Friday, 22 May 2015

Politics, hearts and minds

In the aftermath of the election Maggie Gibbons muses on loss, acceptance and mindfulness without navel gazing

I initially wrote this blog for https://dayinthelifemh.org.uk/, a project which clusters together the experiences of people with mental health difficulties during four ordinary days over a year. I wrote this for 10 May 2015, sent it to a few people and it seemed to resonate. So I’ve decided to share it more widely, with a few tweaks. It is, I stress, a very personal take.

Mindfulness can help with much worse Ed
I’m tired after weeks of hard work. I stood as an election candidate locally and shared others’ sense of shock, anger and bewilderment at the scale of Labour’s defeat. Coincidentally, it’s also the day before Mental Health Awareness Week. This year the theme is mindfulness. There’s an interesting debate going on in Buddhist, mental health and other circles about the ‘McDonaldisation’ of mindfulness – is it becoming detached from its origins in Buddhist teachings and practice, sold as a panacea for wider social ills and discontents, exploited for commercial gain, a way of keeping workers compliant? And so I have been thinking politics, hearts and minds all day.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Cognitive impairment and voting: the capacity to be heard

Alexandra Richards

Who gets to Vote?
Image: Every Vote Counts
The upcoming election is an opportunity for the population to have their say in the future running of the country. We live in a democracy and the right to vote feels fundamental. But two thirds of all people in the UK with learning disabilities do not vote. Many may not even know that they are entitled to a vote. UK-based statistics are not available but research suggests that for individuals who have cognitive impairments of other causes (e.g dementia, brain injury), voting rates may be similarly low.

Though there are many jokes about the intellectual functioning of the average voter abound in the run-up to an election, the reality is that voting eligibility is not determined by intellectual ability. It appears though that this is not common knowledge. Many health and social care professionals (see here and here) are not fully aware that their clients are actually allowed to vote.  The presence of a cognitive impairment may make the process of voting challenging, but is this really sufficient reason to not support people from doing so? Assumptions about whether someone can and should vote may be informed by the ideas around their mental capacity.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Me, my brain and baked beans

Today, in the first in an occasional series of longer form pieces, Peter Kinderman reflects on the interaction between his genetic inheritance and his personal experience, and considers what they mean for his own mental health.  

‘Very nice dear, now, do you want 
baked beans on toast for breakfast?’ 
My wife once came with me on a Saturday morning visit to a psychiatric hospital. I was collecting data for my PhD, and she met me in the car park of a large psychiatric hospital after I’d conducted my interviews.  As I drove away, she stroked the back of my hand and suggested that I could relax my knuckle-whitening grip on the steering wheel. I really didn’t like leaving the residents behind. I wanted to rescue them.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Is supporting populist political parties a mental disorder?



John McGowan makes the case



Commitment? Or sign of illness?
It’s just over a month until the UK general election and many Brits seem to have lost trust in their traditional politicos. Whether it’s the UK Independence Party (UKIP) scapegoating the European Union and immigrants, a rise in nationalism (the Scottish National party), or  Russell Brand’s teenage anarchism, faith in facile, and sometimes ugly, solutions is on the march.  It’s a huge relief, therefore, to hear that the editors of the DSM (the main reference book for psychiatric classification), are considering a new category of disorder to cover this condition. Clearly many critical things have been said about the burgeoning amount of psychiatric diagnosis, here and elsewhere. However, I’ve just looked at the DSM draft entry (reproduced below), and think that this time, the American Psychiatric Association might really be onto something. In fact, all I can say is bring it on. 

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Can robots help care for us as we age?


 Tony Prescott


Where'd my robot go?
In fifteen years there will 50% more over 65s than there are today, and the proportion of older people in our society will continue to grow for some time after that.  The 2013 House of Lords report Ready for Ageing?   looked at the likely consequences of this on-going demographic shift and stated the problem plainly: “The UK population is ageing rapidly, but the Government and our society are woefully underprepared”. 

On 5th March politicians from all parties will appear at an event in London, organised by the Guardian newspaper, to explain their policies for addressing the ageing challenge.  I hope they offer some ambitious proposals: the status quo is not an option.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Mad, bad or maybe merely human



Is a mental health diagnosis
necessary to avoid prison?
Photo: Liam Quinn
The British Psychological Society’s report ‘Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia’ has challenged many commonly held beliefs about serious mental health problems. While the report has been widely welcomed, it has also prompted questions, particularly focusing on the report’s key recommendation that we move beyond seeing distress as a symptom of disease:



‘services should not insist that people accept any one framework of understanding, for example the idea that their problems are symptoms of an underlying illness’. 

This issue has been addressed on this site on a number of occasions and it’s clearly one that arouses strong feelings. The disease-model of modern psychiatry views emotional distress as the result of illnesses or disorders. Treating such problems in this way, as healthcare issues, is often seen as essential for ensuring that people get the help they need, and vital in avoiding inappropriate treatment.  In particular, some colleagues have suggested that viewing people as ‘mentally ill’ prevents them being blamed for actions for which they are not responsible. Rather than being seen as bad you can be mad (or more accurately sick) and more likely to be treated rather than simply punished.  Removing this protection (the argument continues) may even result in people being sent to prison inappropriately. These are clearly serious concerns and deserve careful consideration.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The allure of the new



Charlie Tyack

Going deep. But are we getting
to the roots of distress?
Photo: DARPA
As human beings, we are attuned to notice the special or different. We also tend to like simple answers to complex questions. Perhaps they make us feel more in control of the complicated environments we find ourselves in. I wondered about this during a recent trawl for ‘depression cures’ on news websites. Suggestions included 9-stone weight loss, magic mushrooms (complete with obligatory 3D brain picture to enhance credibility), laughing gas and ketamine. It seems that we are on the lookout for simple-sounding and miraculous cures for our ailments. After all, the prospect that things can be fixed ever faster and with less effort sounds great. With a bias towards the novel and apparently miraculous, I wonder how we can appraise new, glamorous or cutting edge treatments? Can we judge such shiny new arrivals fairly?

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.