Friday, 23 January 2015

We have the right to offend, but when should we?

Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks Angela Gilchrist looks at how we think about those we see as ‘different’.

We can protest for our freedom but can we
also accept difference?
Photo: Claude Truong Ngoc 
The right to freedom of speech reached a watershed with the Je Suis Charlie march in Paris. Not only did it reveal double standards but it highlighted how easily liberty is talked about, yet how impossibly difficult to realise.

The sentiments were admirable, even moving. But as world leaders who have journalists locked up in their own countries marched under the Je Suis Charlie banner along with well-known Western leaders, some began to worry about the trickier, more complex aspects to this debate.

Does the legal right to offend others, make it desirable, and if so, when? If you’re a person who belongs to a marginalised, often discriminated against group,  such as those with disabilities, LGBT people or those who happen to be religious, you’ll know how it feels to have your particular ‘issue’ lampooned. It’s painful, and we become defensive. What many fail to understand though, is how this all too human foible remains (as indeed it must) separate to the right of free speech.

Friday, 12 December 2014

We need brave people to speak out

Angela Gilchrist on the launch of ‘Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia’ , a new report from the British Psychological Society

This is a critical moment in mental health history: never have so many decision makers wanted things to change. That’s according to the National Clinical Director for Mental Health, Dr Geraldine Strathdee, speaking last week at the launch of ‘Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia', a report from the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology.
The event, described by many as 'ground-breaking and momentous', was remarkable in that it brought together numerous and disparate voices in the mental health community including psychiatrists, psychologists, policy makers, third sector workers and people with lived experience of psychosis. Among the guests were the Shadow Minister for Public Health and Mental Health, Luciana Berger; and the founder and principal theorist for the Hearing Voices Movement, Professor Marius Romme.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Robin Williams, depression and the complex causes of suicide

While many people who kill themselves have been experiencing the extreme distress we might think of as depression, that’s not always the case and is rarely the whole explanation. 

This article originally appeared on the Guardian Science Website on the 18th of August 2014 and is reproduced here with permission.

Anne Cooke, Angela Gilchrist and John McGowan

Photo: Eva Rinaldi
As the tributes to the actor and comedian Robin Williams continue, so too do the arguments over the meaning of his death. Suicide is a profound act that touches many, and it would be surprising if it didn’t raise strong feelings. On the one hand we have Shep Smith of Fox News calling Williams a “coward” (he has since apologised). On the other we have a range of articles defending the star, usually along the lines of “don’t blame the guy – he had a mental illness.”

Most of the coverage has encouraged us to see his anguish as a symptom of a sickness as real and biologically based as measles or a broken leg. Just like those afflictions, we’re told, depression can strike anyone out of the blue. A piece by Guardian science blogger Dean Burnett offered a variation on this theme, asserting that depression is an illness and attacking any suggestion that suicidal acts might involve anything but desperation and a wish to escape. While we’re sure that the piece was written with the intention of defending someone in pain, we worry that it contains ways of thinking about mental health that oversimplify complex issues and can be unhelpful.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Electroconvulsive Therapy: Whose decision is it?

@steweatherhead & @THEAGENTAPSLEY

What does consent to treatment mean?
Lisa is a 42 year-old woman. She has had a difficult life. She has experienced multiple traumas and has at times struggled with her emotions. Lisa has a few close family members and a small social circle, though she does at times feel a bit oppressed by them. In 2010 Lisa contracted HIV. She has been treated medically and was stable for some time, however in 2013 she started to deteriorate. She was seen by a psychologist as well as by medics. After a further twelve months she had had enough of interventions and decided she wanted to live the remainder of her life in her own way. Her family and friends objected as they could see she would rapidly deteriorate. However with support from professionals, Lisa utilised the Mental Capacity Act (MCA) to set some advanced directives. She was found to be capable of making these decisions under the MCA, and was legally allowed to refuse further intervention. Lisa did indeed deteriorate, and died a few months later in her own home with her family and friends around her.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Guest post: But they look like you and me!

