Just recently I read a well thought out piece, ‘Suicide is Outside Me’ where the author, Dariusz Galasinski, speaks out against the current ‘It’s good to Talk’ rhetoric put forward by well meaning charities (including ours! Gulp! More in that in a bit), the NHS, and a whole host of celebrities, including Prince Harry.
Take a look – it’ll take you less than 5 minutes to read.
I’ve shared it about the place there’s been a huge response from people saying, ‘Thank God! At last, here’s a blog that resonates with me. Here’s a guy speaking my language!’
So it’s not good to talk?
I’ve got a tidal wave of personal evidence that tells me that talking only leads to pain…
My old boss who told me I was too nice to have borderline personality disorder…
The GP locum who suggested turning to God…
My ex-colleague, a specially trained social worker – a mental health officer, who did a passable impression of Munch’s ‘The Scream’ as she scurried off when I told her about my diagnosis…
My psychiatrist who declared, ‘You mustn’t see them – these are very sick people…’ when I suggested attending a peer support group with other folk with the stinky BPD diagnosis…
All while my mind was swamped with a confused mess of suicidal thoughts, urges to self harm, delusions, hallucinations and dissociation…
Throw ‘How are you?’ when people actually mean ‘hello’ into the mix and you end up with…er…fuck knows.
You’re right – people are a bunch of useless bastards.
Dariusz made a great point when he talked about the power of love and its effects on acting out all those negative thoughts and feelings.
But, for me anyway, there’s a vast grey area that fills the void between ‘It’s good to talk,’ and ‘Shut the fuck up.’
I’m not going to pretend I have the answers here – but I’ll navigate you through the rocky waters of what phrases like, ‘It’s good to talk,’ mean to me.
Who do you talk to?
‘Talk to your mental health professional‘
Sorry, my what?
I’m thinking of starting a campaign to stop calling mental health punters, ‘Service Users,’ because, most people with a lived experience of mental ill health haven’t seen a service – they’re becoming as rare as unicorns on skateboards.
By the time someone gets to the end of a two year waiting list, only to find that the service they thought they were going to walk into has an assessment process of it’s own – a final, unexpected hurdle – they’ll say anything…ANYTHING in their desperation to get that service – the thought of going back onto some other waiting list is too terrible to contemplate.
The professional – who is almost invariably a very well intentioned and principled individual – finds themselves in the role of gatekeeper. Something they and many of their colleagues had never foreseen. How can they fit this square peg punter into the round hole of the service?
What about all the other folk they know of backing up in this ridiculous blocked drain?
In their stress filled fugue, these same professionals can find themselves responding in bizarre and strange ways to the people in front of them – sometimes because of the system – sometimes because of their own stress – sometimes because they want to impart anything that resembles hope…sometimes a mixture of all 3…
‘You’re looking well…’
‘You’re asymptomatic, so it looks like you’re better…’
‘You’re too ill for our service…’
‘You’re too well…’
‘You’re too high functioning…’
‘We don’t provide a service for that…specific…condition…’
‘You’ve only got a touch of schizophrenia…’
‘Take it or leave it…that’s all we’ve got to offer…’
‘You’ve won a golden ticket…’ cue the Willie Wonka song…people leaping out of adjacent offices with high fives…strangers hugging you in the street…
And that’s the thing…there are bazillions of great folk out there to talk to – psychologists, psychiatrists, GP’s, nurses, occupational therapists, social workers, police officers, volunteers, carers, support workers…
Many of whom are struggling along in a culture where it’s common to see people with mental health problems as figures to be feared – as manipulative – as attention seeking – as taking up time that could be better spent on folk with ‘Real Problems’
It’s good to talk – but only with the right person or the right professional, in the right place at the right time – when you’re feeling resilient enough to deal with, well, any of the above…
It seems my rocky waters have turned into a minefield…
‘Talk to Friends and/ or Family’
‘How are you?’ This is a greeting where the questioner actually means ‘Hello’, even when that person is a colleague who knows you’ve been off work with some malady or other.
I’ve fallen for this on numerous occasions…you can often tell your reply’s too long when the recipient of the finer points of your diagnosis tries to crawl between your legs in a bid for escape.
‘How are You?’ sing songy voice, with a head tilt.
No matter what the none verbal cues are telling you here – this is not an invitation to punch that person in the face.
In all seriousness though – people can be terrified about doing or saying THE RIGHT THING!!!
Take a look at these films that show that all it takes is…
Read about it here
Both of these heartwarming stories demonstrate that you don’t need to be some kind of mental health professional or guru to help someone through a crisis by showing empathy – nor do you need to be prepared with a variety of perfectly formulated responses.
