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TRCH David Suchet

Nottingham People's Assembly Discussion on The Mental Health Crisis

28 November 16 words: Gav Squires

Health in the 21st Century was the programmed topic of the evening at Rough Trade. Unfortunately Harry Leslie Smith, a speaker born before the introduction of the NHS, is unwell and can't make it and so the discussion moves from a general look at health in the 21st century to a more detailed look at the mental health crisis with two main speakers...

First up is Julie Gosling, part of Making Waves, a local service-user network, which is challenging the emerging discourse around mental health.

John Lennon once said, "Our society is run by insane people for insane objectives".  We are made ill by the intolerable world in which we live. Everybody knows the meaning of distress – we should get in touch with our pain rather than pushing it down. Distress tells us about how bad life really is. Martin Luther King said, "Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted".

Neo-liberalism says that all the wrongs of society are our fault and that we have to pay for them. Neo-libernational citizens believe this and then do as they are told. Neuro-liberalism claims that the wrongs of society are all thought disorders and we need to be re-programmed. It's all about shifting the blame, socially engineering people, shaming, hate attacks and sanctions. Shame is fundamental to a lot of disorders. Worklessness and failure to recover are also now seen as mental illnesses. It's now seen as there is a permission to dehumanise – people with mental health issues are now ridiculed.

People need to be "fixed" to become the ideal of a good neo-liberal citizens. Mental health conditions are manufactured and even the good citizens who conform are under huge pressure to be approved of, happy and successful. The risk of failure is isolation, shame and depression.

Under neuro-liberalism, new mental health disorders require new cures. People are told to accept their lot and there are a lot of programmes where resilience is used as a way to accept oppression. Recovery is now seen as being able to work – you are either productive or you are not. There are now one-stop shops with psychiatrists in job centres and job coaches in GP surgeries. There are no longer any safe places.

Neo-liberalism is itself a mental disorder – no-one is willing to confront the reality of people's experiences. There are now sixty new government officers whose job is to investigate when people have had their benefits reinstated in the high court.

The second speaker is Dr Asha Mashru, a local consultant, who asks for topics from the audience.

Austerity, those cuts that are planned and palpable, are to blame for a lot of mental health problems. How many friends do you have? Research has shown that if you receive at least five cards on your birthday you won't have a relapse of your mental health issues. How you connect with people is so important. Family (society is set up in a certain way to make people think that their parents are wonderful), housing, relationships (the key here is that the good out-balances the bad), disability, injuries, pain, how you've grown up and your education all feed into people's mental health. Austerity cuts have had an impact, but it is an indirect impact.

There are seven different types of anti-psychotic medication including drugs for dementia, mood stabilisers, sedatives, anti-depressants and anti-ADHD drugs. Not everyone on anti-psychotic drugs has mental health issues and some of the prescribing is purely historical. One of the biggest problems with anti-psychotic medicines is their side effects, but there is a lot of evidence to show that they do help patients.

With time running out, Asha briefly covers off her last couple of topics.

  • Evidence in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy shows that relationship with the therapist is key.
  • Children today are under so much pressure – in Finland they have gotten rid of traditional subjects to try and alleviate this.
  • Community Treatment Orders only work if used correctly.
  • Between a quarter and a third of people with learning difficulties have epilepsy.

Rather than having a traditional Q&A session, contributions are welcomed from the audience. Mostly, these are well thought-out and argued. However, one audience member who points out that the NHS was founded when the country was at its poorest following the war and hence at the minute, we are just choosing to spend our money in the wrong place, which seemed like a fair point.

Someone followed it up by saying that the NHS had been built on funds earned from colonisation, which is a viewpoint that I didn't expect even the staunchest reader of The Socialist Worker to have. In general, there is a fear for the future of the NHS and this is why event such as this are so important to ensure that people keep talking about it and doing what we can to save it.

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