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Drive to succeed…

I was talking with my mum yesterday about my unrelenting standards and perfectionism and what she sees as an ‘over-drive’ when it comes to work. Talking with her I realised that my current over-drive/over-commitment to produce good (or rather perfect) pieces of work is related not only to my unrelenting standards/perfectionism that were there always  but also to the catastrophic consequences of my mental health crisis back in 2008-2010. As a result of my severe depression I lost for a couple of years  what has always been a crucial source of self-esteem and recognition for me-my capacity to think and excel intellectually/academically. I could not think clearly, I could not concentrate and retain information, I could not process language, I could not read and understand what I was reading, I could not be creative intellectually. My head was heavy and cloudy due to the medication – especially when i was on copious amounts of it. I was off work-away from opportunities to be creative intellectually for nearly 2 years (far too long). In hospital where I was detained I was treated as somebody with diminished insight and capacity. I guess all that was a huge blow to my confidence and a source of a great deal of humiliation and shame and sense of failure and unfairness.

SO, I guess now I am anxious and driven to produce ‘perfect’ pieces of work in order to prove to myself and the world that I have managed to beat depression and its cognitive consequences, I have proved the medics wrong and I reversed the prognosis…in order to shout to depression and the medics  ‘I have won’…producing perfect pieces of work is a matter of life and death for me, a matter of proving that depression and sectioning did not kill me intellectually, it did not break me even though it could have done…there is a lot of hurt and righteous anger behind my drive to produce perfect work…I guess all the above may explain why I am so driven to produce perfect work at the moment…a kind of over-compensation…

 

Drawing, ‘In My Shoes’, START in Manchester, 2010

 

 

 

 


Service User Involvement in Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust: Rhetoric and Reality

Recently I came across an article by the Head of Patient Experience in Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust (MMHSCT) published in the Health Service Journal. The article is dated 22 November 2012 and is entitled ‘Building patient engagement from the ground up‘.

The Head of Patient Experience says: ‘We [MMHSCT] had the best scores for treating people with respect and dignity (9.7 out of 10), making people feel listened to (9.3), and taking service user views into account (9.0).The Trust also received the highest national scores in helping people to achieve their goals, making sure people know what to do in a crisis and supporting people with mental health problems to address their physical health needs’.

This is what I (somebody who uses services in MMHSCT) say:  ‘In Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust, inpatient and community adult mental health services are currently being ‘reviewed’ and re-structured. 

With regard to inpatient services, one of the adult inpatient wards (Edale House in the MRI in central Manchester) closed in spite of the strong and longstanding opposition expressed by service users, carers, and staff alike. The decision to close Edale House was clearly based on cost, given that the Trust was apparently not keen on continuing to pay rent for the ward premises. All patients from Edale House have been transferred to Park House, an inpatient facility in North Manchester General Hospital (in north Manchester), where the Trust owns the land and thus there is no payment of rent involved. Now that Edale House has become unavailable, people living in central or south Manchester are likely to find visiting relatives and friends admitted to Park House, in north Manchester, particularly difficult and off-putting given the increased amount of travelling involved. In addition, I understand that there are few individual rooms in Park House – at least that was the case back in 2009 when I was detained there. So, now that Edale House has become unavailable, people admitted to Park House are faced with the dormitory situation which can be very frightening and exposing, raising serious issues of lack of privacy and dignity – it was actually really traumatising for me. Finally, when I was detained in Park House in north Manchester, I lived in central Manchester; this meant that using my Section 17 Leave (6 hours per day at some point) in a meaningful way was a real challenge given that for instance it used to take me over 2 hours to go home from Park House on public transport. So, now that Edale House has become unavailable, people living in central or south Manchester and detained in Park House are likely to be hindered from using their leave (their only glimpse of freedom and autonomy within an everyday reality defined by compulsion) in a meaningful way due to the excess travelling involved.

