free range mental health


My topic tonight is free range mental health. I am not sure if what I am saying will be clear to most people.

This article is more than a little late. Mental Health Awareness Week in Australia was two weeks ago, and I felt so stressed out by it all that I kept putting off posting an entry. If you would prefer to listen to me read this entry, click here, but the page might take a bit of time to load - the recording is I think over 20 minutes, and the file is big. Also, I ad-libbed while recording it. Also.. anxiety and drunkenness add to the awkwardness. It is possible there are momemts here and there that are less awkward, but I think a lot more desensitization or exposure therapy would be indicated. I did the recording all in one take.

I made an effort to watch/listen to some of the tv and radio programs, specials and articles during Mental Health Awareness Week (referred to on ABC as Mental As..) to see if I could work out if Australia has a consistent or comprehensive approach regarding mental health.

My assessment: I think there is a serious problem here, although intentions are good. There is some attempt to reduce stigma and to encourage people to seek help and/or recognize signs and symptoms in their friends and loved ones, but I don't think existing resources match the demand, and I also think that because mental health is a complex subject and there are many different psychiatric and psychological approaches to it, for most people it will be hit or miss when it comes to finding the approach that is right for them.

In addition, Australian Identity is very much wrapped up in concepts like depending on oneself, not whingeing, not making excuses, toughing it out, etc. Much of what is expressed regarding mental health issues and seeking treatment seems likely to mess with people's heads. :) It's all contradictory and confusing, and it might be very difficult to sort out how to draw lines regarding who 'legitmately' needs help, or to what extent those who need help can be expected to persevere in seeking help if they hit various snags.

Near the start of the Safran show two weeks ago, Father Bob said something about how it is a good idea to send donations to the ABC, so that it might be possible to find better mental health solutions.. I suppose that is fairly tactful of him, but my own personal take is that the ABC is way too disorganized, and I could not send them a donation specifically for mental health research. I would not even trust them to know what to research. I would suggest that people send donations to Father Bob's organization.

ABC had a lot more specific programming for mental health week than SBS. There were radio shows, serious articles, guidelines, personal stories, comedy programs, documentaries, etc.

SBS: The message from Mental Health Awareness week is to encourage Australians to take ownership of their own mental health and wellbeing. (Reread what I wrote about Australian Identity above, and let me know if you are confused, or if you notice potential for confusion.)

And to look for signs and symptoms that others might not be doing so well.

I didn't see much else from SBS during the week, but in the end, I did come to think the timing of their 400 free movie thing, whether consciously chosen or not, worked well, and that this programming choice provided a welcome respite from the onslaught of mental health programming on ABC, and that maybe art, culture, etc, are part of a healthy prescription.

Meanwhile, Deborah Mailman could have been given more to do on Double J and elsewhere on ABC, and Triple J had a series of supershinyhappy simplistic announcements, telling their target audience (18-30 year olds) to eat more fruit and vegetables, cut out or cut back on caffeine and alcohol (it's probably taken for granted that young people know they should avoid illicit drugs), get some exercise, and make sure they don't isolate themselves. The people who are going to relate to these announcements are probably not going need them, but might see them as encouragement to do a checklist when coming into contact with friends who are struggling, which then increases the possibility that more people are spreading around memes that some individuals aren't trying hard enough, or are causing their own mental illness. One of the problems with these announcements is that there is no look at serious social issues, for instance, that LGBTI individuals are more likely to have suicidal thoughts or suffer depression, as are Indigenous Australians, those in rural areas, etc. And it is insulting to tell a person with an eating disorder to eat more fruit and vegetables - it shows no understanding of the complexity of the social and psychological factors involved in having an eating disorder. It's also simplistic to tell a person to develop interests or not isolate themselves when you aren't aware of what they've actually tried, or what they are up against.

Throughout Mental Health Awareness Week, Lifeline was advertised everywhere, and the phone number and links to the website were included with every online article that had even a hint of something suicidal or related to depression.

I did a quick recheck of the Lifeline website, and I guess again I see all of these messages for donations, and I can't shut out the Lifeline Brand Concept. On one of the ABC programs, it did seem to me that a couple of the Lifeline volunteers they focused on seemed sensitive and understanding.

My main issue is that for many people who call Lifeline, there won't be relevant resources. But, yes, if there are sensitive, caring phone operators, even that one thing is important, or could potentially be meaningful for those who feel alone, even if they don't manage to find any other help. It could be that talking for a while to someone who seems human gives them a bit of hope to carry on. But as for someone like me.. that is more complicated, and I know it would be futile for me to call Lifeline.

