Following presenting at Bradford’s Free Thinking About Psychiatric Medication Conference, I was excited to be invited back up north to speak at a similar event in York. The conference, organised by York and Selby Rehabilitation & Recovery Service was aimed at re-launching their Thinking About Medication Group and raising awareness around medication use.
Phil Thomas – Psychiatric Medication: A Critical Perspective
Phil Thomas opened up the day with some truly worrying facts and figures debunking any ideas attendees may have had that research evidence supported the long term use of neuroleptic medication for people struggling with psychosis. That some of the latest research he cited came from those previously supportive of the use of medication gave his conclusions extra power. The bottom line is that the use of neuroleptics simply isn’t as ‘evidence-based’ as we are led to believe.
Phil is a critical, rather than anti, psychiatrist. He has a pragmatic approach to supporting people and shared a helpful example of working within an inpatient mental health team when it was evident that – for one person – meds weren’t the answer. That teams in the NHS can take a creative and practical approach to engage and support someone in distress proves that this IS possible.
Rachel Waddingham – Me & The Meds: Moving Towards A Balanced Relationship With Psychiatric Medication
Download the powerpoint: Rachel Waddingham – Me And The Meds
Since withdrawing from medication, I’ve begun to understand why my relationship with it was so complicated – it was a relationship and relationships are complicated. In this presentation, I shared the different stages of this relationship. In doing so, I tried to shed some light on how our relationship with medication has got so wonky. As Phil has already said, the research doesn’t justify the faith psychiatry puts in medication. To me, the only way of making sense of this is that as individuals and as a collective, we each have a personal relationship with medication that makes it very hard for us to see it clearly. This issue is compounded by the fact that mental health services have been built around the use of medication – it is so intrinsic to so many services that we have little room to question it. Finally, I made some tentative suggestions about how we might move forwards.
Adam Jhugroo & Rachel Waddingham: Coming Off Medication
Stepping in at the last minutes, Adam and I shared our experience and thoughts around safe withdrawal from medication. Adam, a mental health nurse, facilitates a thinking about medication group up in Bradford – so has plenty of experience in supporting people to explore their own use of medication and make informed choices about it. We explored the steps involving in deciding to reduce or stop medication safely, emphasising the need to take things slowly and make sure that you’ve thought it through properly. Whether we like it or not, medication has a real and physical effect on our bodies. It can help people sleep, calm down their thinking and suppress emotions. With less medication, we often need other ways of dealing with sleep, anxiety and powerful emotions (as well as the voices, visions and other unusual experiences). I also shared my experience of supporting my parents through this process (they were understandably worried, given that I’d spent alot of my 20s on and off medication and they had been there to pick up the pieces).
Guy Holmes and Nikki Evans – Medication Support Groups: Do They Help?
Guy and Nikki shared their experience of a Medication Support Group in Shropshire. Sharing both Nikki’s personal experience, and the results of their evaluation, made a powerful case for the benefits of space to explore the use of medication. It was obvious from their presentation that a meds group isn’t about getting people to stop taking it – it’s about giving them the opportunity to make sense of their options. Once people have that space, they can make an informed choice to take, reduce or stop their medication. If a choice is informed, surely as a society and mental health service we should support someone to make the most of this.
Medication use in psychiatry is clearly a very emotive topic – for people with lived experience, carers, supporters and professionals. Discussions around medication use can be polarised, but medication is not good or bad. It’s not the answer or the antichrist – it’s just a drug. That drug can be helpful, but it can also be a hindrance. It can also be a bit of both. Whether people are taking or not taking medication is not the real issue. To me, the issue is whether they are living a life that they choose.
This event was a pleasure to be a part of. I particularly enjoyed the plenary session where people shared their experiences and perspectives. There is no right or wrong answer to meds – just what the person themselves feels is right for them. I hope there will be more events like this where people from different backgrounds take a step back and really think about what it is that we’re doing. Thinking spaces rock 🙂
Psychology In The Real World: www.shropsych.org/psychologyintherealworld.htm
Coming Off Psychiatric Medication: www.comingoff.com
Icarus Project’s Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Medication: www.theicarusproject.net/HarmReductionGuideComingOffPsychDrugs
Mad In America: www.madinamerica.com
Choice & Medication: www.choiceandmedication.org