If you are having a look for the first time at this blog about Annie Chapman’s
One Woman Walking: Hikoi for a Big reTHiNK of Mental Healthcare Choices
ONE WOMAN WALKING FOR WISER CHOICES: A HIKOI TO BRING ABOUT CHANGE & CHOICE IN MENTAL HEALTH CARE
by Annie Chapman (approx October 2012)
WHERE/WHEN AM I WALKING?
The length of the North Island, from Cape Reinga to Wellington, following the Te Araroa trail, from December 2012 – April 2013
WHY AM I WALKING?
The aim of the Hikoi is to raise awareness about the need for change and choice in the treatment of people diagnosed with mental illness in New Zealand. Any extra funds raised over and above the expenses of the walk will be donated to Hearing Voices NZ, an organisation which provides general support, information and facilitated support groups for people who experience hearing voices.
WHY DO WE NEED CHANGE?
Over the past two and a half years, in the role of a support worker for a Mental Health Trust I have witnessed the outcomes of a medical-model approach to mental illness. These include:
- life-long patterns of dependence and disempowerment
- life-threatening side-effects of many psychiatric medications
- limited effectiveness and withdrawal problems
- lack of accurate information re the side-effects for consumers of psychiatric medication
I have also had brought to my attention
- continued use of compulsory electro-convulsive therapy
- increased prescribing of psychiatric drugs to children
Hugh Norris (Director of Policy and Development in the Mental Health Foundation), and Gary Platz (Strategic Advisor for Wellink Trust) are both supportive of the Hikoi and its aims.
‘I enthusiastically support Annie in taking this bold stand to improve the dignity and quality of life of people experiencing mental illness’ Hugh Norriss
WHAT ARE WISER, MORE RESPECTFUL CHOICES?
Research suggests that better long-term outcomes can be achieved by offering people a wider range of positive, empowering alternatives, with or without short-term or lower dose medication as part of treatment. Examples are:
- Effective personal advocacy
- Access to psychotherapeutic help
- Tailored advice regarding diet and exercise
- Facilitated peer groups
- Complementary therapies and practices
- Advice and support to safely reduce or come off medications
ARE THESE MORE EXPENSIVE?
In the short-term, some of these options may look expensive. But if you consider the long-term consequences and costs involved for people:
- living on a benefit for the rest of their life
- requiring high doses of government-subsidized medication
- needing constant health-monitoring because of these drugs
- the health bill involved in dealing with the physical side-effects,
it is time our society did some serious analysis. Even in financial terms, the cost-effectiveness of the current medical model over the long term appears dubious at best. And that is without considering the enormous human costs.
I NEED YOUR SUPPORT TO UNDERTAKE THIS HIKOI
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
To achieve the aims of the Hikoi I need:
1) FOOD, ACCOMODATION, FUNDS:
Help with food and accommodation for the 5 month walk. If you can give a one-off payment or a weekly automatic payment for the duration of the walk (e.g. $10 per week)
Any extra money raised will be donated to the Hearing voices Network Aotearoa NZ www.hearingvoices.org.nz
my bank account details: 38-9006-0205358-03 Ann Chapman- Hikoi
2) TRANSPORT Between Te ARAROA TRAIL
Transport between the Te Araroa trail and population centres as I pass through your district, for meeting and media activity
3) HELP WITH MEDIA AND MEETINGS IN YOUR TOWN
To organize meetings in your town, and media contacts to raise awareness for this campaign. This is essential to the effectiveness of the Hikoi. Please contact me if you, or anyone you know has skills or contacts in this domain and is willing to help
4) SAFE ACCOMODATION IN YOUR AREA
A bed for the night when I am in your area.
5) WALK WITH ME
To walk with me for whichever parts of the walk you can to show your support and help raise awareness for this cause.
Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are able to help with any of the above.
6) FACEBOOK PAGE
Like my Facebook page and follow my progress at:
MY EXPERIENCES WORKING IN THE MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM
For the past two and a half years I have been employed part-time as a mental health support worker in “transition” accommodation in Porirua. I was initially shocked and increasingly angered and saddened by the high doses of medication given to the clients I work with.
