Tuesday, September 11, 2007

World Hearing Voices Day - 14/09/07

"In our culture voices represent something that is to be feared. For ordinary people the experience has become inextricably bound up with unpredictability, being out of control and general issue of danger" (Voices of Reason, Voices of Insanity - Phil Thomas and Ivan Leudar).

Rather like World Mental Health Day, which happens in October, World Hearing Voices Day (in its second year) is happening on the 14 September. I am giving it the heads-up as rather like WMHD it is dedicated to develop awareness, challenge the stereotypes and psychiatric orthodoxy that surrounds voice hearing. This year's day is around stigma and secrecy and there's conference in London. Up to 14 countries are hosting events to explore and understand voice hearing.

The way voice hearing is viewed is bound up with media attention around the "mad, bad and dangerous to know" myth which is peddled routinely. Recently a storyline in a medical soap (only too prevalent) revolved around a mental health user who heard voices culminating with him stabbing one of the medics 'cos the "voices told him to do it". Many voice hearers are scared to talk about their voices for fear of negative reaction and this day will challenge the present orthodoxy.

During the past 20 years there has been alternatives to the reductionist psychiatric explanation for voice hearing, which pathologises and labels them as "schizophrenic" and looks towards medication as a solution. It is based on social control, coercion, power and conformity. It can have a dehumanising impact on someone.

Alternatives which looks at the history of voice hearing, and questions the validity of a solely biological determinist view instead psychiatrists like Marius Romme and Phil Thomas have argued that it can be a symptom of life experiences that can manifest into voice hearing. Is voice hearing a symptom of mental distress? Life experiences that include trauma and internalising oppression. This has been shown to empower the user to come to terms, with support, the voices, and be able to contextualise them.

As regards to medication it should be left up to the user to decide but other ways of dealing with voices should also be explored such as looking at coping strategies, support groups and understanding the voices.The activist based organisation Hearing Voices Network has done so much to challenge the stigma and been at the forefront of the mental health user movement.

As human beings are complex reducing behaviour to mere biochemistry can not explain our complexity. We do need to go beyond biological interpretations and look at the alternatives as well. Alternatives that encompass the whole person and their material experiences which may gain us more insight.

I have included a link to the Critical Psychiatry network that does have some good articles and there's also the Campaign for Abolition of the Schizophrenia Label