MQ is a new charity – yes, another one – that looks into mental health. I can’t quite make out why it’s MQ, but that’s modern marketing for you and they don’t have a contact page so I can’t ask them.
What is interesting in the post I have linked to is the one thing Alex doesn’t speak of. She suffered from Schiz – schizophrenia – and all she talks about are the voices, the circumstances, her friends and how she couldn’t cope. She didn’t mention brain chemistry once…
This is her tale: “I became completely disconnected from the person I had been before.”
Mental Health And The Psychiatrist.
The problem for the psychiatrist is that it’s not possible to extract a chemical that describes the circumstances she found herself in.
The very fact that they need to look at the chemistry of the brain tells me that they’re looking at the fence and not the field it encloses. Fences do not make themselves, any more than brain chemistry affects what we do as individuals. The chemistry is a reflection of who we are, our habits and our nature – and our shortcomings.
Mental health has such a stigma in our society, and I include European societies here too. That’s not my usual style because European societies are so different from the British; however they find mental health puzzling and disorientating. This is in part because their science is fixated on the brain, it is something they can see or touch; the problem is that the brain isn’t the problem.
Alex was sedated. It’s all that can be done to suppress the brain’s activities. The problem here is that sedatives are not selective: they sedate everything, and if the psychiatrist is lucky, they will sedate in the manner that meets the needs of the individual. One will work, and once found, can be used again. The challenge for Alex is to put these to good use and work her way out of this dependency. These drugs can only sedate, and in sedating make the patient less active and thereby less willing to deal with their problem… which means it takes even more strength to overcome.
Alex has this in bucketfuls.
Not that to her it looks this way, to her it has all the appurtenances of a wet flannel! For her, getting out of bed could be a struggle. But this is my point: getting out of bed for us is a trivial matter, for her it was the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. Just because it is something trivial for us does not mean that it was trivial for her, and we cannot judge her brain patterns by looking at ours.
There is something else at work here, something that doesn’t show on the brain scans or in the chemistry, and it doesn’t because it’s too subtle. It will be there, but the more obvious elements of the chemistry or the neuronal patterns will overshadow it. Psychiatrists don’t believe in chemistry because they’re looking for subtleties, because if they were, they’d not be looking at the chemistry, would they?
They would be looking to people like Alex who have been through this, asking her what her magical secret is. And all she can do – if she recognizes it at all – is to hold up her wet flannel. It’s not the concrete evidence that has the force and power to convince a professional psychiatrist with years of study behind them, is it? Soggy flannels don’t cut it in a world of expensive studies and complex machinery.
My point is that Alex has it. It’s not much, it will never be anything more than her soggy flannel. That’s not my point, the point is that she can hold it up to show them. The mere fact that it is there makes all the difference: it means she will have the determination to deal with a problem. There will be times she gives in, but that small scrap of towelling will be waiting for the moment when her energies return. Without it, the energies would be wasted, dissipated in climbing the wrong mountain.
A patient’s willingness to push from their side is as important as the care – and yes, for all I have said, it is care – that the staff can give. I will add that it is this one element I look for in a person whose mental health is outwardly healthy. That is a task that is much more subtle and can lead to many mistakes; a good friend of several years showed me that I was wrong, for I found the one point where he demonstrated to me that he was unwilling to deal with his challenges. The signs had been there all along, it was more that I had been unwilling to acknowledge them: it is tempting to believe that someone can change. Furthermore, there will be one who is willing to change once they have been shown that it is possible.
I will add that, to date, I have not met him or her.
My experience is that they either have it – as Alex clearly does – or they do not. It won’t stop me looking, for that is my own challenge! It has brought me three unique and special friends that I treasure beyond anything I can hold, one of whom I found only this week. My finding them, it sounds so pompous, doesn’t it? But then, can you find them? Would you know what to look for in a person who has this ‘special something’? Would you be able to tell if a young athlete, shopkeeper or librarian has it – or someone you’ve just met on the train?
I’ll tell you this, a psychiatrist won’t, a professor can’t. Because if they can, they’ll be as rare as Alex is herself, as willing to beat the boundaries of their own life as I am myself. They’ll be looking beyond the chemistry of the brain to look at what causes those changes to come about.
This is something I spoke of this in my post The Unthinking Biochemist.