Content warning: non-graphic mentions of suicide
From speaking to the United Nations Committee Against Torture to writing a memoir describing my experience of being on a Community Treatment Order, I felt that I would have something to give when I was put forward to join the team reviewing Scotland's Mental Health (Care and Treatment) Act.
I have spent the last three decades gathering the varied views of my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances on their experiences of mental ill health and love to explore experiences and opinions that do not fit with my own.
Questioning my credibility
However, I find myself surrounded by doubt, needing to question my position and my credibility.
Thirty-seven years ago I helped to set up a drop in centre run by young people with mental health problems for young people with mental health problems. We were exhilarated by the lessons of radical professionals in the field. We saw all conventional workers and all of conventional psychiatry as the enemy: people we blamed and wouldn’t welcome into our lives. We saw the liberation of minorities of whatever sort, the revolutionising of our society as the route to a fair, just, and exciting future for our community.
"I don’t think recovery or resilience is the answer to all our problems. I don’t think trauma-informed care will stop all the suffering we go through. I don’t think society is the cause of all our issues".
And of course there is something in this but now, in my late fifties, I am long past the time when I blame professionals for all the pain I am in.
I have spent too many decades in the company of professionals who have dedicated their lives to reducing suffering in much the same ways that I have. I got over the pain of my childhood years ago and now feel some shame when I see how fractured and shattered families can be when dealing with the distress their loved ones are in and yet who still face the judgement of society.
"I don’t think society is the cause of all our issues"
Life is no longer simple. I no longer have a bright vision of what might make a difference. I don’t think recovery or resilience is the answer to all our problems. I don’t think trauma-informed care will stop all the suffering we go through. I don’t think society is the cause of all our issues.
I get more and more weary at the difficulties I see professional bodies go through in their battles to have authority over their interpretation of the cause of our suffering. I am constantly astonished that the policy makers, the movers and shakers, the visionaries, assume that we - the people this is all about - will always be some sort of libertarian socialist type of person, that we are inevitably their comrades in a mutual mission to liberate everyone from oppression.
And this is where I become uncertain.
When I see the pronouncements of people seeking to enshrine my right to freedom and autonomy I grow confused. I have known so many people who have killed themselves because the pain of their experience is unbearable. I do not for a moment doubt that our impairments are real. I am not shy of saying that mental illness and the experiences we go through, not just societal attitudes that makes our lives close to unlivable.
However positive we want to appear about our condition, our reality is often horrific: lonely, poor, isolated, too dulled to get out of bed, too worried to sleep at night, too paranoid and confused to have relationships. The list goes on and on.
Can I succeed in making a difference?
I have spent my life trying to make a difference but my vision is clouded. When I hear people say that the police are more humane to them in crisis than mental health services I feel doubt about what we can achieve. When people die because they cannot get help. When the places we used to go to for company, where we found a sense of belonging and the chance to discard our masks of normality, are closed to us and sometimes not just because of austerity but because we are meant to be being included in wider society. It makes me more and more tired.
I am conscious that a review of the Scottish Mental Health Legislation produces a huge amount of expectation, sometimes cynicism, and of course extreme emotion. I am not always as sure of my opinions as I would hope I would be. In the past I have been called a concentration camp Kapo because I say being sectioned has kept me alive and that makes me uneasy; especially as in my early twenties I might have shared a similar scepticism about the person I have become.
Considering different views when reviewing mental health legislation
For much of my life all decisions have been democratic. I spent years expressing the wide range of views people in my community have. For some of us, there is a very real mental health community and identity. Yet, many of my partner's friends have a mental illness and do not identify in any way with the world I have grown up in. They take their medication, see their doctors, and get on with their life; this identity is not for them. The task of hearing and being aware of all these different experiences is huge.
I am content with what I told our Chairperson when he was interviewing me for this position reviewing the Scottish Mental Health Legislation - I want to be a reality checker. There is a temptation in small countries like ours to want to have the most progressive rights based legislation we can achieve. That is great but I always want to remember those friends who died because they were free to exercise choice, those friends who sometimes say that far from exercising autonomy; that they want, for a time, to be looked after without having to be responsible for anything at all.
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- See more: I need urgent help - I'm feeling suicidal
These voices are valid too as has been the rage of my brother when I happily talk of when I next come off my medication and for once he loses his cool. He shouts down the phone at me that whenever I am off medication and in hospital, the whole family waits for the phone call that says I have finally 'succeeded' and am no more.
This work re-examining the mental health legislation is ultimately a matter of life and death; liberty and coercion, agency and hope, and protection and liberation. No wonder I am worried and cautious about how I will contribute.
I hope I can grow to celebrate the doubt I have; that my doubt, weariness, and caution do not impede something that might change life to something that could be so much better.
Graham Morgan has been living under a compulsory community treatment order for ten years, having previously spent four months in hospital for his mental health. He was recently appointed to the team reviewing the Scottish Mental Health Act. His experience of living under a community treatment order is described in depth in his memoir 'Start'. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram