When you raise awareness the way we did on that Monday morning in July you feel proud to be involved in a real movement for change. Like most successful activism, this was a purely grass roots affair. People prepared to say enough is enough. Forget the spin, forget cool liberal reformism, forget consultation exercises. Its time to take a stand.
It’s not the first piece of Mad activism and it wont be the last. It’s difficult in this so-called democracy we live in, to get mainstream mental health organisations to take a critical stance on government policy. What with the need for the mental health alliance to achieve a consensus and smaller voluntary organisations too worried about their funding to support stand-points that are not ‘middle ground’. The strange thing about the compulsory treatment orders (CTO’s) out-lined in the white paper is the lack of controversy surrounding them. Disappointingly I’ve seen very little outright opposition to the rights infringing proposals.
This huge paralysis in the media obscures the reality that CTO’s are a serious step backwards for recovery oriented mental health services. Rather than aiming to emancipate, such a ‘maintenance’ emphasis constrains people in a thick coat of pharmaceuticals, denying the will of the individual, catapaulting them into a child-like role, or a lifelong battle of wills involving multiple admissions and a growing void of mis-understanding betweeen professional and patient. Granted there has been plenty of “we are very concerned…” in various organisations’ responses to the White Paper, well I for one am more than concerned. I already witness enough totalitarian style ‘biology bashing’ techniques, tramping into people’s lives in the vain hope of saving them from their situation. The all too familiar conveyer belt of slowly escalating levels of polypharmacy then follows, with each step justified by the emphasis on social control and compliance in the ‘drug power’ zone.
Well thank goodness (as my Grandma would say) for Mad Pride, and the rest of us critical beings willing to take a stand and say we want something different. We don’t want drug company money’s grubby influence on practice and we don’t want more social control dressed up as treatment (Johnstone,2000). We want respectful services with a range of approaches on offer that see people’s manifestations of distress as meaningful and aim for recovering a valued lifestyle. It was not a bit of luck that 30 people got more media coverage than the mental health alliances’ 2000 strong lobby of Parliament, last year. This was a clear message Just say “No to CTO’s” and “No to drug companies” Psychiatric drugs kill one a week”, personally I’d rather have a hug. This is something the public recognise, they know the drugs don’t work like the man in the suit says they do. They know that highly sedating people is a short term solution. They sense something’s going on in the ghetto that might be good for them too. Carol Batton has a poem that compares the mentaly ill to a political movement beaten into submission. She has a point but that is changing. What if we say we’re not mentally ill and never were, we’re mad and proud and we’ve got alot of things to be mad about, not least CTO’s and psychiatry’s dependence on huge corporate drug companies and mythical bio-medical ideology. People dont need neural networks blocked they need open social networks, not under-active metabolisms, but meaningful activities, not to comply rather to have their diversity respected. The mist starts to part…
As we waded through the swamp of complacency that is the status quo, organising this event we realised something. If patients, ex-patients and workers rally together what a force for change that would be. Well it’s happening. Like the end scene in ‘Bugs’ Life’ where the ants suddenly realise that if they take a stand together they don’t have to be ruled by the predator grass-hoppers! On a small-scale this was another major victory for people to have the right to be different and have different experiences, another victory for ordinary people with extraordinary lives.