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.

The ATOS Closing Ceremony

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Ever since the Olympics started i must admit i have been a little bit obsessed. I certainly wasn’t expecting this to happen, i have a history of  being pretty apathetic about large sporting events. That it was being held  in a city i lived closed to and had just started working in i expected the whole thing to be a bit of a hassle but i think the opening ceremony drowned any pessimism or apathy i may have had and from then on i was gued to the television watching these amazing athletes and feel a bit of pride slip back into our lives as British people.

I always knew though that when the Paralympics started i would be much more invested. Not only have my own mental health problems frequently been referred to as a disability, i have numerous friends with varying levels of disabilities. This became an even bigger part of my life when i began a relationship with someone with a long history of teaching SEN children and then when i worked for 18 months as healthcare support worker for children with complex physical needs.

I would have loved to get tickets, especially for the Paralympics but alas i have been far too busy and not nearly organised enough.

Last Friday however i found myself at a ceremony, not your usual one either, but the Closing Atos Ceremony held in protest of  ATOS and their participation in the Patalympic Games (they are one of the biggest sponsors of the Games). Well not so much found myself. The minute i heard that this protest was being held so  close to my place of work that i could get there and back in a lunchbreak i knew i had no excuse. I had to go and be counted.

Now i’ll admit i am politically minded, to be honest, in our society i think you have to be. I know my rights and fight for the rights of others. So it was understandable that i would gravitate towards such an event and understand the roots of its frustration which is an area that only affects me but the lives of my loved ones and the profession in which i work.

However what surprised me far more than the sheer number of people that descended on the headquarters of Atos on Friday, was the number of people, when i explained myself plans, asked “what’s ATOS” and were completely unaware of who they are let alone what they stand accused of by many.

So let me give you a little introduction to the cause of the outrage, a kind of “Blood on your hands 101”.

Paralympic sponsor engulfed by disability tests row .

Empty words don’t fund a full life for disabled people.

ATOS fatcat lands 1m bonus .

Some will claim they are only doing their job; for me that sounds a bit too like “I was just following orders”. The tests that are being used are deeply flawed and this is having a huge consequence to the lives of thousands across the country. By branding people on benefits en masse as “scroungers, cheats and thiefs” you have poisoned society towards some of the most vulnerable people in our society who often had little enough to begin with. Hate crimes against the disabled are soaring while help is being slashed. People are literally dying over this.

Unfortunately with my lunch break fast drawing to a close i had to leave and as i was a van and several more police officers were arriving. By the time i got back to the office i found out via Twiter and UK Uncut that protestors has barricaded themselves into the Department of Work and Pensions and things were starting to turn a bit nasty.

By the time i got back home i was sent footage shown on both ITN & Five News.

This is more a general overview of the protest

http://www.facebook.com/#!/photo.php?v=10151197625724493

This contains scenes of some of the more heavy handed behaviour displayed. And shows two women pushed out their wheelchairs. Personally i found this footage extremely upsetting, not in the least because i met and talked with several of the people you can see in the video. So pleased be warned it is pretty ugly and may well be upsetting so please bear this in mind if you chose to watch it.

http://video.uk.msn.com/watch/video/atos-protesters-clash-with-police-at-dwp/2gz10s88?from=

And a live feed from the day.

But my experience of the event was entirely positive and i am devastated that what everyone protesting hoped would be a peaceful, creative event was marred with arrests and violence.

What i saw was a group of fiercely passionate, proud people who stood in front of the gates of their personal hell and demanded to be heard. Spirits were high, people were talking to each other, engaging, dancing even!

I was interviewed by the Socialist Worker. I was asked if i thought this was a turning point in rights for the disabled.

I had to reply that this is something, this is a good thing but it’s not the start and it won’t be the end. Anger & discontent has been rising for a long time now and i have been attending similar protests for years, i have been to several Hardest Hit marches and regardless of the number of people that turn up and shout until they lose their voices its hard not to feel ignored. We have to keep fighting in order for our voice to be listened to, not just heard, and for things to  change for the better for the most vulnerable in society.

This was definitely a sentiment i heard repeated over the day, we are here, we will keep coming back, we will keep making our voices heard.

#londonriots

Anarchy in the UK?

Well as i type this there are riots on the streets of London, homes and shops ablaze and shops being looted. It feels surreal to say it, especially as i have lived in London and called it my home. The places i see on the news are all too familiar and too many of my friends are a literal stone..or brick’s..throw away from the events that are unfolding.

