A Hand to Hold: Community
Mental Health in Times of Crisis


Many people are all too aware of the shortcomings of our current mental health system. Depending on factors of economic privilege and cultural prejudice, people experience those shortcomings differently and are impacted by them with varying degrees of severity and significance. To psychiatric human rights activists, the mental health system is a cruel and harmful abuse of power for the sake of social control and corporate profit. For many workers within the system, it is a frustrating regimen of paperwork, policies, and feeling ineffectual in what one is able to do within the scope of a bi-weekly check-in.

Often, for service users, in many ways the mental health system is simply an inaccessible insult, with scant appointments, callous and fatigued providers, and treatments that seem to cause more problems than they solve.

While many have been helped by various individuals within the mental health system, people who went above and beyond their role as “staff” and approached their work with a genuine commitment to humanity; the mental health system has tragically failed a great many more, often in ways resulting in desperation, diminished potential, alienation and, all too frequently, untimely and avoidable death, often by suicide.

In a recent article featured in O Magazine, in which radical mental health activist Jacks McNamara spoke about community support and alternative wellness, reporter Alissa Quart mused in closing that intentionally structured community support networks may be the “wave of the future” considering the failure of our public service system and social culture to meet even our most basic human needs for support.

However, the challenges of community support are many.

As one of the coordinators of a local radical mental health group, a person who works as a peer at a community mental health center, and a volunteer at a local safe space that serves the houseless,  I encounter a lot of people who are struggling in various ways. Sometimes it strikes me as a little strange that some people can go through most of their lives and not ever be in a position of supporting someone who is experiencing life and death struggles. Personally and professionally, I end up spending a lot of time with people who don’t know how they are going to survive and with people who want very much to die.

Interestingly, it seems that many people who experience crisis may not experience such difficult times if they receive support within their community when they begin to struggle with some aspect of their life or experience. While there are many current dialogues about “early intervention,” very few of them send the message that there are ways that family and friends can support people who are struggling, or that people can learn to support themselves through difficult times.

Research shows that psychosocial support and caring relationships are vital to people’s wellness, but most media messages encourage people to simply call the doctor sooner. We do not see public service announcements designed to raise awareness of the fact that, for many of us, our families and communities are so stressed that they are not able to perform the primary function of human relationships, which is to support and care for one another.  We are not informed of the view that, in regard to human distress, perhaps the strain on family and community networks has something to do with why so many people seem to be having a hard time within their lives.

Psychiatry has, by and large, actively marketed the view that human struggle is a matter of mental disorder and mental disorder is not something that we can handle within our private lives. We are encouraged to approach supporting ourselves and other people as something that is beyond what we are capable of, something for “professionals” to handle.

Psychiatry and the mental health industry has also expanded their definitive jurisdiction in determining the appropriately normal ranges of human distress or anomaly within experience and has established that even aspects of the human condition such as mild depression, anxiety, and grief are troubles that are best handled by professional agencies.

We are led to believe that we, as family and community members, are not equipped to know what to do when we ourselves or our loved ones begin to show “symptoms” of being in a state which could be considered to be a mental disorder. Despite our knowing that other things may be occurring in our lives that could be causing upset or confusion, e.g. trauma, loss, life transitions, physical illness, social alienation, and occupational predicaments, we believe that if we begin to show signs of “not being able to deal with things” that we must seek professional help, either for ourselves or for our loved ones.

Last week, I was watching a brief video clip of therapist and activist Will Hall talking about suicide and as he spoke about listening and about empowering people, I found myself thinking, “Yeah, but how…? A lot of people do not know how to do this!”

Neighbors have traditionally helped neighbors, friends have helped friends. There is nothing new about people reaching out and trying to finding a hand to hold in some way.

Why then does it seem so hard for some people to find the help they need?

In spite of the fact that I am a person who has spent enormous amounts of time with people in all sorts of crisis, who has struggled extensively within my own life and who has taken classes, had trainings and spent many hours considering what it means to be truly supportive to another human being, I sometimes don’t know what to do or how to be with a person who is having an extremely difficult time. It frightens me to think about how ill-equipped most “normal” and busy Americans may be to respond appropriately to people who are having a very tough time in their human experience.

It is no wonder that psychiatry and the mental health system are such a booming business. We have, as a culture, become impaired in our capacity to support one another or ourselves in human struggle. We do not have time for distress, for confusion, anger, and grief. There is nothing we can do. We must get to work and pay the bills. We do not have time to listen.

So, the formal mental health system has declared that human struggle is their business, not ours.

However, we know that many people are not well served within formal systems of care and so we are left to grapple with the daunting question of what to do when it seems like the help that is available may not be all that helpful.


Given who I am and what my life entails, I have had to think a lot about how to navigate supportive relationships and how to not let people’s needs for support consume my life entirely, while still being supportive in ways that I can.

Sometimes it works out better than others.