 With regard to community services, the existing 11 Community Mental Health Teams in the Trust are expected to shrink to 6, which means workers will have bigger case-loads and less time for meaningful interaction with service users; there will be loss of staff (we have been told this will amount to 46 people but this is not certain); workers (including people with care co-ordination responsibilities) know that the nature of their jobs will change but they do not know exactly how, and they have been in this insecure state of not knowing for over a year now; service users are told that all this change will improve services and make them more ‘targeted’ but there is only general, vague talk and no specifics. There are fears among service users that people will be discharged from hospital into the community without the appropriate support from Community Mental Health Teams. Last, service users are treated as ‘recovered’ and being discharged from Community Mental Health Teams whereas they are not ready for discharge and would undoubtedly benefit from ongoing support from Community Mental Health Team staff. All this paints a picture of funding cuts and drastic change that have given rise to a great deal of insecurity and uncertainty amongst workers and service users alike; Community Mental Health Team staff characterise all this as ‘disheartening‘; the Trust claims that the changes in adult mental health services are not determined by cost but that they are going to save a couple of million pounds nevertheless!’ 

Service User Involvement in Manchester Mental Health and Social Care Trust: Rhetoric and Reality….

 

(From Community Care; ‘Social Work: Swimming or Drowning?’) 

 

 

 

 


When it pays to have had ‘psychotic depression’ – Critical reflections on being a researcher service user

My name is Dina Poursanidou and I will be speaking as someone who is both an academic (trained) researcher and uses mental health services. I started my research career back in 1994 and I have been using mental health services in Manchester since the summer of 2008.

I had my first major mental health crisis, an episode of ‘clinical depression and anxiety’ according to the official diagnosis, in 1991 when I was studying for a Master’s degree in Nottingham University. Following this mental health crisis, I embarked on a long journey of self-discovery and healing which comprised having intensive psychoanalytic psychotherapy and completing a PhD on the experience of depression in young people as its vital components. My second major mental health crisis, this time a prolonged episode of ‘treatment-resistant psychotic depression’ according to the official diagnosis, occurred between July 2008 and April 2010, resulting in a 3-month long detention under a section in an acute psychiatric ward in Manchester in 2009, as well as a 2-year period of unemployment. Following this very serious and enduring mental health crisis, I returned to my research post at the University of Central Lancashire (where I had worked as a Research Fellow until the summer of 2008) and started working on the Independent  Mental Health Advocacy (IMHA) project as a Service User Research Fellow in the summer of 2010.

My mental health crisis back in 2008-2010 and in particular my hospitalisation and sectioning in 2009 represent major biographical disruptions for me that entailed huge losses, traumas and suffering, having catastrophic consequences for every aspect of my life, which left me feeling a great deal of bitterness and anger, as well as deep sadness and an acute sense of loss. First and foremost, as a result of my very severe and persistent depression, for a couple of years, I lost what had always been a vital source of self-esteem and recognition for me-my capacity to think creatively and excel intellectually/academically. I could not think clearly, I could not concentrate and retain information, I could not process language, I could not read and understand what I was reading, I could not be intellectually creative. My head was constantly heavy and cloudy due to the potent medication I was prescribed- especially when I was on copious amounts of it. I was off work for nearly 2 years and thus away from opportunities for intellectual stimulation for far too long. When I was detained in hospital, I was treated as somebody with diminished capacity and insight. Characteristically, my care records covering the period of my detention in hospital (January-April 2009) portray me -among others- as ‘dishevelled, retarded, highly agitated and characterised by suicidal ideation, lethargic and far from mentally alert, incontinent, occasionally subjected to physical restraint and possibly needing ECT treatment due to treatment-resistant severe psychotic depression’.

