Reforming the Mental Health System

I wrote this while away in Port Lincoln caravan park after a Mental Health conference on system reform and service integration.

White collar communities have a lot to learn about being human and connection and having networks. Blue collar communities and street families have a lot to teach us. Yes, they have issues of their own, particularly violence, but they do not have the same issues. They are, in a sense, complementary. We can learn from each other.

I’m here in a caravan park and there are children playing on bikes. Couples walk on the beach. People give each other directions. The woman at the roadhouse is bringing me some vegetables from her home so I can eat them for dinner. The lady in reception is collecting for a raffle for her injured friend. I don’t lock the van when I go to the amenities block. I don’t pack away the stove when I go to sleep. People look out for each other. I’m at much less risk of violence here than the social workers sitting by the door, with their panic button in case their angry, alienated clients lash out. No one has anyone trapped in a room.

We talk about bringing the Recovery Model to services and I think there’s merit to that idea. But if we’re going to be ethical and sincere about this, we need to preserve the power balance of the true model. That is, each service, each organisation, each individual service provider should be free to walk away. We cannot make them recovery, and nor should we. It does them the same violence they do to patients when they think they know best and try to force recovery on people.

The truth is, we are not so different. As blind as they have been to the abuses of patients/consumers, and as unthinking as they have been in wielding the vast power we see so clearly and they are so unaware of – they are a mirror to us.

We must be different.

We must support and liberate them, so they learn to support and liberate consumers. We must trust they are doing their best. We must listen and learn the causes of their pain and bizarre behaviour. We must learn to see the methods in their madness. We must love them deeply, and help them to see the possibilities for themselves they cannot see right now. We must hold hope for them when they lose it. We must let them be free to make mistakes, and be gracious when they do, and help them to learn from them.

It is not easy.

But, we are asking this from them – this courage, this fierce love, this walk into a strange, unknown, new world. How can we ask them for things we refuse to do ourselves? How can they give what they do not have? Model what they have not experienced? How can we demand freedom from those who are likewise yolked?

Love is the only answer.

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