We need brave people to speak out

Chartered Psychologist Angela Gilchrist reports from the launch of ‘Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia’

This is a critical moment in mental health history: never have so many decision makers wanted things to change. That’s according to the National Clinical Director for Mental Health, Dr Geraldine Strathdee, speaking last week at the launch of ‘Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia', a report from the British Psychological Society’s Division of Clinical Psychology.

The event, described by many as 'ground-breaking and momentous', was remarkable in that it brought together numerous and disparate voices in the mental health community including psychiatrists, psychologists, policy makers, third sector workers and people with lived experience of psychosis. Among the guests were the Shadow Minister for Public Health and Mental Health, Luciana Berger; and the founder and principal theorist for the Hearing Voices Movement, Professor Marius Romme.

Dr Strathdee said mental health issues would not go forward unless more voices were heard. 'We need government to act to do things about mental health. We need brave people to speak out. We need the voice of every psychological therapist in the room to get louder', Dr Strathdee said. She added that there were 'prevailing myths' about mental health that needed to be countered. These myths included the idea that people were born with mental health problems, that there were no treatments for them and that they were always long-term conditions.

The Editor of the report, Clinical Psychologist Anne Cooke, said the document was written as an attempt to 'change society's approach to psychosis and to end 'compulsory illness thinking'.

Service users who had lived experience of psychosis contributed a quarter of the 175 pages of the report, which sets out to demystify psychotic experiences in everyday language. Speaking loudly to the psychological and social aspects of psychotic experiences, the crux of the document is that thinking of psychosis as an illness is not the only way to view these phenomena, said Ms Cooke.

DCP UK Chair, Richard Pemberton, said the publication of the report was an important step for the profession. 'It feels as if things are shifting - there is an opportunity here and we need to grab it', he said.

One of the most moving testimonies of the day came from survivor and activist, Jacqui Dillon, who spoke in mythic terms of her own struggle with psychosis and subsequent healing. Other speakers, including Psychiatric survivor and Clinical Psychologist Dr Rufus May, pointed to the meanings in psychosis and how these need to be understood and integrated. Service users and 'voice hearers' such as Rai Waddingham from ISPS UK, Mind in Camden and the Hearing Voices Network, spoke of their recovery journeys and how they had learned to live alongside voices and use these as a resource for their lives.

Leading psychosis researcher, Professor Richard Bentall, gave the audience an engaging 'whistle stop tour' through 30 years of psychosis research in psychology. At the heart of psychosis research was the discovery that there were no such genes as schizophrenia genes, and neither were the so called 'mental illnesses' separate or discrete entities. He said what was most important to service users was hope and self-esteem, adding that it was a pity that the media showed little interest in the social determinants of mental illness.

The chair of the Schizophrenia Commission and a fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Professor Sir Robin Murray, said it was time for Clinical Psychologists to do more than 'look after their own patch'. He had 'no doubt' that psychological approaches such as CBT benefitted patients. This approach had altered the way in which psychiatrists thought about psychosis, he said. Professor Murray added that he would have been proud if the RCP had produced the report.

- Find out more about the report, media coverage and other reaction to it in our Research Digest ‘link feast’.  

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