15 minutes of grace…

I listened to this today, and it made me cry.

There was a story told by a woman who returned to the mental hospital secure ward where she had been incarcerated years before. The building was being demolished and she was there to take photographs. But walking into the building she could hear the noises of people shouting and screaming, and she could remember feeling so dreadful whilst she was there that she broke both arms by smashing them into the wall in the hope that they would have to take her somewhere else. She cried as she remembered the dead butterflies she saw on the floor of the empty ward, and could only bring herself to take photographs with all the heavy locked doors wide open.

But there were also lots of other stories of people who found their own healing- their own recovery.

It is 15 minutes long, but full of beauty. Go on, have a listen.

Miliband takes on mental illness…

So, Ed Miliband is to tackle the Stigma of mental illness in his next speech, according to the Guardian. Good for him, although he seems to be choosing some rather soft celebrity hate figures to take a swipe at in order to give his speech some punch- Jeremy Clarkson and Janet Street Porter;

With the cost of mental illness to the NHS believed to be around £10bn, Miliband will announce he has set up a taskforce – led by Stephen O’Brien, the chairman of Barts Health NHS Trust and vice-president of Business in the Community – to draw up a strategic plan for mental health in society, in the hope that the next Labour government can begin work immediately on implementing reform.

He will also say that attitudes in society need to change, criticising “lazy caricatures” of people with mental health problems and highlighting recent comments by Clarkson and Street-Porter.

He will say: “There are still people who abuse the privilege of their celebrity to insult, demean and belittle others, such as when Janet Street-Porter says that depression is ‘the latest must-have accessory’ promoted by the ‘misery movement’.

“Jeremy Clarkson at least acknowledges the tragedy of people who end their own life but then goes on to dismisses them as ‘Johnny Suicides’ whose bodies should be left on train tracks rather than delay journeys.

“Just as we joined the fight against racism, against sexism and against homophobia, so we should join the fight against this form of intolerance. It is not acceptable, it costs Britain dear, and it has to change.”

Whilst I welcome the initiative- I feel slightly skeptical about the outcome, even before it begins. I hope I am wrong, but the problem faced by any such review (particularly one led by someone embedded in the NHS) is that its conclusions are inevitably shaped by the set of lens through which we look at the ‘problem’.

It reminds me a little of theology- we inherit a set of beliefs about who or what God is based on our culture, denomination and hermeneutic. These things are useful, valuable, even essential for a while- they are vehicles through which the Spirit travels. But there can come a point when they obscure, restrict, oppress and close down our understandings. For example, if our theology is based on a flat earth created in 6 days a few thousand years ago, then something has to give when we are confronted with the expanding universe.

The mental illness machine is not working.

I say this not in disrespect of the many wonderful people working within the system, but there comes a time when we have to see the machine for what it is- something that more often than not sucks people in, strips them of who they used to be, and replaces this with a new set of roles- patient, schizophrenic, lunatic, depressive, manipulative, unemployable, benefit scrounger.

Then there is the role played by the pharmaceutical companies, competing to push the next wonder drug, and employing a thousand drug reps to flood doctors, nurses and even social workers with half truths about their new product using everything from free toys (pens, flasks, binoculars) to free meals and holidays. The wonder drugs each turn out to be versions of what has gone before- no Lilly the Pink, just more chemical suspended animation to hold people in half lives.

A few months ago I wrote a piece reflecting on the monster that is the new  American Psychiatric Association  Dignostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders, otherwise known as DSM 5. In this, I wrote of my own hopes for change in the system along these lines;

Away from ‘illness’ towards an understanding that all forms of mental illness are caused by mental ‘distress’

Away from ‘symptoms’ towards understanding that we develop different  means of coping with this distress.

Away from restrictive labels towards listening to individual experience.

Away from medicalised interventions, towards encouragement and support of individual recovery.

Away from simplistic distinctions between ‘psychosis’ and ‘neurosis’ towards a greater interest and understanding of the effect of trauma.

Away from segregation and ‘otherness’ towards seeing mental distress as an essential part of the human experience and as such, part of all of our experiences.

Away from ‘maintenance’ (which is a form of medicalised slavery) towards hope.

If Ed can gather some real radicalism from his up coming review, I really hope it will contain some of these ideas.

“Madness is a full and legitimate human experience”

This is a quote from Mary O’Hagan, user of mental health services in New Zealand, and Mental Health Commissioner.She was the keynote speaker at last year’s Scottish Recovery Network conference.