 I guess all the above represented a huge blow to my confidence and a source of profound feelings of humiliation and shame, as well as a source of a deep sense of failure,  unfairness/injustice and stigmatisation- all acutely disempowering emotions. In a nutshell, my mental health crisis back in 2008-2010 and in particular my sectioning in 2009 were scarring, terrifying experiences whereby the very core of my existence was deeply shaken and all my certainties collapsed; therefore, the struggle to regain my confidence and repair my life, a struggle that began slowly in the spring of 2010 and is still continuing, has been hugely challenging. At the same time, I recognise that my latest mental health crisis and in particular my journey of recovery (including foremost my experience of therapy with an NHS clinical psychologist, my participation in a mental health arts project, and my return to work) opened up opportunities for personal growth and transformation for me, affording me hope and new insights into the human condition. Hence, my feelings about and evaluations of my journey through madness and back are characterised by profound ambivalence. If madness is ‘a dangerous gift’ that users of psychiatric services need to embrace, as Mad Pride advocates, I am yet to embrace my own madness.

Not long ago I came across an article from the Guardian dated August 2009 and entitled ‘For some academic researchers, mental illness can be an advantage’; the article discusses how ‘users of mental health services are increasingly being recruited as academic researchers’. Reflecting on the mental illness as an advantage paradox (or what can be perceived as a paradox especially by someone who has lost a lot through mental illness), I thought that in fact there are probably not that many jobs for which a past diagnosis of ‘psychotic depression’, psychiatric hospitalisation and detention under a section, as well as current use of secondary mental health services are requirements and assets rather than serious drawbacks. But when I worked on the IMHA project as a Service User Research Fellow, I had one of those jobs.  I was specifically appointed to my research position mainly because of my experience of detention under a section and my use of secondary mental health services, as well as my academic credentials.

 Does it pay to have had ‘psychotic depression’ then?

Suddenly, when I re-entered academia in the summer of 2010, I was employable having been unemployed for 2 years. I was once again able to operate in an academic and research environment and benefit from the available opportunities for intellectual stimulation. In my Service User Research Fellow post, I was able to feel worthy and value myself again, I saw my confidence in my academic abilities slowly develop in spite of my battles with low self-esteem, performance anxiety and self-doubt; and these experiences were really affirming, validating and empowering. I felt able to put a particularly traumatic experience (my sectioning in 2009) into some positive use, hoping to make a difference in the lives of those who experience compulsion within mental health services. I went from being treated as somebody with diminished capacity and insight (whilst in hospital) to being celebrated as somebody who has acquired ‘unique insights’, valuable service user/survivor knowledge (experiential, embodied, tacit knowledge stemming from the direct, subjective, lived experience of mental distress) and ‘expertise by experience’.

But does it really pay to have had ‘psychotic depression’ when survivor knowledge, mad knowledge is difficult, unsettling and troublesome knowledge?

How can one bear the contact with the inchoate (madness) and the discomfort and terror it generates?  How can one tolerate the collapse of rationality and the uncertainty of not knowing?

I used my service user subjectivity and emotional experience as an instrument of knowing and understanding when – in the context of my Service User Research Fellow post-I interviewed users of mental health services about their experiences of IMHA advocacy whilst in compulsory treatment. But the traumatic stories the interviewees told me brought back memories of my own personal traumas and I often struggled in my efforts to achieve a balance between showing empathy and maintaining my emotional boundaries.

