On and Beyond Psychiatric Diagnosis

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I attended the Critical Voices Network Ireland (CVNI) two-day Conference at University College Cork on 12 & 13 November 2014.

The CVNI is a network for people from diverse backgrounds (people with self- experience, carers, professionals, academics and interested others) which provides an opportunity to share, discuss and debate critical perspectives on and beyond recovery.

The first keynote speaker of the Conference Olga Runciman, chair of the Danish Hearing Voices Network, called herself Denmark’s first mad psychologist and got us thinking about what she called the ‘phenomenon of voice hearing’ –

This was a very interesting presentation and certainly challenged some of my thinking.

The next keynote ‘The Value of Labelling’ by Stuart Neilson, a lecturer who writes about autism and brought his personal perspective into the presentation, spoke for the value of diagnosis. During his lifetime he had suffered badly, been called names and excluded because of his difficulties in communicating well with others. He also spoke about a report ‘The Not Guilty Verdict’ which perhaps explained why people found having a diagnosis helpful. The downside of diagnosis he said however ‘was in who was applying the label and how accurate it was’.

Towards the end of the session Stuart said “We called ourselves freaks in the 60’s – we felt empowered in doing so”. 

Once again the presentation brought up some interesting and new concepts but what stuck most with me was the idea that people choosing a description for themselves, if they think they will help them, is completely different from being labelled by another.

Pat BrackenConsultant Psychiatrist and Clinical Director of West Cork Mental Health Services kicked off day two presenting ‘Critical Thought as a strong and Positive Force for Mental Health. He said he wanted to open spaces for new ideas and agendas in mental health and believed critical psychiatry was the way forward for this. His finishing comments summed up very succinctly what I think he was saying overall;

There should be more power in the lives of ordinary people so they are enabled to critically think – having the spaces to do so. Critical thinking is indeed a positive force in psychiatry.

The conference included many more fabulous speaker, workshops and experiences of learning and understanding which I am still pondering away on – presentations are available here

Meanings of Madness

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PLUS recently attended the ‘Meanings of Madness’ conference in Cork, Ireland.

MEANINGS OF MADNESS; CRITICAL AND CREATIVE PERSPECTIVES

University College Cork, November 2013

The purpose of this conference organised by the Catherine MCauley School of Nursing and Midwifery was to find better ways of helping people who experience madness – ‘to find creative approaches to engaging and responding to madness’.  Throughout the two days I listened to some excellent speakers and participated in several very worthwhile workshops:  One of the keynote speakers Doug Ross presenting ‘Transformational Crisis’ (how difficult states of mind can be a vehicle for transformation and self- discovery) said he preferred to think in terms of himself being in full rapture with the world rather than in recovery. He talked about ‘assaults on the self’ and listed loss, violence, bullying, failing exams all happening at once as ‘multiple hits’. He asked how do we find the safe places and spoke about the healing power of communities. His talk was both hard hitting and poignant at the same time. He ended with a beautiful poem by Canadian poet Alden Nowlen which touched many of us lucky enough to be there.

The first workshop I took part in, facilitated by Liam MacGabhann a lecturer at Dublin City University and community activist, illustrated Open Dialogue (Seikkula et al 2006). It provided a glimpse into how open dialogue as a way of relating within madness is not so out of reach as some may think. The Open Dialogue approach is both a philosophical/theoretical approach to people experiencing a mental health crisis and their families/networks, and a system of care, developed in Western Lapland in Finland over the last 25-30 years  (www.OpenDialogueApproach.co.uk).

 In another  workshop ‘Madness as Defined by Einstein’ Liz Brosnan  presented a novel framework, Gaventa’s (2006) power cube to examine the politics of service-user involvement.  This was an excellent learning experience. I quickly realised the barriers to authentic involvement were the same in Ireland. I scribbled lots of notes and absorbed new ways PLUS could improve service user involvement in P&K.

 It came as no surprise to me that the person’s story and the power behind it featured regularly throughout the conference –  in fact I heard many people’s stories whilst I was in Ireland – not only at the conference. I spoke with taxi drivers, hotel staff, and tourists who also had inspiring life stories, some of overcoming adversity. My listening skills were well polished up during the trip.

Particularly memorable was one elderly Irish lady campaigner, a very powerful speaker when sharing what happened to her almost thirty years ago in the Irish psychiatric system. Her story was met with disbelief and shock, especially by the young students listening closely.  Unsurprising to me I sensed a great need for people to say what happened to them and that’s what was great about the conference – it offered a safe place to do that.

The whole experience  left an imprint on me. It increased my knowledge and understanding, practically providing resources and new approaches to help people who experience madness. Most valuable of all was the shared humanity and inspiration that I gained personally. I am extremely grateful at being able to attend this conference.

Self Directed Support Scotland

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SDSS have just released new videos on self-directed support. These videos give more information on SDS and how to access it and the frequently asked questions on the subject. If you would like more information on your local area please visit the SDS Information and Support services database.