Thursday 27th August sees the Bristol Icarus Project host a screening of the award winning documentary Crooked Beauty. We would love to see you there, and if you are interested in attending, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope to see you there…
An Optimistic Vision of Care.
Wading through YouTube one evening I came across Robert Whitaker. His, is a familiar name referenced on mental health sites. His two publications “Anatomy of an Epidemic” and “Mad in America” often cited and recommended as books that question the psychiatric status-quo. I was so moved and excited by his research and ideas that I thought to write a sort of commentary on some of his ideas for a more “optimistic vision of care”1 in mental health. Interestingly, according to research there is a massive increase in mental illness in the US despite the huge increase in development and use of psychiatric drugs. Surely if the medications are so effective and advanced , why, according to Whitaker’s research in the US, are mental illnesses on such an extreme upshift? As Whitaker says, “Despite therapeutic advances outcomes are shifting to the worse.”2 One answer could be…
A recent news story highlighted fascinating research into the treatment of schizophrenia, conducted at University College London’s Mental Health Sciences Unit.
Avatar Therapy is demonstrating huge promise in the reduction of the severity of schizophrenic episodes, with particular success in tackling auditory hallucinations. A pilot study saw 16 patients participate in up to seven, 3o minute sessions, involving computer generated avatars representative of the entities they believe are speaking to them. Created with the assistance of therapists and technicians; patients were able to engage in face to face dialogue with their hallucinations. Emeritus Professor Julian Leff, who developed the therapy and is leading the project explains:
Even though patients interact with the avatar as though it was a real person, because they have created it, they know that it cannot harm them, as opposed to the voices, which often threaten to kill or harm them and their family. As a result the therapy helps patients gain the confidence and courage to confront the avatar, and their persecutor.
Though in its earliest stages, Avatar Therapy is showing immense promise as a viable alternative treatment option. The commentary on the UCL website stresses that, even with the most effective anti-psychotic medication, ‘one in four people with schizophrenia continue to suffer from persecutory auditory hallucinations.’ Given that schizophrenia enters the lives of 1 in every 100 people, AT offers a considerable lifeline, especially given the shortcomings of modern psychiatry practice.
The next step is a larger trial at King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, with the support of a £1.3 million Translation Award from the Wellcome Trust. 142 people will now be given the opportunity to benefit from this radical new approach. One hopes that by 2015 we will have a new strategy superior in reliability and efficacy to the scorched earth pharmaceutical model. However, given that the National Institute for Health Care and Excellence’s recommendation of a combined approach of medication and talking therapies is barely executed, someone needs to be working on the infrastructure and policy to efficiently roll AT out, should it get the green light.
Personally speaking this shows a remarkable depth and breadth of thought, reflective of our increasingly techno-centric culture. Many of us have some experience of avatar practice: be it through character creation in games such as Dragon Age or Mass Effect; or the almost unlimited projection of Second Life. Applications far beyond the original intentions of Professor Leff and his colleagues may emerge, throwing open the gates to the unbound landscape of human consciousness.
Forwarding this along from the MindFreedom alert list. From the United Kingdom I urge any Americans amongst you to please read and respond.Free Alison Hymes From Western State Hospital
Charlottesville Virginia resident and longtime MindFreedom member Alison Hymes, on Wednesday, 7/3/13, had a re-commitment hearing. This hearing marked the 6 month, 1/2 year point, in her imprisonment at Western State Hospital in Staunton Virginia. The result of this hearing is that she was given another 45 days in the hospital after which she will be given another hearing. The result could have been worse as potentially she could have had to wait another 6 months for a hearing.
The bad news, according to Alison, is that the staff at the hospital is not talking about releasing her. She wishes to return to her condominium, her community, and the life she was living before imprisonment at Western State Hospital.
Talking to her over the phone it is not always easy to understand what she is saying. Her words are slurred and garbled. She claims that this is so because the hospital staff won’t return her dentures to her. Dentures they took from her.
In a previous alert we claimed she was taking lamictal rather than a neuroleptic. Following a previous hearing with her treatment team this is no longer true. Apparently her doctor thought it necessary to put her back on the drug prolixin. She is receiving shots of prolixin, a long acting injectable, every two weeks. She is also still receiving a daily dose of anti-convulsion drug lamictal.
Alison was the recipient of a kidney following lithium poisoning after a previous incident of psychiatric malpractice. Her friends and allies worry that keeping her at Western State Hospital for any length of time will only further endanger her health. She says the medical staff at Western say she needs an operation, on an ulcer, but that the hospital is slow to get around to operating.
Asked what she would tell other members of MindFreedom she said, “I need to get out as soon as possible. I need to get out.”
Please, contact the following state officials, and urge them to free Alison Hymes from her confinement and maltreatment at Western State Hospital.
