Time To Talk About Positive Mental Health Charities

How a happy philosophy may be out of step with survivor experiences

Image of Kandyman robot who enforces happiness for the Happiness Patrol in Doctor Who

I write as a supporter of the voluntary and charitable sector in Mental Health. Many survivors prefer voluntary sector services to formal services. Voluntary sector services are often more culturally attuned and user led. Their services are more understanding of different personal identities and equalities. They do not have powers to section, medicate or control. The voluntary sector is there when statutory services discharge long-term service users due to overwhelming demand from new referrals. There are numerous examples of truly user led and compassionate services including Self-Injury Support, Leeds User Led Crisis Service, Speak Up CIC and local Hearing Voices Groups. NSUN lead the way in capacity building and championing user voices. 

There is direct action on social media led by coalitions of survivors, for example, the Stop SIM campaign, Recovery in the Bin (RITB) and Revolution LXP. Social action involves risk and courage for involved activists, many of whom will avoid public recognition because of danger to their jobs or benefits status if retaliatory actions are taken by authorities. I am not an activist and cannot do justice to grass roots and voluntary sector groups. This article is not meant to criticise the hard and underpaid work in this diverse sector but to provoke thought about how services need to listen to the needs of their recipients. 

I want to focus on the apparent happiness mandate from many local mental health charities. It is likely the positive directive is linked to outcome measures and the hoops jumped through for statutory funding. The now complete shift to outcomes reporting is in line with the Recovery agenda. In most cases, survivors have not developed the measures to evidence their expected successful journeys. It is difficult for voluntary sector groups to seek funding for core services when money may only be available for new projects. Ongoing users may be a hindrance to outcomes linked funding, which prefers those who can move on after six months preferably to independence and employment. Demand for services is hitting charities, as it does relentlessly for statutory services, but practice in the voluntary sector starts to mirror the time-limited Recovery framework which RITB has campaigned against. 

Before lockdown I visited a ‘crisis café’ occasionally. The ‘café’ would not admit people unless they were willing to fill in a paper questionnaire about how they were feeling and what led to their visit. At the end of the visit another questionnaire on the back of the form meant self-assessing how you felt after, and what services you avoided using that day due to the ‘café.’ I used to wonder how anyone in crisis could be expected to fill in two questionnaires. A one to one chat, limited to 15 minutes, was their sole service offer for three hours twice a week. 

I fill in questionnaires over the phone every month when I speak to an employment adviser from a voluntary sector organisation. Regular reviews involve questions like whether I feel loved, have energy, feel useful and am showing an interest in other people. The questionnaire is a no argument condition of receiving support. I do not care at all if the score has gone up or down. It is difficult to give ‘real’ answers in case you lose the service if it is viewed not to work. You have a relationship with the worker who asks the questions which means you answer in a generous way. 

Charities in the mental health voluntary sector adapted during the pandemic with online and phone support. A Zoom call cannot truly replace the chance to meet peers socially or share a meal. Many service users cannot afford the internet. The continued gap between meeting up and virtual help appears to have put more emphasis on social media messaging. Charities direct their time into social media pages which reflect positivity and wellbeing promotions. 

My local charity’s facebook page publishes poetry most of which does not relate to mental health experience. There is a new Feel Good Friday poster on there every week. Positive cod psychology sentiments such as “happiness is not by chance but by choice” and “you do not find the happy life, YOU MAKE IT” are posted for likes. During lockdown another local charity encouraged sharing photos from ‘wellbeing walks’ despite the fact that exercise was limited by law. 

Most social media posts from charities are about ‘reaching out’, asking for help or looking out for positives. It makes sense to try to keep spirits up but may feel invalidating to those who are bereaved or on low incomes. Happiness is at odds with the times we have been living through and it can feel infantilising and that we should be unaware of a world beyond our own ability to be mindful. 

The messaging can feel false, as survivors we know that there is no help even if you do ask it unless you can pay for private therapy. This applies mostly where you have a long history of mental health problems and are ‘known to services’ which say they have done all they can. To repeat this ‘ask for help’ message is insensitive when organisations should learn from our rejections. 

Where the voluntary sector promotes ‘wellbeing’ to the exclusion of recognising distress, there will be former members, perhaps those most in need, who disengage. Even before the pandemic, charities had moved away from social drop-ins. All groups must be labelled peer support though the needs of individuals in the group will be varied and negative discussion frowned upon. At the now virtual crisis café, it would not have been possible to mention my self-harm to other visitors, despite this being the reason I was there. Entry to voluntary sector support involves signing up to activity such as pottery classes, creative writing, art or cookery. It can feel like an Occupational Health department when these existed on psych wards decades ago. 

Overall, no-one asked service users nationally if they either wanted to move to the activity model or go it alone. Choice was taken away from us. It can already feel as though you are ‘other’ in a society where people have partners, homes owned outright, children, education and jobs you missed out on from being distressed. Charities could exacerbate this sense of ‘other’ and social exclusion unless they respond to their members who continue to experience severe distress. In an unattainable happy community, there is no space for those who feel despair. This atmosphere drives distress underground, so it is more likely someone could turn to darker parts of the internet such as ‘suicide forums’. 

Mental health experiences may not resolve and medication can lead to side effects which are a secondary impairment in themselves. We need safe spaces to talk about how these real issues affect us. Most of us know about the five ways to wellbeing or local walks so can try these in our own time if we find them of any benefit. When voluntary sector services are open, we need to be heard. I think of palliative care available to those with life-limiting conditions and the philosophy that helps patients to make the most of what life is left. Adopting palliative care approaches to those with ‘chronic’ and long-term suffering makes sense far more than flippant “don’t worry be happy” social media posts. 

