2016 saw MindFreedom Ireland (MFIrl) continue its work of peer support, activism, campaigning for alternatives and putting forward the voices of those of us unhappy with conventional medical model bio-psychiatry.
STAND BY ME. This peer support group continued to meet every Wednesday at 3pm in Costa’s in Douglas, Cork. With a steadfast and loyal backbone of regular attendees, the group provides a warm and welcoming opportunity for all concerned to chat, discuss issues and enjoy themselves. As one person put it “It’s nice to spend some time with people where I don’t have to lie about my feelings about things.” In addition MFIrl members supported friends who found themselves caught in the system. The ‘Little Help from my Friends’ music group was active early in the year but logistical problems meant that it stopped for a period though we hope to resume its activities in the new year. New members are always welcome.
ELECTROSHOCK PROTEST. Our annual shock protest took place as usual in May. There was a turnout of more than 20 supporters, some travelling from Dublin and Leitrim. Leaflets were distributed, slogans chanted, music played and testimonies given by people who had first hand experience of electroshock. Undeterred by incessant rain, we were proud to stage what was our 8th protest and importantly, to garner publicity for our cause from The Cork Independent and also a comprehensive report along with a photograph which was carried in The Irish Times. In addition on the subject of electroshock, in May Richard Patterson responded to a pro-shock interview in the Irish Times with Professor Declan McLoughlin of St. Patrick’s Hospital and Trinity College while also exchanging correspondence with Minister for Mental Health Helen McEntee on the issue.
MEDIA. While the above publicity was welcome, it has to be said that it is quite difficult to have our voices heard on mainstream media. Dorothee Krien did succeed in having a very informative letter under the heading ‘Metabolism an unappreciated factor in drug effectiveness’ published in The Irish Examiner. As a follow-up to our shock protest, there was an interview with Jonathan Healy on Newstalk and MFIrl was also contacted by the popular radio programme Liveline to appear on the show but was left ‘hanging on’ without being interviewed. Increasingly it points to the need, as former MindFreedom International Director David Oaks always maintained, to be ‘our own media’ and get our message out to the public through the likes of Facebook, You Tube and Twitter as well as our own MFIrl website. Our thanks to Richard Patterson and Susan Mendez who do this in a creative and humorous manner.
CRITICAL VOICES NETWORK IRELAND CONFERENCE. MFIrl was appreciative of the opportunity to participate in the by now well established CVNI two day conference in University College Cork in November. The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Critical Perspectives on and beyond Activism and Acts of Resistance‘. MFIrl supporters solicitor Deirdre Gibbons and artist Margaret Curran presented a workshop on ‘The Dominant System versus The Resistance Movement; Two Perspectives’ while Miriam O’Shea, Susan Mendez, Dorothee Krien and Jim Maddock also did a workshop presentation on ‘13 Years of Peaceful Revolution and Resistance from MindFreedom Ireland’ where we also had the opportunity to put on show our new recently donated publicity banner. In the final keynote presentation Mary Maddock joined activists Joan Hamilton, Rory Doody and Dr. Pat Bracken in a question and answer panel session on issues inspired by the conference. MFIrl would like to congratulate Lydia Sapouna and Harry Gijbels on their continuing excellent work in organising the conference every year and we wish Harry all the best for a happy and healthy retirement from his position as Senior Lecturer in the School of Nursing while confident he will continue to provide his leadership and experience for forthcoming conferences. We would also like to send good wishes to Pat Bracken on his retirement from his position as Director of West Cork Mental Health Services and are equally confident that he will continue to provide his powerful voice to the work for change.
CONNECTIONS. We maintained our strong links with MindFreedom International and its Director Celia Brown who replaced David Oaks following his life-changing accident in 2012. Kermit Cole and Louisa Putman of Mad-in-America paid us a visit in September while our close connection with and support for the work of Dr. Bonnie Burstow, Don Weitz and the Campaign Against Psychiatric Assault (CAPA) in Toronto and The Council for Evidence-based Psychiatry in London also continued. We were sorry to see the departure of Dr. Karen McCarthy from the Occupational Therapy section of the School of Nursing in UCC where she had forged strong links with us but equally, we were glad to see those links maintained by her successor Eoin Gorman in extending an invitation to MFIrl to address his students in November. We continued our support for Tallaght Trialogues in Dublin while a new connection was established with Themina Kazi and the Cork Equal and Sustainable Communities Alliance (CESCA) with MFIrl being represented by Miriam O’Shea and Deirdre Gibbons at their Standing Up for Equality and Human Rights conference, also in November. We are also appreciative of the strong and constant support we receive from stalwart members dotted around the country including Patrice Campion in Newry, Barbara Barrett in Dublin, Aine Ni Nibhern in the midlands, Greg White in Bandon, Angela McManus in London and Colette Ni Dhuinneacha in Cork. In addition to his campaigning on electroshock, Richard Patterson kept the MFIrl flag flying at the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Carrick-on-Shannon and was also very instrumental in formulating MFIrl’s submission to the House of Commons Select Health Committee Inquiry on suicide prevention in September. Our year concluded with an enjoyable Christmas party and thanks to Helena O’Callaghan for organising the venue and Miriam O’Shea for providing the Christmas crackers.
CONCLUSION. As we remember the 10th anniversary of one of our founder members Helena King in December, we can look back at another year of achievement. Working on a shoestring budget but rich in the time, effort and commitment provided by our limited numbers, MFIrl can be proud of our work and proud to be part of the wider international movement of like minded people At a time when Ireland is seeing an increasing rise in the incidence of suicide and at a time when more and more people are experiencing emotional issues in their lives, there has been an explosion of well-intentioned grass-root groups eager to ‘do something‘. Unfortunately almost all of these groups accept and promote a medical model approach which in turn makes it all the more important that the voice of MindFreedom Ireland is put forward. The following recently received quotation from Graham Bacque of CAPA encapsulates precisely what is required:
“It’s unfortunate that society takes no responsibility for creating an environment where violence and trauma can flourish, instead choosing to de-contextualize peoples’ natural responses to such violations by pathologizing them.
The onus is on all of us to challenge the ongoing systemic and individual acts of abuse and oppression that result in people suffering such grievous wounds (notice I’m not saying ‘illnesses’) rather than on those directly affected to submit to interventions that will likely prove unhelpful at best; and harmful at worst.
Unfortunately this cannot happen as long as we continue to view peoples’ responses to oppression exclusively through a medical lens (which in itself opens a Pandora’s box of human rights issues).
This is one human undertaking where more than any other we need a complete revolution in how we view and respond. It’s time to stop demonizing and punishing people for responding in a human way to what we as a society are doing to them!”
31st December 2016.