Jo Mueller investigates how parents could hold the key to tackling mental health stigma

Alien? Or simply struggling? Views about
mental health are formed early.
Photo: nadja robot
When it comes to attitudes to mental health, things are getting worse. Despite the high-profile campaigns, stigma and discrimination against people with mental health problems seem to be on the rise. Part of the reason may be that our campaigns are promoting the wrong message. The way we often address stigma is to promote the idea that mental health problems are illnesses. The rationale is noble. Rather than give the impression that someone is weak or blameworthy, isn’t it surely better to say they are sick?

The danger of this is that the idea of something going wrong with people’s brains can be scary and alienating. Put this together with the ‘1 in 4’ idea - that one in four of us will suffer ‘mental illness’ at some point - and it can add up to a frightening message: there’s a dangerous disease out there that might strike at us any time.

Monday, 21 July 2014

The winner takes it all

John McGowan considers the horrors of school sports day and suggests a surprisingly simple remedy

The loser's standing small? Photo: Alethe
‘Well done darling! You did brilliantly.’  As summer term draws to a close, parents get to enact the timeless rituals of sports day. Cheer, take photos of a sprinting child and celebrate success. The chance to shine in front of the whole school, and mums and dads too. A good thing, no?  Rolling up to my own children’s sports day this year though, my eye was distracted by the other end of the proceedings: the kids labouring in while the winners were posing for pictures. I swear they were pretty much the same kids who brought up the rear last year. In fact, I know they were. What, I wondered, is the benefit of sports day for them?

Friday, 20 June 2014

Guest post: 'Schizophrenia then and now'

Continuing our recent reflections on how things in mental health have changed Richard Hallam and Michael Bender take the long view of schizophrenia

The cuckoo's nests have closed. What
else has changed in mental health?
The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day on 10th October is Living with Schizophrenia. For those of us of a certain age, and with a historical bent, it’s also an opportunity to compare services now with those provided when we started out in the 1960s. Recently we’ve had the privilege of editing the diaries and letters of a young man, David, a patient in the mental health system five decades ago. The resulting book offers, we think, a window into the social attitudes of the time and the way mental health problems were treated.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Against Mindfulness

Eat, pray, love and proselytise?
Mindfulness, it gets everywhere. From mental health services, to schools and into the House of Commons  pupils, prisoners and politicians are taking a breath, holding that thought and just...noticing. It begins to feel like Woody Allen’s vision of 1970s New York, where everyone is in psychoanalysis. Mindfulness is not just a new form of treatment, it is a way of life for growing numbers of people.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

20 years on: Finally our myopic brain obsession is on the wane

Professor John Read, back in the UK after a long period away, is struck by some important changes in the way we view mental health problems

Has how we talk about mental health changed?
Illustration: Mend the Mind
It’s good to be back in the UK after twenty years in New Zealand – well, apart from the weather, the political, economic and spiritual state of England, and the endless phone calls to India to get someone from up the road to install a phone. Amid it all I’m writing my first ever blog! What an antiquated old prof.

As regards mental health research, the difference I notice most is how far people’s thinking has moved on from the old, simplistic, ‘blame-the-brain-for- everything-and-medicate’ idea. 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

A national scandal: psychological therapies for psychosis are helpful, but unavailable

Can talking therapies be a realistic response
to psychosis and schizophrenia?
For years, drugs were it. If you felt paranoid, heard voices or were diagnosed with schizophrenia, the only thing likely to be on offer was ‘antipsychotic’ medication.  Like all drugs, these have a number of different effects on our nervous system. Some of the effects can be helpful, for example calming us down or making our experiences less intense or distressing.   Others may be less desirable. The unwanted effects – euphemistically called ‘side’ effects – of these particular drugs can be seriously distressing.  For some people, they can be more disabling than the original problem.  Despite the drug industry hype, it’s been a fine balance for many people, and worrying evidence is now emerging that some drugs can cause serious and permanent problems such as brain shrinkage if taken long-term.