As survivors we need to talk to voluntary sector organisation managers and start discussions about how we reclaim the debate. We understand that funding is hard to secure and want this to change. There may be ways to still do the paperwork but have spaces which respond to what we really need. A group could still be called ‘women’s group’ but discuss living with traumatic stress. A ‘happiness group’ could be a cover for discussing what to do when we feel like we can never be content. We need to talk about iatrogenic damage. I have a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder but have had to explain to charity workers what it means and why I reject it. There is a training need with many workers with posts low paid, unless they have their own experiences or learn from members. The voluntary sector should facilitate and not shy away from discussion which may not fit with a diagnostic manual. 

It is already recognised that talking about suicide does not encourage someone to take their own life. If we start talking about realism then it is a relief and we do not have to be something we are not. It will not mean that we suddenly become negative and nihilistic. Individuals with mental health issues face huge challenges with poverty, loss, poor housing and unemployment. We cannot live in a Disney cartoon or pretend social injustice does not affect our peers. 

The voluntary sector workers can help in practical ways, for example going with members to face to face benefit reviews or writing letters. They can get onto the mental health team which has rejected a referral again. They can listen without judgement and not set the agenda topic. Until we lower the volume of the happiness rhetoric our personal stories and needs are not being heard clearly.  

Book Re-release- Mass Murderers in White Coats by Lenny Lapon


This books covers a range of psychiatric abuses but is of particular interest for current service users in helping us know the history of how Nazis treated psychiatric patients and our survivor history of resistance and organising against psychiatric abuses.

Lapon was a militant activist beginning in 1978 with Mental Patients Liberation Front in Boston (MPLF) and the Alliance for the Liberation of Mental Patients in Philadelphia (ALMP), participating in organizing, demonstrations, civil disobedience, advocacy and writing. He was arrested on several occasions and completed a 60-day fast against psychiatric oppression.

Review by Sharon Jean Cretsinger, Tijuana, July tenth, twenty-twenty-one

I am happy to see that Mass Murderers in White Coats (1986) by Lenny Lapon is now in a digital edition.  It is an impressive collection of essay and research that needs a much wider audience, especially now.  While this book technically falls in the category of non-fiction, it is structured more like a doctoral thesis.  This is not to say it is not eminently readable.  The style is spare and intelligently rendered.  I mention the overall construction of the book because the forwards and the appendices are important to the subject and should be read equally with the text.  Lapon’s updated preface (May 2021) serves to contextualize its significance in historical place-time.  He notes that the book is a kind of point-in-time look at the psychiatric inmates’ liberation movement.  It was an important point in time because it was at almost exactly then that the radical and resistant arms of this movement were effectively (and perhaps intractably) broken by the government.

In the original preface, the book’s objectives are carefully laid out:  to document the mass murder of “mental patients” by psychiatry in Nazi Germany and in the U.S (psychiatric genocide); to show common ideological roots of the killings in Nazi Germany and harmful, sometimes fatal, psychiatric “treatments” in the U.S.; to give the ex-inmate’s perspective on the oppressiveness of psychiatry, its violence and danger; to present excerpts from conversations with members of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) who are connected to Nazi Germany; to present a history of the organized resistance to psychiatry by its victims; and, to bring all of these issues into the light of public awareness.

The book achieves all stated objectives except for the last one.  Hopefully, wider access to this digital text will help to publicly illuminate the pervasiveness of contemporary psychiatric atrocities and the almost-lost history of radical resistance to same.

Relevance to Intersectionality and Identity

In contemporary culture, there are emerging and increasing texts and discussions about marginalization and identity.  Mass Murderers is important to this discussion because it clearly illuminates issues belonging to survivors of psychiatric atrocities.  It reaches back to Nazi Germany and documents real conversations the author had with Nazi clinicians.  This aspect of the book’s research is irreplaceable.  Appendix 3, “The Myth and Politics of ‘Mental Retardation’” bears a special mention.  This community remains one of the most oppressed in first-world cultures, with many individuals who carry this label still institutionalized and exploited for pennies a day in sheltered workshops.  The fields of psychiatry and related behavioral health disciplines support the dynamic through large-scale drugging with psychiatric pharmaceuticals and various abusive and reductive behavioral “therapies”.  

The author’s introduction makes the wealth of information presented in the text personal, and perhaps more importantly, relatable to “ordinary” folks.  Psychiatric and behavioral health abuses and atrocities can literally happen to anyone.  Yet, in the context of intersectionality, they happen more frequently to individuals who are otherwise marginalized such as people of color and those with disabilities.  As these narratives become increasingly visible, the perspectives of ex-inmates and survivors are crucial to this body of work, but often missing.  Mass Murderers is so valuable because it subverts basically every authoritarian attempt to control the narrative of the atrocities discussed.  The importance of proletariat scholarship in the narratives of the marginalized and the working-class cannot be over-emphasized.  This book is a beautiful example.

Relevance to the Present-Day, Ex-Mental Patients’ Movement

Particularly relevant in the context of today’s “movement” is Appendix 2, titled “Alternative Therapies Criticized and the Role of ‘Mental Health’ Workers in the Fight Against Psychiatry”.  When seen together with Appendix 5, “Psychiatric Inmates’ Liberation/Anti-psychiatry Groups*”, we find a comprehensive picture of a movement that barely exists today.   In place of most of the liberation groups listed in Appendix 5, we have many government-funded and pseudo-clinical organizations.  These “practitioners” and “non-profits” have replaced radical organizing groups with various “alternatives” ranging from the clearly self-pathologizing to complicated systems of contrived, facilitated communications such as the “Hearing Voices Network”, “Wellness Recovery and Action Plan (WRAP)”, and “Intentional Peer Support”.  The rhetoric of revolution and abolition detailed in Appendix 2 has been co-opted and replaced with these various pseudo-clinical “interventions” and “positions” such as “peer supporter” and “case management aide”.   Lapon states it quite simply in this appendix: “They make money off our pain and suffering.  Some of them have ‘anti-psychiatry’ conferences and invite a token ex-inmate or two.  As with other oppressed groups we buy into our oppression in various ways.”  

