I was excited to trek up to sunny Bradford in December to take part in Soteria Bradford’s ‘Beyond Medication – How do we reduce our dependance on psychotropic drugs?’ conference. Rather than getting stuck in expounding the drawbacks and dangers to psychotropic medication, this conference also gave space to explore creative alternatives to drugs. This is clearly something we need more of – space to approach medication in a balanced way whilst focusing on what else is available.
The day started with Robert Whitaker, a science journalist who stumbled upon the realisation that recovery outcomes have not gotten better since the introduction of neuroleptics and other psychotropic medication – they’ve actually got worse. He has spent years going over the research evidence for and against medication and believes that the research clearly shows that whilst medication can be helpful for some people, the long term outcomes for the vast majority aren’t good.
Hearing him speak is a little like being hit by a slidgehammer – hearing one research finding after another that counters the mainstream view of the usefulness of medication. This isn’t new information for me, having heard him speak before and having looked at the research papers. Still, there’s something very powerful about they way Robert puts it all together. He doesn’t shout, yell or make grand pronouncements about what we should do with the information – he simply puts it there and makes it obvious that we need to do something.
Next up, Ruari shared his experiences of breakdown, hospitalisation and the legacy of being diagnosed with a mental ‘illness’. Hearing him speak, I felt very angry at the judgements that had been made about his suitability for work and the discrimination that he had faced.
After lunch, Rufus took to the stage to get up all warmed up with some grounding exercises. Moving your body in a room of a 100 people or so can feel a little strange, but given the subject matter it was a breath of fresh air.
After Rufus, it was my turn to explore ways of using creativity to understand, and live with, distressing experiences. As someone who is only reluctantly identified as creative, I first looked at some of our stereotypes about creativity and distress before opening up the field to include anything that we do that is slightly ‘outside of the box’. For the rest of the presentation, I shared how I have used creativity to find ways of expressing, making sense of and dealing with my experiences. I also used my work at Voice Collective as an example of how young people, together, can come up with some very creative routes to recovery that us adults might not have considered.
The afternoon workshops included: Emancipatory networks and dialogues; How to reduce medication; Bradford Soteria: The story so far; Exploring creative routes to recovery. Unfortunately I was unable to attend the other workshops as I was facilitating a creative space to share the many different ways we can use creativity to facilitate our own personal recovery (whatever recovery means). I really enjoyed being able to sit around informally with people sharing experiences and ideas with one another. It helped underline the truth that there is no one way of understanding or dealing with the world, but that we all need support to find our own path.
By the end of the day I was feeling both inspired and frustrated. The frustration came from me comparing the content of the conference with the content of the ‘Schizophrenia Commission’ report which suggests we already know what worked with ‘schizophrenia’ (e.g. medication and CBT) but that the problem is people don’t have access to the latest treatments. The conference highlighted to me that we still don’t know what works, but that medication – whilst helpful for some – is not the panacea we once believed it was.