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Notes from SICK! Festival...

I was invited to be part of the SICK! Festival Thematic Advisory group and recently attended a meeting at The Manchester Museum with a large group of academics, theatre producers/ makers and representatives of Arts and Health organisations.

The purpose of the thematic Advisory Group was to help shape the focus and content of SICK! Festival in 2017. With broad provocations on themes of identity and selfhood the day was full of engaged and passionate discussion focusing on art and philosophical issues encompassing what could broadly be construed as ‘mental health’ within a plethora of conversations about life, art and everything between. Key to the discussion were questions around ethnicity, class, sexuality and gender.

Identities are not coherent, fixed or singular but constantly in negotiation internally and externally. How does the question of ‘who am I?’ impact on the dynamic relationship between the individual and their social context?

I introduced myself as Disabled by Psychiatry since for me the battle with the unthinking bogus Science that calls itself Psychiatry is central to my life and identity. Mental Health and the Medical Model are inextricably bound together, yet within the Survivors Movement there is a lack of connection or understanding of the Social Model of Disability. There is a question not only of how useful a disabled identity is but how authentic we are in defining ourselves in that or any other way? 

I treasure my experience of visual and auditory hallucinations including the distressing aspects of my experience. I resent that experience being labelled as a ‘mental illness’. I have been more disturbed by what I’ve seen Psychiatry do to people with its drugs and intimidatory tactics than the problem of dealing with difficult mental states. But without a coherent broader narrative based on peoples’ lived experience a more scientific understanding of how mental health and consciousness are linked becomes impossible.

Ian Parker, academic, psychoanalyst, and editor talked about a Hearing Voices network meeting where the relationship with an external consciousness was described in positive ways by Survivors.

For a long time, the Survivor Movement has been advocating that what what people experiencing altered states need, is time, space and understanding, rather than the host of problems that come with medication. Psychiatry must needs present itself as an authority but Psychiatry itself is prone to what academic Jackie Stacy talked about as the gap between authenticity and reality.

In my mind there seems to be an oppositional thing happening in that the more peoples’ identities are medicalised the more limits are placed on the will towards transcending the constraints of our identities and understanding of who we are. We can only find ourselves - the personhood or selfhood that arises through touching our core self - by testing our identities through relationship; the fragmented selves that knit together and overlap as we learn to develop the multiplicity of worlds that we move between.

US Journalist Robert Whitaker (author of 'Mad in America' and ‘Anatomy of an Epidemic’) writes using psychiatry's own statistics on how dangerous and ineffective neuroleptic drugs are. The statistics for dependancy and low age expectancy for those who get caught up in the system are criminal.

As identities evolve in our increasingly global and digitally-manufactured society so do the kinds of scripts we learn or are imposed on us, which locate our identity with our mood. Daily Life Ltd’s Roving Diagnostic Unit has excelled in applying psychiatric labels to everyday situations: apply the ridiculous to the mundane and you come up with a park bench with an anxiety disorder.

This is a personal response with a few reflections on what came out of the day, which was a far more wide-ranging discussion than I’ve attempted to write about here. It was thought-provoking and challenging as indeed Sick! Festival has proved itself to be over the last 3 years. 

Sick! Festival kicks off with a series of SICK! Lab events in Manchester from 9-12 March 2016, with a fuller festival planned for 2017.

Posted by Colin Hambrook, 17 November 2015

Last modified by Colin Hambrook, 17 November 2015