The Power of the Written Word

Tamasin Knight, MBChB, MPH
31
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Since the invention of the printing press, community-controlled publications have enabled the voices of those with little power in society to be heard. Gandhi said that without a journal, a community could not be united.

Asylum magazine is a printed magazine, in existence since 1986, which provides a place where alternative voices in mental health can be heard. The magazine is a forum for free debate about psychiatry and mental health, to which anyone is welcome to contribute – whether their knowledge comes from personal or professional experience (or both). In printing these perspectives, Asylum magazine challenges us to question what promotes mental health and provides a mechanism to help bring about social change.

I have been a reader of Asylum magazine for 12 years and have appreciated the critical perspectives it has covered over this time. A year and a half ago I was invited to join the Editorial Collective, which I gladly accepted. The Collective work together ‘in a spirit of equality’ and our role is wider than a conventional editorial board – we are also involved in encouraging participation from a wide range of individuals and groups, and in linking with others working for social change. For example, in January 2012, members of the Asylum magazine Collective went to speak at the Occupy camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London. There we discussed the links between the concerns of the anti-capitalist protestors and those involved in radical mental health.

More recently, Collective members have organised public debates around mental health, and had stalls about Asylum magazine at events ranging from an Anarchist bookfair to a mainstream Public Health conference! Supporters of Asylum magazine have also taken Asylum magazines onto psychiatric wards enabling the patients there to have access to different perspectives regarding mental health.

Asylum magazine receives no funding from pharmaceutical companies, government or mental health services. Instead, we support ourselves through subscriptions and sales of the magazine.  I believe this stance is very important as it enables us to maintain our independence.

Many people who want to challenge the status quo in the mental health system write to Asylum magazine and have their accounts published. By publishing these accounts, Asylum magazine can enable these voices to be heard, for others to gain a sense of community and solidarity, and to help facilitate collective action to bring about positive change in mental health. To find out more or get involved, visit the Asylum magazine website: http://www.asylumonline.net/

31 COMMENTS

  1. Looks a little noninclusive of people who aren’t ‘anticapitalist’.

    Bad business model, subscriptions.

    The Szasz issue looks interesting though. A lot of it looks interesting. Might have to subscribe. Looks like a vibrant part of the British part of things. Somehow the British got to a point where it was ok to call people forcibly drugged ‘service users’ without batting an eye, there’ll be that hump to get over if I read one of these magazines no doubt.

    Still, I’m glad you reminded us that this magazine exists, and it looks like it is worth a look.

    Your work is very interesting Tamasin Knight.

    http://www.asylumonline.net/can-the-mental-health-system-cause-paranoia-by-tamasin-knight/

    Obviously this is going to endear you to many here:

    Tamasin Knight: ‘Once you are diagnosed you have to live knowing that you have less rights than a criminal, knowing that you can be forcibly drugged and knowing that 46% of consultant psychiatrists want to erode your rights further by introducing Compulsory Treatment Orders. ‘

    One question, what in particular are you going to be doing in public health, like what sort of role would you wind up in?

    When I think of public health, I usually think of the neo prohibitionist anti smoking anti sugar civil liberties destroyers, but I know public health is much broader than the illiberal ‘risk factor’ meddling and nanny statism.

    I ask because it’s very interesting to me that you didn’t become a psychiatrist yet you still went to medical school. I commend this decision of course.
    (the decision not to become a psychiatrist)

    Is there any story to the history of your plans post medical school? Like, for instance did you begin intending to become a psychiatrist and later change to public health? (perhaps after deciding that you didn’t want to participate in forced psychiatry)?

    There isn’t all that much info about you on the web. If you don’t answer me questions, I won’t mind. It’s up to you.

    • I noticed that too mjk, and frowned upon it too. Way to play to violent stereotypes. I see a lot of interesting and good sounding articles, and good authors, and a lot of drawbacks too. I’m going to give it a look. I generally recoil, in horror, from the British strand of socialist ‘mental health service user’ type analysis, the British psychiatric survivors and self identified ‘users’ actually seem to believe they are going to be able to steer the ship of STATE psychiatry in a direction they see fit. I don’t see this happening. I don’t see the monopoly drug and label biological psychiatry that has been established in nation states as a coercive control mechanism, as a ‘service’ to get something from, I see it as something to dig a hole to China with the rapidity of an energizer bunny and escape and hide from. I would not be caught DEAD confiding in any government health service employee about any crisis or personal problem I would ever go through again. If you work for the government and you’re here to help my problems labeled ‘mental’ problems, you’re an existential threat to me. I don’t seek to work inside the system for change, I seek to build networks outside, and amass tonnes of information to provide a central hub for people to engage in the kind of self help that I saved myself with.

