“Now is our time” said Paddy McGowan, psychiatric survivor and founder of The Irish Advocacy Network (IAN) in 1999. It was no coincidence that Paddy was from Derry/Londonderry (the difference is significant) in the north of Ireland, the home of the civil rights movement which, inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, had sprung up there in the 1960’s.
Before the new millennium, psychiatry as practised in Ireland was like psychiatry practised everywhere else. It was controlling, dominating, conservative and forceful. It was backed up by the law. Once you fell into its clutches, you became a second class citizen. Scattered throughout the country were huge, forbidding, grey Victorian asylums which were little more than prisons. Large doses of chlorpromazine and electro shock were standard treatment. Mental health was a taboo subject rarely mentioned by politicians or for that matter, the general public. Such patient/carer groups as did exist, while they may have been critical of the physical conditions of the asylums, still bought into the medical model of treatment practiced behind the high walls.
Not that things have radically altered in 2012. But around the year 2000, voices were raised that were beginning to challenge and question established psychiatry. Inspired by similar movements in Britain, IAN held a series of meetings and set up branches around the country. Ideas and information were exchanged and people, previously ignored and sidelined, began to experience feelings of empowerment and self-respect. Crucial to the new movement was the arrival of the internet. Now contact could be easily established with like-minded groups all around the world and an educational process started which had as its target, established psychiatry.
In 2002 a meeting called by The Mental Health Alliance was held in Tullamore. It turned out to be something of a false dawn but nevertheless, seedlings from that meeting were sprinkled and began, in places, to take root. One person present that day was Dr. Terry Lynch. He was a practising GP in Limerick who had become concerned that so many people coming to him with problems didn’t fit into the medical model. He had retrained as a psychotherapist and in 2001 had published his book ‘Beyond Prozac’ which became a bestseller in Ireland. A reviewer of the book at the time wrote of him as thinking “that natural unhappiness has been re-christened depression, fed with pills no one understands and policed by a medical profession in general and a psychiatric profession in particular that lives on wishful thinking.”
One exception in Ireland among the psychiatric profession was Dr Michael Corry from Dublin. Qualified in 1973, he worked for many years as a missionary doctor in Africa before returning to qualify as a psychiatrist. In 1987 he had established his Institute of Psychosocial Medicine. He believed that “the sick brain model of depression is a hideous and terrifying concept as it turns us into cogs in a machine where, if we find the going difficult and want to disengage, we are prescribed an emotional painkiller and advised to carry on regardless.”
Another person present that day in Tullamore was Lydia Sapouna from the Department of Applied Social Studies in University College Cork (UCC). Following on from Tullamore, Lydia organised a series of annual Mental Health One Day Forums which were to become a focal point for all those in the country who wanted to see change. Like ripples in a pond, other exciting initiatives began to spread out from UCC. These included the Cork Advocacy Network (CAN), Sli Eile (Another Way) – an alternative social housing project, MindFreedoom Ireland and Mad Pride Ireland.
In 2005, CAN organised a major conference in UCC. Keynote speakers were Hannalore Klafki of the German Hearing Voices Network – a sure mental health innovation for Ireland! – and David Oaks of MindFreedom International who warned of “a tsunami of human rights violations” in the shape of forced long-term use of neuroleptics that was spreading across the world. An invited guest was Tim O’Malley, the government minister with responsibility for mental health. “With your help and I emphasise your help, I want to change things. There are vested interests that are against change. We have knocked down the old walls but we must now knock minds.” The minister lost his seat in the next election.
The following year 2006, Michael Corry organised a conference in the Burlington Hotel, in Dublin. Dr.Peter Breggin addressed the audience and was supported on the platform by Dr Pat Bracken, an innovative psychiatrist and Director of West Cork Mental Health Services..
All of these conferences generated media publicity and debate, most notably a long-running series of letters and articles in the Irish Times on the subject of electroshock. Beginning in 2007, MindFreedom Ireland organised a number of annual public demonstrations against electroshock and in 2008, Mad Pride Ireland commenced a series of nation-wide events all of which received further media attention.
