A review of Horizon programme ‘Why Did I Go Mad’

Brief personal review of tonight’s Horizon programme: ‘Why did I go mad? starring David Strange, Rachel Waddingham and Jacqui Dillon.

David’s testimony, especially touched me, his experience of visual voices and paranoia, which was really good to see featured. There was however a very heavy emphasis on the dopamine theory of Schizophrenia which I hoped we’d left behind a few decades ago.

Avatar therapy was featured, which I understood to have first been piloted by Julian Leff. I find the avatars quite disturbing in that I’d probably want to punch the screen, and for me it wouldn’t recreate visual voices which are not one dimensional and of course move around.

Finally a professional raised discrimination as a causal factor and Robin Murray spoke of medication effects such as weight gain and diabetes and how some people couldn’t stop taking them, but he completely omitted to say anything about drug withdrawal syndrome and psychosis!

Voice Dialogue was featured, first developed by Hal and Sidra Stone in the 70s. Workshops have been happening for a while but I have concerns about this technique being picked up and used by anyone because VD requires a great deal of skill, in a practitioner not driven by ego or seeking ‘theatre’, with knowledge of the voice hearer and where they are at.

I have tried VD, I can see it’s value, but for me I was unable to get voices to speak to others on demand, and changing chairs just felt silly. I did wonder why this was such a feature in the film because most people do not get to access it (it was accidental for me).

There was surprisingly no mention of the Maastricht Interview, something I found helpful but it really helps if the practitioner doing it with you is comfortable going off script.

After this, I did put together my own ‘voice picture’, text descriptions and circles to indicate their locations i.e. outside or inside the head, which can be a useful shorthand to give to a supporter by way of explanation.

I would have liked to have seen more information about local hearing voices groups and how they are accepting of voice hearers of any diagnosis not solely people with a diagnosis of Schizophrenia/psychosis. Likewise materials picking up on some of the themes raised, such as John Read’s work on trauma and Tamasin Knights seminal ‘Beyond Belief’.

There was sadly nothing at all in the film on the impact of austerity, cuts and welfare reforms and how government rhetoric has directly affected people specific to their ‘mental health’, such as ‘infiltrating’ people’s paranoia and voices.

We are weeks away from a General Election, this was a prime time TV slot, a missed opportunity for all the in-work and out of work claimants living in absolute terror of their next review which has the power to render people destitute.

“The personal is political” has often been quoted by HVN speakers, but unless the social and political reality facing more people is spoken of it is difficult to grasp the purpose of saying it. Social justice needs to be at the heart of any social movement.

The film ended quite sharply from looking at voice dialogue to recovery and I was left feeling, so that’s it? Although there were some decent messages within it, I felt much missed. I did wonder what an uninformed hearing voices movement viewer would make of it.

I feel I want to say to fellow voice hearers – trauma is not necessarily a discrete event; it can be incremental, diffuse, or not there at all.

Also that not all of us have international recovery stories & normative success – and that’s ok. Just because we rarely hear anything different to recovery narratives, we can celebrate our survival, however it looks. The hearing voices movement will do greater justice to that when we hear more BME voice hearers, voices hearers in receipt of benefits, voice hearers who do employment or voluntary work which is not socially valued.

Something I’ve learnt with voices and paranoia is that sometimes no amount of ‘insight’ equals ‘healing’. For some of us it’s about managing and surviving, with occasional moments of radiance. The times I hear a ‘thank you’ when I say this with a comment such as “I might scream if one more person says try reasoning/understanding/talking to my voices”.

We need to meet people wherever they’re at, and we need to hear from people wherever they’re at.

A Mod

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