      And I see there is an article on there entitled ‘CLIMATE CHANGE: ITS IMPACT ON PHYSICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL DISLOCATION AND ON THE INCIDENCE OF ALCOHOL AND DRUG USE DISORDERS:’ which to me sounds like the most ridiculous article I’ve ever heard of.

      One of the biggest problems with our movement is that a lot of it mindlessly assumes that everyone who is surviving psychiatry ‘hates capitalism’, is down for radical views on everything, believes scientists can prove the sea levels are going to rise meters and meters in our lifetime or whatever BS they saying lately…. the movement needs to be more centrist and inclusive.

      That said, a LOT of the articles look like articles I’d like to read, I just have to decide whether to subscribe.

      I am still glad I was reminded about this magazine’s existence. Although a horrible ‘closed shop’ paywall business model, that locks down content, (compare to MIA, donations plus freely viewable content), I do see various well known names have been writing articles inside this magazine. It looks like a lot of interesting stuff, has been going on within the readership of this magazine. But nobody knows about it, because you can’t get to it without committing for a year’s subscription.

      It’s like when Murdoch put a paywall around the London Times, and nobody even shared links from it anymore.

      Not to be too critical… I’m just saying, first glance, I’m 50% really really excited to see some of these awesome articles, and 50% horrified by the assumption everyone with a psychiatric label is into green/left politics and that unique British strand of ‘service user’ type language, and yes, the ill-advised blood font.

      And then I see they did a whole issue on Szasz, taunt me with a free one paragraph preview of an article hostile to Szasz, tempt me with 10 more articles praising Szasz… and a whole issue on him… man I think I’ll have to get at least that one.

      So I guess I’m more 70/30 in favor of subscribing.

      • Hi, anonymous
        I would too be horrified by the assumption ‘everyone with a psychiatric label is into green/left politics and that unique British strand of ‘service user’ type language’…
        I would be interested to know where in Asylum manazine you detected such an assumption…I think the fact that for example an entire issue was devoted to Szasz (a right wing neoliberal who was supportive of individualist approaches and very critical of any state interventions) indicates that Asylum is open to debate and not merely out to please the British socialist/leftist mental health service users that may be reading it…

        Why do you think the blood font in ‘Asylum’ is ill-advised?
        You could see the red in ‘Asylum’ as representing blood, ie violence. But that, in my mind, would be the violence mental health service users have suffered through the centuries in the hands of biomedical psychiatry; it could be signifying the coercion, humiliation, physical and psychological violence, and actual deaths that we mental health service users have experienced under the Mental Health Act for example; talking from experience here.
        People may not want to be reminded of this kind of psychiatric violence, and they may frown upon signifiers of blood, so perhaps the red in ‘Asylum’ is there as a painful and indeed provocative reminder of that violence. However, I do not think the red is there to reinforce violence stereotypes of the sort ‘Let’s take arms against psychiatry!’ given that Asylum – to my knowledge- does not support violent solutions in mental health.

        I am really pleased you are thinking of subscribing to Asylum in spite of your reservations.
        happy to discuss more
        regards
        Dina
        Dina’s Blog on Asylum, the Magazine for Democratic Psychiatry http://www.asylumonline.net/dinas-blog/

        • ‘I would be interested to know where in Asylum manazine you detected such an assumption…’ (about green/left politics)

          Well it started off with this being used as a selling point by Tamasin…

          ‘For example, in January 2012, members of the Asylum magazine Collective went to speak at the Occupy camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London. There we discussed the links between the concerns of the anti-capitalist protestors and those involved in radical mental health.’

          And then I clicked the link to the magazine, looked at the titles (which is all that is available to the non paying public), and most of the titles I saw sounded pretty green/left.

          I hope that answers your question.

          Again, I appreciate your comments, and your interpretation of this blood imagery, but I must insist, I really must, that I find it very hard to communicate with people on the issue of forced psychiatry when they insist on referring to people who are forced into state psychiatry as ‘users’ of a system. I know this is second nature in Britain, and it rolls off the tongue and is the language that is in use.

          I am vehemently, irretrievably opposed to it, because any language that conjures up imagery of choice, in relation to a system designed to remove choice, disgusts me. I find it degrading.

          I think the UK should ‘cut it out’, forthwith. It would be like calling someone on death row, a ‘user’ of execution services.

          When I hear this language I feel like crawling up into a ball and disappearing from the world.

          I hear what you’re saying though, when you said about the Mental Health Act, I just have to disagree that people under the British Mental Health Act are ‘using a service’.

          Szasz was a classical liberal. Not a neoliberal. I’ve seen multiple other British people here in the comments on MIA call him a neoliberal.

          I will still be taking a look at your magazine, and I hope to soon.