Mass Murderers in White Coats is ostensibly a book for those interested in doing serious antipsychiatry organizing.  These individuals may wish to go directly to the chapter five, “The Resistance:  A History of the Psychiatric Inmates Liberation Movement” to find inspiration.  There is also plenty for those who are interested in antipsychiatry and historic and contemporary psychiatric and behavioral health atrocities and their intersections with other forms of marginalization and discrimination.  Hopefully, this e-book will offer resources to readers and researchers interested in antipsychiatry, its intersections, and adjacent aspects of historical and Holocaust scholarship.  

I am now unable to talk freely about my mental health as I fear arrest

This account of my experience is purposely anonymised because I am not ready for those in my life to know the pain that mental health services and police have put me through. This began during a difficult period of my life in which I was the victim of physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse in a relationship that I truly believed was impossible to leave safely. I had been under mental health services for most of my life not by choice and had made a lot of progress. Without being too graphic, the abuse started almost instantaneously and I was kept in line with the threat of harm to himself and me. He controlled me and he ran my life for nearly six months during which I attempted suicide a number of times. The police had a lot of involvement in my life at this point, every time I survived, I became more determined that I was the plague on this earth and that ending my existence would solve all the problems we see throughout society. I had graphic nightmares in which I survived and had to watch those around me be tortured and murdered and struggled immensely with trauma symptoms. 

My suicide attempts have been labelled as ‘a cry for help’ when in reality, every time I was saved, I thought I could feel someone else die as a result of my ‘failure’. At the time I wasn’t told about this but my local team and police force made a ‘crisis plan’ detailing how to ‘deal’ with me in a crisis and avoid ‘reinforcing’ what they believe to be attention seeking behaviours. This plan was in place for four months before I was made aware it existed and I was not shown a copy of this plan I had supposedly agreed to until two months after this. Six months in total.

The plan states that if I am found in public in a crisis situation, I am to be taken to hospital for a capacity assessment. If I am deemed to have capacity the officers involved must arrest me for any offence that they feel appropriate. 

When I was told about this plan the explicit instructions I was given were “to not commit suicide in a public environment”. I was also told that I could “do what I wanted in my personal space” AKA I can take my own life as long as it does not inconvenience any other people.

This plan has destroyed my faith in mental health and police services and has meant I am now unable to talk freely about my mental health as I fear arrest if I am honest with how I feel. I also know that I can’t risk surviving future crises and I am sure that if I was to get into such a desperate situation again, I would not walk it off. 

Mental health services are designed to treat a very specific range of presentations. As soon as you fall either side of their ‘worthy of treatment’ parameters you become a disposable commodity like I and so many others have. Knowing that those who should care have no desire to work with you is the total opposite of help. I was in a vulnerable situation and those meant to help me turned their backs leaving me in dangerous and damaging situations because of how they perceive my suffering. 

I am not a criminal. 

I am a survivor and I will not stay quiet any longer.

The Crime of wanting to die, my story from Scotland

For the past two years I had hid my shame and embarrassment. I felt like I was to blame, even though I was the victim. I was told I was to criticize, and it was my choice; my choice to be arrested and my choice to die.

My crime? I tried to kill myself, believe it or not, dying is hard, so I was slow, and I was able to be saved for better or for worst.

In 2018-19 I found myself miserable and just wanted to die, I was expiring the consequences of another person actions against me, I was expensing the symptoms of PTSD or C-PTSD. I did not see a way forward, life felt so painful, and I felt that my death was the only way forward.

I had just been discharged from my first hospital stays in a psychiatric unit. I was just kicked to the curb I had not been told what would be happening, I was told to go home in to the community with no preparation or help. Just after an admission is a time that the NHS have admitted increases rise of death though suicide. I felt so loss and hopeless, I stupidly publicity tried to kill myself, I regret it now, the police took me to the ED, and I was told “I had capacity” after the nurse talked to the police who voiced their concerns and the mental health team told them I was not feeling real depression and the trauma in my life was fictitious. How does one have capacity when I had actively tried so hard to be dead.

The police were left without much of a choice and arrested me. What choice did the police have when I was dead set on killing myself.

Believe it or not, being arrested when you did nothing wrong was traumatizing. Every day I carry the burden of my arrests and I feel my skin crawl with every mild flash back. I went through the normal booking routine, and I was informed that they did it to try and force the hand of mental health services into helping me and that I would most likely be out the next day. I complied with the whole booking proceed, and I was dumped in a concrete cold cell in a paper dress. My mug shot was taken and fingerprints. The police admitted I was mentally unwell and added several comments about how poor the local mental health hospital is, lack of bed and constantly having missing patients (over 200 patients reported missing in just 2 years). I was let go after 14 hours with not even a mark against my name.

This arrest just catapulted my problem and I spun out of control. I felt like I was marked with another label, the label of a criminal. I keep repeating in my head that I should have competed the suicide. That marked my second attempt to end my life and acted as catalyst for my year of hell.

Imagen being abandoned by the NHS at the start of your mental health journey, forced to live though the forced unparalleled consequences of actions that everyone saw as mental illness. A custody cell and under trained police officers is not equal to mental health support. Custody cells should not be used as an extension of the mental heathy system, they are not a resort to be use in times of mental health crisis. Police can not deal with people like me, I, by their own admission had committed no crime. The crime that they did arrest me with was a ‘breach of the peace’, an arrestable offence in Scotland

I find myself here today. Nothing has really changed; police are still being used as an extension of the mental health services without any of the training that come with it. Why should a health emergency be treated the same why as a criminal matter? Why is this acceptable?

How is locking someone up in a custody cell a punishment for trying to end one’s life? Why does someone need to be ‘punished’ for a mental health emergency.

If the NHS trust continues to view the police as a first responder for a mental health crisis, they should be open and honest about their use with the NHS mental health system.

Why did the NHS allow an 18-year girl to be locked up because of a lack of mental health services?

