mental illness – the blog no one wants to write.

so i woke up this morning to news that there’s to be a rally in melbourne highlighting the human rights violations of the mentally ill. at first i thought. yeah, good, it’s about time someone considered it. Then I thought hang on. what. there needs to be a RALLY  about this.  the words mental illness and human rights violations shouldn’t belong in the same sentence. But they have, and they do, for decades if not centuries in this country and under the current neoliberal economic climate we find ourselves in it is only disintegrating further.

I’d like to speak personally and both politically on the topic as for me the two are intrinsically linked.  I have mental health problems that severely encroach on my life  and at times have made me wonder about ending it, or attempt ending it.  I have endured a re-traumatization at the hands of the system – a system that many refuse to acknowledge is in severe disrepair and needs not just money, but immediate restructuring in a way that puts people before the profits of private health companies and individual clinics. I have been told many a time that the issues that I suffer are simply not within the scope of the system. they can’t be dealt with by the structures that already exist. I often rely on the kindness of friends who have no training in mental health first aid but act out of a sheer desire to protect and enable me to survive.  I have been passed from doctor to doctor without any acknowledgement of my strengths but rather my humanity reduced to a set of pathologies. It takes incredible courage and survival skills to be able to navigate a world in which you are vulnerable and often unable to advocate for yourself. 

I consider the mental health system, despite the existence of some well meaning individuals as a highly exploitative system. The voices of the mentally ill are amongst the most unheard and the most marginalized within society yet given half a chance, they are amongst the most productive, creative and wonderful voices I have ever encountered.  Police harrassment of the mentally ill is rife.  No extra training is provided on how to approach someone in the street, immediate hospitalization often occurs if the police encounter a mentally ill person and that is often against the person’s will.  The way the Mental Health Act is structured deems it possible for a person to be forcibly detained in a facility if they are at risk to themselves or others.  The assessment of this risk is often done in a hospital emergency  setting, when a person is at an acute level of crisis, by a doctor who has none if not very little of the patients holistic history (sometimes by a registrar who has even less of an idea of the person’s history).  It is often not in the patient’s best interest to be hospitalized and hospitalization in itself can have a traumatizing effect and impede a person’s “recovery” .  Public psychiatric wards are an absolute shambles. not enough beds to cater for the needs of patients, an increasing number of acutely ill patients left to be with those deemed to be of “low risk” putting both staff and patients alike at risk.  Many a time emergency short stay units are proxy psychiatric units as beds are found for acute patients or patients await assessment.  This is simply not a situation that fosters anyone’s sense of dignity or humanity. It is a situation that detracts from the humanity of patients.  Patients are also at an increased risk of suicide if they are discharged prematurely with little follow up, as is often the case due to pressure for scant resources. 

I am also against the use of forcible seclusion or restraint. A study conducted by the Alfred Hospital in Victoria in 2010 concluded that the number of patients needing restraint in emergency departments or seclusion within psychiatric wards was on the increase with the number of acutely psychotic or “violent” patients  rising.  I don’t believe the numbers of those suffering pychosis  are rising, but I do think restraint is rising because staff do not have the time or resources to “talk down” a highly distressed patient. Several  complaints of physical assault by hospital security staff who are responsible for restraint despite a lack of medical training are yet to be investigated by Victorian mental health and medical bodies. It is once again, extremely difficult to maintain a sense of dignity and humanity and agency when it is often physically, forcibly removed from you.

The focus of the mental health system has also changed, and has left severely ill patients in the lurch.  Not only has the government restructured funding to the public psychiatric inpatient system it has restructured access to public psychologists, Occupational Therapist and other allied health professionals. The “Better Outcomes” Scheme was introduced in 2006 and entitled sufferers to 12 sessions with a professional per calendar year, and under exceptional circumstances a further 6 could be obtain, taking the total to 18.  Under the recently passed Federal Budget,  from November, the amount of sessions will be reduced to 10 with the exceptional circumstances clause removed. The rationale was that severely ill patients or patients requiring more than 10 sessions have “complex” needs and should be referred to the private psychiatric system for further assistance and have funelled the money into early intervention. WhilstI am all for early intervention, the whole purpose of the scheme was to increase access to professionals for those who could not afford to enter the private system. Most private psychiatrists charge between $200-300 per consultation and despite a significant medicare rebate this is simply beyond the reach of the most vulnerable.  What this will result in is further pressure on the public inpatient system, and will render access to help virtually inaccessible to those who need it the most.  Once again, this further decreases the societal value of those who suffer. We are seen as expendable, and often our care is seen as a drain on the system and governments past and present have washed their hands of us.  Any National Disability Network needs to include those with psychiatric disability, not just physical. There should be no delineation between what constitutes disability and what doesn’t and no scheme that removes pressure on hospitals should be defunded or scrapped.

And finally, (as if this rant wasn’t long enough) in order to create a world where those of us who suffer mental illness are valued, I do believe there needs to be an emphasis on holistic service provision – that is services that look at the person’s whole environment, and every aspect of their lives.  There are very little services that provide this approach, although ironically, mental illness doesn’t often exist in a vacumn. A strengths based approach is also needed.  Start with what a person is good at, look at the things they have done in order to navigate and survive their illnesses. Many people with a mental illness are highly motivated, creative individuals yet their strengths are not recognized.  Ask someone what inspires them, what makes them tick, what makes them dream, because chances are you will get an incredibly thoughtful, insightful answer that will take you far beyond anyone’s pathologies. Our humanity, dignity, strength, survival, and courage is often times just as evident as what ails us. It is this that needs to be brought to the fore, rather than the violence, humiliation and stigmatization many of us suffer.  

