Monday, 10 September 2012

10 September 2012 - Perceived Power in the Psychiatric System and Democratising Action

Since becoming an activist and campaigner in mental health matters and more specifically in the movement to transform the psychiatric system, I have had cause to consider the place of power.  In relationships, organisations, hierarchies and institutions.  And particularly in response to recent engagement on the front line of fire where compulsion and force synonymously exist.  To control and subdue.  The non-compliant offenders whose only crime is to want to be heard and to be treated with respect.  Not too much to ask for except within the locked wards where therapeutic can mean drugs and safety can mean drugs.  And where resistance can be futile.

[I am putting a qualifying paragraph in at this point because I have been informed by a person in a position of power in mental health in Scotland that some people think that when I write a blog post I speak on behalf of Scotland or Glasgow or somewhere else.  The fact is that I speak from my own experience and it's my opinion.  Which I am entitled to.  I live in Fife so recent experiences are from there.  However I have heard from people in other areas of Scotland who have had similar experiences to mine.  But I won't be naming them because they don't want to be identified.  They have said this to me and I respect their wishes.]

I've never seen power as absolute and think it can swiftly change, later if not sooner.  And have seen this happen.  In other settings.  Therefore I'm not going to be bullied or intimidated by people in positions of power in the mental health world.  Because I know that the situation can quickly be reversed.  Despite the best efforts of them or me.  The difference being that people in perceived powerful positions because of job titles or career paths or 'lived experience' are caged in by the constraints of their employer, duties and responsibilities. As in he who pays the piper calls the tune.  And public servants in statutory agencies are, or should be, accountable to folk like me and you.

It will be different for people under a dictatorship or flawed democracies, hybrid or authoritarian regimes, as described in the Democracy Index.  I'm speaking as a citizen of a democratic country.  Where there should be an equal say and freedom of speech.  And that means for everyone whether diagnosed with a 'mental illness' or not.  Whatever our status in life or background or upbringing or anything.  Because of this I have confidence in challenging the powers that be, in relation to human rights issues in the psychiatric system and legal or strategic documents that don't do what they say on the tin.

I believe that the voices of lived experience deserve to be listened to and respected.  Even when governments don't like what we're saying.  In fact if there is opposition to what we are saying then I think this is a good sign.  It means we are doing something right.  But I'm not prepared to accept bullying or intimidation or being told what I have to say or do.  This is going too far.  There's enough of that in the psychiatric system.  I don't expect it to continue into the mental health world where recovery has become the mantra.  Some would say hijacked.  I didn't recover just to be put in a straitjacket by people in power whose positions are temporal.

Of course the root of the problem is the continued use of force and compulsory treatment towards and against people in mental distress.  The elephant in the recovery room.  Behaviour that isn't tempered by mental health acts or mental health strategies.  When safeguards aren't safe and the finest words in the world make no difference to the person who is locked up and locked in.  Dehumanised and denied basic human rights because they are mentally ill.  Described as non-compliant and without capacity.  Their carers disrespected and labelled as difficult and demanding.  For it's written in the notes and must be true.

I want to see and expect to see democracy in the psychiatric system and mental health world.  Equal voices and freedom of speech.  Therefore I will continue to behave as if it is happening.  Until it happens.


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