Entering the political arena, a ‘Delete 59b’ (of the 2001 Mental Health Act) was started with the introduction of a private members bill in the Senate, the upper house of the Irish parliament. Section 59b allowed for the administration of electroshock on the say-so of two psychiatrists to a person who was “unable or unwilling” to provide consent. While the bill failed to make progress, the surrounding publicity added to the debate and an imminent amendment to the Act will delete the word ‘unwilling’ though by retaining the word ‘unable’ little will change in practice.
But people were undaunted. In 2009 MindFreedom Ireland, in conjunction with Asylum Associates UK had attempted to organise a conference in UCC. Some unforeseen circumstances had meant that the conference had to be aborted but thanks to the work of Lydia Sapouna and Dr. Harry Gijbels of the School of Nursing, the conference was resuscitated and took place over two days in November of that year. Entitled ‘Making Thriving a Reality: Towards and Beyond Mental Health Recovery’, among the speakers were Michael Corry and Terry Lynch but of equal if not more significance were a series of workshops presented by people with inside experience of the psychiatric system and who were now offering alternative approaches which had worked for them.
The untimely death of Michael Corry in February 2010 removed a stalwart from the ranks but his contribution was marked by a memorial conference in UCC in November of that year with the keynote address delivered by his partner and campaigning colleague Dr Aine Tubridy who sadly passed away five months later. The conference was also the genesis of the Critical Voices Network Ireland (CVNI) a coalition of people interested in considering and developing responses to human distress which are creative, enabling, respectful and firmly grounded in human rights. By now becoming a firmly established regular November two day event, the 2011 conference was entitled ‘Medicating Human Distress; Concerns, Critiques and Solutions’. Terry Lynch was again a main speaker as was Dr Sami Timini who spoke on the theme of ‘No More Psychiatric Labels’.
Other events have lent further impetus to the growing wave of challenge. Last year, an excellent four page broadsheet feature article appeared over two days in the Irish Examiner, one of the country’s national dailies. The nationwide tour of Robert Whittaker garnered extensive attention on both local and national radio. Ireland’s leading documentary maker, the recently deceased Mary Rafferty, presented her two hour programme Behind the Walls over two nights on RTE 1, the nation’s leading TV station. This year’s upcoming UCC conference will again feature among the keynote speakers a mix of professionals – Phil Thomas and Dick Corstens – and survivors – Jacqui Dillon, Chair of the Hearing Voices Network, Eleanor Longden, voice hearer, John O’Donoghue author of Sectioned: A Life Interrupted and Richard Patterson, advocate and activist while Peter Lehmann (Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs) and Kate Crawford (Recovering from Society, Trauma and Pharamcology) were keynote speakers last year.
It is this aspect – that of survivors speaking out – that is of vital importance. This is the real grass roots revolution, the critical mass speaking out whose voices for so long had never been heard. And there are more and more of them. They are to be heard over those days in November in UCC at the many alternative workshops they present. They are to be heard among the ranks of MindFreedom Ireland, notably on a memorable night last year in Cork when they hosted Robert Whittaker. They are to be heard among the ranks of Renew, WRAP, Mad Pride Ireland, Elemental, Tallagh Trialogue, Hearing Voices, Sli Eile, the Wellbeing Foundation, the CVNI and A Bit Mad Ted. They have earned the right to be heard, they have a right to be heard and never again will they be silenced. Now is our time.
Jim Maddock retired from a 39 year teaching career in 2008 having worked in Africa and Ireland. Jim is a former board member of Sli Eile (Another Way), an innovative social housing project for people leaving hospital, and a founding member, media person, and active campaigner with MindFreedom Ireland. Jim is co-author with wife Mary of ‘Soul Survivor – A Personal Encounter with Psychiatry’ in which he charts his journey from ignorance to enlightenment in relation to the medical model. Jim is also a sports fan and doting Papa to his two grand-daughters.