Monica, one of the interviewees, told me how when she was put on a 5 ‘emergency’ Section whilst already a voluntary patient, she was given a lot of paperwork but nevertheless she could not really understand what was happening to her as she had not been sectioned before and she was not offered the chance to speak to anybody properly about the sectioning. She said that she only understood that she could not do anything about the sectioning and that she could not leave the hospital. Monica’s tone of voice whilst telling me all that spoke of the profound feelings of confusion, despair, helplessness, powerlessness and entrapment she must have experienced at the time of her sectioning. I felt I could identify strongly with such feelings-when I was detained for 3 months back in 2009 I was given no paperwork and no explanation whatsoever about the meaning and implications of Sections 2 and 3 I was put on; I guess I finally understood that I could not leave the hospital without Section 17 leave only after I escaped twice and was brought back in police custody (i.e. at the back of a police van). Monica also talked about one’s feeling lost, disorientated and confused when one is first admitted on a psychiatric ward-even when one is admitted as a voluntary patient. In my mental health/care records I read that I spent a great deal of time when I was detained in hospital back in 2009 being ‘highly agitated’, which could have been partly the result of precisely feeling lost, disorientated and confused on the psychiatric ward I was sent to-a foreign environment for me at the time. Furthermore, Monica told me about her serious, persistent and at times life threatening self-harming. I found it particularly difficult to hear about how when she was sectioned in 2010, she self-harmed so severely through bloodletting that she had to be given blood transfusions in a General Hospital. Monica’s self-harming made me think about the ways I had used to self-harm when I was acutely unwell. Although I had never cut myself with a blade to blood let, I had hurt my scalp very badly by pulling hair and scratching, scratched and wounded my face, bit my nails viciously, and overeaten eating inappropriate foods that had aggravated my Crohn’s disease and induced severe flare ups. 

‘Madness as a dangerous gift’ – the lived experience of mental distress and mental health service use , as well as the knowledge stemming from that, may be an asset, something potentially positive and valuable in the context of mental health research, but at the same time represents something excruciatingly painful that at times I wish I did not have!

 

(From The Icarus Project website) 

 

 

 


Sexual and reproductive health issues: Invitation to a focus group with women mental health service users

Researchers at the University of Manchester are carrying out a study to evaluate an internet-based training resource that was developed to help raise awareness and improve knowledge about sexual and reproductive health among mental health staff and service users. We specifically want to collect information on the use of the resource by mental health nurses with female service users. As part of the study, we have been running focus groups with mental health staff and women service users in various in-patient facilities in Manchester.

We will also be running a focus group with women mental health service users in the community in Preston on Wednesday 12 December 2012, 1.30-3.00pm, at the University of Central Lancashire, Adelphi Street, Harrington Building, Room 308.

You are invited to take part in the focus group in Preston if you are a female mental health service user and are interested in taking part in a discussion that will explore attitudes, views, feelings and needs for support with regard to sexual and reproductive health among women mental health service users.

Places are limited and will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis. Please book a place by Friday 7thDecember.

For further information and to book a place, please contact Dina Poursanidou on 07792358092 or Konstantina.Poursanidou@manchester.ac.uk.

Download the poster:  Preston focus group_poster_18 November 2012_FINAL


MEDIA AND MENTAL HEALTH STIGMA: AN INTERESTING ENCOUNTER

Back in April 2012 I saw an advert entitled ‘Channel 4 programme on stigma attached to mental health in the workplace seeks participants’. I responded to the Channel 4 advert regarding the making of this programme on mental health stigma and employment as I thought it looked interesting, and a couple of days later I had a phone call from somebody from the Channel 4 production team.

I found myself feeling quite cynical whilst speaking to the Channel 4 guy. First, due to what I perceived as his worrying ignorance of the English mental health system and law-he was making a documentary about stigma and mental health for God’s sake! He asked me for details of my mental health history and I told him that I had been detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act (MHA) 2007 back in 2009. His question following that was: ‘Was that voluntary?’ I nearly fell off my chair but I managed to restrain myself from saying something offensive to him about his ignorance. I only said that when you are detained in hospital under the MHA, you are there not voluntarily but compulsorily!

Second, the Channel 4 guy said that for the purposes of the programme the production team would select 4 people with ‘diagnosed’ mental health problems and 4 without such problems, and my understanding was that they were trying to somehow represent (my emphasis) the population of mental health service users through these 4 people! I thought and said, ‘Hang on a minute…even with the best intentions, you will not be able to achieve representation and take into account all the parameters of diversity – age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education level, to mention but a few!’