Her speech was one of the best summaries of ‘recovery’ as it applies to mental ill health, mental wellbeing and service developments that I have heard for some time. Recovery has been a theme on this blog for a while- here and here for example. You can listen to it all below.

All the more important at a time when nearly all media portrayals of mental illness are negative and dangerous to others, according to this report.

And if you think that this stuff does not apply to you- then consider this- mental ill health comes to all of us directly or indirectly. And even if the shape of your life keeps periods of crisis at bay, then I would contend that we learn far more for the human condition through coming to an understanding of mental distress than we do from a lauding only of success.

For those of us of faith, the hope of recovery is saturated with that most precious thing-

grace…

Hope for recovery…

I spent an afternoon meeting with some people who came together to discuss the establishment of a Recovery Network for people who have experienced mental ill health in Argyll.

The Recovery movement is one of the most exciting things to happen within the mental health world for years. It is a grass roots movement, turning the power relationships in psychiatry upside down. It’s persuasive idea is that we need to stop doing what we are doing, because it is not working- rather we need to equip, empower and inspire people towards control of their own choices and decisions towards building real and meaningful lives.

I was reminded again yesterday of the word HOPE.

Because recovery does not depend on the presence or absence of illness- for most people mental health ebbs and flows. For some of us, this ebbing and flowing can be more severe.

But recovery very much depends on the presence or absence of HOPE.

And where hope is being raised, it makes visible to me a kind of humanity that make clear that we are beautiful creatures, made a little lower than the angels.

But let us make no mistake- hope is a dangerous and scary word. It contains all possibilities, but also the danger of disaster and failure. It is something that we need to hold on to firmly but tenderly, like a bottle of nitro-glycerine.

And we need to acknowledge that for many, there is a recovery journey that begins first in daring to use the word again…

Here is a little more Foy Vance-

If theres one thing that I know
It is the 2 shades of hope
One the enlightening soul
And the other is more like a hangman’s rope
Well it’s true you may reap what you sow
But not that despair is the all time low
Baby, hope deals the hardest blows

There was once someone I loved
Whose heart overflowed his cup
And his shoes got covered in blood
Oh but he never knew cos he only looked up
Well he was in trouble and so
Had known pain more than most I know
Yet it was hope that dealt the hardest blows

And the girl that holds the hand
Of her somewhat distant man
Though she did everything she can
Still his heart set sail for distant lands
And she wonders sometimes if he knows
How she feels like a trampled rose
Baby, hope deals the hardest blows

Well some people think their sin
Caused the cancer thats eating into them
And the only way that they can win
Is by the healing of somebody’s hands on their skin and praying
But when the cancer does not go
Baby, hope dealt the hardest blows

And now all these truths are so
With foundations below them
They were dug out in a winter’s cold
When the world stole our young and preyed on the old, well
Hope deals in the hardest blows
Yet I cannot help myself but hope

I guess that’s why love hurts
And heartache stings
And despair is never worse
Than the despair that death brings
But hope deals the hardest blows, dear
The hardest
Hope deals the hardest blows

‘Road to recovery’, and ‘spiritual capital’….

BEWARE- this is quite a long post, but please bear with me dear readers, as I think it deals with rather important stuff… but then I would say that, wouldn’t I?

recovery

Powerful image from here.

I love it when you come across something unexpected that reeks of the Kingdom of God…

I spent all day yesterday at a development day and Annual General Meeting for the Cowal Council on Alcohol and Drugs. I am one of the volunteer directors of this company, who provide counselling and support for people with addictions in this area. I am proud to be part of the organisation, which like all such voluntary sector small companies has had some challenging times.

At present, I think it is a good healthy place to work, and brings genuine help to people who suffer from addiction to drugs and alcohol in our area. Our area (the west of Scotland) has seen too many lives cut short and families devastated by addiction. But there are many people who we are not able to help- and the purpose of yesterday was to try to consider how we might set our agenda for next year to do better.

I was part of a discussion yesterday about the concept of ‘recovery’.

Recovery is a word that I am very familiar with from the point of view of mental health services- in this context, it is life giving and hope enhancing. Check out the Rethink website, or the Scottish Recovery Network site. I seriously think that any Christians interested in seeing the words of of Isaiah 61 made real in our time should become familiar with what is happening in the area of Recovery- a lot of the sites are full of personal stories that make you weep. Chains are breaking, and we people of faith ought to celebrate and support as much as we can.

