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Friday, 14 March 2014
Shifting the Paradigm While Resisting the Sheep and Goats Scenario
This week I'd gone to Scotland's capital, Edinburgh, to take part in a government led seminar on reframing approaches to people in distress, from the psychiatric survivor and carer perspective. I knew it wouldn't be easy, speaking out about what hasn't worked, in my experience, and trying to suggest alternative ways of working with psychoses and altered mind states. It didn't help that our new national mental health strategy differentiates between "common mental health problems" and "severe and enduring mental illness" which I call separating the sheep and the goats.
We are all sheep. Mental health difficulties, emotional distress and crisis situations are common to all. Altered mind states, paranoia, spiritual beliefs, hearing voices and other phenomena may be experienced by many people in life, due to a range of reasons, traumatic or painful, creative or self inflicted.
It’s normal to feel things deeply when a person is sensitive to pain, has been traumatised or subject to abuse. I was a goat who saw myself as a sheep and so I made a complete recovery from mental illness and psychiatric treatment. It didn't make me popular with the clinical professionals who dominated the seminar proceedings and still viewed me as a goat. I didn't disappoint them.
The stigma and discrimination of the mental illness labelling really gets my goat, linked as it is with naming and shaming, regardless of the millions poured in to anti-stigma campaigns and attempts to make the unacceptable acceptable. It's fine if you leave the label behind and get back on in normal society, saying nothing about your past psychiatric experience or mad episode. Don't put it in your CV or job application form for that really is madness, unless of course you're applying for a peer worker post and then it's compulsory.
I made the mistake, in 2005, of sharing my mental health recovery story on a Scottish national recovery organisation's website. And then I compounded it by updating my tale in 2008, having realised that the game was up the pole anyway, in for a penny in for a pound. Anyone googling my name would come up with mental health problems. I'd been outed, exposed and there was no escape.
I'd have to make the best of it and decided to dive right in by starting up a peer support voluntary organisation while going out and about delivering self management workshops on WRAP and PS. A two-pronged tactic in the peer movement and taking back the power. Before too long I was getting excluded from groups and being accused of this and that, in an attempt to reign me in. It did the opposite and I ran even faster, despite having to curtail some activities due to caring responsibilities.
Back to the seminar and the focus on people who were in distress but weren't "on anyone's books", according to the presentation from a strategy manager on an improvement project in his local health board area. Which just happened to be an area where one of my sons tried to access crisis support a few months after their project, on Christmas Day 2012, and couldn't. We ended up having to call the police in for help. I highlighted this in a question which no doubt made me more unpopular. [Water off a duck's back] I also drew attention to the sheep and goats scenario, telling my story of recovery despite a lifelong mental illness prognosis. Not sure if everyone was impressed or convinced.
I didn't recognise any other people with "lived experience" at the seminar or no-one who was admitting to having moments of madness. There's no doubt it's like walking the plank, admitting to madness in a room full of clinical mental health and psychiatric professionals. A sense of straitjackets at the ready or muzzles to silence the voices. It's a matter of being persistent, I've found, and looking for opportunities to make a point or tell a story. The power of a narrative I think can't be underestimated. Especially from the horse's mouth or a goat who thinks they're a sheep.
The main thing is to enjoy yourself in life and I do, whatever the challenge, even if it feels like a real annoyance at the time. What I did to get over the irritation was to write about it when I got home, and keep on writing until it got out of my system. I did a 2 page piece, sent to high heid yins, that same evening then the next day put it in a blog post - "Why I am dead against the two tier recovery system in Scotland with its separation of sheep and goats, the folk with “common mental health problems” from the folk with “severe and enduring mental illness”. As a follow-up I wrote another Email to leaders, entitled "I'm doing my bit, what about you?", in which I detailed my achievements since diving in to Scotland's mental health world up to my neck and what my plans were, forwarding it on to other folks. That made me feel better.
I said "I expect Scottish Government to make straight paths and level playing fields so that people in distress are neither sheep nor goats, and more than that, for SG to have an influence on psychiatry so that goats can become sheep, in the short term, and in the long term that it will only be people in distress and real person-centred care for anyone and everyone.". Finishing off with a plea to the leaders: "Yes there are no magic bullets but why does it have to be a quick fix and a heat target? How about slowing things down and taking time to think it through? Process rather than outcome. Stories rather than evidence. Quality not just quantity. Holistic, empathic, relational care where listening is a priority and risks are factored in. Yes, being human, there’s the challenge. Over to you."
Tomorrow is a planned trip to London for a weekend seminar on Open Dialogue, the first of three, and a chance to catch up with fellow activists who like me are looking for alternative ways of working with people in psychoses, altered mind states and mental distress. This week I've been encouraged by engagement with fellow Mad in America bloggers, with Scottish comrades and psychiatric survivor activists via social networking. We are not alone. It's great to be in solidarity. Here's tae us, Wha's like us. Damn few an' they're a' deid, Mair's the pity!