This Life: Enlightenment needed

The progressive use of therapy would be far more beneficial than enforced treatment, writes Andrew Voyce

I was first admitted to a mental hospital in 1974 with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. I experienced the revolving door of unsatisfactory discharges followed by readmissions while under the care of two asylums. This lasted until the implementation of the community care legislation in the early 1990s.

During my time in the asylums, I was sectioned three times, once under the Mental Health Act 1959 and twice under the 1983 Act. One result of a section meant I had to have regular and humiliating injections in my backside. I often found it better to live as a vagrant than to submit to life as a psychiatric patient.

In 1991, I failed in my appeal against a section, but the bargain I struck was to go for an Open University degree and an acceptable oral medication regime. Since then, I have not been an in-patient because of the more humane ethos of care in the community.

I was resettled into the community under the Community Care Act 1990, where I obtained my degree, and went on to gain a masters in social policy. I have kept up the oral medication regime and have not suffered a relapse.

Service users’ lives are still tainted by ignorance, prejudice and discrimination, and the government’s proposals in the Mental Health Bill will do nothing to improve that. In fact, although ministers maintain that their proposals will streamline mental health care, I believe the proposals will highlight who and where mental health service users are in the community. This will not stop the demonisation of people with mental health needs.

The administration of community treatment orders (CTO) may see groups of social workers with police backup arrive at the homes of people with mental health problems. This will lay that person open to even more stigmatisation in their community and may perpetuate the false notion that crime or violence is a symptom of mental illness. The effect will be to prevent someone with a CTO from ever becoming socially integrated.

Reciprocity and therapeutic treatment have played crucial parts in psychiatric regimes I have been under. Where things have started to improve, psychiatric treatment has been therapeutic and I have had expectations of doing OK.

Where these have been lacking, I have continued to live in dire straits. It is deplorable that the provisions of the new proposals exclude that treatment should be therapeutic, and place onerous restrictions on service users. I would not blame service users if they decided that life on the streets would be better.

Let’s keep community care and let’s be enlightened in the way we treat people who have to be given psychiatric treatment against their will. Let there be a bargain for everyone affected, so they will be required only to receive treatment that will do them some good. Let people be given the hope of aspirations and enable them to overcome obstacles. I can testify that this way works.

Andrew Voyce has mental health issues and is a campaigner

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