James M. Martinez
Director, Office of Mental Health
Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services
(804) 371-0767 Jim.Martinez@dbhds.virginia.gov
Sample message. (In your own words.) I am writing (or calling) to complain about the forced drugging and false imprisonment of Charlottesville resident Alison Hymes at Western State Hospital in Staunton Virginia. She is a danger to no one. She has been detained at the hospital for over 6 months now, and her continued detention serves no purpose. She is also being given periodic injections of prolixin, a powerful neuroleptic drug, that is affecting her health in negative ways. Please, stop the abuse, release her from her confinement to WesternStateHospital, and allow her to return home to her community, her life, and her friends.
Previously I described the elliptical influence critical psychiatrist Thomas Szasz has had on my life. He was not, however, the only figure of note and notoriety I discovered during that long hot summer of hospitalisation. There was one man who stood cloven hooves and horns above the rest: Anton Szandor LaVey.
Admit it. This is your OTP.
Context is everything. I was introduced to LaVey by S. She was from a wealthy, albeit insanely demanding and judgemental family. Her parents were a paradigm of unreasonable upper-middle class values, which irradiated well into the marrow of their young. S herself was one of the most beautiful people I’d ever seen in real life. The kind of woman often referred to as a ‘sex kitten’; with milky white skin, long dark hair and eyes which were darker still. That she was equally beautiful on the inside was practically miraculous.
She had nurtured a deep-seeded and accomplished talent for cocaine. The 12 steps didn’t seem to bother her that much, and her recovery took off with little drama. In fact things only slid whenever her parents came to visit. Its remarkable how much love and support can appear (to the casual observer) like two pricks berating their daughter for not being as innocent as her 14 year old sister. The irony being that S got on well with her sibling, who was herself in the nascent stages of this curious and apparently palatable form of domestic abuse.
I still have a letter S wrote me when she left. A sweet natured goodbye offering thanks for my friendship and inspiring words for the future. I’m not much for sentiment but I’ve kept it because it still means a lot, though I’ve come to appreciate LaVey’s The Satanic Bible far more.
She recommended it because of the surprisingly empowering message it relays. One sunny afternoon I signed myself out of the ward and marched to the nearest bookstore. It was there, it was cheap and I brought it back with me. At the time I found it fascinating more than practical. A curiosity of the Age of Aquarius, promising a spiritual and cultural revolution which remains a work in progress. Even today I’ve little interest in the ritual practice of LaVeyan Satanism; but the philosophy and tenets of it tend toward both common sense and self-empowerment.
‘Why not really be honest and if you are going to create a god in your image, why not create that god as yourself.’ LaVey believed that no day was more sacred than the date of one’s birth. Everything about his “faith” is seemingly geared towards the promotion of the rights and sanctity of the individual.
Its understandable why S would’ve been drawn to this, and why she would have recommended it to others. As egomaniacal as it reads, the notion of deifying yourself does appeal to me. Not that I see myself as some omnipotent entity, rather I believe that we all the singularity at the core of our own inexhaustive thought-universe.
Affirming your place at the centre gives you a stable zero-point. A noticeable characteristic of my thought-universe is the revolution of my moods, which modern psychiatry labels bipolar disorder. By acknowledging that I do not consider it a disorder or “illness”, I’m gradually, increasingly able to make peace with the experience. I’ve reclaimed it, seized it from conventional wisdom, brought it into my own thought-universe and am now looking into how I can live with it, and possibly craft it into something more.
Peter H. Gilmore, Magus and Church of Satan High Priest:
Satanism begins with atheism. We begin with the universe and say, “It’s indifferent. There’s no God, there’s no Devil. No one cares!” So you then have to make a decision that places yourself at the center of your own subjective universe, because of course we can’t have any kind of objective contact with everything that exists. That’s rather arrogant and delusional, people who try to put things that way.
A secular “religion” with ritualistic practices was somewhat baffling when I first read the …Bible. Some of the apparent inconsistencies jarred with me – if god does not exist, and there is no validity in theism of any kind, why base your whole movement on the symbols, scriptures and themes of those you oppose? In an interview with Wikinews back in 2007, Gilmore drew a distinction between LaVeyan Satanists and Christian or theistic Satanists (“devil worshippers”), and offered something of a resolution to this conflict:
Satan is a model or a mode of behavior. Satan in Hebrew means “adversary” or “opposer”; one who questions. Since we generally are skeptical atheists, we question all spirituality. We believe that carnality is all that exists and the spiritual dimensions are fictional. So we stand against eastern and western religions that promote fictions, according to our perspectives. So we are adversaries. Satan to us is an exemplar. When we look at how he is portrayed by Mark Twain in Letters from the Earth, or Byron, or Milton’s Paradise Lost, he ends up being an inspirational symbol to us. We say we would like to be more like that. We will not bow our heads; we will be independent. We will constantly question.
S was not a Satanist I far as I knew, though subscription isn’t the point. In that clinic questions were all we had. Staring into the mirror, under the microscope of the harshest critic you can ever have. For her it was about her addiction – where it sprung from, where it’d taken her, how she could atone for the things she’d done and how she could build a new life for herself. She opposed the subtle tyranny of her parents; people shielded by a fiction of their own morality and respectability.