Mentally unwell or criminal? My experience of being criminalised for my mental health.

In June 2017 my life fell apart. I was raped and endured a year long police investigation into the matter. I had always had a good life up to this point but suddenly it was flipped upside down; I was out of work and struggling with thoughts of suicide and self-harm. My way of coping was to overdose and I was constantly in and out of general and psychiatric hospitals.

As some of the overdoses were away from home and, on occasion, I would abscond from hospital when in severe distress, the police decided to issue me with a Community Protection Notice Warning (CPNW). It read:

 “This letter should be considered as formal notification of your need to put these problems right to avoid further consequence. Please ensure you take the following action/s within the timescales detailed.”

The actions were as follows:

  • not to have any unprescribed medications on me
  • not to act or ‘behave’ in a way as to cause another person to believe I’m in danger of harming myself.
  • not to contact anyone by any means to make threats or allude to any thoughts of self harm or suicide. This includes my close friends and family.

In a time where “just talk” and “reach out for help if suicidal” narratives are everywhere, being under a police-ordered notice NOT to talk is incredibly isolating. It goes against all the research that talking about suicidal thoughts is crucial in managing them. It gives the police powers over my health, where they have no place. It is a violation of human rights.

Unsurprisingly, the letter didn’t help my feelings of hopelessness and my struggles to engage with mental health services. Instead of being instantly cured from my mental health problems and suddenly stopping the self-destructive ‘behaviours’ like the police had hoped, I continued to be admitted.  My admissions became a lot more severe each time, and I usually ended up in intensive care units. Health professionals would mention the CPNW whenever I asked about signing forms to leave, and they would constantly threaten to contact the police and tell them I’d breached the notice. Health professionals became an extension of the police force and I found it impossible to trust them.

Eventually in May of 2019 the police decided to issue me with the full Community Protection Notice (CPN). This is valid for 2 years and includes all the same actions contained in the  warning letter that I must abide by. Once when I was struggling I text a friend to say I was thinking of harming myself. She ended up calling for help and the police showed up, who told me I had broken my notice.

I have never felt more isolated than I am now knowing that if I do need help I can’t so much as tell a friend or even a family member. I’m not even allowed to tell my mum I’m struggling. What sort of life is that? If my family call for help, it’s me who will get arrested. The only people I’m allowed to talk to about suicidal distress are specified mental health professionals, yet they are the ones who’ve put me in this situation. My trust in them is at an all time low. Talking about my distress and asking for help is now a criminal offence.

Increasingly more people, often those given a BPD diagnosis label, are being arrested and sent to prison because of suicide attempts or their communication of extreme distress, despite the fact suicide has been decriminalised since 1961. More and more of us are ending up in the criminal justice system because of our mental illness. It seems we are seeing a resurgence of the criminalisation of the mentally ill by the back door, in the name of ‘public protection’.

If you genuinely want to help people like me, please start by just listening. Provide me with appropriate support, talk to me, offer me therapy – just don’t call the police.

The Double Life Of The Recovered Professional

In or Out

I find myself in a dilemma.

I have spent the past 15 years engaging in ‘recovery’. I have spent the last six years (or thereabouts) shouting about how utterly grateful I am to the services that ‘saved’ me. I have worked hard to come off benefits and pay my way. From being the most difficult patient, I have become the poster girl for the recovered individual. I have been an (unpaid) service user facilitator in a DBT group, I have a chapter in a book edited by a renowned clinical psychologist and I have delivered motivational talks to groups of professionals. The dilemma I find myself in is that I no longer believe what I have said. My dilemma is further exacerbated by the fact I work in mental health services.

I would not be writing this if my internal self was congruent with my apparent external state. I keep thinking, ‘well, I am in a much better position than I was 10, 7, 4 years ago’, and this is true to a point. I am not attending A&E every weekend; I am not getting myself so drunk, I wake up two days later; my financial situation is much more stable. I have been able to maintain a relationship to the point of marriage, and I am able to interact with others in a socially acceptable way. In all of that, however, I do not state I actually feel better.

I imagine I must feel better because I am not doing the things I used to do…although I am. Recently, my spouse went away for a few weeks and I was left to my own devices. I took a ton of codeine (not to harm myself, just to get off my head, to feel better), I drank a fair bit (a litre of whiskey in one sitting), and I self-harmed (pretty fucking badly in all fairness). Not having work to go to and actually still being as isolated as I was 10 years made brought home the stark reality of my existence. All I have done is supress how I feel, ignore my experiences and distract from reality. With work removed, I am scrabbling around, afraid of myself and wondering what the fuck is it all about?

I thought I wanted to be a clinical psychologist, but it turns many of them are narcissistic, egotistical, elitist sociopaths. Furthermore, the selection process for the clinical psychology training is based on many things, a key one having the ability to interpret statistical data. I’ve met too many clinical psychologists who are excellent with graphs yet not so skilled with people. As long as I adhere to their way of thinking, then I am doing just dandy. Any deviation from their thought processes, then we are being difficult, wilful, and defensive. Their toxicity is disguised, however, as they talk about trauma as opposed to personality disorders (which isn’t a bad thing, as at least experiences are being somewhat acknowledged). What further happens is that the good ones think, ‘fuck this shit’, and they leave. Whilst I’m definitely not a clinical psychologist, I’m at that point of wanting to leave. Everything I thought I wanted has fell around me, and I realise that recovery is but a concept coined by the professionals who have no peripheral vision.

As someone who grew up in the care system, what am I trying to recover? I was sexually, physically, and emotionally abused. I did not see my biological mother for over 20 years. My child was removed from my care. I have struggled, but been made to feel guilt and shame for my responses. I was instructed to hide old self-harm scars during DBT. We were not allowed to talk about self-harm within group, because of the risk of glorifying or romanticising it. I have been indoctrinated just as much as the people from my childhood indoctrinated me.

