Saturday 18 May 2013

Mental Health Awareness Week

How was it for you?

For me, it was great hearing mental health being so prominent in the mainstream media - if only we could make every week Mental Health Awareness Week!

Naturally I "got physical" but we won't go there in this post... Instead, here are some of my highlights from the past week:

1. John Humphrys on the Radio 4 Today programme, on Monday 13 May (listen here) 
The day before he won a Sony Radio Award, and the programme won Best Breakfast programme award (yes, you can just tell I wake up to this every day...) Anyway, he was speaking to Dr Lucy Johnstone, a consultant clinical psychologist. She referred to new research which says that there is no scientific evidence that psychiatric diagnoses such as schizophrenia and bipolar are useful... John tried describing schizophrenia as a disease, then a disorder... and then when Lucy challenged both I could just picture him throwing his hands in the air as he exclaimed -  well then he was struggling to find the vocabulary! Lucy said: "instead of asking what is wrong with you we should ask what has happened to you." Brilliant stuff!

2. Start the Week followed hot on John's heels with Music & the Mind, Monday 13 May
An excellent opportunity to hear two of the country's leading experts of the mind head to head. Richard Bentall is Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Liverpool, whilst Tom Burns is the Professor of Social Psychiatry at the University of Oxford. Tom is just about to publish Our Necessary Shadow, a defence of psychiatry, and according to the programme a direct response to Richard's Doctoring the Mind: why psychiatric treatments fail. One of the most shocking statistics Richard quoted was that 1 in 7 people in Scotland are taking anti-depressants according to a recent study... "well, it gets people out of the GP surgery in 6 minutes..." Listen to the programme and see what you think.

3. Do famous role models help or hinder? Tuesday 14 May
Mark Brown, who edits One in Four magazine (a quarterly magazine written by people with "mental health difficulties,") wrote an intriguing piece on the BBC website about this. Do stories of Winston Churchill and his famous black dog, or more recently, Stephen Fry's bipolar tales, inspire or deflate people experiencing their own mental distress? Check out the comments section for some really interesting observations.

4. The Big Mental Health debate, Thursday 16 May
MPs debated mental health for 4 whole hours in the House of Commons on Thursday. I watched a large chunk of it live online, and for those with stamina you can read through the debate word-for-word on Hansard here. Paul Burstow MP introduced the debate, saying "there can be no health without mental health", and there followed a very wide-ranging and in-depth debate. Issues covered included the value of lived experience, war veterans and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, dementia, the mental health of prisoners, and a detailed look at eating disorders. Some of the key themes which emerged were:
  • The need for crisis care for those experiencing mental distress to be on a par with services provided for those with physical needs.
  • The recognition that the voluntary sector has a huge role to play, and that the innovative and supportive approach of many groups is extremely successful. However, there is a cost involved - "we should not see community care as the cheap option."
The Minister of State for Care & Support, Norman Lamb, rounded off the debate by announcing the setting up of a working group to look at how to improve access and equality to mental health services. But perhaps the most valuable thing achieved on the day was that MPs debated mental health for the second time in a year. Charles Walker, one of the MPs who spoke of his own personal experience of mental distress at the June 2012 debate, said today: "In a sense, the lid has been lifted. People now feel much more confident speaking not only of their own mental health experiences, but of mental health in general, and the hopes, aspirations, fears and expectations of their constituents."

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