In late June, a member of our local support community died. The cause of death is suspected to be suicide.

I was one of the last people the person spoke with.

Since then, I have wondered what I might have done wrong, or what I may have done differently and whether or not I am even a good supporter. I have also thought a lot about why this person died, and what might have prevented their death, or possibly prevented them from wanting to die in the first place.

I suppose I could have cancelled my plans for out-of-state travel and gone to sit with the person while they talked about how much they wanted to die and how angry they were at so many things. I could have tried to get in touch with the person’s other known allies and developed a plan for more extensive support, but the person had told me that they didn’t really feel comfortable with people worrying about them or talking about them.

I didn’t have a lot of time during those weeks. My children had just gotten out of school for the summer and I had taken on an extra shift at work. I usually have a fairly hard time during the seasonal shift and so was trying to do as much self-care as possible in the small amounts of free time I had.

I didn’t know the person that well and I did the best I could, given the circumstances.

I met with them at community mutual aid group and I stayed late listening to what they needed to say.

“The system is useless. They just locked me up and then bailed when it was time for me to go home, gave me a card with an appointment and the person was a jerk. They didn’t even listen. None of my friends will talk to me. They don’t know what the hell to do. They’re freaked out. I’m freaked out! What the hell happened to my life?! I can’t get out of bed, I can’t stop crying…I mean, look at me! I’m a mess! What the hell am I supposed to do? The pills don’t work. They’re making me feel worse! I can’t talk to my therapist because they’ll throw me in the hospital. I’m not going back to the hospital!”

“I know,” I said, “it sucks. I’m so sorry that this is happening in your life.”

What else could I say?

I worked with the person a little in imagining getting through the day, moment by moment, and on identifying very small aspects of their life that might not be completely terrible. We spoke some about crisis as an opportunity, about plans and empowerment.

We discussed the possibility that perhaps they should talk with the provider who was making so many medication changes, that maybe that had something to do with them feeling so out of control.

The last time we spoke, we discussed the tendency for people who want to die to sometimes not reach out to supporters when they are struggling the most and the person agreed to get in touch if they felt like checking in. However, they did not contact me the day they died.

I texted the person for several days, because I didn’t know that they had gone through with the plan. When the texts went unreturned, I began to think that perhaps the person had died. If I had known how to contact the person’s family, I might have made a phone call. If I had known the person’s address, I might have gone to knock on their door.  I didn’t know these things though, and it wasn’t until days later, when a community member saw the listing in the obituaries and notified us, that I knew that he had passed away.

In the radical mental health community, being a strong supporter to friends in need is a core part of the culture and values that define the world we want to be a part of, the world we are trying – in our ways – to create, even if only within our small lives. However, the reality is that our best intentions exist within the larger world and the struggles that we face as individuals, families, and communities are sometimes bigger than we can easily manage and we just don’t know what to do.

The statement “you have to meet people where they are at.” is one that is tossed around rampantly in mental health and support circles. Yet, many of us don’t have a very thorough understanding of what it means to be empathically present and accepting of a person. Supporting people with loving kindness requires good communication skills, the ability to suspend judgment and listen compassionately, as well as a certain degree of grounded emotional awareness.

For people who themselves are struggling, another person’s difficulties may be hard to support, particularly if the way that those difficulties are expressed is triggering or re-traumatizing. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with any particular way of experiencing struggle, but that people sometimes have conflicting support needs. If a person is in a state that is perceived as frightening or threatening to supporters, it can be hard to have the open heart that effective support often requires.

Pragmatically speaking, it is not always reasonably possible for us to stay up late consoling our friends and acquaintances, to simply spend the time that may be needed to help a person find their way. Sometimes, we just can’t be there when people most need us to be there for them.

This can leave people feeling unsupported and cause supporters to feel conflicted and even resentful of the circumstances.

It is crucial that we be clear about the limitations of support that we may be able to offer at any given time. When I am not able to support a person in the ways that they feel they need to be supported, I am clear that the reasons for my limitations are rooted not in a lack of caring for them, but in my need to take care of myself and be present within my own small life. There have been many times that I was unable to concentrate on what my children were trying to speak to me about because my mind and heart were occupied by someone else’s struggles. The time I spend supporting other people is time that I cannot spend caring for myself, because my most crucial self-care practices involve me being quiet and alone.

Setting boundaries of support is hard for me, because I believe so strongly in the value of supportive communities and I genuinely do want people to be okay. Although I know that there is no good reason to feel conflicted when I assert my limits of support, and I know that such limits are healthy if I want to be able to stay well and offer sustainable support, I feel badly when I have to say that I am not able to support someone in the ways that they feel they would be best supported.

People often identify support needs as being “just somewhere to go, where people will listen.” I know that such a simple thing would make a huge difference in their experience and yet community members often do not have the time or emotional availability to sufficiently meet that need, due to people struggling to keep their own lives on track. Within the formal system of services in this community there are not such spaces available.