          Thanks Dina

          • Hi, anonymous
            thanks for your thoughts

            I agree with your opposition to the term ‘service user’ – especially when we are talking about forced treatment; I guess i use this term for want of a better term but I am aware of the issues it raises. I definitely did not feel that I was using a service when I was sectioned on an acute ward back in 2009…I was rather feeling like a prison inmate…

            thanks for engaging in this discussion
            Dina

    • Hi, mjk
      I am a member of the Asylum collective (editorial group) like Tamasin. I would like to respond to your question as to whether the red in ‘Asylum’ represents blood. I am responding as myself and NOT on behalf of the Asylum collective – I do not know what the official Asylum line around the red font is, if there is an official line.

      You could see the red in ‘Asylum’ as representing blood, ie violence. But that, in my mind, would be the violence mental health service users have suffered through the centuries in the hands of biomedical psychiatry; it could be signifying the coercion, humiliation, physical and psychological violence, and actual deaths that we mental health service users have experienced under the Mental Health Act for example; talking from experience here.

      People may not want to be reminded of this kind of psychiatric violence, and they may frown upon signifiers of blood, so perhaps the red in ‘Asylum’ is there as a painful and indeed provocative reminder of that violence. However, I do not think the red is there to reinforce violence stereotypes of the sort ‘Let’s take arms against psychiatry!’ given that Asylum – to my knowledge- does not support violent solutions in mental health.

      Happy to discuss more
      regards
      Dina Poursanidou

  2. I wasn’t put off by the word Asylum or the red streaking color (blood?). IMO< this draws attention to the harm of the status quo. I poked around the site a little bit. The left-leaning politics are nothing new. IMO, there's a left slant on this site, with only a few conservatives and libertarians. Breggin and Szasz would feel lonely here politically.

    Duane

  3. ” in January 2012, members of the Asylum magazine Collective went to speak at the Occupy camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London.” I was there! It was marvellous.

    Although I also stirred it up amongst the Welfare team at Occupy by spamming them with a flyer for a Speak Out Against Psychiatry demo. The professionals who were helping out were up in arms about it, but the people who had suffered at the hands of psychiatry told them to get off thier high horse. So we had a bit of barney, but it was useful in the end.

    I think the libertarian politics of some commentators on this site is peculiar to the USA. I don’t think it flys well anywhere else. It all seems a bit odd from my perspective and also, I suspect,from other UK based commentators.

    The Open Dialogue system in Western Lapland is a state operated and state funded system that mainly seems to help a lot of people and which explicitally tries not to interfere or direct peoples lives, but merely help people understand each other better. So I think the state can provide good care for people who are mentally distressed that is not on the whole coercive or drug based. So I think it is possible for the state to provide decent and useful services.

    I’m all for an anti-capitalist/green perspective but I also know you need a wide range of allies to hope to have any impact on the psychiatric system – or indeed any system where the state acts in concert with big business.

    Service user is a term in the UK that annoys me too. Although I think they have won some concessions they are mainly asking for bigger cages, longer chains.

    “Survivor,” is an ealier term than, “Service User,” that is still to some degree current in the UK. It is implicitally saying people have survived extreme mental distress and also survived psychiatry. It was the name for that people who wanted to organise politically around this issue chose

    • Thank you for your insights. I think there are many people in the UK who are libertarian, Daniel Hannan member of EU Parliament comes to mind.

      Soviet state psychiatry managed to do the same amount of damage without big business existing.

      That there ‘can’ be a couple of examples of governments running some service that you consider to be a good service, doesn’t sway me from my position that governments generally run any service, from haircuts, to hospitals, worse than private interests.

  4. I see MIA has conformed to using red (What’s Hot This Week page views). Trying to chase me away? lol. I use the comments feed page anyway. 😛

    I’m just gonna say, I think if you’re going to use red at least find a shade that matches Anatomy of An Epidemic’s red? Oh well, whatever. *smiles*

  5. “Collective members have organised public debates around mental health, and had stalls about Asylum magazine at events ranging from an Anarchist bookfair to a mainstream Public Health conference! Supporters of Asylum magazine have also taken Asylum magazines onto psychiatric wards enabling the patients there to have access to different perspectives regarding mental health.”

    I’m happy to see you around here, Tamasin and thanks for introducing the work you’re doing with Asylum.

    I kind of like the red…reminds me a little of the thrill I got as a child over 80s hair bands and R-rated videocassettes.

    It sounds like the collective is getting some really amazing stuff done and I love the idea of using this media as a way to make c/s/x perspectives available to people who might be in clinical settings.

    What I love almost as much is that a public health doctor is doing this sort of idea-dissemination…that’s excellent, in my opinion.

    Access to empowering information is definitely a public health issue.

    Thanks and very much look forward to seeing you around!