Psychiatry is a broad church and in the same moment of potential inhumane treatment, so humanity and compassion can shine. When seeking to facilitate new approaches, embrace the experiences of an individual rather than seeking to 'treat', 'stop' or 'get rid of' the experience, people can be labeled oppositional , anti [psychiatry] and many other labels. Labels tell only a smidgen of the potential for human growth and compassion that can be shared between individuals and communities when we embrace the unique and shared qualities of one another, rather than label an other (person) as different in some way.
The following is intended to give an example of the inhumane and the humane ways in which a person experienced psychiatry. Telling only one side of the story would leave a distortion and could easily lead to a label that told only part of a story. Ending inhumane treatment of an individuals in distress with extreme states is so important.
'For the record I was not detained at the time of this incident:
One night I was put in a room that had padded walls, no window and a heavy door. It was the middle of the night when it happened, and I was left in virtual darkness - I was in the padded call in an acute psychiatric ward. I felt no compassion, understanding or acceptance as a human being: it was inhumane. Regardless of diagnosis, medication and repeated hospital admissions, that had failed to 'manage' or ‘treat’ my illness, I found myself continuing to hear voices, be frightened and hopeless as to how I could be removed from the terror.
Throwing me into a room and being told no one would have contact with me until the perpetrator of such inhumane treatment decided I had learned from the 'lesson' (of being secluded): It was vulgar and brutal. Although inconsistent with my understanding of healing of a persons soul/mind, this treatment of a person in distress was under the label of psychiatric care.
It was an 'unqualified' health care assistant named Brett who come into that ‘cell’ on the hour, every hour ( I know because he told me he would come in each hour if he could do so). Each hour he asked how I was and said something like ‘ I am just wanting you to know I am here. Please don’t tell anyone I came and spoke to you, we are not supposed to. I just wanted to let you now I am here’. Brett's actions were full of compassion and facilitated under the name of psychiatry.
These two sides of the same event show how the setting, different members of the same team and ultimately actions under the name of psychiatry can be so different. How important not to label, but to give an account of both sides of the experience.
‘Failed’ suicide attempts, significant weight gain (nearly 60kg), multiple side effects of the 4 psychotropic drugs that I was given all at once, continued voices and no sense of a future became the journey and a sense of hopelessness as a perspective in my mind.
I was fortunate to eventually find myself in a therapeutic housing community. I lived with 7 other ‘psychotic’ people that were 'not responding to treatment’. What did I find: no one was concerned to tell others that their ‘behavior’ was unacceptable, a place free of diagnostic labeling of our experience as a community – we all felt ‘mad’, voices and extreme states a plenty, ‘behavior’ that was challenging was met in a space of tolerance and even compassion, acceptance and understanding between the residents (not always of course!). A nurse running the place, a community psychiatrist that worked with us – and would eventually reduce and cease my anti-psychotic medication despite me still having ‘symptoms’ contributed to an alternative experience within the mental health system. The community held a space that facilitated a journey exposing different sides of the experience of mental illness, people trying to support one another and potential for new experiences and understanding - with or without extreme states. This beautiful housing community was an experience also under the name of psychiatry.
Often, facilitating ‘new’ approaches can be seen as anti - something. It is not anti (psychiatry) to show compassion, acceptance, understanding, acknowledge meaning, value the personal spirit of a person in defining, making sense and meaning and walking on their own journey. Hearing voices and other recovery ideas are seen by some to be anti (psychiatry); an unpalatable perception if the goal is to support a person to experience personal power, identity and full citizenship in the society through the process of healing of their soul. Psychiatry can be a very wonderful space if the individuals and systems acting out the process seek to walk alongside those that have reached out for help from distress: when it is facilitated consistently with its 19th century meaning ‘healing of the soul or mind’ (!!)
- mid 19th century: from Greek psukhē ‘soul, mind’ + iatreia ‘healing’ (from iatros ‘healer’).’
To work with people in new ways and accept that the courage and insight /understanding of the person in an extreme state is the best guide and reflection on how we might be in relation to the other person. It can be a beautiful space for the individual and community to embrace extreme states, and can provide something akin to a sense of healing. Telling the whole story gives a clearer understanding of the journey, allowing the narrative to become the label: a label provided by the voice of the person experiencing an extreme state and avoiding the need for others to place labels that tell only part of the story.