I’ve embarked on a print interview series with more than 100 innovators and alternative helpers in the mental health field. The first seven interviews are now available for your viewing (they are listed at the end of this post) and I hope you’ll find them fascinating and useful.
Human beings can be helped in all sorts of ways: with better schools, cleaner water, less tyranny, more peace, and fairer institutions. Movements of the last hundred years have given names to these different aspirations for betterment: the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, clean air and clean water initiatives, and so on. Now another sort of “helping” is desperately needed.
We need a mental health movement that takes as its central tasks the following three:
- Exposing the current, dominant paradigm that claims that human experiences of distress are “mental disorders” that are best treated with chemicals and talk
- Providing alternatives to this paradigm and painting a broader, richer picture of what can help individuals in emotional and mental distress
- Creating facilities, organizations, institutions, helpers and a worldwide mindset that support an updated vision of mental health care as human work and not pseudo-medical work.
There is no single slogan to hang from the rafters or rallying cry to shout out that captures the essence of this much-needed movement. But the following may come the closest: suffering isn’t a medical condition. It would be pretty to think that there can be pills to treat life. Indeed, our everyday wishful thinking does a beautiful job of propping up the drug companies’ campaigns that try to sell us on the notion that everything unwanted, from anxiety ruining your erection to your boss stealing away another one of your weekends, has a chemical answer. But these challenges aren’t medical conditions; suffering and distress aren’t medical conditions.
Not so long ago women who disobeyed their husbands were diagnosed as hysterical. Slaves who wished to be free were diagnosed as oppositional. Men who loved men and women who loved women were diagnosed as deviant and certifiable. The future of mental health movement I have in mind is as much about freedom as are the women’s movement, the civil rights movement and the gay rights movement: namely, the freedom not to be labeled and drugged just because you are experiencing distress. Much better that you are genuinely helped than that you are labeled and drugged!
What are the answers? We would love some short answers that are the equivalent of pills. Unfortunately, there are only long answers and, too often, no answers. If we could rally around some simple, powerful idea like “treat women fairly” we could gain tremendous momentum and make real strides in providing human beings with better answers and better care when they are suicidal, despairing, anxious, addicted, or down some other rabbit hole. But the answers are not simple, for all of the following reasons:
- Individuals in distress often do not make it easy for others to help them
- The challenges of life, from poverty to despair to meaningless work to failed relationships, are tremendously painful and radically difficult to ameliorate
- The particular causes of distress are invisible and unknowable
- “Helping” can only do so much when the problem is something as all-encompassing and debilitating as life itself.
Nevertheless we do have some powerful ideas to champion and some slogans to shout out: ideas and slogans like “Stop labeling!” and “Stop all those chemicals!” and “Stop making childhood a mental disorder!” But an awful lot of education, effort and paradigm-shifting look to be required to help bring people from where they are, convinced that “mental disorders” exist and that “medication” treats them, to the very different vision that these slogans herald.
How do we get from here to there? One way, having to do with creating a new helping professional of the future, shifting the focus and practice of current mental health professionals, and paying more attention to the communities of care and other institutions that already exist, is outlined in my new book The Future of Mental Health: Deconstructing the Mental Disorder Paradigm. A second way is by providing as much simple-to-access, simple-to-understand information about “alternatives to the current paradigm” as is possible to provide. That is where this interview series comes in.
In this series I introduce you to people whose work you are likely never to have heard of. How much do you currently know about the Danish Hearing Voices Network? The Finnish Open Dialogue Method? The Australian Rogue & Rouge Foundation? Gould Farm, Rose Hill Center, or Skyland Trail? The free offerings of the British Psychological Society? Social therapy, humanistic psychiatry, or transformational coaching? I am guessing: nothing or next to nothing. You’ll hear about these and much more over the next one hundred plus days. These resources constitute a mosaic of great power and depth.
Georges Simenon, the Belgian novelist who wrote the Inspector Maigret mystery series and five hundred novels altogether, penned very short novels. When asked when he would finally write his “big” novel, Simenon explained that his “big” novel was the mosaic of his small novels. His “big” novel already existed: you just had to accept its form. We are in a similar position today when it comes to changing the landscape of mental health services’ provision. The interviews in this series are each short but together they amount to a big picture. I hope you’ll enjoy them, share them with your friends, and be provoked to learn more.
Please enjoy the first week of interviews:
To learn more, go to: The Future of Mental Health: Deconstructing the Mental Health Paradigm
Visit the Future of Mental Health website, which is home to a reading list of more than one hundred books in the areas of critical psychology, critical psychiatry and anti-psychiatry.
Please enjoy the series!
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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.