Courtesy of the Bohemian Gallery Gippsland.
At this time of year we remember people who are experiencing mental health problems. This year I was drawn to a television program on the ABC, which was designed to lift awareness on mental health issues by explaining in detail what each diagnosis of a mental dysfunction entailed; and its treatment. The program was made in the United Kingdom by the BBC where the approach to mental health issues is far more open for discussion than here in Australia, but what struck me was the emphasis on pharmaceuticals and treatments such as magnetic cranial stimulation when there is little evidence of the long term effects of these treatments or whether they are anything more than a placebo. Moreover, where there is the possibility of risk, such as memory loss; there was no discussion at all.
It disturbs me that people experiencing mental health difficulties really have no options. Many are unemployed and on social benefits, which can be removed if recipients do not cooperate. The pharmaceutical remedies generate trillions of dollars for the big corporations, whist unless a person is rich it is almost impossible to get respite in a drug free facility under $30.000 dollars.
In the 1960s R.D. Laing, a psychoanalyst and psychiatrist, together with and his colleagues, developed the concept of the ‘safe haven’ for mental-health patients, without locks or any anti-psychotic drugs. Laing and his colleagues were the founders of the UK mental-health charity called ‘The Philadelphia Association’ and they set up a facility called ‘Kingsley Hall’ in Bromley-by-Bow in London’s East End; that was 50 years ago. The association, which exists today, challenges the accepted ways of understanding and treating mental and emotional suffering; key to that was, and still is, a commitment to conversation as a way of articulating what disturbs people.
All people are born with differences, but it is society that turns these differences into a mental illness. Economic progress made the treatment of mental illness an integral component in industrial capitalization. As the French philosopher Jacques Lacan noted, the human brain is structured by language and language (included in the arts) is the better form of changing obsessive and damaging behaviours. If money is to be spent on mental illness it needs to be linked to causation; poverty, abuse, trauma, competition anxiety and the rest with treatments that offer an understanding of causation.
In its favour, the program mentioned above did include some cognitive behavioural therapy, which works for some providing they have good levels of concentration.
Art therapy teaches mindfulness; which comes automatically when someone is being creative. That said, the program in question made the only link between art and madness from a very negative perspective. To wit, all artists are a ‘little manic’.