By Hywel Davies
Hywel wrote this article for Asylum, The Magazine for Democratic Psychiatry in 1995.
Hywel argued in this article that what is needed in the world of mental health in Wales and England and, for that matter beyond is a peaceful revolution!
He explains what this means and what the obstacles are that need to be overcome.
Reproduced by kind permission of Asylum, where it originally appeared in Summer 1995
How can people with mental health problems begin to be understood and accepted in society?
Between 1991 and 1995 many words have been said and written in the British media and press about mental health issues. The closure of Victorian mental health hospitals. the desire of people to see community care work with success and the plight of people with mental health problems have been placed firmly in the public domain. Furthermore, psychology is now the second most popular subject in British universities taking into account the number of students that study the subject. When we add to this the fact that a very large percentage of people with mental health problems are living placid and at times fruitful lives in the community in the United Kingdom speaks volumes of the belief that good can triumph over evil. Even people as varied as Paul Merton, Spike Milligan, John Cleese and David Waddington, a former Tory Home Secretary, ave admitted to having a mental health problem at some stage of their lives. These are all good signs.
However there are also many negative indications that show there are many obstacles to overcome. Some of these I’ve illustrated below.
Changes to the social and political environment and their negative effect on mental health.
Firstly mental health problems, in my view have been compounded in Britain by what is called the “competitive culture”. On of the consequences of such culture is the fact it can have on a individual’s sense of emotional well-being as part of the family or community. The existence or threat of poverty, unemployment, homelessness or material deprivation ensure that a competitive culture based on selfishness and greed threatens the fabric of society itself. It has a malevolent effect on the mental health of millions. At best, the competitive culture creates stress; tab worst it creates violence. Either way mental health is effected.
Secondly since the arrival of the age of “Enlightenment”in the mid 18th century based in effect on Descartes’ statement “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think therefor I am”) reason has permeated the world of science. Within the parameters of science, schizophrenia, postnatal depression, schizophrenia, main depression, bulimia, anorexia nervosa and nervous breakdown for example are seen largely in this century as as biochemical events rather than as personal, emotional, spiritual and/or economic crisis. Mental illness is largely depicted as a biochemical aberration of nature that can be corrected by the use largely of chemistry.
Thirdly, within the parameters of politics, the emergence of communism as the embodiment of reason coupled with the “rational wishes of nation states toward self aggrandisement has now collapsed. It has been replaced by the “reason” of capitalist chaos in developed “society”. Present division inducing capitalism with its existing emphasis on market forces, the market place and the individual has virtually destroyed the social cohesiveness of the United Kingdom and arguably other Western European countries.
In this world of reason, schizophrenia is tantamount to and synonymous with madness and madness is a “normal” linguistic expression of subjugation and marginalisation. Anybody who is defined as having a mental health problem is liable to be defined as being mad at some stage of his or her life.
The problem with the normalisation of mental health matters in today’s society and the need for a revolution.
Linking the term normalisation and community care is wholly unreasonable since whatever is said, there is still in Wales and England and by implication beyond, a sense of stigma that surrounds a mental health problem. One can pursue normal activities such as going for a walk, eating, watching TV, listening to the radio and going for a drink. Yet as soon as one refers to a mental health problem in making an application for a job, then one’s chances of success are often severely limited. A mental health problem is therefore tantamount to unemployment. The normality of communal fear, conscious or subconscious, sometimes compounds the sense of alienation of the mental health problem itself. The common view of the schizophrenic, for example, is one of someone who Is liable to commit an act of violence against another person. However, the truth of the matter (and figures confirm this) is that the schizophrenic, the manic depressive or one with a depressive disability is more likely to injure himself or herself rather than another individual. The common perception is out of touch with reality.
Such a collection of circumstances underlines the need for a peaceful revolution in which the small become big and the marginalised become cornerstones of a new order in which courage, altruism and commitment are the principal songs of improvement. As part of this commitment to change, one must inevitably, within the context of civilised values, adhere to the basic concepts of language and culture. One must continue to struggle against the malpractice of lobotomy and electro-convulsive treatment on the mentally vulnerable. The interference of the brain with electricity (ECT) or metal (Psychosurgery) represent, need it be said, the abandonment of language and the abandonment of the individuality of culture. Lobotomies and ECT constitute the enemies of civilised communicative means. Millions of pounds are spent on chemical research, medication and hospitalisation in Wales and England every year on the maintenance of reason and normality in society. The revolving door syndrome guarantees that this is so and remains so in present circumstances for a considerable period of time. Science will never cure the irrationality of mental illness.
