How about we DON'T talk about mental health
Posted by barry-curtis
18th Sep 2016

The mental health regime, that is government and health professionals, are very keen these days on emphasising how much they ‘care’ about us. Within the mental health regime it is common that they hector you about how much you drink and smoke, rather than applying psychology to treat your condition. Nevertheless, it is clear they do really ‘care’ about us, but to a degree that is stifling to our recovery.

The problem is that the mental health industry is talking to literally everyone about mental health. Not only do they imply that serious mental health problems are common in the population – which they are not – but they are seeking to ‘re-educate’ the masses against an apparent ‘stigma’ of mental health. In actual fact, some of us who have recovered and others along this long road are sick to death of the attempt by ‘caring professionals’ to change society rather than just heal us. Mental health care does not require ‘destigmatisation’ in wider society, it needs strong psychology to tackle our false beliefs, depressions, and anxieties so we can get better and hopefully re-join society. As it happens, 16 years ago when I first experienced psychosis, my friends and family were very supportive and understanding, so there never was a ‘stigma’ that needed challenging, unless the government mean something else by that term. My friends and family at that time did not require ‘re-training’ about how to approach me – it came naturally to them as part of human instinct.

The problem with a mental health care system that is focussed on making ‘the well’ more ‘sympathetic’ to the ‘unwell’, is that there is no longer a society left for us to re-join. Rather than devote resources to psychology training for mental health professionals in order to treat the unwell, a significant proportion of the government’s mental health budget is going on ‘re-educating’ wider society to be more ‘understanding’ of those of us with such conditions. The effect of this is becoming more and more apparent. Society now thinks it’s fashionable to have some diagnosis or other. Typically, some media types have worried that violent schizophrenics are let loose, but normally the type of concern is ‘benign’ on a day-to-day level. I am a fat ugly man approaching 40, but have nearly pulled attractive 18 year olds on the basis of my disorders (panic disorder). So keen is society on being sympathetic to the mentally ill, they have lost their own bearings.

Society now really cares about the mentally ill – it is often a route out of work, albeit one with many hazards such as lack of money and continual harassment from less well-meaning authorities. There are some goods to this. It was atrocious in the past, prior to Margaret Thatcher’s work on ‘care in the community’ that has developed since, when if you showed any signs of being mentally unwell, you were pushed to the fringes of society. Many schoolkids of the 1980s would be familiar with the character of ‘Aqualung’ (a song from 1971 by Jethro Tull), the stereotypical insane person with poor personal hygiene who would prey on schoolgirls whilst picking up dog-ends from the pavement and “spitting out pieces of his broken lung.” It’s great that mental health sufferers are now more integrated into society.

But the question remains: what is this society we are rehabilitated into? For myself and the bulk of similar sufferers I have spoken to, we aren’t really re-joining anything. Rather than getting better and then re-joining the human race, it is as if the human race now has so little that it stands for that it panders down to us in order for it to achieve a sense of moral well-being for itself. So well-to-do types ask me “how are your anxiety levels today?” and “I know life is really stressful, my favourite house plant died last week”, as if they are relating to you. By contrast, what helped me back into society was hanging around with working class people who simply said “Agoraphobia? What a load of B*ll*cks!, just get out there and do it!” The best people for my cures weren’t the psychiatrists who patronise us with immense compassion, but the working class who were saying ‘if you fall off the horse, just get back on again!’

Obviously what might be called ‘direct therapy from the brutal working class’ will not work with many patients. It is clear that many have fallen off the rails precisely because of this attitude. Nevertheless, as one gets better thanks to good therapy and medication, at least there is a society there to re-aspire to. I am very concerned that the moralistic lectures to the working class about how they must be ‘sympathetic’ to mental health which is the whole emphasis behind ‘challenging stigma’, and ‘we need to talk about mental health’, might, if it is accepted by the working class, reduce them to just another therapist. Of course therapists are great in their place, but not everyone should be a therapist. Why is the government so intent on making everyone therapists in this way? No, what people with mental health disorders need is a robust society with a confident outlook as something to look up to and potentially re-join. If the whole world is to resemble a psychiatric unit, no-one will get better.

So how about “let’s not talk about mental health, one jot”. Ordinary human compassion means that sufferers are already regarded with sympathy. The idea we need to retrain the ordinary Joe how to be compassionate is patronising and authoritarian, and doesn’t benefit real sufferers one iota. In actual fact what sufferers need is for Joe to be Joe, not some luvvy duvvy caring health professional, but a ‘normal’ human being. Only then can we functionally re-join society, a proper society of Joes; if instead it degrades itself to a spurious notion of ‘being nice all the time’, we all lose out.

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