Scotland needs to create space for all voices

Chrys Muirhead recently wrote a blog post "appealing for survivor voices to be welcomed and respected in Scottish mental health arenas". I offered this short supportive reply:

Dear Chrys,
You are an inspiration to me and I know to many others.

It dismays me very much that you have had such a tough time over the last decade for speaking from the heart and putting your family first.

You have been a tireless friend and advocate for those who may find themselves disempowered (for whatever reason).

Your post returns my thoughts, once again, to why it should be like this in Scotland today? Are folk afraid to speak out despite high level strategies such as “See Me“, “Our Voice” and “Freedom to Speak Up“?

The history of Western approaches to mental health, predominantly medical, do provide some lessons. In June 2015, in a debate for ‘Battle of Ideas’,  Professor Simon Wessely made this very point when referring to Insulin-Coma therapy which was once used for Schizophrenia. Professor Wessely talks about this treatment for “schizophrenics” but states that the realisation of its harms was by the psychiatric establishment as one. This is absolutely incorrect. It was a junior doctor, Harold Bourne who bravely challenged his profession. He did so alone. He was ridiculed by the British Psychiatric establishment and had to leave Britain. It is disingenuous, at best, for Professor Wessely to represent this learning as a triumph of psychiatry:

Professor Sir Simon Wessely on Insulin Coma Therapy

This clip has interesting context for today, given this recent podcast by the Royal Society of Medicine which involves Prof Wessely and his wife Prof Clare Gerada:

This is my short film that explains the actual context of Insulin Coma Therapy:

Furor Therapeutica – Insulin Coma Therapy

If you scroll to the comments you will see one from Harold Bourne himself. I was touched to receive this from such an inspirational man who is now in his nineties and still exiled from Britain.

Back To Scotland. I would like to see enlightenment return – enlightenment that our nation was once understood for. This alongside a capacity to speak with hairt, passion and truth. Chrys, you have all these wonderful qualities.

So should we be worried? Is Scotland doing okay with mental health? I am of the view that the answer is no. Evidence would support my view.

1 in 7 Scots are now taking antidepressants, many doing so indefinitely. Yet suicide rates are rising. Scottish Government figures have established that 82% of those who took their lives were on at least an antidepressant, and in many cases, combined with other psychiatric drugs. An association like this does not make a causation, but it is nevertheless a matter of real concern.

It has been interesting following Petition PE1651: Prescribed drug dependence and withdrawal . In giving evidence to this petition, the Psychiatric lead for Scotland and the Minister for Mental Health, both seemed to cast doubt on the ‘credibility’ of the many submissions of harmful experiences related to prescribed medications such as antidepressants. Is this professional stigma? I am of the view that it is, and I find it concerning.

Scottish Government figures have also confirmed that those who take antipsychotics on a long term basis are at risk of dying 15 to 20 years earlier than those who are not.

Given all this, we might have hoped that “Realistic Medicine”, the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland’s initiative (which has my full support), would be making a difference. There is of course time yet, but I am dismayed that the Scottish Government has not made any meaningful action in terms of the potential for doctors and healthcare workers in Scotland to learn about prescribing not from science but from the makers of the drugs. As you know, I have campaigned for many years now for sunshine legislation in Scotland. Recently, the CEO of the Mental Welfare Commission stated that this (transparency of competing financial interests) “is not a priority” for his organisation. Yet, for the Scottish public, who were officially consulted on this 2 years ago, it is!

Chrys, I absolutely agree with you that when it comes to improving mental well-being that Scotland needs to create space for all voices. At the moment we seem to have anything but this.

aye Dr Peter J Gordon

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