Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Death by Oppression: Is Suicide a Natural Response to Marginalization - Emily Sheera Cutler


Is suicide a natural response marginalization...? 

Is suicide an individual issue or a social one?

Is suicide caused by chemical imbalances or power imbalances?


Emily Sheera Cutler raises and thoughtfully addresses these questions in her presentation "Death by Oppression: Suicide as a Natural Response to Marginalization", offered as a free video seminar on Tuesday, May 15th ~8-9pm EST on Zoom. 


Emily highlighted key points from JOINER’S THEORY OF SUICIDE

The theory can be illustrated by 3 intersecting circles, each with varying implications for predicting lethality:


  • Circle 1: Thwarted Belongingness - “I am alone.”

  • Circle 2: Perceived Burdensomeness – “I am a burden.”


Intersection of Circle 1 and Circle 2 = Desire for suicide


  • Circle 3: Capability for Suicide - “I am not afraid to die.”


Intersection of all 3 circles = Suicide or near-lethal suicide attempt

In addition, Emily connected a variety of socially salient topics relevant to the suicide discussion, including:


  • Minority Stress 
  • Isms 
  • Abuse 
  • Othering  
  • Bullying  
  • Neglect
  • Isolation 
  • Rejection  
  • Discrimination


The presentation was a part of "May is Power Threat Meaning Month" - a social justice alternative to the pharma and treatment industry sponsored "May is Mental Health Month."  More info and full schedule of events is availabler at: https://www.madinamerica.com/2018/05/may-power-threat-meaning/

There is a related discussion on Facebook happening at the Wellness & Recovery Human Rights Campaign, facebook.com/groups/WellnessRecoveryRights/

If you like this, you might like the our 'Peerly Human' alternative to conventional mental health at: Peerlyhuman.blogspot.com

What is this Peerly Human thang...?



Welcome to Peerly Human. Peerly Human is a peer-run, peer-funded alternative to mainstream mental health.  Our community is run by us and for us from a human needs and social justice perspective. This talk outlines why we exist, what we are trying to do, how we are trying to do it and how you can join us.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Revolutionizing Mental Health Awareness: May is Power Threat Meaning Month

A Flyer with a Schedule of Events is attached.  It reads:   POWER, THREAT MEANING MONTH     ANATOMY OF A BREAKDOWN (graphic)  1. Life is hard all by it self 2. Basic needs are insecure 3. Bias and prejudice shut us out 4. Trusted institutions let us down 5. Social responses make it worse 6. Injuries add up 7. BREAK DOWN   MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS:  LACK OF POWER AFFECTS US   Body power – society values preferences, attributes and abilities that you don’t have or identify with  Coercive power – you are subjected to violence, aggression, threats  Legal power – systemic rules or sanctions limit your choices  Economic power – you can’t afford needed goods, services, activities or opportunities on a par with others  Interpersonal power – you can’t meet basic relational needs for intimacy, care and human protection  Social/cultural power – limited access to knowledge, connections and qualifications that make life easier  Ideological power – values, language and meaning  are defined by powerful others   MAY 2018 SCHEDULE   Wednesday, May 2nd ~8-9:30 pm EST                                     Power, Threat and the Meaning of “Mental Illness”  Friday,  May 4th ~8-9:30 pm EST                                         Devalued Identities and "Mental Illness"  Saturday, May 5th ~2-5 pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                   Power, Threat and Unconventional Realities  Wednesday, May 9th ~8-9:30 pm EST                                                         Surviving Rejection and Invalidation  Friday, May 11th ~8-9:30pm EST                                      Surviving Childhood Adversity  Saturday, May 12th ~2pm - 5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                            Power, Threat and the Meanings of “Mothering”  Wednesday, May 16th ~8-9:30pm EST                                          Surviving Disrupted Identities and Roles  Friday, May 18th ~8-9:30pm EST                                 Surviving Setbacks and Defeat  Saturday, May 19 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini Retreat                                Power, Threat and the Meanings of "Suicide"  Sunday, May 20 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                   Power, Threat and the Meanings of 'Mania'  Wednesday, May 23 ~8-9:30pm EST                                          Surviving Entrapments  Friday, May 25 ~8-9:30pm EST                                            Surviving Disconnection and Loss  Saturday, May 26 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                              Power, Threat and Angry Meanings  Sunday, May 27 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                   Power, Threat and Addictive Meanings  Sunday, May 27th ~Starting 10 PM EST                                                              Memorial Day Story Telling Marathon                                                     26.2 hour vigil, our lives go the distance                                                                       Tueday, May 29 ~8-9:30pm EST                                               Surviving Social Exclusion and Shame   Wednesday, May 30 ~8-9:30pm EST                                             Surviving Coercive Power  To Join Us:   Join by computer: https://zoom.us/j/119362879 Join by phone: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 646 558 8656 Enter Meeting ID: 119 362 879 International callers: https://zoom.us/u/jkwt3wHh     More info at:  peerlyhuman.blogspot.com & facebook.com/groups/WellnessRecoveryRights/
To me, "May is Mental Health Month" has always seemed like an excuse to hold an annual four-week-long commercial for Pharma and bio-psychiatry.  Under the guise of raising 'awareness' and reducing 'stigma', the PR reps out there make it safe for us average Joe's to admit how bad we feel or how stressed out we are.  Then they tell us what our problem is  ('mental illness') and conveniently offer us the solutions they are selling (pharmaceuticals and professional treatment).  It's like the soda industry taking over July and turning 'thirst' into a public health concern.   Yes, every summer, you suffer from an urgent, potentially deadly, recurrent craving for liquids -- but thank god Coke and Pepsi have thoughtfully created products that will relieve your symptoms if taken daily as directed!!! 

