Art Thou A Survivor?

3 June 2008

Mental Health and Human Rights Part 2

2007-08-05 -- Allow the Defect -- a Monday Night at AACA, by Roy Blumenthal, with Creative Commons licenceOne of the most difficult aspects of mental health is to know when a mind is ill. How do you measure the point at which sadness becomes depression, or the moment when anxiety becomes a phobia? For most of us there is no clear answer because we lack sufficient knowledge of our own complexities to adequately judge any deviation from what we might presume to be normal. We also tend to hide our defects, to doubt their very existence, and to doubt ourselves in the process. In the first post of this short series I mentioned that people with mental illness tend to push aside their own concerns and focus on the verdict of authority. What does the doctor say? What do the institution and the system do for me? The corollary, of course, is that if society ignores someone who is mentally ill, if one of the most significant institutions in society causes that illness, then nothing has happened.

That, I would argue, is a deprivation of the right to medical care, to a cure.

This is not a post about the widely known and appreciated aspects of mental illness. It’s a post about growing up the child of alcoholic parents. Or of an alcoholic step-parent, or a de facto parent. The family is society’s most revered institution regardless of culture or location. Governments inevitably foster it, often urging growth but always ensuring stability. Even dysfunctional families receive funding or tax relief in many parts of the world – for having more children, though sometimes for having less, for buying their first home, for sending their kids to school. Welfare services can regulate family life, but they’re not terribly good at finding drunks. And even when they do, the children of alcoholic parents can slip all too easily through the social safety nets.

A failed social duty of care is a human right denied.

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A State of Mind

31 May 2008

Mental Health and Human Rights Part 1

Shame, by FredArmitage, with Creative Commons LicenceNot all stories go away when the last interview is conducted, the last comment noted, when the final connections fade. Some linger because they defined a moment, or a decade – a vital arc of time – and remind us of a shame that’s never really shifted. They need to be retold because other people should know, have to know. I recently met a very well-respected psychiatrist for whom I’ve been editing almost eight years now – the vagaries of operating over the Internet simply meant we’d never crossed paths in all that time. I mentioned in passing that I grew up in Townsville, the second largest city in Queensland, northern Australia. He responded with a question: did I remember Ward 10B, the psychiatric wing of the Townsville General Hospital, did I know what happened there?

I did, and I also recalled a more recent echo.

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