Many times, people in crisis have expressed to me that they don’t feel safe talking with their therapists about things like suicidal feelings, because most professionals in formal systems are required to involuntarily commit people who present as being a potential harm to themselves. People don’t want to go to a hospital voluntarily because they don’t feel that it would be helpful for them or they have had experiences in hospitals that legitimately have been harmful to them – such as restraint, forced drugging, or abusive treatment by staff.

Therefore, the community is left to support their needs and if their needs are such that the community struggles to support them (e.g. housing needs, extreme states that require extensive listening and support time or which may create difficult communication dynamics, struggles that are compounded by active addiction) then people do, it’s true, fall through the proverbial cracks in ways that are tragic and which could likely have been avoided had there been appropriate services and supports available, such as peer respite houses and other community safe spaces.

In a perfect world, people would receive all of the support that they may need from kind friends and loving family members. People would understand what they need when they are struggling and would be empowered to meet those needs. Communities would be equipped with the skills and perspectives that support healing and nobody would ever have to turn to formal services in an effort to meet their needs. However, this obviously isn’t a perfect world and it seems that often the people who most need loving support have very limited access to it.

It is sad to see that many people do not find what they need,  knowing that often what people most need is love and acceptance, patience and understanding, someone to believe in them. It would seem that these would be such simple things to find. However, in a culture and economy that has precious little time for the messier aspects of our human condition, our faltering hopes and broken dreams, our old wounds and persistent memories, it can be hard for pain to find ease.

In our local mutual aid group, we are trying to support one another in becoming better supporters, learning how to communicate support needs to one another and to share in the community responsibility of supporting people who are going through tough times.

We are also talking a lot about how important it is for us to learn how to support ourselves and to find sources of support that are helpful and accessible, like online discussion forums, peer-run warmlines, or wellness practices like journaling, spirituality, spending time with animal friends or whatever works for us.

We are talking about why we struggle. We are talking about what we need to see in our world to sleep well at night and we speak honestly about what breaks our hearts and makes us angry. Most importantly, we are talking about what might help and how vital it is that we stay alive and do the best we can to keep working toward the world we want to live in, a world that is ultimately built on small choices in how we spend our time, whether we choose love or fear, hope or despair, our own comforts or – as we’re able – the comfort of those who’ve known too little kindness.

When I was a young person, I came across the thought that if a person sees a way to help and turns from that opportunity then something dies a little in the human heart. As I have gotten older I have had to learn that I can’t save everyone, or anyone really. Sometimes I know that the only thing I can do is sincerely hope that a person finds what they need, in themselves and in the world. Mostly, it seems that people facing crisis in their lives may best be served by friendship, a hand to hold, someone to walk with them through the dark.

May we all find the friends that we need.


Resources for supporters:

The Icarus Project, Navigating Crisis handout: http://theicarusproject.net/populareducationmaterials/navigatingcrisishandout

Mother Bear Community Action Network: http://www.motherbearcan.org/




Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


  1. I know what you mean.

    Last month, I texted my son (after he asked me not to) and asked him if he would be okay if I died. He responded. We talked a little bit. He asked for my input for a memorial tattoo. About a week later, I emailed him my “advanced directives”. At that point, he called the police. WTF?

    So I said … I’m a little perturbed that you were concerned enough to call the police, but not concerned enough to send YOURSELF to me.

    I haven’t seen my son in years.

    He lives far away. He just started a new job. He isn’t rich – traveling is a cost.

    I said I understood why he did what he did. When the police got here, at one point, one of them asked me if I was having any problems (or something like that). I said it’s none of your business. If I thought for even a split second that he had the ability to “help”, I would’ve opened right up and poured it all on him. But he doesn’t have the ability to “help”, so NO – it isn’t any of his business.

    MANY times in the past year I’ve been on the brink of suicide. I’ve actually taken steps to prepare for my death, such as emailing my “advanced directives” to my son. I’m in no position, in any way, to obtain an official legal document so I have to do things the poverty-stricken, half-assed way. As far as I’m concerned, an email by me is sufficient enough to ensure that my personal belongings to go my son and my body is cremated like I want it to be.

    I sleep with knives on my bed and that isn’t going to change. I’m not interested in anybody “rescuing” or “saving” me from the ungodly act of freeing myself from absolute agony and misery. I’m a HUGE fan of assisted suicide. If it were possible to take a lethal injection, I’d stick out my arm so fast. BYE.

    My needs are TOO GREAT. I just downed two alka-seltzers for the aspirin in it (even though I suffered rectal bleeding a few months ago because I had been swallowing ibuprofen and aspirin numerous times per day for years). I’m SICK. I’m not okay.

    I declared a vow, very recently. I absolutely will NOT ever go to ANY “doctor” on this planet, ever again, without a medical malpractice attorney by my side. Since I don’t have the money, I won’t have the attorney and without the attorney, I’ll continue to rot and sleep with my knives.

