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How to resolve the mental health crisis – an open letter to politicians

 

courtesy-of-bulldogza-at-freedigitalimages-net

Dear politicians 

Future generations will look back on our efforts to resolve our current ‘mental health’ crisis with a mixture of horror and amusement. I can imagine – in the year 2119 and beyond – social history courses exploring the underlying reasons as to why the so-called civilised societies of the early 21st century treated its distressed citizens so barbarically, ultimately concluding that a reliance on psychiatric pseudoscience and a tolerance of gross human-rights violations were the key factors.  

 

The present focus on ‘mental health’ is unprecedented. A continual stream of media reports highlight failings in the current system, while celebrities and members of the royal family add their voices to the clamour for an expansion of services for the ‘mentally ill’. Although well intentioned, this energy is typically misplaced; we do not require more of the same. The illness-like-any-other approach to human distress, as espoused by Western psychiatry, has been an abject failure. Despite dominating research and practice for over 60 years, this bio-medical paradigm has benefited few and damaged many.

 

Let’s be clear.

 

We do NOT need ‘early detection’ in schools that tag more and more children with dubious diagnostic labels. 

We do NOT need to drug more and more of our citizens with ‘antidepressants’ and ‘antipsychotics’.

We do NOT need more anti-stigma campaigns that worsen discrimination by implying that the ‘mentally ill’ are a distinct group, inherently different from everyone else.  

We do NOT need to waste further millions in bio-genetic research, chasing non-existent ‘mental illness’ genes and the corresponding wonder drug.  

 

So, what do we need to do to resolve the mental health crisis?

 

An essential pre-requisite is to resoundingly reject the notion that ‘mental illness’ is primarily caused by biological defects. People experiencing high levels of distress and overwhelm – tagged by psychiatry as suffering from such things as ‘depression’, ‘bipolar disorder’, ‘schizophrenia’ – typically do NOT have brain disorders. If all MPs could grasp this central point (and I’d happily direct you to the relevant scientific research to support it) you would be able to start the process of transforming our approach to mental health and make a real difference. No longer stifled by the ‘illness like any other’ delusion, your responsibilities as policy-shapers and resource allocators could be directed towards radically improving the life experiences of our citizens – a sure-fire way to transform the mental health of the nation.

 

In particular, politicians could use their powers to:

 

  1. Stop human rights violations:

The current Mental Health Act represents a form of legalised discrimination, giving those tagged as suffering a ‘mental disorder’ the rights of suspected terrorists. Each day in our country scores of law-abiding citizens, many of who are perfectly capable of making their own decisions, are incarcerated and forced to ingest psychiatric drugs. These routine human-rights violations are largely a direct consequence of a Mental Health Act that wrongly equates  ‘mental disorders’ with brain abnormalities and lack of autonomy.

 

As politicians you have the power to rid our society of the Mental Health Act, this warped piece of legislation. We do not need distinctive ‘mental health’ law; other jurisdictions – Northern Ireland, for example – have already taken this important step. If you are serious about resolving the current crisis in the way we make sense of, and respond to, human distress, we must do likewise.

   

  1. Reduce adversity

Typically, a person’s distress and overwhelm is understandable in the context of that individual’s past and present life experiences. (Read the previous sentence again. Let it sink in). Given your role as policy makers, I recognise that this assertion might feel threatening to you, highlighting as it does your responsibility for reducing the level of adversity endured by our citizens. Conversely, acceptance of the fundamental life-experience/distress link offers you the opportunity to accomplish something meaningful in tackling the current mental health crisis.

 

So  stop pontificating about ‘improving treatment of the mentally ill’, and act with vigour and purpose to redirect resources into countering the following societal ills: poverty; inequality; discrimination; domestic violence; homelessness; childhood abuse; bullying; unemployment; alienation and violent crime. You know it makes sense.