The failure of science and my search for alternative explanations.
As one first diagnosed as a schizophrenic by psychiatry in 1983, I was in effect told in due course that scientists were now approaching a chemical cure of the ‘illness and that it would happen in the next six or seven years or so. It has not yet happened, so it is time to think. It Is time for many of us to think.
In my assessment, if someone is defined with a severe mental health problem such as schizophrenia, then one should go to see an astrologist of experience and integrity. The astrologist will be able to define one’s personality and life pattern according to date, time and place of birth.
One may have guilt or physical arid/or emotional pain from a previous existence or existences. At a later stage, the individual may wish in time to be regressed into a previous life or lives by an expert in this field. The process may hurt. An accompanying friend may help. However, clarification may happen. Schizophrenia is merely a term. It may be caused by the fact that pain from a previous life is interfering with one’s present existence. The schizophrenic’s spirit did not wish to be born perhaps in terms of flesh and blood. In spite of this, physical life was given. This makes the schizophrenic a special person, although one possibly with a “weak psyche”. It could be that those who are defined as having manic depression have pain or guilt in regard to previous incarnation or incarnations. The idea that we have been here before is not so extraordinary. For the first five hundred years of Christianity, believers respected the idea of reincarnation. Similarly, it is true now to say that more than half the population believes in the concept of previous existences. Somehow the spirit survives and returns to the physical world in terms of flesh, blood and bone.
For such ideas to be fully accepted requires a change in perception in which a new order of reality is established through-out mainstream western society. This order of reality confirms the existence of God. It could be that many of those defined with schizophrenia and manic depression are saints or prophets in the sense that they have heard voices and seen visions. They may have what the saints of old referred to as “the gift of tears”.
It is wrong to build a civilisation on the words “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think therefor I am”). It is unacceptable to believe that a baby who is one second old has the ability to think to such an extent that it is able to substantiate its sense of being. It would be more correct to state “Sum ergot cognito (“I am therefore I think”). This transformation of perception involves a peaceful revolution. In a book by RD Laing a named “expert” in the world of psychiatry regarded the prophet Ezekiel of the Old Testament as a schizophrenic. In my assessment, a percentage of consultant psychiatrists in the western world of the twentieth century regard a percentage of the prophets and writers of The Old Testament as schizophrenic. Similarly. certain saints of the Catholic Church were: in the assessment of a certain percentage of twentieth century consultant psychiatrists, mentally ill since they heard voices and saw visions. The recent emergence of the terms “psychopathy” and “personality disorder” clouds the roots of issues. As things remain, “normalisation” in the context of community care is impossible. This is so because it is based on normality. Normality is transient. It is not a harbinger of truth. Normality is a variable commodity. Normality once believed that the sun revolved around the earth. Normality once believed that the earth was flat. Normality never won a significant medal for courage. Normality once laughed at mad” people in lunatic asylums on Sunday afternoons. That was the Victorian bourgeois word for “divertissement”.
A need for a new way of dealing with the “Mad”
What is needed is a fresh order of belief in which the holy fool is seen not to be a fool at all but as a person of God. It was St. Paul who wrote that “the foolishness of God is wiser then. men, the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Those words are as applicable now as they were then. I know someone defined by psychiatry as schizophrenic. He lives in a home and he is generally happy in that home, thanks to many people. He has lived there for more than three years. One evening he went for a walk. He was beaten up by a stranger. His teeth were smashed and he suffered severe bruising. He was innocent victim. He refused to prosecute. A week or two after the incident, he said “I was glad I was beaten up. I feel better for having been beaten up”. These were not the words of a schizophrenic. They were the words of a Christian who was trying to love his enemy. His words represented aspects of the spiritual inheritance of Christ.
The mental health voluntary sector has done well in Wales, EngIand and for that matter Europe in terms of raising public awareness of mental health issues in recent year. The more that mental health is in the public domain the less likely that people with mental health problems are to be verbally physically and emotionally abused by the general public in public places. Care is no longer interpreted by the majority as soppy do-gooding activity negating self. The time has arrived when the mental health voluntary sector has to be wary the emergence of a right-wing leader or faction in Europe. Fascism is the enemy of people with mental health problems. It kills them in time,. And rhythm. The problem of the political right constitutes the anathema of those with mental health problems. At best. the right sees the mentally ill as “mad, bad and sad” at worst, the right sees the mentally fill as genetic insults. The duty of the mental health voluntary sector in Europe is to combat this threat. We are at the beginning of an age, referred to by Pope John Paul II in his recent book as an age of “modern subjectivism”.
A peaceful revolution is needed.