Health: 'You could say I am a mad psychologist'
could say I am a mad psychologist. At the age of 18 I escaped
a depressing reality into my own sleep-deprived fantasy world,
living at the center of a maelstrom of imagined espionage and
spiritual warfare. Over a 14-month period I was hospitalized three
times, diagnosed with schizophrenia, put on fortnightly injections
of mind-numbing drugs, and told I would have to take them for
the rest of my life. Recovery was never mentioned.
resist this prophecy was hard and lonely work. In fact my recovery
was about getting away from the services and off the drugs that
purported to help me. I had to rebel to prove people wrong. I
was one of the lucky ones. I was always told: "You'll be
back." And it is true, I have been back in the system for
the past seven years, but in a different role. No longer the schizophrenic
outsider, I am now a clinical psychologist practicing in the National
trained as a psychologist because I am passionate about transforming
how we understand, and work with, confusion and distress. I am
also part of a social movement campaigning for real change in
mental health thinking and practice. A growing number of patients,
relatives and workers are demanding that society sees people's
problems as meaningful and creates real opportunities for recovery.
in the "out crowd" are beginning to reclaim their experiences.
There are more than 100 self-help groups in the Hearing Voices
Network, providing safe places for people to share experiences
and make sense of voice-hearing. Many in this movement directly
link their voices to experiences of trauma.
organization, Mad Pride, turns shame on its head by celebrating
the uniqueness of those who have experienced psychiatry as patients.
No longer are we silent. We are, as the slogan says, "Paranoid
and Proud!" Mad Pride organizes live music events and demonstrations.
addition, there are a handful of clinical psychologists willing
to be open about our experiences of madness, and our numbers are
growing. Change is afoot. Professionals are starting to listen
to myself and to others who say that good treatment is about sharing
power. They also say recovery is possible when it is a holistic
process that involves seeing the patient as an equal rather than
as a degenerate.
in the asylum has not changed for 150 years. We write people off
as victims of illnesses who must be managed by professionals,
rather than looking at the bigger picture, trying to understand
the personal and social contexts of their lives, and helping them
are still run like prisons; consultant psychiatrists are still
the all-powerful big chiefs. For most of them, psychiatry is not
here to heal people; it is here to keep the peace, separate the
irrational "town criers" from the rest of society, categorize
them and quiet them down. The only trouble is it doesn't work.
Drug prescription and suicides are both higher than ever, and
recovery rates have been stagnant for a century.
somebody is hearing voices we don't work with them to cope with
the experience and support them to get on with their lives. Instead,
we isolate them and dose them up with the latest brand of sedative.
The liquid straitjacket has replaced its physical predecessor.
Being on such medication is like thinking through syrup. I remember
wondering: "How am I expected to recover on this?" To
put it crudely: as a society we try to turn distressed and confused
people into passive drug-dependent victims. This is not to mention
the hundreds of adverse effects on the body that these chemicals
cause. The widespread, long-term use of powerful drugs in a heavy-handed
way continues to disable permanently thousands who have sought
help from psychiatry.
while the Department of Health brings out documents such as The
Road to Recovery that stress collaboration and partnership, the
Mental Health Bill further undermines the civil rights of patients
to have a say in their care. The void between the fantasy of policy
directives and everyday pill-juggling, paper-shuffling practice
has never been so vast.
if you lose the plot and reach the attention of psychiatric services,
will they make you madder? I can say that in many cases they will.
Can we change that? Yes, I believe so. But then I am pathologically
optimistic. For real change to happen we need to alter the core
thinking of ordinary mental health workers so that they see patients
as people with potential who thrive on the same the things we
all do: companionship, understanding and opportunity. Enabling
communities are what help people recover, not expensive drugs
and professional interventions.
recovery took off when I found good people to live with, regular
activities I could look forward to such as drama classes, and
a job as a night-time security guard in Highgate Cemetery. I was
lucky; I managed to find places where I could express myself and
contribute to society. Excellent mental health services need to
have strong links with community centers, colleges and local employers.
But projects that make those links struggle financially.
voluntary project in Tower Hamlets called Beside, which helps
build up people's skills and social networks, has just had its
funding cut. My own initiative in east London, the Grass Roots
Project, supported the setting-up of three self-help groups for
people with mental health problems but it has just failed to gain
further funding. Instead of giving doctors powers to force people
to take drugs in the community as proposed in the Bill, the Government
should spend money on helping patients to help themselves.
who have experienced the spirit-breaking effects of compulsory
treatment are demanding the right to be listened to. Our many
dissident groups are looking for ways to fight together for a
more democratic, recovery-oriented system of care. If our call
is not answered, mental health services will remain a social exclusion
zone, marshaled by legal drug barons.