Thoughts on a couple of the programs I watched:

Diaries of a Broken Mind - is that really a good choice of title? If psychiatry is 'science', isn't it best to hold off on human judgments that might be fallible? What if the reactions of the so-called 'broken-minded' to the modern world are actually found to be 'healthier' than those of others who can cope? Or to represent a hypersensitivity to hypocrisy, or something?

This whole thing sort of plays like a fashion or music video for the 'mentally ill'. Are the minds 'broken', or do they represent chemicals, artistic and philosophical leanings that don't fit into the mainstream, with (potential) conscientious objectors programmed to say 'I am ill, I could be so much more'.

Editing is one thing, and I can understand about trying to engage an audience, especially if you want to dispell stereotypes about what it is to be 'mentally ill'.. but.. here it is seeming like 'mentally ill' is becoming another 'fashion choice'.

I'm not sure that's entirely fair. But most of the young people interviewed here are attractive, and yet there is no real assessment about what it means to be attractive in the modern world, or how that affects various psychological conditions. It's like an elephant in the room. What does stand out is the reason we keep hearing that it's best to catch these conditions while the sufferers are still young. These young people still seem full of potential, whereas older, long-term psych patients tend to come across much differently. Which brings me to..

Changing Minds - The Inside Story - quite frankly, this program scared the crap out of me. I do realize that some people have quite disturbing behaviours or ways of communicating, and I do admit I only saw the third of three episodes, but it seemed to me that the approach here had more to do with medication and ECT than anything else, and if anything was going wrong (ie, people's hair was messier, their behaviour was less socially acceptable), it was usually because they weren't taking their meds, even if their meds had resulted in obesity and it might be understandable they'd want to stop. I do understand that it is likely very frustrating having to deal with certain people in reality, but what I find completely shocking is that there doesn't really seem to be much scientific curiosity going on here, about other possible approaches, or about how certain conditions are formed, or about who each person might have wanted to be, what dreams they had for themselves. It all seems to be 'drugs can level them out, we don't really need to do more than that.' What I mean is that it is about social acceptability, about making people more docile, not helping them to develop or flourish as individuals, or to even try to find out what 'quality of life' might mean to each of them, what it is acceptable for them to lose, and if they are as enthusiastic about the 'gains' as their doctors.

I think this is getting out of control, and I am losing energy for trying to explain it all. I put in a certain amount of effort trying to watch as many ABC programs as I could during the week on the theme, but I was mostly distressed by what I saw. I don't see any place, person or organization I could contact if I felt like I needed to talk to someone. Out of everything, including radio programs, tv programs, documentaries, comedy, etc, the things I found actually improved my mood rather than causing distress were: The Sunday Night Safran show, and the free movies on SBS.

Granted that I have not come into contact with a large sample size, but my impression, in talking to Australians dealing with mental illness is that approaches are scattered and inconsistent throughout the country, and that if a person really wants to be involved in, wants to participate actively in their own treatment, they might run up against some serious obstacles. In order to qualify for help, they might have to consent to a medication they don't consent to, or treatment they do not think will be helpful for them, while other treatments aren't available in their area, etc, and the links between different layers of support (social, familial, personal, work, school, medical, transportation, etc) aren't in sync. If anything, programs like Changing Minds keep alive the idea that meds or ECT are the key to the situation, and there is nothing remotely resembling a holistic or even human approach which considers what it means to flourish as an individual rather than become socially docile. Also, medicare and what it covers might cause some patients to choose therapies they can afford, and not what might be indicated in individual cases - or, they might not be able to afford to stay in therapy as long as is needed, and so the only alternative is to drug them.

One thing I don't like about the whole system is that there are situations in which it is considered acceptable to administer ECT or drugs without a patient's consent. I also don't like that medication is seen as the most important tactic, when in many cases, people might not have developed well enough or have acquired enough resources to rebel against what they are supposed to do or want in life. Is it really a good thing to numb people out, such that they think less, and have less chance to grow as individuals or engage their critical thinking skills?