    

  1. Simplify our approach to distressed people

Substantial improvement in the mental wellbeing of our people will not be realised through the discovery of a new psychiatric drug or individual therapy. The solution is much simpler than that: enable distressed people to promptly access support from compassionate, non-judgmental human beings, preferably those who have had first-hand experience of emotional pain and overwhelm. This initial response need not to be provided by mental health ‘experts’; indeed, it is better if it is offered by people unsullied by psychiatric training that, in the main, continues to peddle the ‘illness like any other’ delusion. For the most part, the essential criterion for the role is a genuine interest in listening to the multi-layered personal stories of those currently suffering.

 

Harnessing the healing power of human relationships can be achieved in various ways: drop-in centres, staffed by people who have survived emotional challenges of their own; a crisis house (independent from statutory provision) in every town; youth centres utilising the skills of older teenagers with lived experience of distress; social support networks within the workplace; and various peer support and mentoring schemes in schools and colleges. In more severe forms of emotional overwhelm, more intensive support might be required – such as Soteria Houses  or Open Dialogue  – effective interventions that crucially depend on a combination of human compassion and a curiosity about the sufferer’s individual life story.

 

 

 

So, politicians, you have an opportunity to transform our society’s approach to the enduring mental health crisis, to go down in history as one of the rare legislatures in the Western world who resoundingly rejected the psychiatric pseudo-science and associated human-rights violations. I urge you to grasp this opportunity so that future social commentators will show you respect rather than ridicule.

 

Yours faithfully

 

 

Dr Gary L. Sidley  

     

 

 Photo courtesy of Bulldogza at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

 

22 thoughts on “How to resolve the mental health crisis – an open letter to politicians

  1. Mario Cardile / Reply 18th July 2019 at 2:31 pm

    An excellent letter. You really know the subject of mental health and really care that it makes some real improvement for the people being treated, for simply more of the same on a larger scale just won’t do. Its criticism is accurate and relevant. Its observations and suggestions are sensible and useful.
    May this letter be considered and acted upon.

    • Gary Sidley / Reply 18th July 2019 at 3:06 pm

      Thank you, Mario, for your support and positive feedback – much appreciated.

  2. Amanda Kemp / Reply 18th July 2019 at 5:40 pm

    Amazing! How did you get so much in, in such a short letter. I have just come back from visiting my son on a Section 3. He had to be woken up when I arrived at 15.00 hrs, slept through my visit and no doubt after dinner will go back to bed. This is curing people!

    • Gary Sidley / Reply 19th July 2019 at 2:44 pm

      I appreciate your interest and comment, Amanda. So sorry to hear your son is currently under section and, apparently, over-sedated – sadly, an all too common story. I hope your family situation improves soon. Take care.

  3. Don Karp / Reply 19th July 2019 at 2:43 am

    Begging politicians to do something about mental health is a waste of time and energy, in my opinion–a dead end in the US, at least at the federal level. Congress is controlled by corporations not voters (constituency). This means Big Pharma, who gives large campaign contributions determines policy.

    In my opinion, mental health should be eliminated. The word health is about the medical system. At least savvy people can seek and create alternatives and avoid mental health.

    Even many alternatives, like peer support, become co-opted by the capitalist system when they are careers that begin with training and exams. Isn’t a person with lived experience already a peer? It seems to me that training produces some other level that is no longer a peer. The ethics of a peer hired by a medically oriented facility is very shoddy.

    Let’s just bring people in need to alternatives–peer support, self-help, peer respites, the Power Force Meaning Framework, Open Dialogue, WRAP.

    Do we really need professionals to do this, or can it just be people helping each other, like we used to?

    Fifty years ago, I attended an experiment in values called the Woodstock Festival. For me, it was not the music that was the major experience, but the caring and sharing of brothers and sisters or each other and the environment. For example, during the big rainstorm, our tent was destroyed. It wasn’t a problem because our brother across the way had an intact tent and gladly took us in.

    Through education and networking we can build an alternative system that is not tied to capitalism or the medical system of mental health, but of people helping each other.

    • Gary Sidley / Reply 19th July 2019 at 3:17 pm

      Hi Don
      Thank you for your detailed feedback.