Third, I  felt that the Channel 4 guy I was talking to (although most probably he had experienced the pain of discrimination and racism- he must have been an Asian guy judging from his name) had an irritatingly casual style when he was asking me for details about my mental health history- things that are very sensitive and painful. I don’t mind talking about these things; I have talked about them to mental health professionals at nauseum but also publicly in research seminars and other talks, so I am used to talking about them and do not necessarily need people’s sympathy or empathy. But I still found the guy’s casual style insensitive and rather disrespectful and inconsiderate. I guess the casual style may have been a kind of defence that detached from painful content and hence protected. On the other hand, my friend who has worked for the BBC says that the casual style of media people is mere callousness.

A very interesting encounter with a media person this phone call. He said he would have to take what I told him to somebody senior in the production team and a process of selection for the programme would be followed.  I did not hear back from him, so I guess I did not pass the first stage of selection. I suspect that during the phone call my cynicism probably transpired!

I would not wish to generalise and claim that all Channel 4 journalists involved with mental health programmes are ignorant when it comes to the English mental health system and law. I can even try and be optimistic and hope that the guy I spoke to is the exception and not the rule. But my encounter is certainly a very worrying example and mental health charities, such as Mind or Rethink Mental Illness, that promote media programmes seeking to tackle mental health stigma (including the Channel 4 programme in question where they had an advisory role) need to be made aware and sensitised to these issues.

Finally, back in April I thought there were other problems with the intended Channel 4 programme as well. Just to illustrate- the production team wanted to select 4 people with ‘diagnosed’ mental health problems and 4 people without such problems (2 groups) who would be evaluated by a panel of experts (including business experts and psychiatrists). However, the 4 people without ‘diagnosed’ problems may still have mental health difficulties they struggle with that they may not want to disclose. In that case, on what basis was a comparison going to be made between the 2 groups following the evaluations of the panel of experts? My understanding was that what the programme sought to do was to show that people with diagnosed mental health problems can perform various work-related tasks equally well and be equally employable as people without mental health problems, which would contribute to destigmatising mental illness and questioning prejudices around it. But as I said above, a crude distinction between people with and without diagnosed mental health problems may be problematic, and if so, the entire endeavour could fail in showing anything whatsoever!

The Channel 4 programme referred to above was actually broadcasted on 25th July 2012 and was entitled ‘World’s Maddest Job Interview’. The programme was part of the Channel 4 mental health season entitled ‘4 Goes Mad’. The World’s Maddest Job Interview is described on the 4 Goes Mad website ( http://4goesmad.channel4.com/) as a programme where ‘eight volunteers – some with significant mental health conditions and some without- have their work skills evaluated as they try to impress a panel of business experts […] Potential employers and psychiatrists observe the eight candidates and try to determine who is the most employable, without any knowledge of their mental health history’. Undoubtedly influenced strongly by my earlier encounter with the guy from the Channel 4 production team and what I perceived as problematic in relation to the Channel 4 programme, I did not watch the World’s Maddest Job Interview. In hindsight, I wish I had watched the programme as that would have allowed me to ascertain whether my concerns and scepticism were justified.

 

(From the New Zealand Film Archive)

 

 


How I became involved with the Asylum magazine

How I became involved with the Asylum magazine and what such involvement has meant for me:  a journey through madness and back.

My first encounter with the Asylum magazine occurred in the spring of 2010 – when the magazine was relaunched after a 3-year break. I was introduced to Asylum by Helen (Spandler), a friend and colleague from the University of Central Lancashire and member of the Asylum editorial collective, and I have been reading it religiously ever since. In the autumn of 2011 Helen asked me whether I would be interested in being involved in the Asylum editorial collective, stressing that ‘the collective is open to anyone who wants to help produce and develop the magazine, working in a spirit of equality’. I was pleased to be asked and I have been a member of the collective for about a year.

I feel that in order to communicate effectively how and why I became involved with the Asylum magazine, as well as what such involvement has meant for me, it is essential to locate my involvement with Asylum in the context of my life –and particularly, in the context of my journey through mental illness (for want of a better word) and mental health services in the period 2008-2010.