Suffice it to say, I've become a bit jaded.  The flashy flyers, sagacious slogans and tantalizing toolkits notwithstanding, my pessimism about the possibility of anything paid or professional in the mental health industry to actually make the world I live in better instead of worse has grown exponentially with repeated exposure.  For sure, during the first few rounds, there was excitement from the initial hype and the opportunity to actually participate and DO SOMETHING.  But inevitably, for me, this was followed by let-down as retrospective awareness set in.  Hey, WTF...? I just put a boatload of energy and effort into this.  But very little that actually matters to me has actually changed....  

The release of the Power Threat Meaning Framework by the British Psychological Society earlier this year (Johnstone, L. & Boyle, M., 2018b) might just have changed that for me.   Thanks to the British Psychological Society (BPS) , there might finally be a provider-proposed paradigm that is worth the effort of making the public aware of.  In contrast to the medical ("mental illness") model, the Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTM) is a non-pathologizing, unifying model of human bio-psycho-social functioning.  It applies to all human beings - not just those of us with mental health labels. It is also not just for providers.  Rather, it invites everyone to look at and offer their experience.  And it supports all of us to recognize, and make sense of, the diverse, culturally-relevant strategies that people around the world may employ in order to survive, meet our core needs, protect ourselves or cope with overwhelming emotions.

This is a key difference between PTM and mental health as usual.  Conventional mental health approaches take society as 'normal' and endeavor to treat so-called 'maladaptive' individuals who fail to 'adjust.'  PTM, on the other hand, makes clear that meaning and distress must be understood and addressed at social, community and cultural levels, not just individual ones.  In a 400-page meticulously-researched tome, PTM connects the dots and persuasively links wider social factors - like poverty, discrimination, abuse and violence - with the distressed or distressing emotional and behavioral responses that are currently being pathologized as 'mental illness.'  (Johnstone, L. & Boyle, M., 2018b.)  It joins the United Nations in urging a global shift in focus from 'chemical imbalance' to 'power imbalance' in mental health awareness and practice.  (Johnstone, L. & Boyle, M., 2018c, p. 17; UNHRC , 2017, p.19.)  As PTM aptly observes, 'the less access you have to conventional or approved forms of power, the more likely you are to adopt socially disturbing or disruptive strategies in the face of adversity.'  (Johnstone, L. & Boyle, M., 2018c, p. 28.)  Accordingly:

The crisis in mental health should be managed not as a crisis of individual conditions, but as a crisis of social obstacles which hinders individual rights. Mental health policies should address the “power imbalance” rather than “chemical imbalance.”

UNHRC , 2017, p.19.  

Why This Matters

BPS openly acknowledges that this is not the first time that ideas like these have been proposed.  It is, however, jaw-droppingly monumental that a major professional body in mental health finally has stood up to bio-psychiatry, and, effectively, declared its independence.  The equivalent in the United States would be if the psychologists in the American Psychological Association told the medical doctors in the American Psychiatric Association:  

We don't care if you have MD's or think you are the boss of us.  We're no longer going to follow your orders or consider ourselves bound by your thinking.  We think you are wrong on the merits.  We think your approach is hurting our clients. Accordingly, we are throwing out the model you developed and proposing our own.  

In a word, it's a revolutionary act.  Every other mental health-related profession in nearly every country in the world has basically caved to whatever the medical model is dishing out.  Despite the claim of psychologist, social workers, psychiatric nurses and clinical mental health counselors to be 'professionals' in their own right  - that is, to have their own specialized knowledge, to promote the greater good, to operate in the public interest, to serve needs and interests of the clients who sought their services (Susskind, R., & Susskind, D., 2015) - these self-professed 'independent' bodies have, by and large, abdicated their responsibility to conduct their own independent analyses.  To the contrary, they have all but chewed up and swallowed whole whatever the psychiatric industry was dishing out.

Their major excuse:  "We can't do anything.  The insurance industry has tied our hands." Which begs the following questions:


  1. What kind of profession, worthy of the name profession, let's slimy corporations like insurance companies determine how they do business?
  2. What kind of profession, worthy of the name profession, claims to serve the public interest by conforming its knowledge and practice to the dictates of insurance claim examiners?
  3. What kind of profession, worthy of the name profession, claims to serve the best interests of its clients, when it continues to perpetuate an insurance billing model that does not reflect the actual needs and life circumstances of the lion's share of its clients?
  4. What kind of profession, worthy of the name profession, continues to bill insurance companies and collect tax dollars from medicare and medicaid on the one hand, while, on the other hand, whispering to their clients behind closed doors and out of public eye: "We know the DSM is a disaster and we don't believe that you really have x-diagnosis.  But you don't want to have to pay for this out of pocket, right? [wink wink nod nod]." 
  5. What kind of profession, worthy of the name profession, continues to actively and publicly represent that more and more social services funding is needed for more and more off-target, non-responsive services that slander the very clients they claim to serve - because that is what insurance companies will pay for?
I don't know about you, but the law school I graduated from had a 5 letter word for this kind of conduct:  F-R-A-U-D. 