    • Hi, MJK!

      I felt very sad to read this. I have also felt despairing at times and wanted to end my life. Many times. I never did do so, and I am glad I didn’t now, but it seemed hopeless at the time. I’ve also worked at a suicide hotline and talked to hundreds and hundreds of suicidal people. I can’t judge anyone for being there. Sometimes it’s good to know you have a backup plan if it gets beyond reckoning.

      What is keeping you going at this point? You must be pretty damned tough, to hang in through such daily adversity. I’m interested to know what weighs on the other side?

      Wish I could be there to help. I’ve seen a number of your posts and you are always compassionate and smart and insightful. I hope you can continue to hang in there and share your wisdom with us and anyone who will listen.

      — Steve

      • Hi Steve, thanks for the response. Sorry I made you feel sad.

        There really isn’t anything keeping me going. I just wake up – every day – and it’s possible that when it comes to free time, I am the richest person on the entire planet.

        I had no choice, really, and had to get a wifi adapter to be able to use the internet from home, instead of the library. It’s a bit ridiculous – I have to stick my computer against the wall of an open window to pick up a signal. Because of my so-called sleep disorder, I’m almost always awake at night. To sit, alone, in the dark, in the silence, for many hours, for many years is

        is not something I can do anymore.

        It took about a year to disconnect and free myself from being chained, all day long, to the computer. My home internet services stopped in February. I began using the computers at the library but they closed for 6 weeks between March and April, and that gave me even MORE much needed time away from the internet.

        May and June were EXTREMELY powerful months for me, very active. July was also very difficult. I’ve been feeling very pressured, stirred, restless … to connect. I can’t sit anymore – for hours upon endless hours – alone, in the silence, in the dark.

        This is what my sleep looks like. It is EXCRUCIATING. Technically, these are my wake times. I was diagnosed over 20 years ago with a circadian rhythm disorder called “delayed sleep phase syndrome”. I’ve been doing my research again and I think I actually have the non-24 hour disorder. I really don’t know, and I’m practically too delirious to make sense of anything anymore.

        7/6 – 11:30 PM
        7/7 – ?
        7/8 – 5:30 AM
        7/9 – 6:30 AM
        7/10 – 7 AM
        7/11 – 9:30 AM
        7/12 – 9:30 AM
        7/13 – 9:30 AM
        7/14 – 12:30 PM
        7/15 – ?
        7/16 – 1 PM
        7/17 – 12 PM (this is unusual – i don’t EVER go backwards, but it’s been happening more and more and i first noticed it this past july)
        7/18 – ?
        7/19 – 2 PM
        7/20 – 2:30 PM
        7/21 – 3 PM
        7/22 – 4 PM
        7/23 – 6 PM
        7/24 – 3:30 PM (went backwards again)
        7/25 – 3:30 PM
        7/26 – 3:30 PM
        7/27 – 5 PM
        7/28 – 8 PM
        7/29 – 6 PM (backwards)
        7/30 – 9 PM
        7/31 – 8 PM (backwards)
        8/1 – 11 PM
        8/2 – did not sleep until 8/3
        8/3 – 8 AM
        8/4 – 9 AM
        8/5 – 7:30 AM

        My loathing for psychiatry burns with a fire from Hell. I’ve had this “sleep disorder” all my life. In fact, my very first psychiatric hospitalization was because of this sleep disorder. I was 15. I fell asleep in school. When they woke me up, I was disoriented and it took a minute before I remembered where I was and how I got there. I was locked up for 2 months and endured the unholy Hell of quiet rooms, restraints and forced drugging.

        This sleep disorder cost me my high school graduation. It has cost me numerous jobs. It also cost me my KIDS.


        From the wiki page, “DSPD is frequently misdiagnosed or dismissed. It has been named as one of the sleep disorders most commonly misdiagnosed as a primary psychiatric disorder.[29] DSPD is often confused with: psychophysiological insomnia; depression; psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, ADHD or ADD; other sleep disorders; or school refusal. ”

        My grandfather had narcolepsy. I don’t think the SOCIAL WORKERS and JUDGE who took my kids away from me KNOW that vital information. I want to snap their necks.

    • mjk, just wanted to reach out an acknowledge your pain and the tremendous amount of strength and courage you are having to draw on in these moments. Your life does matter. I have appreciated all your insights on so many blogs.

      I will say a metta prayer for you that you find freedom from suffering in life-giving ways if possible. We all deserve freedom from suffering, and friends to help us hold our suffering when we are having a hard time bearing it. I hope you can find both. You are worthy of love and support.

      • Thank you, Jennifer for your kindness. You’ve been kind to me before and I’m almost fascinated by it. My freedom is when I’ve passed away. I’m WAY ahead of everybody in accepting death, for the beautiful Mercy that it is – that I long for, so deeply.


