Narratives of mental health

Words and language are everything.  We make sense of everything by the stories we tell about it.  Whoever controls the story controls the thing the story is about.  Whoever defines what is real about anything defines the roles of those within the story and the likely events of their life.  Hope is not in life, but in what we make of life. 

There is a clash of narratives in mental health.  I met a psychologist recently who cautioned me about speaking too passionately about recovery.  He didnt want to give anyone false hope he said.  He really didnt like one post on the blog in particular.  He thought it was way too sentimental and out of touch with what is real.

This is that post:

On diagnosis

You are not the things

You are called

No matter how frequently

you are called them,

Or who calls

Or why they call.

You are not the things

you are like

regardless of how much

you are like them.

You are not

the things that measure you,

that place you

or limit you.

You are not

what you have,

how you look,

or how you feel.

You may be many things,

But no thing is all you are.

You are a gift

in a world needing gifts,

an opportunity,

a miracle,

in a world that often believes in neither.

You can care and be cared for,

Touch and be touched,

Laugh and cry,

Live and live for.

You can be alone or be with,

be brave or be scared.

Nothing is closed,

but nothing is free.

Close not your eyes

And reach to be all you can be.

His narrative confirms his power to label and define what is really real for the people he works with. It defines his role, his status, his importance. It is not simply a medical or scientific truth he tells as much as a social tale that legitimizes the power of one person over another “for their own good.”

With recent tragic events the battle for the control of mental health narratives has drastically increased in intensity. I have in a couple of recent posts referred to it as “the misguided search for maniacs.” It defines what is “really real” in terms that make coercion, control, and widespread fear of the “mentally ill” only common sense. It is a ticket back to the 1950s where mental health was a matter of where you locked people up forever.

Recovery is the growing narrative for the mental health system. It is nowhere close to a done deal though and the rhetoric of the “maniac hunters” would seek to reduce it to wishful thinking and make all human suffering a symptom of disease.


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