Declaration of  Independence


Not true, however, with psychologists in the UK.  They stopped relying on the Nuremburg defense: 'Someone else is responsible for my values'.  Unlike other mental health 'professionals', they did not delegate their duty to their clients or their duty to develop an informed opinion to the 'higher authorities' of doctors, insurers and drug companies.  Instead of taking the easy route and abdicating their responsibility, they actually did the hard work that therapists have been telling their clients to do for decades.  They stood up.  They took back their voice.  They took back their agency.  They took back their self-respect, their dignity and their personhood. They did their own research and reached their own conclusions.  They developed their own hypothesis of what is going on in the minds and bodies of the people they serve. 

And when all was said and done - the analysis in, the research exhaustively reviewed - they said to biopsychiatry:
No more. It is finished.  We withdraw our consent. We can no longer, in good conscience, defer to your judgment about what is right for the vulnerable, trusting souls who cross our threshold in search of our honest expertise and aid.
Now, that, in my book is something worth making the general public aware of.  So here goes:


May 2018 is Power Threat Meaning Month 

ONLINE SERIES

This online series of mental health awareness events introduces the Power Threat Meaning Framework released earlier this year by the British Psychological Society. All events are online and accessible by computer or telephone.  Workshops and mini-retreats feature facilitated discussions on the foundational topics and concepts of the PTM model.  Sessions will revolve around several core questions adapted from the PTM materials:


  • What has happened to you? (In what ways have you felt over-powered, under-powered, dis-empowered ...?)
  • How did this affect you? (What threats has this posed to your needs and survival?)
  • What sense can you make of it? (What did these situations and experiences mean for you?)
  • What did you have to do to survive? (What strategies did you use to respond to threats or create meaning from adversity?)
  • What values, strengths and resources have you been able to access? (What power resources are known and available to you?)
  • What is your story? (How does all this fit together?)


To Join Us:


Join by computer: https://zoom.us/j/119362879

Join by phone: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 646 558 8656

                           Enter Meeting ID: 119 362 879


International callers: https://zoom.us/u/jkwt3wHh



SHEDULE OF REMAINING EVENTS

Wednesday, May 9th ~8-9:30 pm EST                                                       
Surviving Rejection and Invalidation

Friday, May 11th ~8-9:30pm EST                                   
Surviving Childhood Adversity

Saturday, May 12th ~2-5pm EST
Mini-Retreat                       
Power, Threat and the Meanings of “Mothering”

Tuesday, May 15th ~8-9pm EST
Emily Sheera Cutler
Death by Oppression: Suicide as a Natural Response to Marginalization 

Wednesday, May 16th ~8-9:30pm EST                                       
Surviving Disrupted Identities and Roles

Friday, May 18th ~8-9:30pm EST                                 
Surviving Setbacks and Defeat

Saturday, May 19th ~2-5pm EST
Mini Retreat                             
Power, Threat and the Meanings of "Suicide"

Sunday, May 20th ~2-5pm EST
Mini-Retreat
Power, Threat and the Meanings of 'Mania'

Wednesday, May 23rd ~8-9:30pm EST                                         
Surviving Entrapments

Thursday, May 24th  ~8-9pm EST 
Emily Sheera Cutler
Smashing Paternalism: Intersections Between the Consumer/Survivor/Ex-patient Movement and the 
Fat Acceptance Movement

Friday, May 25 ~8-9:30pm EST                                           
Surviving Disconnection and Loss

Saturday, May 26 ~ 2-5pm EST
Mini-Retreat
Power, Threat and Angry Meanings

Sunday, May 27 ~ 2-5pm EST  
Mini-Retreat
Power, Threat and Addictive Meanings

Sunday, May 27th ~ Starts 10pm EST… 
(Ends 12:12am EST on Tuesday May 29th)                                                            
MEMORIAL DAY STORY-TELLING MARATHON
26.2 Hour Vigil - Our lives go the distance
Bring your story - Bear witness to others
Drop in or sign up for time in advance

Tuesday, May 29th ~8-9:30pm EST                                           
Surviving Social Exclusion and Shame 

Wednesday, May 30 ~8-9:30pm EST                                         
Surviving Coercive Power

For more info:

Power Threat Meaning (PTM) in a Nutshell


Mental 'illness' has meaning.  The meaning comes from this:

1. Lack of power  


For a variety of personal, social and cultural reasons, we come to feel under-powered, over-powered, powerless or accountable to be powerful in ways that seem vitally important to us.  

Here are some common examples of ways that lack of power can touch our lives: 

  • Body power – society values preferences, attributes and abilities that we don’t have or identify with
  • Coercive power – we are subjected to violence, aggression, threats
  • Legal power – systemic rules or sanctions limit our choices
  • Economic power – we can’t afford needed goods, services, activities or opportunities on a par with others
  • Interpersonal power – we can’t meet basic relational needs for intimacy, care and human protection
  • Social/cultural power – limited access to knowledge, connections and qualifications that make life easier
  • Ideological power – values, language and meaning are defined by powerful others
(Johnstone, L. & Boyle, M., 2018a.)

2. This feels threatening


Needing power and not having it is uncomfortable and often highly distressing.  Some common feelings ('meanings') that arise from lack of power include:


MEANING – what is the Meaning of these situations and experiences to you? (‘What sense did you make of it?’) Unsafe, afraid, attacked Trapped Abandoned, rejected Defeated Helpless, powerless Failed, inferior Hopeless Guilty, blameworthy, responsible Invaded Betrayed Controlled Shamed, humiliated Emotionally overwhelmed Sense of injustice/unfairness Emotionally ‘empty’ Sense of meaninglessness Bad, unworthy Contaminated, evil Isolated, lonely Alien, dangerous Excluded, alienated Different, ‘abnormal’
How lack of power affects us

(Johnstone, L. & Boyle, M., 2018a, p. 37.)