      I agree with much of what you say: the corrupting influence of big pharma; the real risk that innovation is co-opted; your desire for alternative peer support, self-help and implementation of the Power-Threat-Meaning Framework; and your doubts about whether we actually need professionals (I wrote an earlier blog about this very subject). I’m also aware of the disadvantages of referring to ‘mental health’, given its medical connotations along with the term being used to justify the routine human-rights violations intrinsic to current legislation.

      In this instance – an open letter to politicians – there was no way of avoiding reference to ‘mental health’ as, if I did omit it, the target audience would not grasp what I’m talking about. Also – at least here in the UK – I disagree about it being a waste of time targeting our efforts at politicians. UK politicians want to be popular so as to be re-elected and they tend to be interested in ideas that might save tax-payers money (I suspect radical change to a better way of responding to distress would be cheaper than our current psychiatric system). In short, I view the support of politicians as necessary, but not sufficient to ensure a paradigm shift.

      As for the wider political context – currently neo-liberal/capitalism – it undoubtedly makes a toxic contribution to the wellbeing of our citizens. However, I am yet to be convinced of the viability of alternative systems that could be applied large scale to the developed world – that is beyond small communes and localised co-operatives. I don’t confess to be knowledgeable with regards to the political sciences, but can you give me a large-scale example (e.g. a country) where an alternative socio-political system has achieved radical improvements in the emotional wellbeing of its citizens?

  4. Ellie / Reply 20th July 2019 at 10:45 am

    Excellent letter, I fully agree with what you are saying. I am a survivor of both childhood sexual abuse, and the medical model which consistently ignored my emotional symptoms for 18 long years, leaving me pretty much to deal alone with having symptoms so severe I was a prisoner in my own home for a whole decade. I’ve also lost my best friend to suicide after not only his own childhood trauma was ignored by the services, but also being retraumatised as a psychology student when he encountered institutional abuse where underage girls were being introduced to pimps via a charity and prostituting the streets. Not once was any of his trauma recognised, instead he was offered a psychiatric intervention which clearly did not work, and when he was in crises his mother was told his social worker was on holiday and no one else could pick up the case. It was my friend’s life mission to bring about change to the services, unfortunately though, it was that which he was most passionate about which killed him. We were both aware of the medical stigma of trauma back in the late 90’s, it’s frustrating how little things have changed since then. I have been luckier in more recent times. My head of psychology is amazing with her open minded approach and passion for change. 3 years ago I was finally offered a trauma informed approach and within the last couple of months have been signed off my EMDR. The combination of both DBT (which instilled further what I already knew – I was simply displaying a normal emotional response to very abnormal emotional experiences), and the EMDR to finally access and deal with those live trauma memories dumped in another state of consciousness, has worked really well for me. It got me to the point where I felt a perfect moment of clarity with the universe, that everything I’ve ever lived through, good and bad was to get me to where I needed to be right now – fighting to make a difference in trauma and ACEs. I have been writing to my health minister in wales as I have a vision of a wide public health, skills focused approach to trauma and ACEs, of creating a therapeutic learning environment with real opportunities for our most vulnerable. After being fortunate enough to experience living within the North African community in Ibiza when I was 21, and still missing feeling part of that community almost 2 decades later, I feel it is our culture which is creating mental health. It isn’t simply poverty either, I lived in one tiny room with my Moroccan boyfriend and another couple. It hadn’t been decorated for decades, we had no car, no washing machine, not even a full bath to relax in. Despite this, it was the happiest time of my life, even though I cried at least once every day as cultural differences took their toll on my relationship. We were living in real poverty, yet we were far richer than any of us in the uk are as we had community. When we ran out of water, our Moroccan neighbours gave us their very last. We never ate alone, there would usually be around 10 of us sharing a tasty meal off a single plate together. I don’t remember sadness then, I remember people smiling and laughing through their hardships. This has led me to believe poverty isn’t the problem with emotional and mental well being, marketing and consumerism is, and the moving away from the extended family, into our nuclear homes, and the loss of communities. I am the first generation that was targeted from birth with marketing (the Star Wars films of the late 70’s was the first time children were targeted in such a fashion). Personally, I tended to feel happier around older people growing up, and I am a person of great depth so the marketing hasn’t had such a big impact on my internal compass. I feel I have more in common with the older generation than my own, and my values are still pretty much the values of the 70’s. Seeing how we are degenerating in our humanity is heart breaking. We need to stop brain washing our babies with such marketing and get back to focusing on our humanity. A human mind and personality is truly unique, no amount of money or any possession can ever be more valuable than that, not to me anyway. I am currently finding ways to work with the system to help bring about change. This is terribly slow though. If need be I am still contemplating going against the system and campaigning for the medical stigma of trauma to be made a criminal offence. If such a campaign were to be successful then the government would have no choice but to radically change the approach. With regards to the human rights infringements – it goes a lot deeper than the mental health act. We tend to criminalise instead of understand. My experiences as a student environmental health officer helped give me perspective of the scale of emotional health, and the impacts on society. The vast majority of those I encountered under the statutory nuisance intervention were vulnerable. Having experienced emotional flash backs myself, there is no doubt in my mind that antisocial behaviour has its origins in emotional flash backs which became normalised behaviour when we traditionally housed our most vulnerable on isolated social housing estates miles from the rest of society and civil amenities. Why do we criminalise instead of seek to understand? This is something that bothers me greatly, and something I’m very passionate about changing. I think I shall be forwarding the link to your letter to Mr Gething, and further highlight how my vision can help with the situation. Keep up the good work, and thank you for being brave enough to go against the grain.

