Friday, 1 March 2013

Chrys Muirhead - 'Stigma begins and ends with psychiatry'

I have been getting increasingly bothered about the label of schizophrenia recently.  Probably because I have become so open about it - starting with the publication of my book, and building slowly since. 

There was an article about me in the local paper last week, to publicise the writing group that I am starting for Rethink Mental Illness, and there is another this week.  This was done at my instigation, but to be honest it has freaked me out a bit - the thought that any and everybody in my local town might now think of me as a schizophrenic, without knowing anything much about the condition, or without having read my book. 

Ah well, what's done is done.  But this morning I came across a piece by Chrys Muirhead which put into words how I feel about the label, and about how unfair it is that having recovered from any symptoms of mental illness, this recovery is doomed to remain unacknowledged.

Chrys is a brilliant mental health activist - she writes as a correspondent for Mad in America, and I have been in touch with her before. So it was nice to read her thoughts chiming more or less exactly with mine.   What is worrying is that in Chrys' case, the stigma has also passed down through the generations - but I will cross that bridge if and when I come to it.  I still maintain that my kids will be okay as far as mental health goes - and that if they are not I will not resort to psychiatry to treat them.  I will take out a second mortgage to pay for a psychologist if I have to - or train to become one myself!

What particularly annoys me is the failure of otherwise well-meaning people to understand the lasting damage done by diagnosis.  I am sick of being told that a name change would detract from the seriousness of the condition, and such like... and sometimes I feel like I am beating my head against a brick wall, trying to educate people about the realities of mental health from a patient's perspective.

Sometimes it feels as though people just don't want to learn, just don't care whether people recover...

Anyway, apologies, I am a bit tired today, as my elder son was very poorly in the night.  And now the only GP appointment I have been able to get for him clashes with the first meeting of the new writing group.  My friend is going to get things started for  me, and I then have another friend coming to sit with my son when I get back from the doctor, so hopefully I will make it to the group at some point.

So, here's Chrys' article.  Please take a look:


  1. Hi Louise - I've just come upon this blog post and mention of me, and wanted to say that as a family we haven't allowed psychiatry's stigma to keep us back or to stop us recovering.

    I've never believed psychiatric labels so have taken charge of my own mental health after psychiatric treatment and recovered. My family have also recovered, in different ways, and go on with their lives, successfully despite psychiatry's labelling.

    Another point is that sometimes we can't choose not to engage with psychiatry eg if we suddenly have a psychosis then there is no option but to go through the psychiatric system. There are few private options. However it doesn't mean we should lose hope, rather we should stand with our family member in their journey through the psychiatric system and into recovery.

    I see psychosis as a transition, sometimes a spiritual happening, a journey from one place into another. The issue isn't with the psychosis but with the treatment, in my opinion. We need alternatives for working with people in distress so that there is no recourse to traumatic treatment and forcing psychiatric drugs into a person.

    All the best, Chrys

  2. Hi Chrys

    I think it's great that you are all doing well and I am glad that you and other members of your family don't feel stigmatised. I hate and resent the label, as well as the trauma of forced medication and so on. I suppose you learned not to believe in the label because you knew more about psychiatry than I ever did, before you became embroiled in it yourself.

    I hope that my children will benefit similarly. In fact, I am quite sure that my children won't suffer psychosis - I think that they would recognise the signs of mental ill health before it got anything like that serious. And I suppose I have my own 'journey' to thank for that - hopefully they will learn from my mistakes.

    I hope you don't mind me linking to your writing. I am not sure of the 'etiquette' around this - but if I am going to mention you on here again, I will let you know beforehand.

    Good to hear from you