3. Survival (coping) responses get labelled 'symptoms' of 'mental illness'


We respond to threat in ways that seek to overcome, escape or re-balance our perceived power deficits.  Our responses can affect every aspect of our lives - e.g., physical, mental, social, spiritual.  Here are some examples:

Preparing to ‘fight’ or attack Preparing to ‘flee’, escape, seek safety Freeze response Hypervigilance, startle responses, insomnia Panic, phobias Fragmented memory encoding Memory suppression (amnesia) Hearing voices Dissociating (losing track of time/place; various degrees of splitting of awareness) Depersonalisation, derealisation Flashbacks Nightmares NEAD (‘non-epileptic attack disorder’) Emotional numbing, flattening, indifference Bodily numbing Submitting, appeasing Giving up, ‘learned helplessness’, low mood Protesting, weeping, clinging Suspicious thoughts Emotional regression, withdrawal ‘High’ or extreme moods; rapid mood changes (‘emotional dysregulation’) Holding unusual beliefs Having unusual visual, olfactory, tactile sensations Physical sensations – tension, dizziness, physical pain, tinnitus, sensations of heat or cold, exhaustion, skin irritation, gastrointestinal problems and many other bodily reactions Emotional defences: denying what has happened, idealising people, and so on. Intellectualisation (avoiding feelings and bodily sensations) Attention/concentration problems Confused/unstable selfimage/ sense of self Confused/confusing speech and communication Self-injury of various types Self-neglect Dieting, self-starvation Bingeing, over-eating Self-silencing Mourning, grieving Self-blame and selfpunishment Body hatred Compulsive thoughts Carrying out rituals and other ‘safety behaviours’ Collecting, hoarding Avoidance of/compulsive use of sexuality Impulsivity Anger, rage Aggression and violence Suicidal thinking and actions Distrust of others Feeling entitled Reduced empathy Distrust Avoiding threat triggers Striving, perfectionism, ‘drive’ response Using drugs, alcohol, smoking Overworking, overexercising, etc. Giving up hope/loss of faith in the world Relational strategies: rejection and maintaining emotional distance; seeking care and attachments; taking on caring roles; isolation/ avoidance of others; dominance, seeking control over others; and so on Ruminating, reflecting, anticipating, imagining, interpreting, meaningmaking
Ways we try to cope with threat


(Johnstone, L. & Boyle, M., 2018a, p. 40.)

Threat responses often have appear strange to others - and sometimes even ourselves.  Their meanings may be intuitive and unspoken - even to us.  We may not understand or appreciate that gravity of what we are up against.  This is especially true if we live in a group or culture that marginalizes our core experiences.  

These concepts are critically important to get if we want to make sense of 'mental illness'.   In effect, it is these very threat responses - essentially our attempts to cope with overwhelming personal, social and existential odds - that are currently being diagnosed and treated as 'symptoms of mental illness' by conventional healthcare.  

Just as important, however, the PTM framework recognizes that power operates positively (not just negatively!)  Thus, the power of personal agency and social action can be developed to create meaningful individual and societal outcomes.  In other words, we can rebalance power in ourselves - for example, how we treat ourselves in the face of vulnerabilities.  And, instead of blaming ourselves, we can work to rebalance power in disabling relationships, systems and social dynamics in the world we live in.  This, potentially, heals all of us.


References

Introducing the Power Threat Meaning Framework (2018, Feb. 1).  Leicester: British Psychological Society. Retrieved from https://www.bps.org.uk/news-and-policy/introducing-power-threat-meaning-framework

Johnstone, L. & Boyle, M. with Cromby, J., Dillon, J., Harper, D., Kinderman, P., Longden, E., Pilgrim, D. & Read, J. (2018). The Power Threat Meaning Framework: Overview. Leicester: British Psychological Society.  Available at https://www1.bps.org.uk/system/files/user-files/Division%20of%20Clinical%20Psychology/public/INF299%20PTM%20overview%20web.pdf.

Johnstone, L. & Boyle, M. with Cromby, J., Dillon, J., Harper, D., Kinderman, P., Longden, E., Pilgrim, D. & Read, J. (2018). The Power Threat Meaning Framework: Towards the identification of patterns in emotional distress, unusual experiences and troubled or troubling behaviour, as an alternative to functional psychiatric diagnosis. Leicester: British Psychological Society.  Available at https://www1.bps.org.uk/system/files/user-files/Division%20of%20Clinical%20Psychology/public/INF299%20PTM%20Main%20web.pdf

Johnstone, L. & Boyle, M. with Cromby, J., Dillon, J., Harper, D., Kinderman, P., Longden, E., Pilgrim, D. & Read, J. (2018, Jan. 18). The Power Threat Meaning Framework [Powerpoint Slides], retrieved from https://www1.bps.org.uk/system/files/user-files/Division%20of%20Clinical%20Psychology/public/PTM%20COMPOSITE%20VERSION%2025.1.18.pdf

Susskind, R., & Susskind, D. (2015). The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.

