Raged against the machine.
Found some more stuff to rage against.
Told my friends – real, virtual and otherwise.
Went to bed, sound in the knowledge that…
That I saved the world?
That I took sides?
That I took the right side?
That I showed if you’re not for us, you’re against us…?
My aim, as a mental health campaigner, a label that I’m becoming accustomed to wearing, is complicated and manifold.
I want to hear people’s stories regarding their mental health – ill and otherwise.
I want to share those stories to raise awareness in people who aren’t aware, and perhaps who I think need to be aware, of them.
Raising awareness is all well and good, but, unless it affects some manner of change, it’s just griping.
Don’t get me wrong, griping is a pretty fabulous pastime. Without griping, both you and I know, the world would be an emptier place.
Griping is great for showing just whose side you’re on.
‘Did you see what THEY did..?’
The folk on your side pat you on the back, while the others come up with a plethora of reasons as to why your view isn’t valid – often not related to the issue in hand.
And you do exactly the same to them.
Your average mental health campaigner is undergoing a bit of a Blitzkrieg at the moment. It feels that we are being attacked from all sides…there are casualties all over the place, but, because we have limited resources, we have to choose our battles carefully.
If we don’t do that…well, to carry on the bombardment metaphor, we don’t recognise when we’ve been hit with friendly fire.
Take the very recent example of the Robert Gordon University’s use of silicon heads in the training of their mental health nurses.
It put me in mind of that ancient gag where a guy talks about all the good things he’s done in his life…’do they call me Tam the charity worker? No. Tam the carpenter? No. Tam the champion swimmer? No. I just shagged one sheep, and now they call me…’
Take a look here for a rough review on the mental health nursing course
Apart from low post graduate pay, which, sadly isn’t under the control of academics, the whole student experience looks pretty good to the casual observer.
They use placements, they use academic teaching, with lecturers experienced in all kinds of mental health stuff, innovative and otherwise, they use simulation – like every other University up and down the country, they use role play.
And, where this particular bit of shit started hitting the fan, they used prosthetic silicon masks with the aim to enhance that student experience.
Not to take the piss.
Not to stigmatise.
But to make things better for students.
One would assume the aim was to have the knock on effect of enhancing the patient experience.
A friend of mine pointed out
‘I don’t know anyone who had a mental health crisis because of masks but I know plenty who had one cause of badly trained staff.’
I made some noise because, not through any malice on the part of the staff at the university, I found the masks stigmatising.
I found them ugly, and it was my concern they fitted every movie, media stereotype of what the general population think your loony folk look like.
Given the technology, I felt it didn’t have to be that way.
Surely though, that’s one of the roles of a university – to push the boundaries – to innovate, to be constantly developing their teaching methods to be the best they can be?
So – in summary – good mental health nurse course – bad use of rubber heads – the end…
If only it were that simple.
The ripples have caused more ripples…
The media have leapt on this like flies round…er…wasps around a jam sandwich on a summers day.
We have a baddie! Worse still, we have a baddie that should have known better.
We have goodies – the vulnerable victims of, er, what exactly? And we have the Knights in shining armour fighting their cause.
So, what has the public at large learned from this?
That there have been disproportionate swingeing cuts in already strapped mental health services?
That every year 6000 people in the UK take their own lives – an increase of approximately 1000 a year during the austerity years?
That suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 35 in the UK?
That 30 thousand people with mental health problems have died of untreated physical ailments – probably down to some manner of discrimination at the point where care should have begun?
That since the year 2000, over 2000 people with mental health problems have died whilst being detained by the police in the UK?
We know that Thorpe Park was heavily lobbied because they named one of their rides ‘The Asylum’.
We know that the chairman of Asda coughed up £20 thousand to MIND by way of an apology for selling ‘Mental Patient’ costumes…a story that, quite remarkably, knocked the deaths of 30 thousand people story (above) out of the headlines.
We know that some company or other was slated for printing T-Shirts with ‘Keep Calm and take Valium’ emblazoned on them.
There seems to be a pattern forming.
The media – whoever, whatever that is – seems to be keen to get all over the clear goodie – baddie story.
Unless that baddie happens to be the government…
Perhaps the link between austerity measures/ cuts in services/ disproportionate benefit sanctioning of people with mental health problems and the increase in mental maladies and suicides is a little vague for them?
So what role should your mental health campaigner play?
Well, as we’ve seen time and again, conversation seems to grind to a halt when sides are polarised.
Often where there is scope for both sides to wander into the grey area that is the no man’s land that lies between them, nobody is willing to take that first step because of…
Fear and prejudice on both sides.
Once people have been labelled ‘The Victims’ it’s almost impossible to see them in terms of folk who hold prejudices.
How do you imagine Andy Clarke – the CEO of Asda at the time of the Halloween debacle?
The managers at Thorpe Park?
The folk who run the mental health nursing course at Robert Gordon University?
Personally, I believe my role is to facilitate communication…to engage with folk who might not know much about the issues surrounding many folk with mental health problems, and to learn from others…to get people talking – and to keep them talking.
I’m reluctant to say we should pick our battles, because they are so many and varied…
But instead of using the word ‘battles’, perhaps we should be using, ‘conversations’.
If I say, ‘I’m right and your wrong,’ there’s very little room for manoeuvre.
If, however, I remove the person from the behaviour (wankspeak, I know, but bear with me), I can say, ‘I respect you, but I think what you did was wrong for these reasons…’ this can keep meaningful dialogue going.
Engaged with as many folk as I could from a variety of backgrounds…
Taught them and learned something in equal measures…
Talked about the importance of listening and consiliation…
Saved the world…
Walk a Mile