This programme and some of the reaction to it on my new best friend, twitter, compelled me to write my first proper blog post.
First things first, I really like Jon Richardson, he’s a funny man and seems a genuinely nice fella. I thought he was kind and compassionate in his interviews and insightful in his reflections. I thought the programme was done well. There were lots of tweets from people about the programme and how Jon was representing people well.
Some points stand out for me and they will be recurrent themes in my posts, I’m sure of that.
The biggest one is this: Jon did not have a mental illness.
He did not meet criteria.
I have enormous issues with the concept of diagnosis which will become clearer over the posts but as a concept, ‘you’re ill or not’ just doesn’t sit well with me. How many people watching the programme will have said ‘I do that’. I did. I have a compulsion to scratch both knees if I scratch one. I do it loads, expecially when I’m nervous. To say I have traits of OCD is too simplistic and indeed wrong. If you take that approach we could all have traits of all kinds of problems, for example, could you say yes to any of these?:
– Do you find it difficult to control worry, do you have muscle tension or are you irritable?
– Do you have grossly disorganised behaviour?
– Do you think you’ve been decieved by a spouse or lover? or someone of ‘higher status’ is in love with you?
-Do you prefer solitary activities? Do you have little interest in having sexual experiences with another person?
If so then you could consider yourself to have traits of (in order): Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Schizophrenia, Delusional Disorder and finally Schizoid Personality Disorder.
Before anyone who does experience these difficulties throws insults at me I am in no way underplaying the severity of these difficulties. I am however saying that by saying that these ‘traits’ are parts of mental illness we are pathologising life.
I have experienced all these at times. It’s too simplistic to say that I have ‘traits’ of mental illness. What is also clear is that people with difficulties with their well-being are not fundamentally different to people who do not, they just have more of certain difficulties (often a combination of many) which occur in the general population.
I don’t think this approach helps the stigma or helps people understand how sometimes, difficulties can be massively overwhelming and completely take over people’s lives. But they are understandable.
Jon Richardson met people with OCD and saw how much it affected them. he also recognised that when he was living alone and was struggling for work his ‘OCD’ got more severe. He slid up the scale as I would say.
Jon’s mum opened up about her own anxiety problems and said “I’d be surprised if some of my anxiety didn’t rub off on you a bit” this was very insightful, it doesn’t mean it’s genetic. I support Man Utd, so does my mum, genetic ? My mum liked Margaret Thatcher, I must have a recessive gene!
Jon wanted to know why, there were indications of life stressors in some of the people he interviewed (including himself), bullying, parental anxiety to name but two. As a Clinical Psychologist my biggest question is why? I always tell trainees and assistants that we’re like the eternal 4 year olds (I know about this one!) always asking why, for example:
X took an overdose – why?– she was attention seeking – but why? Why did she need you/us then? What was going on? How come that was the only way she felt she could get us to respond?
X has difficulties with getting on with other people, her emotions go up and down and she really worries about getting close to people. – Why? How do we make sense of that, how does she make sense of that?
X is messing about in school, she always gets thrown out of lessons. Why?Can she do the work? Is she anxious, is she struggling to concentrate? if so why? Is is because she has other things on her mind, is she troubled by thoughts? How’s life at home?
We also saw the level to which this continuum can go with Joyce’s account of her son and how he took his own life after battling with OCD. This was a heartbreaking, tragic account. The continuum is long. I think C4 have missed out that end a bit, breaking down stigma has to encompass all aspects of well being, not just the ones that look good on film.
I believe and I know many don’t agree, that if we’re to break down stigma we have to talk about mental well being as something which applies to us all. We are all on the continuum of well being. Someone tweeted me and asked if I had mental health problems, I said I didn’t at the moment but recognised I was as vulnerable as anyone else. She did not like that and found it condascending. I am truly sorry for that, but I do. I know that if my life took a downturn and any one of a number of potential life stressors happened I would be vulnerable to struggles with my emotional well being. Me personally, I may develop difficulties with obsessions and compulsions, or anxiety, low mood or psychosis, I can well imagine any of these. Again, I am in no way belittling people who battle and have battled for years with their difficulties, they are (at the moment at least ) higher up the scale than me. But they can come down and I can go up. Others may be more likely to become paranoid or develop difficulties with their eating, every one of us is vulnerable, no exceptions.
As I said in a blog for Young Minds UK, it’s not about them and us, it’s about us.
I want people to be seen as people and not problems. Problems need to be understood but by understanding how people work then we may get better at understanding people when they develop problems with their well being. That is what I think children and young people in school ought to be taught, not that there’s those with mental health problems and those without.
Jon has obsessions and compulsions (an obsession is the thought and the compulsion is the behaviour – basically I think anyway) but not OCD. He could be seen as having a little bit of OCD or he could be seen as Jon.
In some way we’re all a little bit Jon.