Essentially we’re discussing pragmatic belief systems. Chaos magick is perhaps an open source variant, though I still find even self generated ritualism beyond me. Not that I consider myself an especially rational animal; rather I’m loathe to assemble materials and invoke. Part laziness, part gluttonous immersion in my own imagination. I don’t feel the need for candles or sigils. For now, at least, I’m the altar, the offering and the paradigm shift.
LaVey did a pretty decent job on this apparent contradiction too, defining magic as:
…The change situations or events in accordance with one’s will, which would, using normally accepted methods, be unchangeable. This admittedly leaves a large area for personal interpretation. It will be said, by some, that these instructions and procedures are nothing more than applied psychology, or scientific fact, called by “magical” terminology – until they arrive at a passage in the text that is “based on no known scientific finding.”
Even in grey areas, LaVeyan Satanism holds true to its insistence on ceaseless challenge and inquiry; and the primacy of the self. ‘Magic is never totally scientifically explainable, but science has always been, at one time or another, considered magic’ LaVey tells us. Compare that to what one consultant told the New Yorker about the DSM-III back in 1980: ‘There was very little systematic research, and much of the research that existed was really a hodgepodge—scattered, inconsistent, ambiguous.’ Is modern psychiatry just a megalithic form of Chaos Magick; appropriating the symbols and paraphernalia of science much as LaVey wielded chalice and phallus beneath the Knights Templar Symbol of Baphomet?
Now I find myself on a critical path. Querying the way I have lived my life since that long, dark summer. I cannot identify what I’m thinking, feeling and living with as the disease-entity Dr Sri insists it is. This alien, antithetical presence with no redeeming features. As a part of my thought-universe, I consider what he would have me call a ‘disorder’ an adaptation – a mutagenic response to the nightmare I was living through. I couldn’t reconcile my internal and external worlds, and my mind responded by inducing a greater capacity for separating my elements of self. In his superb Strictly Bipolar, Darian Leader writes:
Manic-depression is the effort to separate, to maintain an elementary differentiation in the place of a more confusing and more painful set of contradictions. And this is perhaps the real sense of bipolar: not the alteration of moods that much contemporary psychiatry is so eager to pathologize…
in this time of my life, I feel ready to take responsibility. This is the time my Will needs to come to the fore. I’ll pick and choose and experiment – a little psychiatry here, a dash of mindfulness and Chaos there…. I’ll look for new avenues and opportunities, and understand that whatever this is, it is mine.
Mind recently published the disturbing results of a University of Manchester study into suicide rates amongst NHS service users receiving treatment at home. I wanted to make sure my MP knew about this:
As both a constituent and an NHS mental health service user, I felt it appropriate to bring these recent findings to your attention.
On July 4th the mental health charity Mind posted the results of a University of Manchester study showing a distressing increase in the number of suicides amongst patients receiving home treatment. The figures focused upon the period 2010 – 2011 which, regrettably, could mean that this terrible statistic has jumped substantially in the interim.
I’ve always championed the care I’ve received from the teams in Barking (especially the excellent work done at the Upney Lane Centre, which I’m unsettled to hear may be closing), but experience has shown me how under pressure and frustrated these critical care givers are. They simply cannot do enough.
In these austere times everybody recognises that services are stretched, but mental health has often seemed to trail behind, despite the increasing impact such conditions are having on the life of our nation. Service users need to have faster, simpler access to teams (even just someone to e-mail in a crisis), with a reduction in the stultifying bureaucracy that sees users left hanging while their referral crawls through the system. Trust me, sometimes we cannot be left waiting.
I first entered the system in 2001, aged 17. I was passed back and forth between the GP, hospital referrals and local mental health teams for so long that I completely imploded. I had a very dramatic suicide attempt in July of that year, which saw my mother plead that I be sectioned. I was, it saved my life, but I could only get into a private clinic in Chelmsford; and only after I’d nearly died.
I’ve clawed my life together again. I am in full time employment and in a position where I can start giving something back. While the quality of the service has improved, I know from the community that it still falls short far too often. When I was 17 what I needed more than anything was a confidential, sympathetic and easy to access service I could simply call or talk to. GPs tend to be dismissive and checklist-obsessive, and the referral system takes far too long.
As a culture we are failing in our responsibility to some of our most vulnerable. We should be promoting volunteer groups who (with the support and experience of and appropriate, constructive training by the service) can visit schools and colleges; making young people aware that help is available, even if its just a e-mail address. I’m a profound atheist, but I believe local church groups could play a useful role in this. Prevention is better than cure. Cruel experience has taught me this.
I know this is asking a lot, and I imagine there are significant legal, social, medical, financial and other factors involved. All that service users are asking, as a constituency, is that someone is actually looking into ways of making the service more adaptable and efficient with less of a focus upon targets and red tape which have, and I must emphasise this, killed people.