The Negativity Naughty Step

At the Mental Health Crisis Summit the other weekend Denise McKenna talked about her work in the unrecovery movement, built on her experience of being diagnosed as ‘too political’.


As is often the case, the very best people qualified to lead are body blocked from institutional power because it is an uncomfortable experience to be in the face of lived experience combined with a fully digested political position. It trumps power points and policy every time and implies a pulping-policy for every report Paul Farmer has ever written. 


The politics of mental health are, agreeably, a challenge to nicely defined wellbeing policies and performance data. But at the summit, in a room filled with the families of young people let down by the mental health system, hardened politicised mental health workers and the next generation of activists, it made me wonder whether in the current climate being too political is even possible.


The social model of mental health is a bitter pill, because it lays open the prospect of never feeling the comfort of blame and shame at the individual human’s door and suggests that in a very deep sense we’re all responsible for creating the hostile culture we live in (If you want to hear about the social model in the words of the wonderful Peter Beresford click here).


Although the anti-medicalisation movement is growing fast and hard, this social model is resisted so heavily in our society and workplaces because it raises a challenge to the demand for self-management over actual change. Personal behavioural over social responsibility. Positive unthinking over actual thought.  


It also challenges the heroic model of social change where typically young committed doctors can motivate resources for services. This, sadly, is no-longer a credible position to take because a growing majority of people using and working in services do not think that more money would be well spent. The IAPT model and the downgrading of services means that we are about to be on the wrong side of history if we support a political position of business as usual. As the rise in suicide figures in the UK indicates, to continue to tell each other such fairy stories of health is terminal. 


It’s hard to understand how we prepare ourselves for the political landscape that we now live in. In a culture where compliance is mainstream, where ‘Brexit related psychosis’ has become a psychiatric term, those of us of a social persuasion need to prepare well.


Although the distress we now find ourselves in isn’t solved by therapy, there’s something about this tradition of care that offers us some ways of organising in these complex times. The acceptance of uncertainty, the ability to sit with silence, to use words carefully. The ability to acknowledge and bear distress without trying to erase it through well meaning mental health campaigns and dangerous disclosures at work.


If you’re feeling a bit outnumbered by the positive people this #worldmentalhealthday2019, you could listen to some thoughtful interviews by Clare Slaney from PCSR with three people who are involved in the politics of mental health and why they took a stand. 


To listen to Surviving work talk about the Uberization of mental health and organising in the sector go here 


Andrew Samuels a psychotherapist and co-founder of PCSR talks about what underlay attempts to regulate psychotherapy and counselling and what purposes regulation serve here


Erin Stevens is a therapist based in West Yorkshire and one of the leading voices behind increasing opposition to the Scope of Practice and Education Project here


To read a report about the development of a political campaign for mental health that is being developed out of the Mental Health Crisis Summit go here


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