  2. Faith,

    I’m so sorry to hear that you lost someone in your community. Thank you for articulating some of what this loss was like for you, and for naming a larger problem: that our communities need more skills, tools, and time to help one another.

    I love your compassion for the inevitable “falling short”, which, as you point out, seems to be about needing to care for our selves, and our “small worlds”.

    As far as improving support networks, mentor relationships work well. I wonder if the radical mental health collective uses this model? I was a mentor, and had a mentor…support was given and received equally (think 12 step sponsor) and in a more predictable manner. Boundaries were clear, like, “We meet for one hour on Wednesdays”. But, it was also a friendship, no money exchanged…like holding hands in the dark.

    — V

  3. Hi mjk–about Faith’s article on compassion and the need for openheartedness which very often falters because of gaps in preparedness or information, and a shaky sense of understanding what to do…

    I warmly agree that the wish to end one’s life is personal, highly personal and yet important to everyone else who lives on in one way or another.

    I also lose confidence with the style of counsel and kinds of recommendations that experts as well as just plain folks seem to keep in mind for answers to problems, especially when these words of advice obviously miss the individual differences of my own case. And getting very sick and tired of having to add, “Think about what these particular experiences would be like to adjust to for yourself. And about getting no feedback that suggests that anyone knows how to approach them.”

    But the worst thing remains not feeling a connection to how to step into anyone else’s difficult situation and relate my own insights regarding self-care. I believe that seeing how someone who has so many successes to her name in helping and protecting people’ like Faith’ has all these same doubts about herself and her efforts, offers me a significant chance to re-frame my understanding of my own imperfect attempts to limit my suffering or assist someone working through theirs.

    Besides not liking what conscious experience means to me in many ways and most of the time, I likewise try to consider what the decision not to end my life means. That sort of angle seems and feels most natural rather than asking if my current state of unwellness indicates that the time is right for suicide.

    In other words, what should I keep on trying to do? That is the question.

    Understanding to believe that just about the same ultimate dilemmae or uncertainties face everyone, but that multiple differences in abilities and resources and the interest taken in these questions of deep importance–like “Why live?”–usually creates the first step to any further understanding and any action or change of attitude. Even to the thought, “Why go on–why live?”

    To say it another way, …if no one is listening and nothing appears worthwhile, and this implicates all my choices and everyone’s views on what is or isn’t my right and what should or should not be my purpose in trying to recover by alternative means, then the fact that my reason to try anything for my own good, or trying to see to someone else’s opportunity for self-help, is as personal as my belief that I should just die. But both sides of this gigantic dilemma are affected by realizing that the potential responses are to the human condition and not just the unique aspects of my personal, unenviable one.

    You say a lot of revealing things, so what along the lines of the meaning of what effective help is or how it would look if it were found at all? My curiosity originates with never knowing how I will be feeling, thinking, or able to relate until it happens…. Previous solutions or attitudes toward problems almost never function to help me in new confrontations with very chaotic mental and bodily reactions to things, etc. Deciding whether a problem is still uncontrolled or whether again everything is not working for me right is itself impossible. However, sometimes nature works and spares me some peace, and so my situation gets only as desperate as it becomes when I forget that others face similar difficulties believing they can live on.

    • “what along the lines of the meaning of what effective help is or how it would look if it were found at all?”

      I am aware that the level of support I need is literally, no exaggeration, gargantuan. I’d need a VERY large team of people, because there’s just so much and everything is all interconnected. Can’t isolate certain aspects. It’s like a tree. There are the complex, embedded roots. There’s the large trunk. The many limbs. The many branches. There is SO much. Too much.

      Edit: I have more to say on this, expand and elaborate a bit – but it will take me some time. I’ll post it in another comment, shortly. I think the idea I’m holding is necessary to communicate but a bit involved and I don’t have it all thought out and worked out yet. Ugh, so laborious for me.

      • Alright. I’ll start here:


        This man opens his presentation by giving credit and thanks to his support team, in saying “they really make my life easy and help me produce these kinds of pieces”.

        Really? You can’t do your work without them? LOL.

        Is it a shame when a single mother of three kids can’t be a super-mom, and she “needs help”? Let’s just take the kids away, with a foundation of reason – instead of investing in the types and sorts of supports that are NECESSARY to produce “the kinds of pieces”, or – to produce a functional, harmonious family.

        It takes WHAT to raise a child, or three of them – and it takes WHAT for a college professor to do his work? SUPPORT. And, lots of it.

        Can an architect do all of everything involved in the manufacture of a structure, by himself? Of course not. What does he need? A LOT OF SUPPORT. Contractors and employees. He cannot do all of everything by himself.

        Well, just what the heck is it that I’m “trying” or BOTHERING to do? To be honest, I have absolutely no idea. For the most part, I’m simply occupying my time and keeping myself busy. I have this affliction, it’s called CONSCIOUSNESS.