But should we have seen this coming?

Well even Nick Clegg said there would be riots if the Conservatives got back into power (pre-coalition of course):

For months people have been protesting. We have been taking to the streets in our thousands. I have stood amongst those crowds myself, protesting at the Hardest Hit march earlier this year with YoungMinds and the ViKs against cuts to benefits which have had a huge impact on a lot of people with mental health difficulties.

There have been desperate pleas, petitions, signatures and speeches and none of it appears to have done a damn bit of good. Tuition fees still went up, benefits still got cut, the poor got even poorer. Not to mention unemployment has got to the point that earlier this year JobCentre staff were trained on how to deal with suicidal clients:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/may/08/jobcentre-staff-guidelines-suicide-threats 

Not only this but the charities and other organisations set up to help the vulnerable and the disaffected suffered massively when the cuts came in:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/aug/02/charities-fight-survival-funds-slashed

“More than 2,000 charities are being forced to close services and sack staff as local authorities slash their funding, or in some cases completely withdraw it”.—2nd August 2011

It saddens me so much to see this happening and i wonder what will become of this country of ours; if this is a flash in the pan occurrence, a knee jerk and a letting off of steam or the start of something more insidious and menacing. Only time will tell i guess.

In the mean time social media is certainly proving to be something of a force of nature. Knowledge is power after all and as a closet geek (in a relationship with a very open geek) it amazes me to see the power of things such as Twitter and how much protesting has changed even in recent years. In fact Twitter has been my main source of news on the situation and i recommend it as the best way to keep up with events. It can be a very good way of keeping in touch people you are worried about too.

And for the those very much experiencing the unrest please remember to stay safe and look after yourselves and look after each other.

 

First published 9th August 2011:

http://www.vik.org.uk/2011/08/09/londonriots/

Justice For Joe

You may have heard of Joe Paraskeva, he is the twenty year old bipolar sufferer who is currently facing an indefinite prison sentence with a minimum time of two years behind bars. His crime? Apparently, being mentally ill.

Joe was formally diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder during his teens and spent seven months in an adolescent inpatient unit where he received treatment and support for his condition. However upon turning eighteen he was transferred to adult services and according to his mother received much less support and came off his medication due to the side effects he was suffering. In October 2010 he voluntarily admitted himself to an adult inpatient unit due to his deteriorating condition. The next day he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

And yet after trying to escape (not exactly something that is unheard of or unsurprising considering how scary it can be in an adult ward for the first time) he was arrested and taken from the secure unit to a police cell and subsequently charged with arson.

It was at this point in the story that alarm bells started ringing for me. Here is someone who is young, scared and suffering serious mental health problems including paranoia, surely the best place for him would be a secure unit with specialist mental health professionals and not a police cell which would in all likelihood only make things worse?

And things did get worse. Joe pleaded guilty, offered to pay for the damages incurred and was deemed no threat to society and yet a judge has sentenced him to a minimum of two years in prison based on a report that was written by someone who had never met Joe!

Joe is currently in a Young Offenders Institute, the staff believe he is unwell and the prison psychiatrist has even recommended that he be transferred to a hospital.

What saddens me the most is that Joe’s case is most likely just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to young people with mental health problems ending up in the judicial system instead of the mental health system..or not receiving sufficient or early enough care and ending up falling foul of the law. It has been said that 95% of young offenders have a mental health problem and programs such as the recent Strangeways have brought this to the attention of the general public.

Statistics are all well and good but Joe’s case shows the human element, these numbers, these statistics are each young men and women, caught in a vicious trap and incarcerated, these are sons and daughters suffering in prisons and young offenders institutes, desperately in need of mental health treatment, care and support.

We can only hope that the publicity generated by Joe’s case will lead to change not just for Joe but for every young person currently in similar situations up and down the country. After all these are mentally unwell young people being treated like criminals. Is that what we want?

For more information on Joe’s plight read the excellent Guardian article “Why are some mentally ill patients treated like criminals” here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/jun/01/mentally-ill-treated-like-criminals

The site “Justice for Joe”:
http://www.justiceforjoe.org.uk/

Visit the Facebook group and show your support:
http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_123902127687306

And raise awareness on Twitter by using the hashtag #justiceforjoe

First published 3rd June 2011:

http://www.vik.org.uk/2011/06/03/justice-for-joe/