UN General Assembly (2017). Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. United Nations Human Rights Council. Available at  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session29/Documents/A_HRC_29_33_ENG.DOCX

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Power, Threat and Unconventional Realities: ONLINE Mini-Retreat: Saturday, May 5th ~ 2-5 PM EST

A Flyer with a Schedule of Events is attached.  It reads:   POWER, THREAT MEANING MONTH     ANATOMY OF A BREAKDOWN (graphic)  1. Life is hard all by it self 2. Basic needs are insecure 3. Bias and prejudice shut us out 4. Trusted institutions let us down 5. Social responses make it worse 6. Injuries add up 7. BREAK DOWN   MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS:  LACK OF POWER AFFECTS US   Body power – society values preferences, attributes and abilities that you don’t have or identify with  Coercive power – you are subjected to violence, aggression, threats  Legal power – systemic rules or sanctions limit your choices  Economic power – you can’t afford needed goods, services, activities or opportunities on a par with others  Interpersonal power – you can’t meet basic relational needs for intimacy, care and human protection  Social/cultural power – limited access to knowledge, connections and qualifications that make life easier  Ideological power – values, language and meaning  are defined by powerful others   MAY 2018 SCHEDULE   Wednesday, May 2nd ~8-9:30 pm EST                                     Power, Threat and the Meaning of “Mental Illness”  Friday,  May 4th ~8-9:30 pm EST                                         Devalued Identities and "Mental Illness"  Saturday, May 5th ~2-5 pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                   Power, Threat and Unconventional Realities  Wednesday, May 9th ~8-9:30 pm EST                                                         Surviving Rejection and Invalidation  Friday, May 11th ~8-9:30pm EST                                      Surviving Childhood Adversity  Saturday, May 12th ~2pm - 5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                            Power, Threat and the Meanings of “Mothering”  Wednesday, May 16th ~8-9:30pm EST                                          Surviving Disrupted Identities and Roles  Friday, May 18th ~8-9:30pm EST                                 Surviving Setbacks and Defeat  Saturday, May 19 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini Retreat                                Power, Threat and the Meanings of "Suicide"  Sunday, May 20 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                   Power, Threat and the Meanings of 'Mania'  Wednesday, May 23 ~8-9:30pm EST                                          Surviving Entrapments  Friday, May 25 ~8-9:30pm EST                                            Surviving Disconnection and Loss  Saturday, May 26 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                              Power, Threat and Angry Meanings  Sunday, May 27 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                   Power, Threat and Addictive Meanings  Sunday, May 27th ~Starting 10 PM EST                                                              Memorial Day Story Telling Marathon                                                     26.2 hour vigil, our lives go the distance                                                                       Tueday, May 29 ~8-9:30pm EST                                               Surviving Social Exclusion and Shame   Wednesday, May 30 ~8-9:30pm EST                                             Surviving Coercive Power  To Join Us:   Join by computer: https://zoom.us/j/119362879 Join by phone: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 646 558 8656 Enter Meeting ID: 119 362 879 International callers: https://zoom.us/u/jkwt3wHh     More info at:  peerlyhuman.blogspot.com & facebook.com/groups/WellnessRecoveryRights/

Saturday, May 5th ~2-5 pm EST      

Join by computer: https://zoom.us/j/119362879

Join by phone: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 646 558 8656
Enter Meeting ID: 119 362 879

International callers: https://zoom.us/u/jkwt3wHh
                 

Making Sense of "Non-Sense"

Twenty-five years ago I was on a psych ward thinking I was Jesus Christ in the Second Coming.  
Forty years ago I was a teenager sitting in church with an almost irrepressible desire to yell out "Satan is here!!" 

The inclination would just appear in my mind as if planted by an outside force.

Then, there would be the initial shock:  "How can I be thinking this?  

Then panic: "What does this say about me?"  

Then shame: "I have to get rid of this before someone finds out and I get kicked out of the human race."

Alongside that would be an eerie feeling that my personal integrity depended on carrying out the suggested action.  The thought had occurred to me, after all.  So how could I be really honest as a person - or true to myself - if I didn't act it out?  

From there the psychic taunters would pipe  in:  "C'mon, you can do it.  Chicken.  Do it.  Do it.  If you had any gumption you'd do it." 

I only wish the impulse to rattle the adults of at the local Episcopal congregation (God's frozen people) was the most embarrassing, frightening thought that occurred to me.  That was far from the case.

There was the time I was jogging in the local park, musing about all the school records I would break in track and field and it 'occurred' to me that "I could probably get away with murder."  The logic went like this:  "I've been a good kid all my life.  They all think I'm a model citizen.  Who would suspect me?  I could just murder someone for the heck of getting away with murder.  

I was acutely aware of my lack of feeling. Just a game.  The lives of my potential victims were irrelevant.  The main thing was:  Could I break this major social more' and get away with it?  Was I above the law that bound everyone else or not? 

Then there were the times, in my 20s, when I was looking after my friend's 6 year old son.  We'd end up wrestling and the thought would come:  You could put your hand on his crotch.  

Again, no feeling.  No concern for his welfare.  No actual desire sexually.  Just the awareness:  I have power.  I can use it.  If I want to, this kid can't stop me.  

Most frightening of all, however, were the thoughts that came up with family, lovers -- anyone I got close enough to to spend a night in the same house with.  "You can murder them while they sleep."

Thoughts like these tortured me for years. I was told by some mental health professionals that these thoughts were meaningless garbage.  "It's just the illness talking."  So I should just ignore it, focus on something else, and take my meds.

Other mental health professionals saw me as deeply damaged.  They were clear that my childhood had to have been very troubled.  Only if we got to the roots of my family pathology could I ever hope to have a functional life.

Neither approach was particularly useful in retrospect.  As to the former approach, the meds didn't help.  The thoughts kept coming, and I could never shake the feeling I was ignoring something important.

