

And I am sure New Labour still has the idea up its sleeves to bang-up people with "severe personality disorder" in true "Minority Report" fashion 'cos, well, you never know what they might do.....

Psychiatry is rather like a magician's card trick. Pick a label, any old label. Pick a diagnosis, any old diagnosis. They may be wrong initially but hey, they have so many to choose from and it can be a case of pick and mix! I have run the gauntlet of personality disorder to schizophrenia. One being "untreatable" the other "treatable". These labels were given to me in a space of 6 weeks! Confused? I certainly was!

I usually see the glass pretty much half empty with dragons lurking in there but things seem to be changing gradually in terms of mental distress though it is usually contradictory and uneven. Twenty years ago when I first came in contact with the psychiatric system advocacy was in its infancy and so was the user movment. The user movement has challenged and fought against the stereotypes, ignorance and the stigma about "madness" and has influenced the mental health system. Reclaimed words which have been used against us. That we are not "mad, bad and dangerous to know"!

There are pockets of good practice within the mental health profession but having stayed with people active in the mental user movement during the past week, I heard the usual despair and criticisms from them feeling like they are constantly hitting a brick wall.

An good example is that the general position of the Royal College of Psychiatry on hearing voices is to treat it with medication 'cos it is all biochemical (who knows!) but they resist any attempts by other shrinks along with the Hearing Voices Network to look at other alternatives. Unfortunately, there is an empty void where vibrant and dynamic user-led organisations like Mad Pride and Survivors Speak Out were once active (though Asylum still exists).

There are individual groups but there isn't anything to draw groups together. The mental health user-movement had a tendency to work outside and in isolation from the Left because we saw ourselves as "outsiders" but I always argued (and still do) that we must fight alongside and work in solidarity with the Left as we are not seeing the whole picture of oppression.

I suppose my ideal for good mental health is that people are can be open and honest about their experiences and not to be pathologised and stigmatised. Not to be labelled. Where diagnostic and statistical manuals can be chucked out the window along with ECT machines and ending the over-subscribing of pharmaceuticals which produces zonked-out chemically coshed zombies. Instead of a psychiatric system there are real democratically run asylums where people can go where they won't be fucked-up but understood, supported, listened to and on their terms (I have never ever met a person who has had a positive experience of psychiatry). Where people are not reduced to their biochemicals or a series of symptoms where behaviour will be determined. The whole person gets lost in the diagnosis. Oh yeah and while we are at it, smash capitalism as well.

At the moment, under this society, people are punished for being distressed. And more so with the changes in the Mental Health Act where the attacks on mental health users will have an ideological basis. And a medical model with its Cartesian origins, which psychiatry clings onto for dear life. Something has to change. Living in a fucked-up society creates fucked-up people.

Activities in your area regarding WMHD