Saturday, 16 March 2013

Stigma Begins And Ends With Psychiatry: Time To Stop Labeling And Disabling

[uploaded to Mad in America 15 March 2013]

The problem with anti-stigma campaigns, to my mind, is that they are focusing on the wrong target, society, when the real issue is to do with psychiatric diagnoses, biomedical models of mental illness and lifelong psychiatric drug prescribing that can restrict and cause disability.  Therefore there will never be an end to stigma until there is turnaround in psychiatry so that patients become people and mental illness becomes life's problems that can happen to any of us.  Let's call a halt to the blaming of families and genetic fault-finding when it's obvious that mental distress and psychosis is a normal reaction to trauma, stress, transition and dislocation.

Of course it might be that the targeting of society is a stealth movement by governments in their attempts to control psychiatry, as in keeping both society and psychiatry occupied while they get on with the business of ruling the masses.  A balancing act that owes more to luck than good guidance.  The more I get involved in national mental health activities from the survivor perspective, the more I am aware that there are other agendas and games afoot.  There's a sense of puppetry and performance but I'm not sure if anyone's pulling the strings in the mad world of politicking and empire building.  A free for all with totalitarian undertones.

Millions of pounds going in to challenging stigma and discrimination while the grassroots activists and voluntary sector stalwarts are getting peanuts in comparison, and are expected to be happy with their lot.  Meanwhile statutory agencies and public bodies go through the motions and play the game, trying not to get too involved by keeping their distance and their sanity.  Involving service users in tokenistic endeavours, resisting survivor participation as the cost is too great, considering the stories they tell which are too near the bone.  No room for them at the table so give them a hard time and then lay the blame at their door.

For survivors like me are the folk who didn't believe the labels of lifelong mental illness and DSM charts of diagnoses, recovered and got back on with our lives.  Some of us came back in to the fray, sharing our stories of survival and recovery, only to be excluded and ostracized for daring to tell the truth, that the emperor is naked.  There's no such thing as mental illness and no need for ECT or brain surgery.  It's the psychiatric drugs that disable brain chemicals not the mental distress caused by the problems of living.  The use of force for 'non-compliance' is really psychiatric abuse, the bullying and intimidation of non-conformist people who find themselves conscripts in the cult or religion of psychiatry.  A belief system that demands obedience of its converts and is dismissive of unbelievers or those who recovered despite them.

As a child I remember playing games on the wasteground outside the flats where I lived, near the railway station in Perth, Scotland.  It was the early 60's and old buildings were still being demolished, half walls and bricks lay around, pear trees good for climbing, not so many cars on the road so we roamed here and there in gangs of girls and boys.  One of the games was 'kick the can' where the aim was to run and hide while the person who was 'it' had to count to one hundred, one by one, standing beside an old can, then try and go find someone before anyone else could kick the can.  And when one of us managed to outwit the 'it' person we kicked the can and shouted "the game's up the pole", meaning it had come to an end, was out of play, finished.  (The expression came from when ball games were played on the street and the ball got stuck in a roof gutter or in a neighbour's garden)

Well I think the game's up the pole regarding the biomedical model of mental illness and the power of psychiatric labels.  The survivors among us have kicked the can even if there are still gang members out there who think the game's still on.  Ironically it's the proliferation of psychiatric drug prescribing that has undermined the belief system with its resulting long term chronicity problems, brought to light by Bob Whitaker in Anatomy of an Epidemic.  Some of us always resisted the drugs and labels so it's satisfying to hear that we knew what we were doing in the midst of our madness.  It made sense to us even though psychiatry did it's best to make us conform and fall into line.  Rather we chose to go our own way and fall out of favour, or disappear into normal living, shaking the dust off our feet until the next encounter.

And so to stigma which is another way of keeping the mad folk in line and anti-stigma campaigns which divert the attention and blame, from psychiatry onto society.  The balancing act of social control and reinforcing stigma, observed by the psychiatric survivors who are sometimes entertained and often exasperated by the nonsense of it all.  But human rights abuses in psychiatric treatment and the use of force are no laughing matter.  Some of us will never get over this aspect of the game.  We may, or may not, forgive what was done to us or those we love, by psychiatry.  It's our choice and should be respected.

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." Atticus Finch in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

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