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.
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!
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.