    • Gary Sidley / Reply 21st July 2019 at 3:21 pm

      Hi Ellie
      Thank you for taking the time to respond to my blog and for sharing some of your life experiences. I’m so sorry to hear about your best friend’s suicide and all the traumatic events you’ve suffered. On the other hand, it’s great to hear how you’ve survived and, ultimately, flourished.

      I’m in total agreement with much of your argument. Culture is indeed central to nurturing wellbeing, so I guess the challenge is how to develop such a cooperative and supportive environment across the developed world.

      Thanks again for you supportive comments and I wish you success with your campaign.

  5. Neil J Kenes / Reply 20th July 2019 at 1:51 pm

    Nice letter… thank you for your time in this direction of focus.

    In the USA – I TARGET the base root of the problem.
    Detaining people without valid reasons. We have the Bill of Rights – which entitles us to be given a fair public trial by jury offering. That was my main target line against them when they messed with me as it is to this day : “Charge me with a real crime, or let me go.” http://www.lawyermotion.com

    • Gary Sidley / Reply 21st July 2019 at 3:26 pm

      Thanks for your interest & support, Neil., Change to the legal system/Mental Health Act is, I believe, a necessary step towards a paradigm shift in the way we respond to human suffering. Each successful challenge to an involuntary detention must help build the case against this legalised discrimination. I’ll definitely take a look at your website.

      Best wishes

  6. Antonio / Reply 22nd July 2019 at 11:34 pm

    I think the letter is well intended but you can’t expect those who are responsible for the problem to then put their hands up, say sorry and implement solutions. Here in the UK the NHS i now focused on Co-production led by Clinical commissioners. It’s a step in the right direction and is really about shifting powers towards service users in as much as they are able to design, commission and roll out new services while professionals help facilitate those changes as opposed to providing fixes. In as much as recovery colleges are giving service user autonomy over the courses they choose to create and deliver, the CCG are now aiming to do the same. It is only through transformational co-production that the changes we hope for in mental health can begin to be seen.

    • Gary Sidley / Reply 23rd July 2019 at 11:10 am

      Hi Antonio
      Thank you for your interest, and for taking the time to respond.

      The ‘transformational co-production’ sounds a really useful endeavour and will, I’m sure, make a positive contribution to the ongoing campaign to achieve a paradigm shift. But I don’t think radical change will be realised via one approach; it will require a multi-pronged action. And I’d argue that a necessary step will be to get some politicians to support our campaign. While acknowledging that gaining their cooperation may not be easy, I believe that some of our UK MPs do genuinely want to make a positive difference and could collaborate with us if they could fully understand what it is we are striving for.