What I saw is a sort of a catch 22. People are given high doses of anti-psychotic drugs which in the short term appear “to work” by knocking the worst of the distressing symptoms on the head, but at high dosages they also take away everything else as well!! As one person ruefully put it “they took away my disease but they ruined my life”.
It would be hard to imagine a system better designed to magnify damaging feelings of isolation and disempowerment than the system we have at present. Isolation and disempowerment are clearly not helpful for someone experiencing a mental health crisis.
At no stage of the process are clients offered any alternative. Drugs are the only treatment on offer.
ALTERNATIVES TO THE MEDICAL MODEL
The reliance on psychiatric drugs alone is hard to understand given the impressive record of various centres and programmes overseas. E.g. In the U.S. Soteria houses (these were developed by a U.S. Psychiatrist Lauren Mosher) where drugs were either avoided or minimally used; The Freedom Center in USA, where yoga and acupuncture along with Hearing Voices groups are offered; In Finland for many years now, open dialogue therapy with either minimal or no medication has yielded remarkable results with psychosis. In many third world countries where drugs are used much less frequently in the treatment of psychosis, the recovery rates are much better than in the West.
THE HIKOI VISION
A sudden vision arose for me at the end of last year to walk the length of the North Island to raise awareness of these issues.
This is not a personal quest as such. In Joanna Macy’s words “When a change wants to happen, it looks for people to act through. How do we know when a change wants to happen? We feel the want inside us”
It feels less of a lonesome quest when I see it in this light and makes it easier for me to reach out for the support I need to make it happen.
I have since been put in touch with the well-researched writings of Robert Whitaker which give so much solid and clear support for what I intuited from day one of my time as a support worker. There have been other well-researched books published recently making a similarly strong case for the need of a complete overhaul to the manner of prescribing psychiatric drugs in western countries: “ Pharmageddon” by David Healy; “The Myth of the Chemical Cure” by Joanna Moncrieff, “Healing Schizophrenia: Using
Medication Wisely” by John Watkins.
For more detailed info and research evidence:
1. Robert Whitaker
2. David Healy
3. Soteria Houses (Lauren Mosher)
4. John Watkins
5. A paper on psychiatric Medication and their effects on Children
6. World Health Organisation report on Schizophrenia
7. Coming off Psychiatric drugs safely guide by the Freedom Center and the Icarus Project- This is a particularly clear, balanced and easy to read summary of the complex issues and dilemmas involved in the field of mental health treatment-highly recommended reading
8. Orthomolecular medicine
9. Acupuncture for Schizophrenia
10. International Hearing Voices Support organization
11. Hearing Voices Network Aotearoa NZ
12. Information about the Finnish approach called Open Dialogue
13. Psychiatric screening for Preschoolers in NZ.
14. Scientific review showing ECT to be ineffective
THE MEDICAL MODEL
COMPULSORY TREATMENT ORDERS: Most people with more severe forms of mental illness are offered no choice in their treatment and are placed under compulsory treatment orders that consist mainly of high doses of medications.
DEPENDENCE AND DESPAIR: The medical model of mental illness “You are a person with a brain disease and we have the drugs to fix it”, engenders a great sense of dependency and/or despair and resentment, and usually a life-long pattern of disempowerment, distrust and feigned compliance to authority. It doesn’t in any way encourage a person to come into a “healing relationship” with their experiences. It also means that people are often very resistant to getting help when they need it, because of a reluctance to turn themselves over to a process that feels so inherently disrespectful. (Even if dressed in modern PC language).
SIDE EFFECTS: Not only do their powerful sedating effects impact severely on a person’s quality of life on all parameters, but many medications at high dosages have a host of life-threatening side-effects i.e. lowered cognitive abilities, compacted bowel, reduced white blood cells, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, nil sex drive, tardive dyskinesia, neuroleptic malignant syndrome, and in many cases include a reduced life span. Some act by disrupting normal brain chemistry, so that higher brain functions are damaged.Surely, in the case of drugs which have such severe side-effects it would be wiser to be much more cautious about the prescribing of them in the first place.
WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS: Another aspect of this disruption to the brain chemistry is the tendency for a severe relapse in symptoms when people discontinue the drugs, especially when stopped abruptly. The severity of the withdrawal (often portrayed as a return of the ‘disease’) is used as a reason to keep people on them, on ever-increasing doses, often for life. I would never recommend that anyone taking psychiatric drugs withdraws from them abruptly. And that even reducing dosages gradually be done with the sort of careful consideration, support, and suggestions provided on the Freedom center site (link above).
LIMITED EFFECTIVENESS: Evidence also suggests that medication (in voice hearers for example) is only effective in 33% of those taking it. Many people are forced to continue taking medication and contend with the side effects, despite there being little positive results. If they were a cure, surely we should be seeing increased recovery rates from medication. Where in fact a recent World health organization study, showed higher recovery rates for schizophrenia in 3rd world countries where medications were unaffordable. And as Robert Whitaker points out, the rates of Mental Disability in the United States have increased exponentially since the advent of “anti-psychotic” drugs. I also acknowledge that some people do find psychiatric medications helpful, and this is obviously their right if freely chosen, but given the extremely serious side-effects, they should never be the first-line or only form of treatment offered and should always have the risks clearly explained at an early stage of treatment.
INCREASED PRESCRIPTIONS OF DRUGS FOR CHILDREN: There is now increasing pressure to prescribe these medications to children, without knowing the effects of such medications on a growing brain and emotional faculties, and despite there being no research evidence that they are effective for children.
ELECTRO- CONVULSIVE THERAPY: Did you know that this type of treatment is still taking place, and is not always voluntary? If you are a psychiatric patient, you could be forced by a compulsory treatment order to undergo this therapy.
- Caring and empowering personal advocacy from the first contact with any service, including information about side-effects of drugs prescribed.
- Various psychotherapeutic models leading to greater self-awareness, increased self-esteem, better stress management and self-empowerment, such as counselling, open dialogue therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapies. See above links re Soteria houses (3), John Watkins (4) and Finnish Open dialogue (12)
- ·Support to find a life-enhancing diet and exercise regime. There is a lot of research regarding the use of Nutrition in treating mental illness e.g. orthomolecular medicine. (7) And a huge evidence base of the importance of exercise for mental well-being (1) click on tab for solutions
- Support and help with reducing medication safely once symptoms abate, such as is carried out by the Freedom center in USA. (7)
- Facilitated and/or peer-led support groups (e.g. Hearing Voices Network NZ)(10)
- Research and development into what those being treated truly find effective.
- Co-operative treatment, rather than compulsory treatments. If the compulsory treatments currently being used were truly safe and effective, surely people would not have to be forced to use them.
- There is growing evidence-based research on other modalities that are effective for treating mental health disorders, such as yoga and mindfulness meditation, acupuncture, cranial osteopathy, vitamin and mineral analysis and treatments.
None of these are “magic bullets”, but there is huge healing potential in a person being supported in a wide range of these options.
Many of us involved in the field believe that the use of psychiatric medications on children under 12 years of age should be banned.
“Not only is there is no solid science behind viewing mental disorders as simple malfunctions of biology “corrected” by drugs, but many people with even the most severe diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar go on to recover completely without medication. The experiences that get labeled mental disorders are not “incurable” or always “lifelong:” they are more mysterious and unpredictable. For some people psychiatric drugs are helpful tools that change consciousness in useful ways, but they are not medically necessary treatments for illness. Once you acknowledge this, more options become thinkable. And the potential risks of psychiatric drugs come under greater scrutiny, because they are very serious: including chronic illness, mental impairment, dependency, worse psychiatric symptoms, and even risk of early death.”
The Harm Reduction Guide to Coming of Psychiatric drugs Published by Icarus Project and the Freedom Center. Page 10
With thanks to Adrienne Giacon of Hearing Voices NZ Network for providing some of this information and extra research links and to Rachel Tobin, Fergus Wheeler and Linda Bremford for editing help
One Woman Walking
Hikoi mobile: 022 1739954