        I wake up every day, regardless of the time, and have many hours to fill. I have consciousness, awareness, attention, energy and time. These are my resources. How do I manage them, spend them, invest them? Mostly, suffering and struggling. Pained, hostile and ugly.

        I have no idea what I’m doing, or why. I have no idea what I need, what I want, where I belong, what to do, what not to do.

        I exist. I simply exist. And it is VERY upsetting.

        I don’t have a plan, or a goal, or a dream. I lack a wish, a hope or a prayer. I’m dead, and that isn’t easy to understand straight away. But, I AM dead.

        My life WAS my kids. That life is long over and me and my family are destroyed. The AGONY of just that, itself – forget about everything else – is absolutely harrowing. I have an actual SHRINE in my living room, dedicated to my daughters, for crying out loud.

        I haven’t seen my kids in over 4 years.

        Take the psych drugs, or you’ll never see them again.

        F U C K
        Y O U

        Sorry. But honestly, what else could I possibly say?

        Powerball is at $400 million! Damn, that’s nearly half a billion. What would I do, with that sort of money?

        I’D BUY MY KIDS BACK, and I know for a fact that Hell Yes I could PURCHASE my own kids.

        That, is SICK.

  4. “The time I spend supporting other people is time that I cannot spend caring for myself, because my most crucial self-care practices involve me being quiet and alone.”

    My opinion. The best thing a person can for others is to be emotionally selfish – then as they are real to themselves , they are real to others. And as they are real to themselves they will follow the natural path of human development,in which having translated needs into want they are more likely to be altruistic.
    But there is no shortcut nor elimination . Nobody gets to altruism without embracing ongoing selfishness.

    A world of emotionally resilient people who don’t need much support is more likely a world of caring loving people.

    Is Bio-med opposing ‘Support and Sympathy’ or are they just the same thing? Both are systems of control and stabilization. In fact Psychiatry created a new version of psychotherapy called “talk-therapy” which is full of support and sympathy, avoiding confrontation and consequently helps to keep patients on their meds or at least a lifetime of 200 bucks an hour treatment.

    Unfortunately I think this general attitude of anti-therapy has filtered very strongly into the public consciousness as an ideology of mental health.
    Support is to keep somebody from jumping off a ledge when they are on the ledge, confrontation is something to help them change themselves so that they don’t want to go back to the ledge.
    In effective psychotherapy confrontation is used because all parties intrinsically understand that is reason why the person is there – to be confronted with themselves – something like consentual S&M games but there is no safe word, though through experience the person discovers not only a safe environment but a transformative experience as the rotten teeth are pulled.
    In a “radical mental health community” I would like to see confrontation proactively used alongside support.
    Generally support means staying the same, useful when one wants to be as is – confrontation means change.

    I am a suicide survivor. I got the entire story after the fact because I was in another part of the world. My sibling was in a ‘wonderful’ environment of support such that ‘…’ continued to be the same until ‘…’ finally made a successful attempt.

    Someone told me . ‘gee they couldn’t figure out what went wrong, they had the psychiatrist, the drug , the circle of supportive friends .. gee… maybe if it had been a different drug…’
    Everything except an effective confrontation to help guide the person towards towards self-change.
    Yalom thought as a therapist he was love’s executioner – destroying an illusions that kept people self-destructive..
    We would be more helpful to our friends sometimes if we were a “friendship executioner”.
    In long time observing psychiatric ‘consumers’ interact with social workers I observed a large number of policing ‘unwanted behaviour’. In every one of those instances I could see an alternative path of confrontation a ‘work point’ –that would be experimental and unpredictable and possibly help the person to integrate – of course it would help even more if they had not been dulled on drugs. These social workers in those situations often practice ‘happy face fascism” on the ‘consumers’ even they structure some activities to practice this ie not allowing them to say or express anything ‘negative’ (this perfidy for people who have extremely negative life experiences that they have never shared or even fully digested) . The result is of course , the workers suffocate the real person to both the workers and the person themselves and they help to create an artificial unreal presentation of themselves The bio-med industry celebrates this propped up policed shadow person as a ‘successful recovery’

  5. Hm, I have so much to say here.

    The modern world of capitalism is not very supportive. You work to earn money for the boss. If you have troubles you go somewhere else to talk about them, unless the boss provides a counselling service so you can go back to work quick.

    Mental distress is caused by all sorts of things but poverty is one of them. If you have money it is easier to escape the people who are oppressing you and poverty grinds you down.

    Modern Psychiatry has two main functions:

    1 – to be the drug delivery system for multi-national drug companies
    2 – to hide, distract from, and evade the true reasons for mental distress (racism, poverty, homophobia, child sexual assualt, family violence, family conflict, bullying etc etc etc)

    To offer support to people is fine, to fight the system of oppressive psychiatry is fine. We need to do both at the same time. Some of us might want to link the oppression of psychiatry to other forms of oppression and find links with groups fighting them.