I work as a mental health care support worker. Some of the people I work with are genuinely nice people, but I see their limitations created by the system. Terms such as, ‘it’s personality’, ‘they’re med seeking’, and ‘they’re a nightmare’ are bandied around without thought or reflection. How offensive is it to term someone’s personality as disordered following a whole heap of childhood trauma? Why are we ok to dispense diazepam when ‘patients’ are not asking for it, but when they request it for the same problem, we no longer see it as a beneficial? What makes someone a nightmare?

What I am left with is a fear of someone finding out about me and my ‘stuff’. I work in an office with a whole bunch of mental health ‘professionals’, yet I am terrified they will find out my secret. This fear comes from the stigma I have witnessed and been subject to throughout both my non-working and working life. I was stigmatised as a service user with a diagnoses of BPD, and I am unwittingly stigmatised within my profession. There are mental health nurses who quite happily state that people with mental health difficulties CAN NOT work in mental health. When asked what recovered, ex-service users can do, they cannot answer, just that we shouldn’t be working in mental health.

Why can’t I find someone to talk to, without them trying to fix me? Why can’t I say, ‘you know, I feel shit, and there’s a good chance I will always feel shit given my start in life, but I accept that. I might self-harm from time to time, as safely as possible, I might engage in some other behaviours, but I am not asking anyone to patch me up. I’ll do that myself. I just want space to talk about it’? Why is this not acceptable? Why am I not accepted as I am, cuts and all? Why do professionals only care if you are ‘engaging’? Engaging in what? I have done everything asked and expected of me, and more. I’m lonelier than ever because I have been trained to put up and shut up.

The mental health sector does not believe in the recovery they try and push, but they do not recognise this. If difficult, PD, nightmare patients cannot recover or work in mental health, what are the mental health service doing with their service users? What are they working towards? There is such a blatant, screaming irony in the system, yet most are blind to it. I see people who have started out with good intentions, but they quickly get swallowed by the toxicity around them. At least two thirds of the employees talk about how they won’t come out of the NHS because of the bloody pension. Right now, I feel trapped by the money, and hate myself for it. I do not want to be that person. I have been that person, in the past, screaming at professionals that they are simply ‘doing it for the money’. That’s me, right now, in this moment in time, doing my job for the money. I care about the people I work with, but that care is overshadowed by the misery of what I am witnessing. I am at the bottom of the pile, sneered at for being a band 3 HCSW (I am asked ‘why don’t you go and do your nursing?’ at least twice a week). The hierarchy is real, and damaging, and people are made to feel shame.

I am in a quandary, a place of unease. I need to live, survive, so I need my wage. For a few years, I believed that people were not doing ‘this’ for the money, but we are. When our motivator is money, what have we become? Our priority is us, not the people accessing the service. It’s not a bad thing to want a wage, to have the right to earn a living. It’s certainly not a good thing, however, when the wellbeing of others is dependent on the wage being offered. Every day in work, I hear judgement and disdain, frustration and contempt for both users of the service and for the system as a whole, yet people continue to work in the same environment for many years. I am not the only one who hates their situation, but I see few, if any, doing something about it. Those in-office attitudes should remind us of how the system is run, and who is running it – a group of unhappy individuals, entrusted with the care and treatment of unwell individuals.

Mental health services need a complete reform, yet I do not see that happening any time soon. The good ones leave, the weak ones follow the crowd, and the leaders bully and intimidate. Stigma remains rife and continues to grow, and treatment is based on the egotistical needs of the practitioner. Where therapists have told me, ‘it’s not your fault’, they have instilled a deep shame within me regarding my reactions. My words are out there, on paper, as the model patient, and I cannot undo that. I was so desperately trying to please, that childlike need in me still searching for a mother, and professionals have either been blind or willing to take advantage of it. I’m trapped, and I am afraid of becoming ‘one of them’.

About the Author: I would like to be able to be transparent with who I am, but it is difficult to do so right now; Because of the institutional nature of current services – once in, you cannot have a voice, or as a service user, you don’t have a voice unless it is tokenistic. I hope to be able to come out of the NHS safely and be more open about my experiences.
– L

Mad At Work

Madlove Designer Asylum project madlove.org.uk

Workplaces blame or punish individuals for madness, exclude mad people from work, and fail to recognise the role of work in making people mad in the first place. This is true even of measures supposedly designed to enable accessibility or promote mental health. Sick of this, I asked some members of radical and peer-led mental health groups, along with some friends and fellow weirdos, what they think would make it better to be ‘mad at work’. I collected all the responses, merging duplicates and re-writing stories into demands, to make the list below. 

Of course one of the best things workplaces could do for mad people would be to improve their economic conditions. Many folk brought up precarious employment as especially harmful, including short-term and zero-hour contracts, as well as people having to re-apply for or apply for funding for their own job. As long as there is capitalism there will be suffering for mad people at work, exclusion of mad people from work, and madness as a result of work. Although this list is not primarily about economic conditions, is not intended to justify wage labour or erase the harm it causes. 

Yet many of the suggestions made below are perfectly compatible with the logics of capitalism. Some mad people just want to get through the day however they can. They want to have a nap sometimes, dress more comfortably, mask less, not get lied to and – perhaps most of all – be subject to less surveillance. These things are cheap, straightforward, and would even enable mad people to ‘more productive’ workers within the grim logics of capitalism. So why are most items on our list still completely unimaginable?  