As to the second approach, $100,000 of therapy over 20 years and still the same conclusion:  I had it better than most people I knew, and my head was screwed up nevertheless.  Plus, all the focusing on the thoughts made them worse.  And all of that scrutinizing my life history for examples of how others had damaged me only made me feel more damaged.  It was a vicious, inescapable cycle.

Eventually I had to invent my own solution.  I began to approach the thoughts as meaningful entities in their own right.  I tried to see myself and my life from their perspective.  I sincerely asked them what they wanted me to know about myself.  What was the message they were hoping I would get?

Eventually it came to me:

It was terrifying - this awareness of power.  I really did have the power to do evil.  I really did have the power to violate trust.  I really did have the power to harm, irreparably, anyone who was kind enough to let me close to them.

What I didn't know what whether I was trustworthy.  Could I be trusted by the people who were kind enough or vulnerable enough to let me into their lives?  Could I trust myself to not abuse the opportunities for human closeness and connection that I was offered?  How would I know if I was trustworthy?  What would I do if, on examination, I discovered that I wasn't...?

It took a lot of soul searching to get to the core of my own intentions.  Eventually I came to believe that I wouldn't have been agonizing so much about these thoughts of hurting others if I really didn't care about whether I hurt others. Yes, I had my own failings - including intensity, passion and a tendency to get carried away that leads me to overstep bounds if I'm not paying attention. But, at core, I hate the idea of getting my own needs met at someone else's expense.   Not that I never fail in this regard.  But when I do, I can count on some part of me becoming deeply troubled by this and pretty much torturing me until I make the effort to make it right. 

That realization in and of itself helped a lot.  It helped to know that, despite appearances to the contrary, somewhere in myself I really do care about the effects of my actions on other human beings.

Along the way, I also realized that I really must care about being trustworthy and having enough integrity to put the needs of others on a par with my own.  Again, if this kind of stuff didn't matter to some core part of me, I wouldn't be agonizing to the point of incapacity over questions like these in the first place.

This latter awareness was tremendously important to me.  It literally changed the direction of my life.  It helped me see myself not as I was - someone motivated only by punishment and external consequences, like the fear of getting caught - but as the person of principle, integrity and unequivocal regard for others that some deep part of me wanted to become.  From that point on the question became not whether I had integrity or not, but instead how to stay continually accountable to the values and integrity that some part of me deeply wanted me to live.

All good and well so far, but what about the psych ward Jesus stuff?  Where does that fit in?  

Well, for me, that experience, too, was powerful and life-changing.  If I had just followed the advice of the mental health profession - and dismissed it as 'illness' and taken my meds - that would not have been the case.  Equally important, if I had caved to the temptation at the time to take my thoughts literally  - that would not have been the case either.  It would have been easy to get stuck in the powerful attraction of being 'chosen' as some spiritual big shot with superhuman connections to the divine.

In the end, the realization was this:  I'm not any more connected to god or the Universe than the next person.  At the same time, to be at peace with myself, there are certain principles that I have to live.  One of these principles is the importance of taking risks and making personal sacrifice in service of helping to create the world I want to live in.  Essentially, what Christians call "laying down your life for your friends."

Partly that's what convinced me to be open about my own struggles here.  I keep saying that I want world where it is safer for human beings to be vulnerable and honest about who we really are.  But that is never going to happen unless some of us take the risk.  So why not me ?

One of the things I like about the Power Threat Meaning Framework that we are talking about in this series is that it talks about the positive use of power.  For me, taking the risk to be vulnerable and honest is about positive power.  It says I believe there are more important values to human existence than saving face or looking good in the eyes of conventional society.

Surprising as it may seem, I am not alone in that conviction.  Arguably, this was the premise upon which one of the most effective peer support movements in human history was founded.  Indeed, some 80 years ago, a straggly handful of barely-recovered drunks in the fledgling organization Alcoholics Anonymous encouraged their membership as follows:

This painful past may be of infinite value to other families still struggling with their problem.  We think each family which has been relieved owes something to those who have not, and when the occasion requires, each member of it should only be too willing to bring former mistakes, no matter how grievous, out of their hiding places.  Showing others who suffer how we were given help is the very thing that makes life seem so worthwhile to us now.  Cling to the thought that, in God's hands, the dark past is the greatest possession you have--the key to life and happiness for others. With it you can avert death and misery for them.

Alcoholics Anonymous, page 124.

In actuality, this has been my experience.  Nothing has salved my wounds more than discovering others who were kind and courageous enough to risk saying 'me too' in my most alienated, frightened hours.  In effect they said:

I stand with you.  You are not alone.  Your reality may be unconventional, but so is mine.  I will not let you be rejected or thrown out by the human race for owning your truth.  To the contrary, I welcome your truth and honor it.  Your truth is a human truth, as is mine.  Both our truths have value and are welcome here.  I honor your courage in sharing your truth, as you honor me by receiving and welcoming mine.  

This positive use of power - the power to  match vulnerability with vulnerability in service of connection and restoration - is for me the greatest gift we human beings can offer each other.  At least I can say with confidence, it is the greatest, most healing gift anyone has ever offered to me. 

Today's Retreat

The mini-retreat today will offer a facilitated opportunity to explore power, threat, meaning and their relationship to unconventional realities we may be experiencing.  The discussion will focus on 6 core questions adapted from the Power Threat Meaning Framework that inspired this series: 

  1. ‘What has happened to you?’ (In what ways has your experience of unconventional realities led to you feeling over-powered, under-powered, dis-empowered ...?)
  2. ‘How did this affect you?’ (What threats has this posed to your needs and survival?)
  3. ‘What sense can you make of it?’ (What did these situations and experiences mean for you?)
  4. ‘What did you have to do to survive?’ (What strategies did you use to respond to threats or create meaning from adversity?)
  5. ‘What values, strengths and resources have you been able to access? (Or might you try to access?)
  6. ‘What is your story?’ (How does all this fit together?)