    I tried to get a group I set up in the UK to do both: fight psychiatry and support it’s members who were mainly people abused by psychiatric services. We had about five sectionings and one suicide in about 9 months. The suicide was partly because the woman was on a CTO and forced to take drugs she did not want and saw as damaging, even worse it was by injection as a depot which she found doubly humiliating.

    I couldn’t work on organising protests with that level of distress in the group. The group didn’t want to work out how to support each other better so I left.

    It should be possible to do serious campaigining and serious support work. It should be possible to teach people how to support each other better. It should be possible to put in place structures that do that. Alcoholics Anonymous has a simple sturcture, although the God Rhetoric is something that I would ditch, co-counselling is fairly simple, group work isn’t that difficult once you have some basic skills and there are people around willing to teach it. Even Open Dialogue isn’t that difficult once you get the idea of open ended reflective questioning. But without the spin of being a serious challange to the system you end up taking on the impossible burdon of being a replacement for pschiatry with no wage and a life to live.

    I’m reading a book on non-violent social change. It says that alternative institutions don’t challenge those in power very much, but those with a radical manifesto can. An inner city breakfast club for school children doesn’t challenge much, but one run by a Black Power group would.

    So I reason we need to combine the support work with the campainging to a much larger ammount than most people realise. We also need to offer services where people can get help in coming off psychiatric drugs safely as that often seems to be a cause of distress, especially in withdrawal. And we need to develop advocacy so people can have a buffer between them and the services.

    I’m sorry about your comrade who killed themselves. It’s alwasy tragic and always causes soul searching when that happens. I have no doubt that your work has reduced the suffering of many people and reduced the suicide risk of many but it’s also true that as long as psychiatry is as it is we will always be firefighting.

    Meanwhile, I’m off to a camp next week to protest against Fracking. I shall be helping out at the Welfare area offering my not inconsiderable counselling skills to burnt out protesters.

    • I also think top down repression is the source of almost all mental illness. The details are not so obvious – people internalize repressive behaviors and replicate them.

      Modern Psychiatry does not, at least in the first place create mental illness – it exacerbates it , prolongs it and often murders the personalities of those it purports to help.

      Big Pharma is merely an opportunistic vulture using the situation to secure power and wealth.
      Simply castigating psychiatry and/or escaping it doesn’t resolve mental illnesses.
      Psychiatry at best is just a distraction along the road.
      Most people have neurosis (or worse) from the repression ie unfinished emotional business from their formative years – this is from copying repressive behaviors or being forced into repressive behaviors.

      In any case support and sympathy does not help neurosis generally-it’s only a very small part of the road to cure. In order to cure neurosis and some deeper dysfunctions that operate on much the same principle the person has to undergo more pain, not less. But it turns out to be the type of pain they will like or learn to like. It’s much like surgery has to be performed on the battlefield without anesthetic – there is no comfort road.

      Some people can find their own way, perform their own surgery – most need a guide or surgeon.
      Outside of immediate crisis, support is useless if a person with neurosis or worse is not getting guided interventionist or confrontation or subjecting themselves to guided critical inspection from an expert (of which there are very few these days it seems). Sympathy and support has very limited use in breaking through defensive systems.
      And to do that , the person has to want it or be convinced to want it. This last is very important because Bio-med psychiatry with it’s new “Talk-Therapy” has convinced many to not want to subject themselves to confrontation or interventionist technique. It’s the whole purpose of Pharma’s “talk-therapy” (which is not real psychotherapy) to steer their clients away from the processes that would be curative. They have created an entire ideology for this which has crept it’s way into the public consciousness. They present these ideas as ‘healthy’ when in fact they are the opposite. We need the opposite awareness in the public consciousness – that, for instance, sharing and exploration of the negative makes people stronger not weaker.
      The situation is complex but those are some general considerations not to be neglected.
      I see so much sympathy and ‘support’ used to repress others or block off others in defensiveness.
      Sharing to me is the essence of positive human communication. Defensive supportive people often obfuscate or block the sharings of others which very much annoys me. Sharing requires one to be tough, open and honest. Sharing is a curative process. Real psychotherapists encourage provoke, guide or do anything it takes motivate others to share their life experience and they guide them from there.
      I love sharing or storytelling and listening or facilitating others to share. If people or a person doesn’t share – there is no one there. Non-sharers are people who are wasting life. It takes concentrated effort over time like an art – to learn to share – sharing is the only true learning and true contact with others.

  6. Thanks, John H., for your comments. I am impressed with what I have read from you lately. I agree that to do political work, we have to support one another too. I don’t know how it is in the UK, but here in America my experience of the survivors movement is that emotional support is hard to come by. How can we put ourselves out there, as one of the most despised minorities in society, and yet not even give one another much respect?

    Also, mjk and Faith, I hope you didn’t take my story about Banda Bear as making fun of you. I just felt we had something in common, and a little lightness in discussing this grim subject of suicide can sometimes be helpful, I think.

