Some years ago, when I read that Recovery “is the new paradigm shift in mental health”, my reaction was fatalistic. During my time as a service user great new ideas have regularly swept across the face of mental health services: therapeutic communities, assertive outreach, cognitive behavioural therapy etc. There doesn’t seem to be much service users can do to stop this phenomenon even if we wanted to. It’s a bit like the weather. I actually do believe Recovery could mean fairer weather for service users but here are a few concerns:
I have never thought of my life in terms of “recovery”. I have talked to service users who say the same. I hope the enthusiasm for collecting and using “recovery narratives” will not come to mean everyone with a mental illness diagnosis will have to squeeze themselves into that framework for their life stories to have value.
There are contradictions within the Recovery “business”. One tension that strikes me in particular is between saying the recovery journey is unique and individual and then promoting key stages of recovery and posting 10 or 12 or 23 recovery outcomes on a website.
We already have Recovery as a vision, an orientation, a set of values, an approach, a programme, a plan. Perhaps we will end up with a Recovery kit. I think some of these are more desirable than others. I certainly feel we should not assume they are all the same thing and consider carefully how far we want to go with Recovery.
Since the 1980s, mental health care has become much more focused and managerial. Enthusiasm for written plans which predates Recovery in this country is one example of this. Planning is often helpful but can be inflexible and is not an end in itself. It may freeze some people up rather than energise them. I am concerned we do not reach a point where you can only be “a good service user” if you have a Wellness Recovery Action Plan in your portfolio.
Pat Deegan, an important influence on Recovery, has written: “Once recovery becomes systematised, you’ve got it wrong. Once it is reduced to a set of principles, it is wrong. It is a unique and individualised process.” That was in 1999. I wonder what she thinks about the way Recovery has developed since then? l I wonder what she thinks about the way Recovery has developed since then?
There is a pleasure madmen know is the opening line of the first poem in Peter Campbell's first poetry collection entitled Brown Linoleum Green Lawns but this phrase is not an idiosyncrasy or merely a clever literary sleight of hand with a line taken from John Dryden. Campbell is a mental health system survivor, writer and poet who has devoted his life and considerable talents to the pursuit of survivors' rights and justice. He is proud of his identity. “I am a survivor but I don't feel that this is an impairment”, he says.
In 2006 Melvyn Bragg presented Peter Campbell with the MIND Diamond Champion Award for the person who has done most for users of mental health services in England and Wales in the last 20 years. It is noteworthy that this award was made based on a survey of survivor/user opinion. It wasn't until the end of a 60 minute interview that I was able to extract this from him: a fact which would surprise no-one who knows him well. Shy, self effacing and highly intelligent, Peter Campbell has spent 25 years battling with the government and the mental health system for survivors' rights.
Raised in the Scottish Highlands, Campbell's early years were spent confronting mental distress. Long stays in hospital, which curtailed his academic career at Cambridge, also prevented him from maintaining continuous paid employment. Consequently, in 1980, he changed his life and began an involvement with mental health activism coupled with poetry and performance which has lasted until the present day. By the 1990s he was able to construct a professional life as a freelance writer, consultant and trainer.
In the 1980s he participated in CAPO (Campaign Against Psychiatric Oppression), was a member of Camden Mental Health Consortium, a co-founder of Survivors Speak Out in 1986 and a co-founder of Survivors' Poetry in 1991. He is a gifted poet and performer, writes extensively on mental health issues, and trains psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and other health professionals.
All his adult life Peter has been a mental health system survivor, cumulatively spending many years in asylums. He expresses deep anger, rooted in feelings of helplessness and the incompetence, indifference and callousness frequently displayed by psychiatrists and other health workers but has been able to convert his anger into constructive action.
Until 2004 he never considered himself a disabled person because he doesn't consider a mental health problem to be an impairment. Campbell readily concurs that society discriminates against people with mental health problems but for himself he refuses to accept that he has a mental illness and debates whether there is such a thing as mental illness.
Since 2004 Peter Campbell has become progressively deaf and uses a hearing aid, lip reading and induction loops (when they are available and in working order!) and now regards himself as a disabled person. “My deafness is a real impairment and I find immense difficulties making adjustments”, he says, then adds reflectively, “I don't feel part of the deaf community, and accept that there is an enormous chasm between those born deaf and those who acquire deafness in middle age”.
This artilce appears on the Disability on line website
See also From Little Acorns– The mental health service