Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Shifting the Balance of Power in the Psychiatric System

[on Mad in America 12 December 2012]

2013 is going to be a year of protest, for me, demonstrating against the psychiatric system.  In particular, speaking out about the psychiatric drugging of women and children, forced treatment, ECT/electroshock and brain surgery for mental illness.  'Bringing in the heavies at the perinatal psychiatry conference' is a recent blog post about participating in the Speak Out Against Psychiatry demo in London, speaking out against the psychiatric drugging and shocking of women and children.  Joining with fellow women in solidarity and being encouraged in the process.  Society at large does need to become more aware of what's happening in the mental health world.  It affects all of us.

I've had a go at joining local and national groups from the user/survivor/carer perspective but no matter how hard I try it seems like I am only a token participant, ticking a box and there to make up the numbers.  For it isn't about being equal, the playing field isn't level, rather it's an ongoing battle to be heard and to be respected.  It would be different if I agreed with the regime and fell into line.  Which of course is what psychiatry prefers us to do.  Especially if we have been through the system and out the other side, under our own steam (or power).

However I had to taste it and see, testing the waters of user involvement and participation, to see if there was room for manoeuvre, opportunities to influence and shift perceptions.  Instead it has seemed that the more I try to be myself, the more I am silenced.  And matters came to a head in a recent meeting where notes were taken, ironically by a psychiatric nurse practitioner, and my voice was completely ignored.  As if the words I spoke at the meeting weren't heard because I wasn't a 'professional'.  Overlooked and undervalued.

So for me, looking back on 2012, it has been an interesting year.  Engaging again, face to face, with the psychiatric system and its power, as a survivor, carer, advocate and peer supporter.  At the same time engaging cerebrally with psychiatric workers at meetings and events. Challenging the lack of independent advocacy, the use of restraint and seclusion, the label of severe and enduring mental illness, and the issues around mental health acts and protecting rights.  When safeguards aren't safe and carers aren't respected.

I am more convinced than ever of the need for alternative ways of working with people in psychosis or mental distress.  Something other than psychiatric drugs and forced treatment.  Where clinical psychology can come off the fence and join with psychodynamic approaches.  Where peer support has power and isn't a political tool.  Where advocacy is independent and free to stand with the person.  And recovery means what it says, is free from government control and is a passport to a better life.

However, a word of caution, regarding the challenge to the epidemic of psychiatric drug prescribing and gatekeeping of general practitioners.  We don't want ECT and brain surgery to be on the increase as less drugs are prescribed.  The neuroscientists waiting in the wings to practise their experimental surgery, or Neurosurgery for Mental Disorder (NMD), not lobotomies but anterior cingulotomies, anterior capsulotomies and subcaudate tractotomies (see Mind website on NMD).  In Scotland it is called the Advanced Interventions Service, based at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, and claims to be one of over 70 national services in Scotland like, for example, breast screening or liver transplantation.

Don't let us underestimate the various strategies required to bring about a shift in the balance of power, psychiatric system wise.  For some of us it will mean working from within, others a rearguard action, and maybe even doing both at the same time.  A few of us are meeting the challenges face on in a variety of ways, seizing opportunities as they arise.  The snakes and ladders of activism and engagement, or the games people play.  When the doing of it can be as rewarding as the outcome or end result.  But we are in it to see change and this is why we are speaking out about it, in words and in actions.

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