In this post I want to make the case as to why I am “critical” and not “anti” psychiatry although at times I can feel very “anti”, because of being a survivor of psychiatric treatment and mental illness labels three times over and because all of my family through 3 generations have been targeted by psychiatry. The biomedical model of mental illness has dogged our footsteps with “family history of” in psychiatric notes and disorder labels from hebephrenic schizophrenia to schizoaffective to bipolar. A progression depending on our “performance” or as I like to see it the “whim” of a psychiatrist. For I’ve never believed any of it and left the labels behind when tapering the drugs and getting off them and getting back on with my life in the real world.
In the 1960’s when we first had a television it could at times get “interference” on the screen which meant we couldn’t see the picture properly and the causes could be either just a blip requiring a thump to the box or a more permanent problem needing fixed by a TV engineer. Psychiatry to my mind has similar problems with “interference”, most particularly in its use of psychiatric drugs for any and every situation it is having to deal with. It’s much more than a blip and requires a system overhaul or paradigm shift. A thump to the box won’t do it. We need to get into the workings and root out the defective parts, replacing them with new ones.
With psychiatry I think it’s better the devil we know rather than doing away with it and getting something else in its place which could be much worse. Remembering the olden days when witches were hunted by the church, sink or swim it made no difference, and mad people had demons cast out or were singled out for “special” treatment. I don’t want to go back to that and anyway I have at times found psychiatric treatment to be a refuge of sorts and psychiatrists to be people, usually in my experience men, who will work with me on my terms. Eventually. It takes some negotiation and determination not to be under their direction. But I have been able personally to get out from under their authority even although on every occasion I was forced to comply and to swallow the drugs.
I didn’t like being forced and would resist any compulsion in the future because I’m non-conformist in the real world and therefore non-compliant in the psychiatric setting. It stands to reason. I’m no different a person just because I’m in an altered mind state or psychosis. That’s normal for me and my family to experience altered mind states. It’s not normal for us to be forcibly injected with psychiatric drugs. So I’m against coercive psychiatric treatment and drugs as the only tools of choice for mental health difficulties or emotional distress or altered mind states. Many of my family members didn’t mind being in a psychosis. Some of us repeated the experience because we liked it so much. Others of us didn’t like it that much but we liked the treatment far less.
Another psychiatric interference problem is what can be happening behind the closed doors of institutions, the dehumanising treatment by psychiatric nursing staff who are left to their own devices and are the sort of people who shouldn’t be left in charge of anything that lives or breathes. I use the expression: “I wouldn’t put a cat or dog in this psychiatric hospital” to describe bad practice and mental health acts not being implemented or monitored. It’s a cultural problem that needs spoken about and the issues continually raised until improvements happen. And how will we know that the culture has changed? When all the patients and family members give positive feedback, not just the chosen few.
In the UK we now have the Patient Opinion website where anyone can give feedback on their hospital experience: “An independent site about your experiences of UK health services, good or bad. We pass your stories to the right people to make a difference.”. I’ve used this resource on a few occasions and found it helpful. Recently the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing Alex Neil MSP said “We need the voices of patients and their families to be heard in a clearer way”, ahead of a speech at a conference in June for NHS workers.
I have every reason to believe that things can only get better in Scotland’s mental health world. And this includes psychiatric treatment.
I want to see talking therapies available for everyone and not just those with “common mental health problems”. To have a choice of psychological or psychodynamic therapies when in an altered mind state is what I’m working towards. The drugs didn’t work for me and for other family members. We want choice and not just drugs or nothing, forcibly given if resistant. Interference. I believe that a more gentle transition when in a psychosis, bringing us back down to earth, will be less traumatic and more effective in the short and longer term. The antipsychotic depressed me, the chlorpromazine in 1978/1984, and the risperidone in 2002. The latter treatment leading to a psychiatric drug cocktail of venlafaxine and lithium. The antidepressant gave me suicidal impulses and bone loss (fractured fibula in 3 places resulting in 6 inch metal plate inserted), and didn’t lift my mood, so in fact ineffective and useless. The “mood stabiliser” didn’t stabilise my moods and I remained as flat as a pancake.
I was able to take charge of my own mental health, taper the drugs against the advice of the psychiatrist, and get back on with my life. I told the psych doctor what I was doing and he tried to persuade me otherwise, saying I had a lifelong mental illness, spoke about the DSM at the time, it was 2003/4, but I told him I didn’t believe it or in the chart of diagnoses. I saw the same doctor about a year ago in the passing and caught his attention, telling him about my complete recovery against his direction. He passed the buck, saying something to the effect that it wasn’t his responsibility. I wasn’t impressed by his response despite the fact he was wearing full leathers and carried a motor bike helmet, in a psychiatric day hospital which I was visiting at the time. It seemed that the female nurses were impressed by his stature and appearance as they fluttered around him as he departed. I’ve had motor bikes in my time. They were another means of transport. I prefer a car these days.
I like to think we activists and campaigners are similar to that TV engineer sorting out the interference. Getting in to the workings and rooting out the faulty parts. Those of us who have been affected by the faulty parts and subject to the interference know what the remedy is, and what doesn’t work, for us. Our opinions matter because we have been at the sharp end, is how I see it. You can describe it as “lived experience” or “experts by experience”, describe us as “psychiatric survivors” or “recovered”. Whatever gives us the power to sort out the interference and to ensure that normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.