There is an issue I want to bring up regarding Sunday Night Safran on Mental Health Awareness Week.. there was a segment with a psychiatric nurse, and while she sounded nice, and likely to be compassionate or one of the more compassionate ones in person, I felt a bit uneasy that she laughed at some people's religious delusions.. She might have been nervous to be speaking on radio, which I do understand, but as a person who has been on psych wards and who is reluctant to have contact with the mental health professions, I know there are many people who would not feel 'safe' around professionals who might laugh at their condition, discuss them with people they know, or on public radio. So.. when trying to encourage people to seek help, this is something to watch out for. It's one thing to have a sense of humour about oneself, but when it comes to the stigma surrounding mental illness, the lines can get blurred.

Many people who are delusional might not care what anyone says about them, or might not be conscious enough to really be aware of it. However, there are conditions in which people are hypersensitive to being made fun of, and these ones will be affected.

On another tangent.. I have often seen doctors, nurses and relatives of schizophrenics exhibit an attitude toward others (or a camera) which is something like: 'see what I have to put up with, schizophrenics are no picnic'. It's like the schizophrenic is in the room, but is left out of the conversation.

What if schizophrenics (and those with other conditions) are actually taking in a lot of info, even if their consciousness or conscious communication isn't linear? They might actually know what a 'burden' they are, on some level, and this might affect how their symptoms present or develop over time.

I am drunk again as I write this entry (this is about the fourth night I've tried to write this and given up, and tonight I didn't have pizza, but vegetarian lasagna) and am trying to stay conscious and trying to figure out if tonight I can figure out a course of action. I've tried so many times. Obviously it is not as simple as staying up all night, saying the things that most people don't say, resolving to never go back to something or other.

The rituals are not enough, rituals like red lips, choosing/preparing a special meal. For an example, check out drunken pizza

I can feel that I have less energy, that I don't try as hard. I keep going, I keep trying new things, yes, but.. how long can I keep going? There is no new input, nothing that causes me to question my conclusions regarding my life in a serious or in depth way. I keep wanting what I want, I keep having to withdraw from those who do not want what I want and from the feeling that occurs when in contact with those who don't really know what it's like not to want any more days. No, I still don't think any relationship could change that.

I don't know what else to do or say. I guess I could link voice recordings. I have been trying to do some lately, but usually delete them the next day because I can't stand to hear them. But, I have been trying to figure out if it could ever be possible to speak as easily as I can type. If I can desensitize myself to the anxiety of speaking, enough. So far it is not looking so good..

and in order to post a recording at all, I will probably have to be very drunk, first, to record it, and second, to post it, and then I will probably have to avoid looking at (or listening to) this entry ever again.

I am pretty sure I have mentioned this before, but I will restate it: From the ages of 16-24, I was hospitalized 3 times, and the longest time was a 2 month stay. I have not been hospitalized for 24 years, I haven't taken any medication in that time, and haven't been under any kind of psych care. I think I possess a kind of consciousness, awareness, and personal presence that would not match up with the stereotypes out there of people who have been dealing with mental illness for a very long time, are socially isolated, have no social status, 'official' career or employment, etc. I realize how difficult it is to be objective about myself, but I think it's possible that my mind is still basically intact.

When people become more docile, are we sure it's the meds, or is it possible there is a 'beaten down' effect that occurs when people recognize the futility in dealing with authority figures?

I think it might be good to add a few things, including my observations that I might be less angry or distressed, partly because I have more resources and options now. I don't cut, or self-harm, I don't engage in b/p behaviour. I do drink, but there is some element of control to it in that I will try to prepare a meal with it, I can often wait a few days, etc, but I suppose one positive is that I get more out of it, and the fun effects last considerably longer than with b/p behaviour. I have more things to do now when I have nothing to do. I take whatever steps I can toward 'independence', however small. I have possums. I am much better now, through years of practice, at identifying and articulating my thoughts and feelings to people rather than letting them build up into obsessions or resentments. My website remains a source of support and personal self- expression, and in addition I do a lot of writing offline - I find that if I keep writing long enough, I can achieve a feeling of calm and balance, and I trust this process. But, the drinking is extreme, and I do also feel extremely lonely and isolated. However, I do not really see any 'help' that would be likely to help me. Medication will not make my life more meaningful, will not provide me with an acknowledgement that I am seen as an individual. It looks to me like the best thing for me is to be grateful that my circumstances are such that I do not have to deal with some of the horrors others have to face regarding the system, and that I have more options, or at least the chance for alternatives in life, than many do.

And in conclusion I would like to sum it all up thusly:

Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me.


->exile on meme st: a diary