Thursday, 25 February 2016

the lonely road of psychiatric survivor activism in Scotland; the disempowerment

Something happened the other day, causing pain, which has brought home the inequalities and isolation of the mental health activism and campaigning role which has been my lot since 2012 when my son was subject to psychiatric abuse.  And I was blamed for causing psychological harm, in an adult protection investigation report.  

It stretches further back to January 2008 when I got fully involved in Scotland's mental health world by setting up Peer Support Fife and Chrys Muirhead Associates website, updating my story on the Scottish Recovery Network website and committing myself to the movement for change, which I heard first at the December 2005 Glasgow Peer Support Conference, organised by SRN and others.

Peer Support Fife website

In the four years up to February 2012 I ran a number of events through PS Fife and delivered many sessions on WRAP and Peer Support, to individuals and organisations, while providing caring support to my son.  I also got involved in various mental health groups locally and nationally, from the carer and survivor perspective, including the clinical psychology training (DClinPsy) at both Edinburgh and Glasgow universities.  

Firstly in 2009 to a meeting facilitated by Prof Andrew Gumley and Dr Ross White in the Mental Health and Wellbeing Unit, Administration Building, Gartnavel Royal Hospital, Glasgow.  Then in 2011 to Stirling University for a national event, following which I joined both DClinPsy user/carer groups, until my position on the groups became untenable.  I believe this was mainly due to my unbelief in the mental illness mantra and having a psychiatric survivor perspective.  Being in opposition to biological psychiatry.

I recovered from "mental illness" because I didn't believe in the psychiatric diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder which had been written in my "notes" 2002.  Tapered the drugs under my own steam.  Helped family members do the same after episodes of psychosis and psychiatric treatment.  For nearly 50 years I have been helping my family to survive and recover from mental illness and psychiatric system coercion and abuse.  

On 1 January this year I submitted an application, including a 15 page CV, to Glasgow University, for the post of Research Fellow/Project Manager EMPOWER, Chief Investigator Prof Gumley, and was not invited to interview, the reason given that I did not meet the "essential" criteria for the post.  Although I was told that my CV was "impressive".  

I heard via Facebook late yesterday evening that Simon Bradstreet, SRN Director, got the job.  I would have appreciated getting the news by other means than social networks.  In a personal Email would have been respectful, considering the work I do, and have done, to inform, educate and empower people like me who are "experts by experience" and others, including academics in their ivory towers.  Unpaid work which has often left me out of pocket.

I shall recover from the feelings of pain and disempowerment, of having to soldier on without due recompense or recognition.  I will get over it. 

Selection of pages from my CV for EMPOWER post, Glasgow University:


  1. A senior psychiatrist working in NHS Scotland recently said to me, after I had mentioned disempowerment in the context of psychiatry, that "I would need to explain this ".

    I am distressed and disheartened to read of the disempowerment Chrys Muirhead has experienced simply for being an activist who has been nothing but honest, thoughtful, principled, challenging and often kindly. In my opinion Chrys Muirhead asks some of the most important questions that tied professionals in Scotland seem to be unable to ask. This project is entitled “EMPOWER”.

    This EMPOWER post had the opportunity to go beyond the label. To employ somebody who could make a difference, who has made a difference (all on her own) and who I personally respect enormously. I understand that Chrys Muirhead did not meet the "essential criteria" for the EMPOWER post. Obviously here I cannot make a full judgment as there will be much that I am not aware of, however I really do find myself wondering what those essential criteria are!

    The cronyism in Scotland's mental health world seems to be most active and it is my view that this often disempowers voices of truth like Chrys Muirhead. I would suggest that we consider the links of (1) VOX to the Scottish Government. (2) the Alliance to the Scottish Government, (3) the Scottish Health Council to the Scottish Government.
    Even the Mental Welfare Commission have clear links to the Scottish Government as do the Big Charities as do nearly all the Third Sector organisations.

    Again, for the EMPOWER project? I wonder what the “essential ingredients” are. Might they be links to establishment where the boat is unlikely to be rocked?

    Forgive me being frank but somebody has to. Alongside Chrys and other folk who have not had positive experiences of mainstream psychiatry.

    Perhaps others could post here if they support Chrys Muirhead as I do. On her own Chrys has achieved an enormous amount. I have learned from Chrys like few others. I agree with Chrys that Scottish people, if in crisis, deserve alternative options to mainstream approaches.

    Dr Peter J Gordon
    Psychiatrist for Older Adults, NHS Scotland (speaking in a personal capacity – I have found that in NHS Scotland I have to say this or I risk the consequences)

    1. Thanks for your encouragement and support Peter.