The Power Threat Meaning Framework: Guided Discussion, 


For more info:

Power, Threat Meaning in a Nutshell


The Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTM) was introduced by the British Psychological Society in February 2018.  The framework highlights the links between wider social factors - like poverty, discrimination, abuse and violence and distressed or distressing emotional and behavioral responses. It describes the diverse strategies that human beings use to cope with overwhelming emotions in order to survive and protect themselves and meet their core needs.  Introducing the Power Threat Meaning Framework, https://www.bps.org.uk/news-and-policy/introducing-power-threat-meaning-framework.

Equally important is the solution proposed by the Power Threat Meaning Framework  Unlike most mental health approaches, PTM argues that meaning and distress must be understood and addressed at social, community and cultural levels, not just individual ones. It joins the United Nations in recommending that a shift of focus towards 'power imbalance' rather than 'chemical imbalance' in mental health awareness and practice. In a word, 'the less access you have to conventional or approved forms of power, the more likely you are to adopt socially disturbing or disruptive strategies in the face of adversity.'  PTM Launch Slideshow, slide 28, https://www1.bps.org.uk/system/files/user-files/Division%20of%20Clinical%20Psychology/public/PTM%20COMPOSITE%20VERSION%2025.1.18.pdf

Better yet, the framework is non-pathologizing and suggests a unifying, overarching model of human psychosocial functioning that applies to all of human beings, including those without mental health labels. Also encouraging: the approach recognizes that power operates positively (not just negatively!). It therefore encourages both personal agency and social action to create meaningful personal and societal outcomes.  Power Threat Meaning Framework Overview, https://www1.bps.org.uk/system/files/user-files/Division%20of%20Clinical%20Psychology/public/INF299%20PTM%20overview%20web.pdf

Friday, May 4, 2018

Devalued Identities and "Mental Illness" - ONLINE WORKSHOP: Fri. May 4 ~ 8-9:30 PM EST

A Flyer with a Schedule of Events is attached.  It reads:   POWER, THREAT MEANING MONTH     ANATOMY OF A BREAKDOWN (graphic)  1. Life is hard all by it self 2. Basic needs are insecure 3. Bias and prejudice shut us out 4. Trusted institutions let us down 5. Social responses make it worse 6. Injuries add up 7. BREAK DOWN   MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS:  LACK OF POWER AFFECTS US   Body power – society values preferences, attributes and abilities that you don’t have or identify with  Coercive power – you are subjected to violence, aggression, threats  Legal power – systemic rules or sanctions limit your choices  Economic power – you can’t afford needed goods, services, activities or opportunities on a par with others  Interpersonal power – you can’t meet basic relational needs for intimacy, care and human protection  Social/cultural power – limited access to knowledge, connections and qualifications that make life easier  Ideological power – values, language and meaning  are defined by powerful others   MAY 2018 SCHEDULE   Wednesday, May 2nd ~8-9:30 pm EST                                     Power, Threat and the Meaning of “Mental Illness”  Friday,  May 4th ~8-9:30 pm EST                                         Devalued Identities and "Mental Illness"  Saturday, May 5th ~2-5 pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                   Power, Threat and Unconventional Realities  Wednesday, May 9th ~8-9:30 pm EST                                                         Surviving Rejection and Invalidation  Friday, May 11th ~8-9:30pm EST                                      Surviving Childhood Adversity  Saturday, May 12th ~2pm - 5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                            Power, Threat and the Meanings of “Mothering”  Wednesday, May 16th ~8-9:30pm EST                                          Surviving Disrupted Identities and Roles  Friday, May 18th ~8-9:30pm EST                                 Surviving Setbacks and Defeat  Saturday, May 19 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini Retreat                                Power, Threat and the Meanings of "Suicide"  Sunday, May 20 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                   Power, Threat and the Meanings of 'Mania'  Wednesday, May 23 ~8-9:30pm EST                                          Surviving Entrapments  Friday, May 25 ~8-9:30pm EST                                            Surviving Disconnection and Loss  Saturday, May 26 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                              Power, Threat and Angry Meanings  Sunday, May 27 ~2-5pm EST:  Mini-Retreat                   Power, Threat and Addictive Meanings  Sunday, May 27th ~Starting 10 PM EST                                                              Memorial Day Story Telling Marathon                                                     26.2 hour vigil, our lives go the distance                                                                       Tueday, May 29 ~8-9:30pm EST                                               Surviving Social Exclusion and Shame   Wednesday, May 30 ~8-9:30pm EST                                             Surviving Coercive Power  To Join Us:   Join by computer: https://zoom.us/j/119362879 Join by phone: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 646 558 8656 Enter Meeting ID: 119 362 879 International callers: https://zoom.us/u/jkwt3wHh     More info at:  peerlyhuman.blogspot.com & facebook.com/groups/WellnessRecoveryRights/

Friday, May 4th ~8-9:30 pm EST      

Join by computer: https://zoom.us/j/119362879

Join by phone: +1 669 900 6833 or +1 646 558 8656
Enter Meeting ID: 119 362 879

International callers: https://zoom.us/u/jkwt3wHh
                   

Devalued identities cause "Mental Illness"


As a general rule, those of us with socially devalued identities are far more likely to be diagnosed as having both common and severe mental health problems in proportion to our numbers.  Harm from devalued identities affects not only our ‘minority’ concerns like ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, disability or being defined as ‘mentally ill’, but also our large group memberships as women, children, seniors, 'working-class' or 'poor'.  

