That mighty if diverse handful of people who regularly read this blog might be mystified as to why it seems to have dried up. There has been a distinct lack of rain round here lately but, no, that 's not the reason. It is certainly the case that the end of the summer term is a hectic time when it comes to paper-work so that does take precedence but the overriding reason has been that I discovered I'd torn a retina. The upshot was that I really wanted to do as little as possible with my eyes for a few weeks. Anyway, enough. It received prompt treatment (full marks to the amazing NHS) and I've been told everything has healed up well. I've every reason to think that's that.
I've just read an interesting article by Will Self about psychiatry. In it, he highlights the lack of real science behind the claims "big pharma" make for their drugs and asserts that one day, current approaches to diagnosis and medication will be seen as no better than past, discredited (and often downright harmful) treatments. We've treated mental health issues medically over the years because we feel a social imperative to do so - not because we have real answers. Psychiatrists who do make a difference to people's lives do so not because of the diagnoses they make or the medications they prescribe but because they are skilled helpers.
I used to work in the helping professions and my job brought me into regular contact with psychiatry and, based on my own experience, I would go along with what Self has to say. I would, though, ask the question, if psychiatry is bunk then how come anti-psychiatry (as advocated by R.D. Laing) has not evolved into a rip-roaring success? I don't ask this as a rhetorical question but as a very real question, as I do not feel I know how to answer it.
It may be that problems tend to cross our paths like London buses -none for an age, then several at once- but, over the past year, I've found myself listening to a frightening number of people (including, even, a waitress in a coffee-shop I'd visited) who have to battle with the most seemingly intractable problems. (We certainly live in difficult times which, to put it mildly, doesn't help - over half those questioned in a poll recently said they were faced with financial problems that were out of control). Years ago I trained as a social worker. I don't think learning a bit of theory and a few skills makes one less "emotionally accident prone" - I've had my fair share of hard times and some of the people I've met in my work in the caring professions have had terrible problems of their own. But I do think there are some things I learnt when I trained which could be taught in school as part of the mainstream curriculum. We teach people how to treat colds and cuts without going to the doctor - so why not some basic emotional problem solving? Areas covered -I'm sure you can think of more- might include the following. If they are already covered in some way then all I can say is that they need to be given more emphasis:
1. How talking makes you feel good but if you have to talk about your problems every week it's merely a treatment, not a cure.
2. Apportioning blame and solving a problem are not the same thing. It's the latter we should be more interested in.
3. Looking out for vicious circles. (When you find one, ask yourself what part are you playing in it? Change the script - and break the circle).
4. (At the risk of sounding glib) the importance of being kind.
Regarding physical health, we are comparatively well-aware that if we ignore warning-signs, we might end up presenting the doctor with a barely-treatable advanced condition. However, we tend to pay scant attention to our mental health (and to that of those around us) until the problems become so serious that they seriously interfere with our functioning. We tend to think we should "pull ourselves together" - everyone else does, don't they? This alone makes it hardly surprising that mental health treatments are seen as ineffective, as too often they only begin once the condition is well-advanced. Add to this Will Self's well-founded doubts about the effectiveness of the diagnoses and treatments we're talking about and the need for effective basic education in problem-solving and emotional well-being could not be more apparent.
If there were not "first aiders" and first aid kits in every
workplace, if people were not aware of how to clean wounds and treat
pain and common bugs with Paracetamol, if there were no media campaigns urging
us to eat healthily, or spot the symptoms of serious conditions, then
surely we would be a lot less physically healthy in Britain and make
more demands on our health services. If we paid as much attention to our basic
mental health self help as we do to our basic physical health, we would surely
be happier on the whole and have less need to consult what Self amusingly calls the
"black dog walkers".
11 months ago