mobile navigation
Blog - Colin Hambrook

Psychosis: Origins, Experience and Meaning or dreaming while awake

painting of several figures with a blue tinge

‘A Jealous Psychiatrist, his animus and one of his wicker dolly’s on the dialectical conveyor belt of reason and unreason’. Oil on canvas. Image © Colin Hambrook

On Wednesday 26 June I went to a conference run by the International Society for Psychological and Social Approaches to Psychosis (ISPS) in conjunction with Soteria Brighton, Hearing Voices and the Spiritual Crisis Network and felt compelled to write something about the day.

I’ve seen Dr John Read from the University of East London speak before at a Soteria event. He’s a brilliant rebel-rouser when it comes to campaigning for less delusion within our sick psychiatric profession.

He began the day with a story about a victory. For many years the NICE guidelines have blatantly lied about withdrawal from anti-depressants with a blanket statement saying that withdrawal lasts one week, based on absolutely zero evidence-based research. It’s an incredibly important piece of information, which influences what GPs tell their patients when prescribing drugs, which I personally have found to be extremely dangerous. The reality for anyone who has had this junk forced on them for decades is that it takes many months to withdraw.

There has been a massive increase in recent years and 1 in 6 people in the UK are prescribed anti-depressants, 1 in 4 of whom are women. This is not to do with an increase in new prescriptions, but rather to do with people being on the drugs for longer and longer.

30 members of the ISPS put in a public complaint to the Royal College of Psychiatry with their own research and finally after decades of misinformation the College has done a U-turn and the guidelines will now finally change.

Who controls knowledge? The answer of course is that it is the pharmaceutical companies for whom psychiatrists are the lackeys, held in their pockets by the power of the dollar. And who controls the 50 most visited websites telling you what so-called schizophrenia is? Again, 58 per cent of them are funded directly by the pharmaceutical companies intent on selling their life-threatening neuroleptics falsely labeled ‘anti-psychotics’. I say falsely because they don’t ‘treat’ psychosis; they dull the mind and stop the brains synapses from working, which in turn dulls mental distress. Many people find this a good thing, it has to be said, but my anger is at the lie of the biological and medical model arguments for the causes of mental distress and the persistent lies told over and over and over by a negligent system dedicated to earning a buck from peoples’ misery.

For decades John Read has been campaigning in favour of a psycho-social understanding of what drives us mad. He reminded us that in its origins with Emil Kraeplin in the 1880s – the inventor of schizophrenia – there were many absurd ‘symptoms’ – Read’s ‘favorite’ being “going into church with a lighted cigar”. Has it changed much in 140 years? It is debateable. Change is slow and painful and much as some things change for the better conditions for people struggling with mental distress in society continue to worsen. Even Professor Robin Murray – one of the UK’s leading proponents of the biological model of psychosis – has, in retirement put it on record that the psycho-social model has no basis in the truth.

However it still remains to be the case that ‘schizophrenia’ has no reliability as a construct. It is a disjunctive category for the simple reason that of 5 completely different types of symptoms you only need 2 to get labeled. Although the general public recognise (according to published research) that mental distress is the result of difficult life experiences, the majority of psychiatrists (97 per cent) will still tell you that you are displaying a lack of insight, if you disagree with their delusional diagnosis and blame life circumstances for not being able to cope. As John Read says: “No-one, anywhere in the world has ever benefited from all the genetic research into psychosis.” Poverty is the strongest predictor of psychosis and thanks to austerity the UK has caught up with the US in that you are 7 times more likely to experience psychosis if you are from a poor background.

Rant over.

We were treated to a series of workshops and I got inspired by Mica Montana Gray reading from her poetry collection ‘When Daisies Talk’. Mica’s lived experience of psychosis resonates through her words in an impassioned and powerful way, balancing the fearful with the creative. One phrase in particular stayed with me: “don’t get caught in the metaphors”.

So often the difficulty presented by individuals going through a psychotic episode is that they don’t make sense. Mica reminded us not take people literally when they baffle our understanding, but to look at the underlying messages. So if, for example, someone tells you they are Jesus Christ on a mission to save the planet, it can, in context as easily be an expression of search for agency in a situation where they feel powerless.

Mica asked us to respond poetically, reflecting on her poetry and I wrote these pieces

Dreaming While Awake

If we lose ourselves in a space of no resolution
Where nothing feels right and we feel compromised
Unnatural, closed off, a freak, an endless
Grey corridor, a doll set with pins,
An unhappy childhood, a bellowing wind,
A note from the end of time,
Does that mean we have gone? Or rather
That there is this thing of connecting
With a deeper truth of our situation
On this planet, in this society, on this street
In this house of loneliness and despair.

Leave a comment

2 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
2 Comment authors
ToniAlexandrina Hemsley Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Alexandrina Hemsley
Alexandrina Hemsley

Thank you Colin. I was fuming with you. ‘One week’ ???!!!! Yeah right. That is a shocking guideline for those with a duty of care.

Thank you for sifting underneath the weight of certain psychiatric models that place ‘wrongdoing’ on the person in mental distress, particularly your poem. Offers so much more understanding and connection to lived experiences. I hope one day pharmaceuticals catch up. Urgh…so much…going to make a cup of tea…

A. Hurford

Great to hear about, thanks Colin