  7. Madlin Brinton / Reply 23rd July 2019 at 11:48 am

    Apologies for shameless self publicity but as a schizo, I’ve got an autobiography available on Amazon. It’s called Pillory of the Establishment and I’m receiving dubious harassment for it. I am therefore needing to tell people about it who will understand. No obligation but any word spreading would be welcome! Thank you for your work x

  8. Cal Desmond-Pearson / Reply 27th July 2019 at 12:03 pm

    Excellent letter. I used it in an email to my MP Chi Onwurah.

    • Gary Sidley / Reply 27th July 2019 at 2:24 pm

      That’s good to hear, Cal – thank you for your support and interest.

  9. Rosalee / Reply 6th August 2019 at 9:03 pm

    Thanks for getting this excellent letter out there Dr. Sidley! Until a person, or their loved ones, has the grave misfortune to see a psychiatrist for any reason you don’t know and can’t comprehend just how ugly the truth about psychiatry is.

    While in cancer treatment I naively agreed to see a psychiatrist under the deception and pretext that it was for “help with sleep meds”. Too many sickening details for this comment but suffice it to say my brief encounter with this young, arrogant psychiatrist was like being fed to the lions. She did nothing but bring irreparable harm and damage to my life and my future well-being.

    I hope as many politicians as possible read your powerful letter. I intend to send it to our health ministers here in Canada. Thank you for your integrity and for standing up for those who face the oppression, absurdity and abuse of psychiatry!

    • Gary Sidley / Reply 8th August 2019 at 10:39 am

      Rosalee – thanks for your interest and for circulating the letter in Canada. So sorry to hear about your major challenges with both cancer and exposure to psychiatric dogma. I wish you well for the future.

  10. psyops2019 / Reply 7th August 2019 at 12:17 am

    Those were strong enough to reach out for help after years of abuses, and find new meaning in life. Are already repunished when those records are used to take your child away, even when theres nothing that shows you have ever had any history of violence, or poor treatment upon anyone. But the abuser, who feels he’ll lose his fortune after havingbeen arrested for child abuse and d.v. Pays to get his arrest records scrubbed,while refusing any therapy. Will get full custody of the child he’s abused, while your name and life are publicly shamed in courts, on public record. The attorneys do these things in ex parte, with no one to help. You end up homeless,with zero contact with your child. Everyone believing that yoi were the cause. The courts see that the abuser has substantial wealth. And that outways what your child is now being subjected too.HIPPA is always violated, the lawyers request continued access to all your medical. Which flags the doctors. They deny you the plan that once helped you before. Declaring you lost your child, and WE’LL do what we want. You refuse their list of new meds. So they cut u off. Wbere you become tired, and overwhelmed by grief and deception. And no longer try.

    Its more real and common tgan you know.

  11. Emptyvessel / Reply 7th August 2019 at 9:00 pm

    Psychops

    I lost my kids, too.

    Not quite the same but that ex-parte stuff took away my home and kids, left me homeless, and fed me into psychiatry’s maw.

    5 1/2+ years off the drugs and I’m still dealing with the damage. Hell-on-earth, no exaggeration. Almost as if *on purpose*.

    Thank you for this letter. If I can prevent 1 person from going down the rabbit hole…

  12. Judy Gayton / Reply 7th August 2019 at 9:36 pm

    Deep respect for your ability and willingness to highlight the critical facts and speak the truth.

    • Gary Sidley / Reply 8th August 2019 at 10:50 am

      Thank you, Judy. I hope you are well.

  13. Sam Ruck / Reply 10th August 2019 at 2:32 pm

    Hi Gary,
    good luck with your letter, but until we change how people see others in mental distress, I’m afraid we will be shouting in a vacuum. Something is fundamentally wrong in the way this culture views people in mental distress and until that changes, I’m afraid nothing else will change.

    One doesn’t have to have experienced trauma to be empathetic and kind and compassionate, but it does require a willingness to buck so many of the cultural tropes that we use to stigmatize those who are hurt.
    Wishing you well,
    Sam

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