I had my first major mental health crisis, an episode of ‘clinical depression and anxiety’ according to the official diagnosis, in 1991 when I was studying for a Master’s degree in Nottingham University. Following this mental health crisis, I embarked on a long journey of self-discovery and healing which comprised having intensive psychoanalytic psychotherapy and completing a PhD on the experience of depression in young people as its vital components. My second major mental health crisis, this time a prolonged episode of ‘treatment-resistant psychotic depression’ according to the official diagnosis, occurred between July 2008 and April 2010, resulting in a 3-month long detention under a section in an acute psychiatric ward in Manchester in 2009, as well as a 2-year period of unemployment. Following this second mental health crisis, I returned to my research post at the University of Central Lancashire (where I had worked as a Research Fellow until the summer of 2008) and started working on a mental health advocacy project as a service user researcher in the summer of 2010.  Hence, I have been using mental health services in Manchester since the summer of 2008, including attending START, a mental health arts project, and having individual psychotherapy with an NHS clinical psychologist – both vital for my recovery.

It is important to draw special attention to the fact that I first encountered the Asylum magazine in the spring of 2010- that was a critical turning point in my journey through madness and back, so to speak, as it was the start of my getting better, the beginning of my recovery from a very serious and enduring mental health crisis.

It is also crucial to bear in mind that my mental health crisis back in 2008-2010 had catastrophic consequences for every aspect of my life. First and foremost, as a result of my very severe and persistent depression, for a couple of years, I lost what had always been a vital source of self-esteem and recognition for me-my capacity to think creatively and excel intellectually/academically. I could not think clearly, I could not concentrate and retain information, I could not process language, I could not read and understand what I was reading, I could not be intellectually creative. My head was constantly heavy and cloudy due to the potent medication I was prescribed- especially when I was on copious amounts of it. I was off work for nearly 2 years and thus away from opportunities for intellectual stimulation for far too long. When I was detained in hospital, I was treated as somebody who lacks capacity and insight. Characteristically, my care records covering the period of my detention in hospital (January-April 2009) portray me -among others- as ‘dishevelled, retarded, highly agitated, lethargic and far from mentally alert, incontinent and occasionally subjected to physical restraint’. I guess all the above represented a huge blow to my confidence and a source of profound feelings of humiliation and shame, as well as a source of a deep sense of failure and unfairness/injustice- all acutely disempowering emotions. In a nutshell, my mental health crisis back in 2008-2010 and in particular my sectioning in 2009 were scarring, terrifying experiences whereby the very core of my existence was deeply shaken and all my certainties collapsed; therefore, the struggle to regain my confidence and repair my life, a struggle that began slowly in the spring of 2010 and is still continuing, has been hugely challenging. It was at the start of that struggle that I encountered Asylum, and Asylum has been with me throughout my recovery journey.

Why I became involved with the Asylum magazine and what such involvement has meant for me

a) My involvement with Asylum has afforded me a sense of community through contact with other mental health service users/psychiatric survivors and their allies, as well as through acquaintance with the psychiatric survivor movement at large and its rich collective knowledge and history; this sense of community -first and foremost- has helped reduce the acute sense of loneliness brought about by the terror and disempowerment I  experienced all the way through my mental health crisis (back in 2008-2010) and my sectioning in particular.

b) Asylum has provided me with a safe space (forum) to tell the story of my struggle to recover from mental ill health, to express my views on mental health care freely, to be listened to and be taken seriously; Asylum has afforded me a space where I can be inspired and give voice to my resistance, rebellion and critical stance to the practices of oppression and degradation of the self often used by modern biomedical psychiatry. Telling my story, articulating my views and being taken seriously has been really validating and empowering, as well as conducive to the cognitive and affective processing of my trauma.