Bugger – you can see where I’m off to here – I’m so unbelievably transparent.
I think talking’s a good thing.
There – I’ve said it.
What did you expect? I’ve walked around a chunk of our lovely country talking to people about mental ill health.
The clue’s in the title – ‘Walk a Mile in My Shoes’
I think – and we’ve already established that I’m a duplicitous self serving bastard – that setting the scene – providing an environment where talking is er…optimised…is key here.
It’s lovely that Prince Harry sought counselling years after he lost his mum. It’s great that his brother supportively prodded him in that direction.
But let’s not pretend.
His isn’t the story of me or the thousands of people who need services NOW – TODAY!
I’m guessing – I’m not entirely sure – that when he said he needed counselling the help he needed appeared shortly afterwards.
This – however well meaning it was at the outset – is nothing short of victim blaming.
The public are hearing that the services are there – it’s just up to these silly mental ill health deniers to go and choose what service they want.
My reality – over a year on a waiting list – decades after being wrongly diagnosed – experiencing the terror of the ASSESSMENT after all that time. Would the service suit me? Would I suit the service?
And I was lucky! I got 2 great years of open ended group psychotherapy. A service that has mysteriously dematerialised as part of pseudo efficiency measures.
There are countless people who get a diagnosis and NO SERVICE and no promise of a service.
No waiting list…no anything.
It’s great to talk. But who is there to talk to?
I won’t patronise you with a shopping list of links that tell you about the cuts in mental health services. Any half arsed google search will deliver a cascade of disaster after disaster.
Don’t be fooled into thinking these are efficiency savings. When your car is more efficient it goes further for less. These cuts mean that the NHS, social care and third sector services don’t.
Walk a Mile in My Shoes
Our campaign with Walk a Mile in My Shoes tells folk it’s good to talk.
For those of you who don’t know us – this was born out of my UK coastal walk where I, a 50 something ex social worker with Borderline Personality Disorder, carrying more weight than he’d like, decided to walk around the edge of our lovely island – because that’s where many folk with mental health problems feel they are – on the edge – with no money, relying purely on the people I met for hospitality, while talking about mental ill health.
People have been fabulous – open, honest, ready to talk, and generous to a fault – this is still ongoing.
In 2015, SeeMe Scotland supported us to distil the obvious success of the coastal walk into a series of events
I’d noticed that although mental health punters and professionals both had a large presence on social media, there wasn’t a great deal of crossover between the groups.
I felt – still feel – that this is indicative of what it’s like in wider society – and that this was partly down to the stressful circumstances they find themselves in when they meet.
When the person with mental health problems goes to ask for services from their (mental) health professional both groups find themselves in a stressful situation where the professional jealously guards the meagre services they’ve been charged to gatekeep.
You can multiply that stress by 10 when the person with a mental health problem is sectioned – often because there has been no stitch in time…
This stress is the primordial soup that breeds stigma, discrimination and prejudice.
At our #LetsWalkAMile events we bring these two disparate groups together to share a social space – to literally walk a mile in each other’s shoes in a place where there is no hierarchy or labels.
And that’s it.
We don’t see #LetsWalkAMile as an end in itself – it’s the beginning of something. It’s a countermeasure where we start to combat some of the mess caused by a desperate lack of…anything for many.
Our hope is that the greater the effect we can have at the grassroots – the personal level, the more we can influence the cultures of mistrust and prejudice – and the greater the effect we have on these cultures, the greater the chance we’ll have at effecting real structural change.
It’s taken years for us to get into this mess – change won’t happen overnight – but I believe it will come – even if it is at a rate of one conversation at a time.
If we don’t talk, nothing will happen.
Walk a Mile
NB Here’s the response from Dariusz (above) It’s certainly worth a look
‘Just a brief comment. I think it is good to talk. I object to, as well the anonymous author I quoted, to the rhetoric “It’s OK to talk.”. These are very different messages. The first, which you ascribe to me, suggests that talking is or can be useful. I agree with it.
The other, which I actually object to, suggests that talking is easy, unproblematic, safe and risk-free. The message ignores all the stigma that comes with disclosure of distress and there is more literature on stigmatisation of distress/mental illness than any other social scientific inquiry into the subject. The message also suggests that people who do not talk somehow don’t know what they do.
So, yes, it’s good to talk, but let’s not pretend that it is OK to talk. It’s not. And one of the tasks is actually to make it OK to talk.’