EHI Live 2013

Last week was a busy one, i was at EHI Live 2013 in Birmingham on Tuesday and Wednesday and wisely for once chose to take the rest of the week as leave to recover: i predict many of you that know me just fell off your chairs reading that last part!

I was one of the speakers at the HANDI Health App conference as part of EHI Live 2013 and it was a great experience and quite unlike most big events i’ve been too in the past.

Live-and-HANDI-logos

Now this is really silly but i must confess that at first i had no idea what i was signing up for. I was approached by Ewan Davis to speak at HANDI Health about my experience of working on the WellHappy app. I’m always more than happy to talk about the app (in fact you try and stop me!) so i quickly said yes.

It was only after i said yes and got some more details that i realised i was going to be speaking at EHI, one of the biggest health/tech events in the calendar!

It was nice to know that i was going to be in good company, i found out early on that Sarah Amani who i met in person for the first time recently at the IAYMH Conference in Brighton was speaking the day after me about developing the “My Journey” Early Intervention in Psychosis app. I was also going to get the chance to meet up with an old VIK friend Mark who i don’t get to see often now that the project has ended.

The first person i ran into at the event in fact was Geraldine Strathdee, the National Clinical Director for Mental Health in the NHS & Royal College of Psychiatrist award winner. I had been so busy preparing for my part of EHI that i didn’t even realise there was also a workstream dedicated to Mental Health Informatics.

Being the massive nerd that i am i ended up attending a talk and one of the workshops on mental health informatics and in particular the Mental Health Minimum Data Set produced by the Health & Social Care Information Centre. I won’t go on about this bit as i know it’s niche but if this is your area i strongly recommend you read into the minimum data set. It’s where we get much of our mental health statistics and is only going to grow in terms of the amount of data and it’s importance.

Overall the event was very interesting, a lot more tech based than most of the events i attend so i definitely feel i learnt a lot that i probably wouldn’t have otherwise. It was also a chance to check out some really innovative things like a 3D Printer being used to make artificial limbs and a game you can play with eye movement detection-so completely hands free!

I will leave you with a slightly more off the wall note..the conference was also a good excuse for silly free things..apparently stress balls are out and odd animals are in. I’ve been picking up these oddball things for years now and these are the new additions to what i jokingly call my stress farm! I also have a telephone, sheep, cow and a stress pizza of all things knocking around somewhere..

Yes i know i have weird hobbies..

Yes i know i have weird hobbies..

My run in with the Scientology Anti-Psychiatry movement

Something happened at the conference this week that i need to talk about. It’s not the most positive thing which is perhaps why it stood out so much, and to me in particular. The conference itself was fantastic, i cannot express how much i got out of it.

Unfortunately we had some unwelcome visitors.

We had Scientologists.

Well okay not full blown Xenu worshipping Scientologists but rather members of the anti-psychiatry movement set up by them and Thomas Szasz. The ironically named Citizens Commission of Human Rights.

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Thomas Szasz was a psychiatrist that believed that mental illness doesn’t exist and had some very strong views on the matter. As a psychology undergraduate i had a lecturer who was a big fan of Szasz and i remember leaving those classes shaking with anger after long arguments. Eventually i complained to another lecturer who managed to get him to tone down his classes-obviously he was unaware that several of his students were struggling with some pretty heavy mental health issues (20% of students experience depression so no surprise). The last thing we needed or wanted to hear was that mental illness didn’t exist and it was very distressing for me in particular as someone who has a long, painful history of mental health problems.

This may sound oxymoronic but i’m quite a lucky crazy person. I am out of the mental health closet to just about everyone and am lucky enough to have the support of a wonderful partner, my family, friends and my place of work.

I have worked with YoungMinds, the NHS, The Royal College of Psychiatrists and many more and have an incredible platform to speak out about young people’s mental health-the conference this week is a great example.

It’s not that i forget that stigma exists, god no. I still experience it from time to time, i have done in the past too. I’ve seen the devastating effects in friends and family and i know that stigma is a big part of the reason that 70% of people with a mental health problem don’t get treatment.

But perhaps i live in a bit of a bubble. I forget sometimes that some people don’t even believe mental illness exists. That blows my mind to be honest both as a service user, a professional and as a human being.

So the conference was going well. A meeting of like minded people from across the world. We came together to find solutions and to try and help young people.

Someone clearly didn’t get that message to the CCHR.

So they turn up, thankfully get barricaded by security at the Brighton Dome (you guys were wonderful, thankyou) and start shouting.

A really rubbish photo-i wasn't meant to be taking one at all!

A really rubbish photo-i wasn’t meant to be taking one at all!

To sum up briefly their arguments:

  • Mental illness doesn’t exist
  • Children do NOT get mental health problems
  • Psychiatry is just about drugging children and turning them into zombies.

When they turned up at first there were just three of them, i approached them, the acronym (CCHR) on their tshirts was familiar but i couldn’t remember why.

Me: “Hi, where are you from then?”
Them: “We’re from the CCHR, we’re here to protest this conference”

We had a remarkably civil conversation. They stated their views. I countered every point they gave with statistics and my own experiences.

Them: “We don’t believe that mental illness exists, these people are drugging children and turning them into zombies. Where is the evidence?”

I calmly disagreed.

Me: “I’m sorry but i can’t agree. You see i was a mentally ill child. I had problems from the age of 6. I didn’t get treatment until i was 14 and i did have medication but i had to fight for it and you know what some of it helped”

I went to walk off and then stopped dead in my tracks. Something had clicked. I suddenly knew where i had heard that acronym before.

Me: “You’re not Scientologists are you?”
Them: “Well no. Our organiation was set up by Scientology and Thomas Szasz”.
Me: “Ahh i see”

And i walked off.

Then the others arrived and there were a lot of them. They shouted at the delegates, hurling abuse. They chanted “we don’t need n o thought control” and other slogans and intimidated everyone including the young people attending the conference.

I went back into the building to warn my friends not to go outside and promptly had a bit of a breakdown.

I ended up upstairs in the chill out area shaking uncontrollably and close to tears.

“How dare they?” i asked. How dare they question and dismiss my pain? How dare they tell me that the last 18 years of my illness didn’t happen.

Also, how misguided they are. I was at the conference for three days. Not ONE talk was pro-medication or pro-restraint. We talked about using technology to help young people, about participation and co-production.

My favourite moment however was this:

I went outside to get away from the protest and went for a cigarette with a friend. As we walked back my confidence surged. I wasn’t going to take this any more.

I saw two children standing apart from the protest. They can’t have been more than 10 years old and they were chanting the same ridiculous slogans as the adults. Something about this really struck me. These were the children we may end up helping in the future. They deserve better than Scientology’s lies.

I walked up to a young boy, put my hand on his shoulder and said to him

“You know, you should check out the YoungMinds website when you get home. They will educate you better than these people will”

And walked off.

The crowd was furious and started shouting at me, demanding to know what i had said. I held my head high and walked past back into the conference and didn’t look back.