Saturday, 1 December 2012

bringing in the heavies at the perinatal psychiatry conference

[updated 8 Dec 12 with photos added, thanks to Cheryl]

More about the protest on 29 November by Speak Out Against Psychiatry at the perinatal psychiatry conference in London: 'Current Issues in Perinatal Psychiatry: Medication, Parenting Capacity and Ethical Issues'.  Where a small group of us, mostly women, challenged the psychiatric drugging of mothers and children, and the use of ECT/shock treatment, especially on pregnant women.  Asking for alternatives to be considered.

I arrived at the Hallam Conference centre at about 3.15pm to join the demo and immediately noticed the big security guard at the entrance, standing at the top of about 3 steps, a few feet from the door of the building.  A large muscled man of about 6ft 5ins, although I can't be accurate about height because at all times when speaking to me he was standing on the top step.  And he probably looked bigger than he was.  It reminded me of bouncers at nightclubs, although they are usually on the same level.  Or of psychiatric ward 'heavies' who are brought in to ensure compliance to treatment.

The demonstration was peaceful, as we handed out leaflets to people coming out of the building, and spoke out our concerns about pregnant mothers being given psychiatric drugs, the risks to their unborn baby, and I was asking the psychiatrists to consider alternative ways of treating mothers, before and after childbirth.  A very unsettling time for a woman, bringing a new life into the world, all the responsibilities that go with it.  Especially if the pregnancy and/or childbirth is difficult.  Which is what happened to me in 1978 and 1984.

Some of us were taking photos and filming the demonstration, and the security guard wasn't happy about this, or even about us being on the pavement at all.  Therefore as we engaged with people coming out and going in to the building, the bouncer began to engage with us.  I say 'engage' but it was more like telling us not to be doing this and that.  Of course it will be what he usually does, on the job.  Keeping order in the masses and looking out for trouble.  In addition another man, beard and glasses, about 50, slim build, kept coming out of the entrance, going back in again, looking worried.  Not sure who he was, he didn't engage with us. 

At one point the security guard said to me "you're not listening".  I replied that it wasn't appropriate to be saying this to me.  He repeated it again and was getting edgy.  I asked if he had undergone any training in communication skills.  He got more agitated, said he had been told not to allow any photos to be taken, then showed me his folder and instructions.  I climbed a few steps to look at it.  He was right, it did say 'no photos'.  So he was only doing his job.  As in 'he who pays the piper calls the tune'.

Then the Speak Out Against Psychiatry film maker, who had her big camera on a tripod, engaged with the bouncer, saying she was allowed to film us.  Cheryl said she had checked it out with the police and it was fine.  I said that anyone could be taking photos from across the road, in one of the flats, from behind the curtains, for example.  And anyway, were we now in a totalitarian state rather than a democracy? 

Meanwhile the bearded man from whatever institution was keeping an eye on us from inside, seeing our conversations with the bouncer.  And suddenly came out to say something like "I am sending for the police", but he didn't come up to us or down the steps.  Only shouted it from the door.  Like a threat and it reminded me of the growing presence of police in psychiatric wards.  I wondered if we were going to be lifted into a police van and taken into the police cells, or into a psychiatric institution.  It was exciting.  Like you see on the news.  Except for the fact that we were only expressing an opinion and trying to have an influence.  Against psychiatry.  Then the bouncer went into the building.  

Soon after the police appeared, two men in uniform but without guns, and spoke to us on the pavement.  One talked to Cheryl and the other to a group of us, saying that it was a free country and we could demonstrate, take photos, hand out leaflets etc, as long as we didn't block the pavement for passers by.  This sounded reasonable and when I asked him what he thought about pregnant women getting psychiatric drugs, he said that when he was in uniform then he didn't have an opinion.  A good answer.  (whether it's true or not is a different matter)

And so we continued to demonstrate, hand out leaflets, engage with psychiatrists and sing a group song (to the tune of Pink Floyd's 'another brick in the wall'):

"We don't need no medication
We don't need no mood control
No dark sarcasm on the ward round
Charge nurse, leave them souls alone
Hey, doctor, send them patients home
All in all, it's just another bed on the ward
All in all, you're just another bed on the ward"


  1. I hope you don't mind if I post this, Cheryl. This is the kind of activism I hope to find helpers with in my church. Right one, Mommy!

  2. Can we use this article in the upcoming ECT edition of Asylum magazine?