Whilst browsing the Asylum magazine website, under the section entitled ‘History of Asylum’, I read ‘Our central aim in encouraging those who felt hurt by the system to write was the hope that it would help them to express their views, which would also be discussed. So we tried to offer them “a proper place at the table”. There they would be given as good a chance as is possible to be taken seriously’.

c) Asylum represents a space where I can safely value and honour madness and mad/psychiatric survivor knowledge as meaningful in the context of my life and other people’s lives without having to romanticise and idealise it. I feel rather uncomfortable with the tendency to romanticise and idealise madness and mad knowledge which appears to often characterise- for example- Mad Pride, those calling themselves ‘experts by experience’ (considering psychiatric survivor knowledge as ‘special’ knowledge, which reflects a presumed epistemological privilege for mental health service users), those who portray all people with mental health problems as struggling creative geniuses equating madness to creative brilliance (where creativity is viewed as an inherent element of madness), or those who perceive madness as a blessing linking madness (extreme states of consciousness) to mystical states and shamanism. The individuals I came across in North Manchester hospital whilst sectioned did not strike me by any means as poets or shamans but as acutely distressed and unhappy people; I was one of them of course…

d) Asylum has provided me with a space where it is acceptable to be profoundly ambivalent towards my latest mental health crisis, service use and recovery, where it is ok to be uncertain and not know when it comes to questions around how I feel about and evaluate my journey through madness and back. As I explained above, my mental health crisis back in 2008-2010 and in particular my hospitalisation and sectioning in 2009 represent major biographical disruptions for me that entailed huge losses, traumas and suffering, having catastrophic consequences for every aspect of my life, which has left me feeling a great deal of bitterness and anger, as well as deep sadness and an acute sense of loss. At the same time, I recognise that my latest mental health crisis and in particular my journey of recovery (including foremost my experience of therapy and my participation in the START mental health arts project) opened up opportunities for personal growth and transformation for me, affording me hope and new insights into the human condition. Hence, my feelings about and evaluations of my journey through madness and back are characterised by profound ambivalence. If madness is ‘a dangerous gift’ that users of psychiatric services need to embrace, as Mad Pride advocates, I am yet to embrace my own madness. Furthermore, I find the conceptualisation of ‘recovery’ in the current recovery discourse rather simplistic and problematic – especially when recovery is romanticised and presented as a rather linear journey of continuous and ever increasing optimism that will inevitably lead to a finalised acceptance of one’s mental health crisis and therefore happiness (exaggerating a bit here). My own recovery has been a far from linear process where hope has incessantly alternated with bitterness/anger and grief- it has been a much more muddled journey. Asylum offers a space where muddle, ambivalence, uncertainty, and not knowing are tolerated and can be worked through.

e)Last but not least, since my first encounter with Asylum I was drawn to  the word ‘Asylum’ and the phrase ‘democratic  psychiatry’ (from the magazine’s title); the word and phrase in question resonate deeply with me and carry a particular emotional weight as they come from Greek, my mother tongue; ‘Asylum’ means sanctuary, safe refuge and something that should not be violated-for example in Greece there is ‘University asylum’ which entails that the police should not enter University spaces forcibly;  University asylum was brutally violated by the army during a student uprising in the 1967-74 dictatorship in Greece and this violation has become synonymous to tyranny in the memory of Greek people; ‘democratic’ means  ‘of the power of the people’ which in my psyche is strongly linked to the longstanding struggles of my people to achieve freedom (including freedom of speech), democracy, respect for human rights, and justice for their country; I guess for me – due to all these powerful associations of the word’ democratic’ to freedom /lack of coercion, justice, and respect for human rights  – the phrase ‘democratic psychiatry’ is a particularly powerful articulation of an ideal of – or rather of a deep longing for – humane and emancipatory psychiatry that refrains from coercion and injustice and has the potential to heal- an ideal that certainly stands in stark contrast to the reality of the totally untherapeutic and unsafe psychiatric care I experienced when sectioned back in 2009. This longing, I imagine, explains -to a very large extent- my involvement with Asylum and its mission and values.

[This blog post first appeared on the website for the The Ragged Project.]