RIP: Scottish Psychiatric Survivor Activist Chrys Muirhead

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When Mad in America was launched nearly a decade ago, Scottish psychiatric survivor and activist Chrys Muirhead was one of the first bloggers on our site, and a regular commenter too. She passed on August 29, after having been diagnosed with terminal colon cancer in July. She was 68.

Born in Perth, Scotland, she first encountered the mental health system in the 1970s, when a family member was hospitalized. Over the course of five decades, she once wrote, “eight of my family through 3 generations have experienced psychosis and psychiatric treatment: My Mother and Father, two younger sisters, my three sons and I.” She said that she personally survived psychoses and coercive drug treatment in 1978, 1984, and 2002, and through all of these personal and family experiences, she always believed in “mental health recovery.”

Chrys Muirhead

In 2008, she founded a voluntary organization, Peer Support Fife. More recently, she wrote, she had been a “mental health writer, activist and human rights campaigner, whistleblowing about locked seclusion room abuses in Stratheden Hospital, NHS Fife, winning an Ombudsman complaint in September 2014 and a written apology from Fife Health Board. I’m an unwaged carer and in 2018 plan to continue researching and evidencing Safe (haven crisis) Houses for Psychosis, alternatives to psychiatric inpatient treatment for people in mental distress.”

She also published several letters in medical journals that detailed her experiences with the psychiatric system. In a 2017 article published in Psychosis, she wrote: “In my experience psychosis was a journey from one place to another, necessary and transitional, in response to life trauma.”

In her blog, she also described herself as a “storyteller, cyclist, knitter, photographer, gardener, and singer,” which told of her many interests and passions in life.

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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.

10 COMMENTS

  1. This represents a big loss to the psychiatric survivor movement. Chyrs was a tenacious fighter against all forms of psychiatric abuse, and a personality brimming with the very best qualities of humanity – she will be sorely missed.

    My wife and I had the privilege to meet and talk with Chyrs for a few hours in 2013. Our scheduled rendezvous took place at the Redhall Walled Garden on the outskirts of Edinburgh Scotland during a traveling excursion.

    I wrote a blog posting for MIA here: https:(//www.madinamerica.com/2013/09/mad-america-meets-mad-scotland/) that details this wonderful encounter at an outdoor support center for people dealing with extreme forms of psychological distress.

    My condolences to her family and all those who knew her.

    Long Live the Spirit of Chrys Muirhead!

    Richard

    • Your connections to Scotland, New Bedford? are of interest in how the world is being designed and managed, in and beyond the Walls. For as a child, the steam engine without a governor, would be a concept that would have me reading about James Watt of Edinburgh, the huge Corliss Steam Engine that drove the Chicago World’s Fair and Ferris Wheel excited my imagination. Later, the reference in college chemistry to “Thermodynamics” while wondering about the idea of a “Liberal Arts Education” curled my brain cells if not the upper lip in non-traditional ways, inevitably rooted an interest in how the whole of LIFE operates.

      So your friendship to Chris Muirhead and the many in working to improve our understanding for the mind is extraordinary. In graduate school, when the social worker took us patients to see the move, “The Chariots of Fire” the response would be to check out early to continue trying to run my race. As a child I would be photographed on the college track poised to run life’s race. What becomes even more fascinating, regarding the music and story of Eric Liddell, and the film itself, is to understand the producer was Dodi Fayed. And later, at a New York Academy of Science Conference on the Flight from Reason, Langdon Gilkey would be on the panel. He would be in the POW camp with Liddell and wrote a book about the experience: Shantung Compound: The Story of Men and Women Under Pressure. So, how do we reconcile the forces of pressures imposed and created from such institutionalized perceptions that contribute to our hospitalizations?

  2. I never met Chrys Muirhead in person but I have read a lot of her posts and we were sometimes exchanging  emails, sharing links etc. Her  passing away made me really sad. Her brave words were my vital support in difficult time I was through and gave me  hope which no psychiatrist offered. I am sure I am not the only one who was generously supported by Chrys Muirhead, I believe there is a lot of us, all over the world.

    Zofia Neilson, Scotland

  3. Chrys was a special person. We were friends and regularly wrote to one another. I always felt safe in sharing my thoughts and feelings with Chrys.

    In many ways our friendship was unusual as I was an NHS psychiatrist [I retired a few years ago]. What united us was a shared determination to have approaches to mental wellbeing that did not need to be primarily based on the ‘medical model’.

    Chrys and I were able to be good friends whilst not always agreeing.

    A few weeks before she died I sent Chrys a card to say how special our friendship was and how wonderful it was to have shared so many interests, such as gardening, music and the wonderful and simple enjoyment of exploring the world round about us.

    Chrys was, in her heart and in her actions, a community minded individual. In my opinion few in Scotland have had her spirit or guts. She really did so much to ‘level the playing field’ [to use her expression] between those in positions of power and those who aren’t [the majority of us].

    Like a Comet she has passed by too quickly – though I reckon that the world will long be able to see her blazing trail in the sky!

    Several years ago I put this post together about Chrys, based on her wonderful creative output, including her knitting. I combined the images with words that I thought represented her most determined and honest approach to life.

    https://holeousia.com/being/sapere-aude/chrys-muirhead/

    Peter Gordon, Bridge of Allan.

  4. May she rest in peace. I remember her writing posts here during the early days of MIA. She had to take on the unfortunate burden of being an activist instead of being able to achieve the ordinary dreams that every child has. She must have had a terrible life. It is a permanent rest after a long, terrible day.

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