Sunday, 10 March 2013

is the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland just another psychiatric institution?

Have they replaced one straitjacket with another?  Why have the voices of lived experience been corralled within an organisation that demands we talk to the hand?  What has happened to the power of independent advocacy?  Where has the human rights movement of peer support gone?  And many other questions to do with democracy, freedom and speaking out in the land of my birth, Scotland.

As a community development worker and grassroots activist since 1980 I've always been used to speaking out and telling it like it is.  It wasn't a problem in community work where empowerment and lifelong learning were/are the cornerstones and foundations, of helping people to help themselves.  It wasn't about empire building or institutionalised behaviour but about developing projects along with local people then moving on when the roots were established.

It meant that I was never in jobs for long and got used to meeting new people, discovering the lie of the land quickly, garnering the skills and strengths, setting up systems, then letting go when the time was right.  A great career for me as I always did get bored easily if leadership was lacking or management flawed.  And nothing's changed now I'm 60 with a bus pass.

The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland (MWC) is a powerful organisation in its watchdog role over psychiatry and my concern is that the power could go to its head.  Free speech and critical voices are necessary for keeping balance in society although not always welcome in institutions.  Therefore a sign of healthy organisational culture will be a welcoming of opposite and apposite views and thoughts.

Otherwise, to my mind, an organisation becomes an institution and is in danger of becoming a totalitarian state.  The challenge is to encourage critical voices and freedom of opinion, not easy in a mental health world that allows compulsory treatment and the resulting use of force on vulnerable people.  Because if a person speaks out are they going to be at risk of being forcibly silenced?

Here's the real root of the problem as I see it: the use of force in psychiatric treatment.  Juan E Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment states in his report to the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council Agenda Item 3, 4 March 2013, Geneva: 

    "States should impose an absolute ban on all forced and non-consensual medical interventions against persons with disabilities, including the non-consensual administration of psychosurgery, electroshock and mind-altering drugs, for both long and short-term application. The obligation to end forced psychiatric interventions based on grounds of disability is of immediate application and scarce financial resources cannot justify postponement of its implementation."

I want to see the MWC working alongside people like me, listening to critical voices and different opinions, challenging the use of forced treatment in psychiatry so that it can eradicated once and for all.  Force is never justified and demonstrates psychiatric system failure.  I do hope that the people in power are listening to a mother's voice which is also a survivor testimony.


  1. The problem with life is that it is never clear-cut and there are instances when doctors really need to drug somebody "for their own good". They cannot just watch people destroying themselves in front of their eyes.Once the patient has calmed down though, the doctors should appologise and explain to the person why they had to do it and then plan with the patient what to do next. There should not be just one rule for everybody and doctors should be allowed to use their common sense. I am glad the psychiatrist in charge coerced my son into taking haloperidol to start with. It worked instantly what happened next though was wrong.Allthough my son was perfectly able then to discuss his treatment, he was still forcibly drugged for the next 6 weeks which left him incapacitated by a string of serious side effects as well as badly traumatised.

    1. I think that using force in psychiatric treatments destroys trust and takes away independence. Cocktails of psychiatric drugs cause psychosis and then psychiatrists label patients as being 'without capacity' and so the forced treatment continues. A vicious circle of paternalistic control.

      I was forcibly treated in psychiatric hospitals in 1978, 1984 and 2002, the latter was more of a threat since I was detained at the time and told I had to take the psych drugs, although didn't want to. The reason I didn't want to was because they took away my independence, made me vulnerable and made me depressed.

      Therefore as a carer I have a different attitude to forced treatment, having been forcibly treated myself. This I think changes a person's perspective. You have to go through it to see what it feels like, the grabbing and jagging. It was like being held down and raped, something forced into your body that you didn't want. A violation. Traumatic treatment. Drugs that made me feel worse.

      To recover I had to eventually take charge of my own mental health and resist psychiatry when I could. I don't feel OK about what happened. There has to be a better way.


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