OUR DEMANDS

  1. No glass walls or doors for maximum privacy and minimum surveillance 
  2. All toilets to be accessible and all-gender
  3. Provision of private nap cubicles
  4. Abolition of gaps around toilet doors to allow for privacy for purging and panic attacks
  5. Provision of luxury harm reduction rooms, including beautiful soft furnishings, safety equipment (wipes, clean needles and razors, sharps bins), and gold boxes for everyone to keep their individual stuff in
  6. No dress codes or norm of dressing gowns, blankets, pyjamas, slippers, bare feet 
  7. No more defining mental health as the ability to work
  8. Abolition of counselling as gatekeeping for jobs
  9. End of the use of health and safety and risk assessments to punish and restrict autonomy of disabled people
  10. Abolition of small talk (replace with standard red/yellow/green communication badges every door) 
  11. Police uniforms for Human Resources & Occupational Health staff to make their roles clear
  12. Paid time in all workload models for collective organising (including but not limited to trade unionism, direct action, feminist consciousness raising and zine-making)
  13. Free workers’ canteens (with no coercive ‘health’ or ‘normal’ eating) 
  14. All contracts mandatorily available as job share 
  15. All workplaces to circulate and commit to Recovery in the Bin principles
  16. Worker feedback forms to be located over the shredder for clarity around purpose
  17. No more macho pretend-its-fine culture
  18. Actually flexible working hours
  19. Recognition of workers as humans for whom work is only one part of life 
  20. Abolition of workplace communication by whatsapp, ‘fun’ group chats that include bosses and all social media (except personal or political social media use at work)
  21. Time in all workload models for private, skilled, on-demand clinical supervision for anyone who works with ‘vulnerable’ groups
  22. Recognition that learning, not-knowing and lack of enjoyment are inevitable elements of work and not signs of unprofessionalism
  23. Resources to support working from home (e.g. printer and scanner)
  24. Option to get paid based on hours or on task, your choice, with no reduction in pay (maximum 25 hour work week either way)
  25. A sensory room with sensory toys AND integration of those things into rest of work place
  26. No forced disclosure ever
  27. Sound proofed screaming cubicles
  28. Screaming normalised everywhere, ear defenders supplied at all entrances
  29. Employers to pay employees’ union membership 
  30. No more suffering as a rite of passage
  31. Education for all employees about madness BY mad people
  32. Abolition of the idea of ‘professionalism’ (otherwise known as ableism, racism, misogyny, etc) 
  33. Abolition of ‘reasonable adjustments’, replacement with actually accessible workplaces including accessibility budget for all workers with no monitoring
  34. Wages for housework, care labour and all social reproduction 
  35. No more rest or breastfeeding areas in stationary cupboards 
  36. Repurposing of ‘common room’s for crafting, animal therapy, prayer, dart boards and punch bags with bosses faces on, meditation, etc. 
  37. No more token wellness activities or ‘pledges’
  38. More sharing of unsantized stories (NOT ‘it all got a bit tricky but I’m totally better and promotable now’)
  39. Abolition of requirement to perform trauma and healing for job 
  40. No more blaming our mental health for impossible working conditions

By Darcy Leigh.

The making of this list was inspired by the Mad Love Designer Asylum project, in which mad people design their own asylum.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

When The Cure Is Always Worse Than The Complaint…

The following is a preamble for Blog as a memoir of sorts – not a rant – to hopefully go towards improving things for BAME survivors (victims?) of psychiatric torture…and to also, hopefully, help to prevent atrocities of this nature from being so free to occur in times future for others.

Racism in the Bin !

I thought it would be useful to start by writing about my own years long ordeal…and I would advise others not to share their stories at this stage in the game or to comment either using your real name…fear of reprisal and/or guilt by association is well founded/understood.

I am informed and aware enough (I think) that there are some good psychiatrists out there but unfortunately we cannot assume that they have enough humility, autonomy or freedom from the herd/autocracy/hierarchical forces to not otherwise be what I call ‘psychiaracists’ such as the ones who said to me years ago :”you do know that you have a black gene, don’t you, which is causing you to be mentally ill”…Glory!

Whatever a person’s colour or tribe might be this doesn’t automatically stop him/her from subjecting a person to ‘cruel and unusual punishment’…the so called nurses who physically tortured me were/are also ‘black’…

My ‘psychiatrist – elect’ is a Jungian analyst. Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology. Jungian analysis isn’t so accessible unless a person pays privately here in the UK. His opus or great work was/is dismissed by so called normal people who put so much store by ICDeologyconformity/mediocrity/ignorance (?).

Furthermore, I was very surprised to hear that the consultant psychiatrist who diagnosed me as Bipolar when I was about 39 years old hadn’t even heard of Jung – the same psychiatrist who said that I ‘have a different kind of brain’ which according to him ‘lacks the foundations of an ordinary building’…whatever next ?

“Show me a sane man and I’ll cure him for you” – Carl Jung 🙂

No one knows everything there is to know about the mind – fortunately ! – just as no one can predict the future in life. Jung was a gnostic – didn’t fight shy of the ‘mystical element’ …and his writing – as with anyone else’s – has to be seen/evaluated fairly with respect to time of writing and so on…

He was slated by the herd recently enough, too, for being racist…my late former Jungian analyst who was a Jewish woman said he was not ‘racist’ – that he was exploring the collective unconscious, the shadow and his own. Jungian analysts have to know themselves – including deeply understanding prejudices, projections and dark side or shadow – very well before and as part of being/becoming an analyst. I have sampled other schools of psychotherapy/psychoanalysis and found the Jungian school suited me best – not because I am a racialised human being…more to do with having such an expanded consciousness – propensity for ‘manic phases’ – and/or my falling into the unconscious and the ‘numinous’ or ‘mystical’ realm, even, which was initially triggered by my drink being spiked unawares with an hallucinogenic drug at a party many years ago. I also read quite a lot of his writing in my early twenties…beginning with his autobiography titled: “Memories, Dreams and Reflections”…

There would appear to be little or no room for the ‘mystical element’ here in the UK..ICDeology is so reductive – limited/limiting, isn’t it?

“All thought is limited” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

I experienced ‘flashbacks’ which can look like hypomania but is not the same thing…it would appear that drug -induced psychosis and the damage to /impact on the brain of this isn’t actually very well understood. It’s highly dishonest to claim that an hallucinogenic drug triggers an underlying condition…this writer was ‘normal’ or ‘neurotypical’ enough beforehand.