As a practical matter, our membership in any devalued group exposes us to a greater degree of discrimination and threat.  This, in turn, increases the likelihood of our experiencing even more relational and social adversities, along with physical health problems.  If we have multiple marginalized identities (e.g. black and disabled; female and poor; gay and ‘mentally ill’), our odds of experiencing adversity and its attendant ill effects increase exponentially.  This is confirmed by the evidence about class, ‘race’ and gender gradients in mental health, criminal justice and other welfare systems.

This only makes sense.  A simple fact of the human condition is that none of us is immune from the adversities of life, no matter how socially or economically privileged.  At the same time, socially valued identities tend to offer far greater compensatory power, status and control.  A hallmark of privileged identities is the ability to access social capital in the face of distress, as well as greater options for support, escape, protection, safety and healing.  Indeed, these cultural advantages are what make ‘privileged' qualities seem so socially appealing in the first place.

Accordingly, those of us with marginalized identities, all too often, experience subordination, exclusion and oppression.  These may take the form of chronic background threats - living in deprived and unsafe environments, frequent reminders of the potential for violence or aggression toward ‘people like us’, and discrimination in pay and employment, education, housing, transportation, healthcare….  There may be repeated encounters with negative stereotypes, hostility, harassment and ‘micro-aggressions’ – those multiple, brief daily interactions that subtly denigrate us  in relation to our group membership.

Even harder to detect are the socially acceptable, culturally desirable practices that ensure that ‘people like us’ are continually monitored and contained.   God forbid that, in being ourselves, the cultural pollution we represent should intrude upon the manicured image that the dominant culture wishes to maintain of itself. A ready example is the way that those of us with 'mental illness' are repeatedly reminded to take our meds, call our doctors or attend to our 'self-care' when we express normal human responses to a difficult day.  Long way of saying, that those of us in marginalized groups are often told what is and is not ok to believe about ourselves (you can believe you are ill, but not that your anger or high ideals are justified) and how the reality of our lives may and may not permissibly be defined (you can believe that you have a broken brain, not that your voices are real).

This is how the power of the dominant culture operates in the lives of those of us whose identities are devalued.

Suffice it to say, none of this feels very good.  In fact, most of us find it highly uncomfortable (threatening) to live with.  We frequently find it necessary to devote a lot of attention and energy to the following:

  • Regulating overwhelming feelings 
  • Protecting ourselves from physical danger 
  • Maintaining identity, self-image and self-esteem 
  • Preserving a place within the social group 
  • Protecting against attachment loss, hurt and abandonment 

The ‘symptoms’ of ‘mental illness’ (e.g., vigilance, defensiveness, avoidance, denial, stress, overwhelm, reactivity, breakdown) and its attendant labels are only a short step from here.

These important points - and countless others - are outlined in the  Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTM) introduced by the British Psychological Society in February 2018.  Power Threat Meaning Framework Overview, pages 47-52, https://www1.bps.org.uk/system/files/user-files/Division%20of%20Clinical%20Psychology/public/INF299%20PTM%20overview%20web.pdf
The framework highlights the links between wider social factors - like poverty, discrimination, abuse and violence and distressed or distressing emotional and behavioral responses. It describes the diverse strategies that human beings use to cope with overwhelming emotions in order to survive and protect themselves and meet their core needs.  Introducing the Power Threat Meaning Framework, https://www.bps.org.uk/news-and-policy/introducing-power-threat-meaning-framework

Equally important is the solution proposed by the Power Threat Meaning Framework  Unlike most mental health approaches, PTM argues that meaning and distress must be understood and addressed at social, community and cultural levels, not just individual ones. It joins the United Nations in recommending that a shift of focus towards 'power imbalance' rather than 'chemical imbalance' in mental health awareness and practice. In a word, 'the less access you have to conventional or approved forms of power, the more likely you are to adopt socially disturbing or disruptive strategies in the face of adversity.'  PTM Launch Slideshow, slide 28, https://www1.bps.org.uk/system/files/user-files/Division%20of%20Clinical%20Psychology/public/PTM%20COMPOSITE%20VERSION%2025.1.18.pdf

Better yet, the framework is non-pathologizing and suggests a unifying, overarching model of human psychosocial functioning that applies to all of human beings, including those without mental health labels. Also encouraging: the approach recognizes that power operates positively (not just negatively!). It therefore encourages both personal agency and social action to create meaningful personal and societal outcomes.

Tonight's workshop

The workshop tonight will offer a facilitated discussion on the relationship between devalued identities and 'mental illness.'  The discussion will focus on 6 core questions adapted from the PTM model: 

  1. ‘What has happened to you?’ (In what ways have devalued identities led to you being  over-powered, under-powered, dis-empowered ...?)
  2. ‘How did this affect you?’ (What threats has this posed to your needs and survival?)
  3. ‘What sense can you make of it?’ (What did these situations and experiences mean for you?)
  4. ‘What did you have to do to survive?’ (What strategies did you use to respond to threats or create meaning from adversity?)
  5. ‘What values, strengths and resources have you been able to access? (Or might you try to access?)
  6. ‘What is your story?’ (How does all this fit together?)

The Power Threat Meaning Framework: Guided Discussion, 


For more info: