Thursday, 25 February 2016

bridging the gap: looking forward to the time when we are all "peers" in mental health matters

I am wondering when the playing fields in Scotland's mental health world will be level and everyone involved, whether on the side of service provision or service receiving, in government or in society, will admit to experiencing mental health challenges and being at risk of "mental illness".  For I believe it could happen to any one us, a psychosis or a neurosis, a depression or a mania, although only some of us will end up in a psychiatry setting, with a diagnosis and drug treatment, voluntary or coercively, declared to be "without capacity". 

The peer support agenda which drew me in to sharing my "recovery" story in 2005 on the Scottish Recovery Network then updated in 2008 seemed to usher in a new way of working, level playing fields and recognition of the value of "lived experience".  I believed in the message that was being delivered because I had recovered, survived psychoses and psychiatric treatment in 3 different decades, by self management, and had helped other family members to do the same.  

However the reality was different to what I'd envisioned.  As a qualified and experienced professional, an "expert by experience/EbE", I expected that my skills would be welcome, just as they were in the world outside of mental health specific.  I was 55yrs old with a wide and varied background in community education, having set up projects, and had gained another postgrad award at Stirling University in Jun08.  Yet none of this seemed to count and I was expected to toe the line, jump through hoops as if a youngster who had just left school.  I called it hierarchical shenanigans at the time.  Straitjacketing.

This type of behaviour continued on in many of the groups I participated in as an EbE, including local Fife statutory mental health user groups, the DClinPsy groups at Edinburgh and Glasgow University, the SRN WRAP network, the VOX service user meetings, the mental health nurse training at both Dundee and Abertay Universities.  The Scottish Crisis and Acute Care Network steering group was better and the nurse managers really tried to involve me as an equal.  

But the psychiatrists on this group were problematic, had links to big pharma and it resulted in bullying behaviour by them towards me and the nurses.  During this time my son was being subject to psychiatric abuse in the locked seclusion room of Stratheden Hospital, Feb12.  I had to pick up the pieces while campaigning for justice.  No doubt our whistleblowing and my campaigning had an effect on my involvement in local and national groups.  My speaking out about the abuse would have raised the emotions of others taking part.  Couldn't be helped.  I had to speak out.  That was and is a priority.  Human rights abuses in psychiatric settings have to be exposed and stopped.

To be fair to the DClinPsy groups, the beginning of my involvement on these coincided with the psychiatric abuse of my son in the Stratheden IPCU.  Emotions were running high.  The clinpsy academics did try to include me but the group dynamics were problematic, in each area.  Other agendas and differences of opinion.  I'd had enough by the end of 2014.  It felt like treading water and going nowhere fast.  The law of diminishing returns.  Too long an apprentice when I should have been teaching, mentoring and sharing my experience.  Which I'd been doing in community settings for decades.

This year I am looking forward to being involved in more positive pursuits, promoting alternative ways of working with people in psychoses, safe havens and therapeutic communities.  Writing and campaigning so as to level the playing fields and bridge the gap between care givers and care receivers, professionals and volunteers, experts by experience/peers which could be any one of us, depending on circumstances.  I will continue to be a questioning and critical voice, a truth seeker, whether others like it or not because I live with myself 24/7, not others.

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