My current analyst has a different approach…he recommended reading “The Drama of the Gifted Child” by Alice Miller…and has helped/helps me to see and understand enough to confront the cruel and unusual position I have found myself in…he said that therapy is about feelings. And. yes, unlike state – funded biomedical psychiatrists whose preoccupation is about control and limitation, really, he gave me a tissue for my tears…instead of dismissing my feelings as ‘lability’ and a reason or excuse to give me even more drugs.

“There’s a fine line between genius and madness”

Psychiaracists don’t acknowledge a person’s intelligence…or care about it either and hence the disproportionate labelling and over-medicating of black folk…a self-fulfilling prophecy perhaps ? Not possible to be or sound intelligent when a person has had a chemical lobotomy !’They’ have also inherited a shared delusion that ‘black’ people are dangerous as y’all know already I’m sure…when I recover the ability to act or appear dumb enough in a chemical straitjacket they’re happy to discharge me. Actually, this isn’t quite so since what typically happened was that they visited a section – legally or otherwise – on me for 6 months and then would discharge me just before the tribunal hearing date …in order to avoid the hearing no doubt.

The one and only tribunal hearing I have had in 20 years – a few years ago – I won…and against the odds if a person was to believe what is written in my psych notes…
White female Judge; “Are you saying that although Katy who is now in her mid fifties – has no criminal record and clearly respects the law – is a danger to others?”

Black male psychiatrist: “Yes”

I hope that I never lose the ability to cry – respond to sorrow and to care deeply about people and all the needless suffering arising from and caused by the psychiatric system in particular- even though my tears have been labelled and dismissed /diagnosed as ‘lability’ – where’s the humanity/compassion in that ?

Some of the cruel and dishonest things the psychiatrist said about me at the tribunal even though he’d only just met me made me cry. He then said : “Look, see – she is labile !”

More to say about this encounter/travesty …later…

My analyst said that he knows how dangerous it is for me to feel things…and yes it is such – I am a psychiatric torture survivor after all. I am not ‘free’…apart from being free to be a virtual recluse – free from the ‘usual reign’ as TS Eliot would put it at this great age…

Freedom of expression and/or speech is not a given or honoured as a human right – especially if a person is psychiatrised and/or happens to be from a racialised group – is a black or grey (mixed race) woman with no ‘tribe’ to protect and support her like this nobody-writer…and/or who like me has/had a ‘precocious intellect’ – I was a gifted child…I am not a precocious person though – attitudinally-speaking…am ‘little-headed’ /self-effacing (usually)…very good at humouring people who have/had the power to torture me and decide my fate. However, my grey matter and ability to think critically has been extinguished more or less by all those needless chemical lobotomies and prolonged hospital admissions though now…and all for what ?

“It’s you my love you who are the stranger” – Leonard Cohen

My psych notes made for dark and humiliating reading…and opened my eyes…misrepresenting and demeaning a person in writing is always deliberate. As is/was totally covering up the one and only planned serious suicide attempt on my part during those ‘torture years’- (1998 – 2014) – Not only did they omit it from the notes they didn’t write anything about the reason for my trying to take a fatal overdose either…! The reason/cause being that I didn’t think I could/would ever be free from the haunting/damage of being subjected to total deprivation/solitary confinement (in 2012)…(or free from the fear of further torture given what took place the following year ).. A policeman in the hospital said quite angrily that “Katy is not the problem – the hospital is the problem!”

What a cruel thing to do to a person who started to break down – couldn’t sleep for a number of days – a few months after losing her mother who died very suddenly…I was in that terrible seclusion room just terrified for so long that I lost track of time and hallucinated* for the first time which is a common reaction to this form of torture – it also triggered suicidal feelings and caused me to lose the abilty to connect with and/or recognise others… The psychiatrist worried that she couldn’t ‘bring me back’ and thought I would have to go into a care home…she also changed my diagnosis which I have since rebutted. There were/are many other forms (of torture) which I have been subjected to as an inpatient – ‘behind closed doors’ – which I will write further about later…

As my solicitor said to me years ago :”unlike most people , Katy, the cure for you has always been worse than the complaint”…and then …an inevitable/inescapable revolving door scenario…a person who cannot escape physically can only do so mentally at the end of the day – living in constant fear of a hospital of all places is/was no mean chalk…needing asylum from the asylum now ain’t that absurd !

I used to also have laughter in me too – was not short of a sense of humour…the joke is on me though or so it would appear. (Laughing is perceived as being high for a person who has been diagnosed as Bipolar).

As a worker in what was a kind of unofficial Soteria house or ‘retirement home’ for people who’d survived God knows what in the back wards in Friern Barnet hospital, I /we argued the toss with the survivors’ psychiatrists; questioning the usefulness of medication per se whilst respecting the right on an individual level of the people living there to take medication if they did or did not wish to do so – of course, people need(ed) the right attention and care in life – not just drugs.. .

I was naive about my being ‘tokenised’ essentially or ultimately by a local Mind group which was at the time the most ‘politicised’ arm of National Mind – mostly and openly ‘anti-psychiatry’ and committed, too, to SU involvement as a must…

How could I know that this good work would/could cause me to suffer so greatly later on as an inpatient myself? The house was the first place of its kind and served as a pilot for others…(before the Care in the Community Act)

In 1998 I broke down following a huge bereavement…before being transferred from a good hospital to Satan’s Inn (anagram of Saint Ann’s) where I was repeatedly physically tortured by the male so called nurses, a woman who worked in the Mind advocacy office in the good hospital said she had a note about me which said : “we have to look after this one”…but they didn’t or perhaps couldn’t when I was transferred. I had never before had to enlist a solicitor’s help to get out of what was supposed to be a hospital!

