From Asylum Magazine: “Recent documentaries have highlighted human rights abuses on UK mental health wards. The BBC Panorama programme exposed a culture of sadistic behaviour towards patients at the Edenfield unit in Greater Manchester and the Channel 4 Dispatches programme exposed the brutal treatment of suicidal young people in Essex hospitals. Both highlighted the punitive use of restraint and seclusion. Subsequently, Sky and The Independent highlighted the abuse of young people in a group of private hospitals run by the Huntercombe Group; and a series of young women’s deaths have been associated with a catalogue of failures in Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys (TEWV) Trust. It seems likely more scandals will follow.
We should be under no illusions that these exposés were isolated incidents. They revealed a thoroughly broken system, prone to abuse and neglect. Whilst the level of abuse was shocking, in many ways we were not surprised. The abuse and neglect of mad, distressed and psychosocially disabled people has a long history. This history is deeply entangled with carceral, psychiatric and medical systems. However, it cannot easily be reduced to these systems either. Historically, psychoanalysts have suppressed women’s lived experiences of sexual abuse and mental health systems still failed to fully understand the long-term impact of abuse. In addition, LGBTQ+, autistic people and people with unexplained medical symptoms such as ME/CFS have been pathologised and harmed though psychologising frameworks.
Moreover, although mental health systems are clearly guilty of causing profound harm, this cannot be separated from wider regimes of power, oppression & inequality. Our current situation reflects a society which demonises and punishes sick, disabled & vulnerable people through increasingly punitive welfare regimes. It is inseparable from a society that is running down health and social care services and failing to provide basic – let alone therapeutic – support for its members.
Rather than addressing these failures and abuses of power, lots of energy is spent in fractious debates on social media, arguing about competing ‘models’ of mental health care. It seems clear that the underlying problems will not be resolved by one-off inquiries, the scapegoating of individual staff and a re-assertion of ‘usual practice’. But neither will it be resolved by the simply shifting from one ‘model’ to another, without addressing these wider and deeper issues. Perhaps we need to spend less energy arguing about models and turn our attention to challenging the abuse of power. After all, the current system isn’t necessarily treating people as ill, traumatised or psychosocially disabled, but as individuals who should be blamed for their own distress and viewed as culpable for failing to survive or recover.”
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