My interest in mental health pre-dates the recent-and-ever-increasing proliferation of disquisitions from clinical/academic enterprises that have hit the media, all of which are doing their best to raise awareness of the ever-increasing global mental health crisis (e.g. the World Health Organisation has been been saying for several years that depression is going to be the number one global health challenge by 2020). Unfortunately, the national and international mental health crisis now serves as a ticket for potential work opportunities which all sorts of professionals in all sorts of sectors are desperate to get their hands on – for all sorts of reasons.
In my case it is entirely personal. Mental health challenges have touched my family on both my father’s and mother’s side, and at more than one generational level. I myself have suffered badly but it has worked out that I have become a NHS mental health service user – which I do not take for granted in any way! And in my other ‘familial’ relationships I have witnessed some huge struggles at very close quarters – and not all got the help they needed. Some did! But others were (and are) victims of a system that needs ‘critical friends’ as opposed to angry, impotent, inchoate and conceptually-and-clinically-limited opponents. I owe my positive state of mental health to music – if it had not been for some of those edgy and transformative gigs I played as a young tyro of jazz piano back in my twenties, I do not know where I would be.
The bigoted racial ideologies that inhere within the historical genesis of modern experimental psychology and the limited anthropological conceptions inherent within psychiatry have become a growing concern for more and more thinkers (inside and outside the professional world of ‘psych practice’). This does not mean that they have nothing to offer – but it does mean that they should be interrogated more rigorously by more constituencies than is currently the case. In certain ways it appears as if postmodernity has come and gone and the NHS never really noticed – but at the same time, the increasing awareness of the importance of ‘patient knowledge’ is beginning to have an impact.
The Church has not been very good at dealing with people suffering in this way, and the conspicuous denial on the part of many Christians of mental illness as an ontologically-extant reality bears no resemblance to (for example) the one enumerated by Tomas Szasz’s famous 1960 essay. But if you are – as I am – an African-born Caribbean male living in the UK, you are now in the demographic of those most likely to be in a jail cell or a mental health institution. I can no longer stand idly by – people are suffering – not just black men – and I am determined to do what I can to help and to support those who help them.
I am particularly interested in diagnostic practices and the conceptions of language which go into the necessary judgement for diagnosis. I am especially interested in how the psych disciplines (conceptually and clinically) handle service users who have a religious affiliation – because in some cases that will aid their recovery. In others, it will be the reason for their breakdown. This is why I myself need music as a necessary counterpoint to words and ideas – because as some intellectual historians have noted, philosophers can be a little on the unstable side even as they pull things apart which others might not have considered to shed light on thought itself. And bad theology and toxic religion have more capacity than many other things to send good people into psychiatric meltdown. I have seen it at first hand.
As such, I am now very interested in the philosophy of psychiatry – and specifically in the work being done by Tim Thornton at UCLan, Peter Zachar at Auburn University, Rachel Cooper at Lancaster University and Richard Gipps (with whom I hope to study in the future!) at the University of Oxford. Whether as an IMHA or by some other rubric, I intend to become someone who can use the gift of language to be a bona fide advocate for mental health sufferers and contribute to the mediation work going on between the NHS and other care-giving organisations (including the Church) to help make a substantive difference to the world that I am still alive and privileged to inhabit.