  7. “I think that John was spot-on in his clear identification of how the phenomenon of human misery is directly tied to the trappings of a militaristic, capitalistic Industrial Growth Society”

    Heartily agree,but you can be jumped on for even raising these issues as being ‘left’ or ‘socialist’, groups are not looking at this and social justice issues despite them being intrinsically linked to diagnosis and pushing people into or back into psychiatry

    • Wow, I hit some chords here.

      I find the anarcho-eco-anti-capitalist crowd quite receptive. They specialise in critiquing big business and have an exquisite view of power relationships. Socialists generally see this issue about having equal access to medical care but often can’t quite get thier head around the evils of pschiatry or of the dangers of Big Pharma. There seems to be a disconnect between the middle class who critique big pharma and working class activists, or those who say they are working on the behalf of the working class.

      Occupy in London last year had a series of talks from the Critical Psychiatry Netowrk which were very good. But the Welfare area of Occupy got a load of professionals involved as they were so overwhelmed by homeless needy people. The professionals got annoyed by criticisms of psychiatry when I spammed them with a Speak Out Against Psychiatry leaflet but others were receptive. Over all it generated a useful discussion.

      NSUN in the UK had an article about how a private provider was taking over part of mental health provsion in Gloucester. The provider also does prison contracts and their workers had killed at least one person. They also charged for tagging a lot of people in the community they had not actually tagged. So these issues are raised a bit now. But generally service user groups, and to a degree survivor groups, are aware of how shoddy their treatment is but have swallowed the psychiatric pill in terms of having almost no idea of what the major causes of mental distress are, what can be done to address them or the braoder social issues. They used to about 20 years ago, I’ve seen the documents and had brief communications from people who were involved then. The broader dissability campaigners seem to get it more easily, but then in the UK they are all having thier benefits cut so it then becomes easier to make a broader social analysis.

      On Faith’s comments on burt out activists: I help out at Welbeing for the anti-fracking camp. It was started by Activist Trauma Support. Originally they catered for people who had suffered state oppression, eg being beaten up by the police, but very quickly realised the bigger nead was helping people who had gone to too many badly ran meetings.

      My group work training and my experience of going to retreats which have a big empahsis on therapy type work says it doesn’t have to be this way. It should be possible to run campaigns where people do not end up feeling worse than they did before they started campaigning. But that takes work and an emphasis on building trust before you do the campaigning and makind sure you continue to build it as you go along. It’s my big task these days, trying to help groups be supportive as they engage in campaigning. A lot of it is about looking at how groups are getting on and bringing it to there attention. It’s not a popular way to work but I see it as essential. Why repeat the old oppressvie patterns of a society you’re trying to change? It doesn’t make sense to me to work that way.

  8. John you’re right, physical disability activists do have a broader social analysis. I’m thinking that there needs to be a MH version of Spartacus written by survivors, there is the start of some interest by a couple of individuals because it’s clear the larger groups are not going to take a lead on these issues as a campaign topic even though it does dove tail with diagnosis debates. So maybe if a few individuals draw up a position paper it would help.

  9. Dearest Faith,

    Thank you for your beautiful post. So many things resonate with me…I am perpetually baffled about how much of the human experience is considered too inconvenient in our society. I was supporting someone recently in what would be considered by many as “a dangerous state” or some other iteration of pathology. Yet, all that was needed was a simple, caring presence by someone who saw them as a human being who was processing deep, scarring memories rather than as “sick” or “crazy”. It is, of course, not always so simple and I , too, relate to finding the balance of what type of support a person needs and what I am able to offer.
    I am grateful to be on this path with you as we continue to wrestle with the truths, lies, beauty and pain of it all. Your presence and voice bring hope to so many intersecting communities.


  10. Thanks Faith for your thoughtful reflections on the struggle we face “I know,it sucks. I’m so sorry that this is happening in your life.” It seems quite true to me to suggest that when a person is excluded by community from community and the support it provides how can a stranger replace what is lost – what can a person do – how do we respond – I would say if can do nothing but be present, even as you are worn out listening that is so much more than our society can provide at this stage so applaud yourself for that. And we must always be humble in our belief – each individual can do so little and its unfair to ask more of ourseleves than is humanly possible – It will take much time and energy and maybe alot of resentment needs dissolving as the means of justice are to vast to be real – It is more wise to attempt the development of alternative recourses, to mature new communities that welcome passionate feelings as valid responses to lifs darker experiences – emotions that currently are all too easily exploited to sell drugs and therapy rather tham as signs that need acknowledgement.

  11. You shared much of what I believe in is a part of the foundation of me, expressed it for me.  Thank you Faith.

    So many times I feel I am alone paddling, fighting the currents on my river to wellness. Sometimes I am too weary to keep paddling. It is folks like you I truly believe my God as I understand him brings into my life at just the right time.

    Community for community.