Sunday, 30 August 2015

sharing my "recovery" story on #SRN; being outed in 2008; seven long years of meaningless involvement

I remember the realisation that my cover had been blown. The game was up the pole.  After sharing my "recovery" story on the Scottish Recovery Network in 2005 then updating it in 2008.  After throwing my coat in the ring, setting up Peer Support Fife and Chrys Muirhead Associates in the January of that year. 

For I had believed the Peer Support message being touted by SRN at their December 2005 Glasgow conference (silly me), funded by government, promoted by voluntary sector mental health organisations.  The promise of a civil rights, grassroots movement, giving us our rightful place at the centre.  Valuing our experience and expertise as survivors of mental illness and psychiatric treatment.  It wasn't about money or celebrity. 

As a community education and development worker since 1980, at the grassroots, with people, alongside, empowerment and lifelong learning, I knew that it was possible to work collectively and creatively.  Supported by statutory agencies.  Because I'd done it and had evidence to show for it.  Plus I'd made a full recovery from psychoses and psychiatric treatment on 3 separate occasions since 1978.

I did notice in 2005 at the SRN event that some of the lead Scottish mental health folk were a bit up themselves.  Full of their own importance.  I'd approached a few to ask for information and they were either too busy or passed me on to a minion.  However I was impressed with the American speakers, their workshop facilitation.  They came over as professional while sharing their personal stories of mental health problems.

It was only a few months into 2008 that I again was aware not everything in the Scottish mental health garden was rosy.  I noticed a lack of professionalism in leadership and a lack of congruence in actions and behaviours.  By the end of the year the lead balloon had settled.  This was no grassroots development, rather it was a hierarchical affair.  A favouring of chums.  Excluding those who didn't toe the line.  And voluntary organisations using the model of peer support to win contracts. 

After attending the Brisbane IIMHL (international initiative for mental health leadership) in March 2009 following a disastrous exchange in Auckland where my motel accommodation was sub-standard and I wasn't hosted properly, I considered coming out of mental health matters and going back into the "real world".  But I'd come too far to give up.  And it became personal when family were targeted.

It's been 7 long years of trying to be meaningfully involved in a wide range of mental health initiatives as a person with "lived experience", an "expert by experience", a former "service user" and psychiatric survivor.  All to no avail.  They didn't want an independent voice.

Rather they wanted a conscript, a "yes" person, someone to fit into their research "evidence", to justify their theories of psychoses and schizophrenia.  Someone who would jump through the hoops, be glad of an Empire medal, compete for a Peer Support Worker post on low wages, go cap in hand for 20p/mile travel expenses.  Be a spokesperson who wouldn't rock the boat or say anything critical about government, civil servants, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists or mental health services. 

I just wouldn't comply. 


  1. The seven years of Chrys Muirhead's experience mirrors my experience attempting to broaden the very narrow corridor of Scotland's prevailing approach to mental wellbeing.

    There is good intent about. However there is far too much cronyism going on.

    I also fear that we are too often subject to tokenist approaches. Approaches that are generally described by the "establishment" as being "inclusive". Such tokenism is unethical and demoralising.

    Horace, the Roman poet would recognise "Sapere Aude" in Chrys Muirhead. I would suggest that this is a much better thing than any award, medal or handshake with those in the narrow corridor of power.

    In my opinion, it is vital for any "prevailing" approach, well-intentioned as it may be, to truly listen to other voices. Otherwise light is blocked out and science and ethics may be endarkened.

    Dr Peter J Gordon (Consultant Psychiatrist, NHS Scotland)

    1. Peter thank you for commenting and for your solidarity.

      Regards, Chrys