Until recently I was not aware of how much the concepts of recovery are starting to cross over into the the field of addiction.

This is an excerpt from a recent Scottish Government document called ‘The road to recovery‘, which specifically addresses addiction to drugs-

81. What do we mean by recovery? We mean a process through which an individual is enabled to move on from their problem drug use, towards a drug-free life as an active and contributing member of society. Furthermore, it incorporates the principle that recovery is most effective when service users’ needs and aspirations are placed at the centre of their care and treatment. In short, an aspirational, person-centred process.

82. In practice, recovery will mean different things at different times to each individual person with problem drug use. Above all, people aspiring to milestones in recovery must have the confidence that they can achieve their personal goals. For an individual, ‘the road to recovery’ might mean developing the skills to prevent relapse into further illegal drug taking, rebuilding broken relationships or forging new ones, actively engaging in meaningful activities and taking steps to build a home and provide for themselves and their families. Milestones could be as simple as gaining weight, re-establishing relationships with friends, or building self-esteem. What is key is that recovery is sustained.

83. Recovery as an achievable goal is a concept pioneered in recent years with great success in the field of mental health. The Scottish Recovery Network has been raising awareness of the fact that people can and do recover from even the most serious and long-term mental ill-health. 32

84. The strength of the recovery principle is that it can bring about a shift in thinking – a change in attitude both by service providers and by the individual with the drug problem. There is no right or wrong way to recover. Recovery is about helping an individual achieve their full potential – with the ultimate goal being what is important to the individual, rather than the means by which it is achieved.

‘Recovery’ is essentially a collection of grass roots movements growing out dissatisfaction by users of services who are sick of being ‘done to‘ by professionals, and are looking to break free- not only from the specific difficulties affecting their lives, but also from the industry and economy generated by medical, social and political attempt to ‘cure’ them. The fact that recovery is now forming a part of government documents is both a triumph and a threat. It is a threat because there is a real danger that the word becomes just a word. It stops to carry any passion, or any hope…

But back to our discussion yesterday.

One of the things evident to anyone seeking to discuss the possibility of recovery with people who have been forced beyond the edges of society by addiction, mental illness or stigma and discrimination, is that there can be no recovery without mental wellbeing, and there can be no mental wellbeing without real opportunities to build friendships, find meaningful activities and participate in our towns and communities as both recipients and a contributors.

I have blogged several times about the idea of Kanyini, and how the loss of identity, purpose and spirituality amongst Aboriginal people has led to a loss of their very selves. Anyone who has spent any time amongst people with addictions (who have may also have lost everything) will resonate with Kanyini. Bob Randall speaks movingly of how his own people have fallen into addiction, isolation and mental illness…

There was a discussion yesterday about how we might be able to encourage these things in our organisation, and more importantly, our community-

  1. Recovery capital- how do we give power and control back to people who use our services, and provide change opportunities, not ‘slots for treatment’?
  2. Social capital- how do people find meaningful social connections, from a position where trust and opportunities have all but disappeared?
  3. Spiritual capital- this gave some pause for thought, so more on this one below!

What is ‘Spiritual capital’? I suppose this rather depends on your definition of spirituality- but lets not get into that just now. In this context, I think Spiritual capital refers to MEANING. The meaning on life, the meaning of love, the meaning of small stuff, and the biggest stuff.

Most of us do not need to dig into this too much- we have no time, and the scaffolding around our lives- jobs, marriages, mortgages, etc- means that we are insulated from the biggest questions. But people who have none of this scaffolding and have reached the end of all their coping, even the bottom of the bottle- these people have a whole different place to look at spirituality from.

Interestingly, the discussion in one of the other groups seemed to get into RELIGION. There are some Christian organisations involved in addictions work. Some of them use high octane charismatic deliverance kind of stuff- which to be honest, I kind of find slightly disturbing. But then again, if it is meaningful and helpful to people involved, great. My fear is that one addiction is replaced by another on, called GOD- and this can indeed be a dangerous addiction for some…

But I wonder if Spiritual capital can be seen more commonly in encouraging people to consider things relating to the heart of who we are, rather than the material stuff that we surround ourselves with…

And in this, I think people who have suffered addiction, or experienced mental health problems, have much to teach the rest of us…

As for me, it started me thinking about a writing project, and I had a great conversation about the possibility of a ‘recovery cafe’ with my mate Ali…