Taking a break from writing now…Thanks for reading, Katy

I’ll write further about what I mean by ‘hallucinated’ later on perhaps…
(Whilst it is not necessary or possible to include everything, some elements – especially those which illustrate the extent of iatrogenic injury – do deserve/need highlighting )

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On Admission To Wrekin

My admission was probably one of the lowest points at this time, I was pulled into an ambulance, by police officers who obviously had no idea how to handle a psychotic person. I was put in a small room with only my boyfriend there, three psychiatrists/psychologists came in and assessed me, I don’t remember much of the conversation apart from when one of them told me my parents didn’t want me and couldn’t take care of me. I was to be sectioned over the weekend. The first night I wandered around the ward crying, begging every nurse or doctor I could see for a second opinion. I just wanted to go home.

They gave me Lorazepam to keep me quiet and I didn’t sleep at all, I was on 1 on 1 for the first two days which meant I couldn’t be on my own, not to sleep, not to go to the bathroom or shower, not to cry or express the emotions I wanted to express. I felt helpless and the nurses would only tell me “they won’t let you out while you act like this”. When I couldn’t sleep I told the nurse watching me that I couldn’t sleep and all she said was “you slept”. So I got a coffee at 4am and waited for the day to pass. When your days start at 4am and you don’t get to go to bed until 9pm the days are pretty long and shitty. I’d been managing to quit smoking but when I got in there it was the only thing that allowed me to go outside for 5 minutes.

I was too anxious to shower with someone watching me and I was told me not showering would go against me and I would be made to stay longer. On one particular night they gave me Lorazepam, Zopiclone and Quetiapine all in one night and it made me hallucinate. My birth/dead name was used quite frequently until my named nurse took notice, however that didn’t stop some of the nurses from being ignorant. I was found crying by a nurse who had been extremely harsh and blunt with me from the start of my time there, she gave me no sympathy or advice, just another broken record “do you really think they’ll let you out while you’re acting like this?”. I was saddened to hear that it would go against me to portray my emotions.

I made friends on the ward, they were very good people and I still contact them to this day, I’ll always be grateful for them. One occasion that stood out to me was when I was taken into the office and told “some patients” were “unhappy” with me being on the male bedroom corridor, I was given a rape alarm but wasn’t told who would potentially be attacking me. I was offered food but was too anxious to eat in front of the other patients, the nurses refused to let me eat alone and I had to sit in between two armchairs in the corner.  I declined food for the first 3 days and lost weight drastically, I was malnourished, dehydrated and tired, but yet again I was told this was all going against me. I wasn’t offered any advice. A nurse came to me asking about what I wanted to eat, asked me if I wanted a vegan meal and I accepted, she then looked at the list of things and replied “oh well, we don’t have any” and I was forced to choose something else. I was even given meat at one point that I refused to eat.

On my last night I was kept up until nearly midnight because they were late doing night medications (meant to be given at 9pm), my friend and I were the last two to get ours. My review session was 5 days after I was sectioned, I was in the room for 15 minuets, lied through my teeth about feeling great and not wanting to die; I was let out immediately after. They told me I was going to be kept inside this place for all the times I fucked up that I couldn’t help because I was mentally ill. Then I was let out within 15 minutes of lying.

By Jason Lewis @ag0ny_in_vain

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Positivity, Terrorism, & Neorecovery

clown happy

The imperative to be positive, to have what is lauded in the workplace under neoliberal capitalism as a ‘Positive Mental Attitude (PMA)’, has seeped into every area of human life, and it is terroristic. The obligation to wrap up one’s distress in a gift box with a pretty ribbon, to mask the absolute horror show that can be bestowed upon some of us in the form of mental torment, is nothing less than a violence. As we have learned from those who are subject to racism and intersecting oppressions, it is what these things do to the psyche, the way they get under the skin, into the marrow, and woven into the very fabric of our selves, that does the most damage. It is a colonization of the mind.

The positive police have set up shop in every mental health service. We should write gratitude lists, mindfully eat raisins, HOPE (help other people every day), list our strengths on care plans, and think about where we might want to be in five-year’s-time when the next hour feels unsurvivable. My current care plan asks me to document my long term goals and how I will achieve them; the boxes to fill in read like an appraisal form, or something to put in a personal statement in which I try to convince someone I deserve a particular position. The form used to be about the difficulties we experience, what help we need – not an instruction to account for oneself and how we might materialise the things we want out of thin air, driven by pure (and probably literal) hunger for it.

I run a writing group for people who experience ‘psychosis’. Last week one of the members was trying to write something based on a prompt I gave them and said, apologetically, that she had nothing positive to write. I was a bit startled because I have never asked them to write in a particular way, and certainly not to write with their positive pants on. I said that the group wasn’t a space that demanded positivity, but was a space in which to be real with yourself and others, to the degree with which you are comfortable. Her reply? “That makes me want to cry”. Her response made me want to cry. And shout. What are we doing to people that we feel that unless we can speak positively we shouldn’t speak at all, particularly about the reality we experience? This violence rips words from throats; puts a sterile spin on the diverse range of human experiences; whittles us away to silt; isolates; individualises; and expects us to swallow patronising platitudes in the name of ‘recovery’ so that we may be deemed worthwhile (read: productive) subjects.

I don’t want to go all John Lennon on you, but imagine if we let people be. Imagine if we accepted that it isn’t wallowing and being resistant to treatment to be honest about how we feel? Imagine if we were willing to hold that space for people with care, and to sit alongside them in it. Imagine if we decolonised the narrative, stopped asking people to superficially cover wounds that need suturing and healing from the bottom up. Contrary to neoliberal propaganda, of which the recovery discourse is fast becoming a sacred part, this doesn’t cause people to be stuck in a sick role and too dependent (whatever that means given we are all dependent on others), but allows for the possibility of being seen, being accompanied, and possibly moving through it with help.

Interestingly, the group member I mentioned above, though speaking of her fears and upset of the previous two weeks, wrote a very positive poem. I am not convinced this is because she miraculously felt that way, but because the obligation to be positive has hijacked her from the inside. Violence isn’t always bloody.

– Eleanor Higgins

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