If you are reading this and have depression, anxiety or any other condition, you’re not alone. you’re amazing. you are here. you are living, and you are extremely loved. by me, and by many people. you are not any of the labels you have been given and I think the day will come when we will set the agenda for our care, and it will be about fucking time.


And it all starts when we say no. We can say no. When someone instructs us to lose weight, to shave, to straighten our hair, to get “in shape”, to wear makeup, to wear less makeup, to dress appropriately, to dress more stylishly, no not that stylishly, to stop standing out, to stop making noise, to stop being so damn large, to stop making excuses, to stop fighting, to just get along, to just do what we tell you, to just buy into this commercial weight-loss plan, to just take these pills, to just have this cosmetic surgery, to just follow instructions, to just know that we’re doing this for your own good, to never walk alone, to never walk alone in that outfit, to never draw attention, because no one wants to see that, because no one wants to see your body, because no one wants to see you.

You can tell them no, and refuse to say more on the subject. No is always an option. It’s a small word, a difficult word, a word that speaks volumes in a single syllable, and one that gets easier to say the more you do it. It’s part of your arsenal, whether you realize it or not, and it’s a powerful weapon.

You can say no.
You don’t have to explain it.
You don’t have to apologize for it.
You can just

Lesley Kinzel. (via whosaysilikerightangles)

Fuck yes this

tell me what rights I don’t deserve – a response to miranda devine

OOOOOKKK.  Let’s try this again shall we.. I manage to have my browser crash twice in the same week writing about this issue so let’s hope third time’s a charm because goddamnit i’ve got something to say. Normally I don’t give right wing syndicated columnists the time of day because they don’t deserve it but this one had it coming. T  Some of the responses to Miranda Devine’s latest column have been extremely well thought out. (Cath Deveny’s absolutely nailed it for me) and although I don’t intend to go into depth about the issue of marriage or “fatherlessness” In this post  I’d like to provide a checklist of the rights as a young lesbian I already don’t have, just if she wasn’t already sure.

But before I do, I’d like to point out it is extremely easy to right off Ms Devine as a “right wing nut job” but these viewpoints are not without context.  It seems absolutely no co-incidence to me that her column, decrying Penny Wong and lesbian parents in general, and lamenting “fatherlessness” comes in the same week as Bob Katter spoke at an anti same sex gathering in Canberra. (although I do think anyone who wears a cowboy hat to work is a bit crazy, but  that’s beside the point)  Backlash is an almost instantaneous reponse to any social movement that has even the slightest sniff of victory as I believe, having been involved in it for some time, the movemement for marriage equality does.  

so here’s a little list, of the things I don’t have as a lesbian. Nor do my Gay, Bisexual, Intersex or Transgendered brothers and sisters – along with the things I am more likely to encounter.

If you are gay  lesbian bisexual transgender or intersex:

you are more likely to suffer mental health problems directly related to your sexuality (depression and anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder due to street harrassment or other violence)

have been discriminated against by your immediate family – especially if you are a younger queer.

you are more likely to commit suicide than your heterosexual counterparts, once again, particularly if you are young.

suffer homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse.

commit recurring acts of self harm

suffer street harrassment, verbal abuse or violence. Lesbian  and trans women are significantly more likely to suffer sexual assault yet are least represented in the official figures. If a lesbian or trans woman suffers violence on the basis of her gender or sexuality, there  are no laws that recognize or prosecute these crimes as hate crimes. There are also very few resources within the police force to educate police officers as to sensitivity regarding LGBTI issues although this is an area that has improved somewhat.

be unable to marry the partner of your choice – an important albeit a contentious right it is still one we have not yet won, although some states are considering state based same sex marriage or civil unions. marriages conducted overseas are not recognized in Australia.

Be unable to adopt children in the majority of Australian states or have overseas adoptions recognized.

Be unable to make decisions regarding a partner’s medical care. I have experienced this with a partner suffering leukemia. Once she entered a palliative care situation the rights to make choices around her care were taken from me and placed in the hands of her parents despite myself as her next of kin.

face separation from your partner in aged care situations. Most aged care facilities do not recognize the rights of LGBTI couples to live together once they enter aged care or retirement situations.

Be unable to have the non biological same sex  parent of any children concieved through IVF or anonymous donation recorded on the birth certificate. This proves problematic when separation of couples or the death of the biological parent occurs.

Be unable to access IVF at a reasonable cost, or in some states, at all.  Many single heterosexual women have greater access to IVF in some states than Lesbian partners. This leads to the increasing use of anonymous donation which is what I believed sparked the ire of ms devine.

you are more likely to be told that your sexuality is a choice, and therefore none of the above rights should apply to you. (it doesn’t work in reverse. try telling a straight person they shouldn’t be allowed to get married. prepare for ensuing laughter)

you are more likely to suffer discrimination on the job, or suffer discriminatory hiring practices. Although it is illegal to openly not hire someone based on their sexuality, some organizations are using more covert ways of not hiring perfectly qualified LGBTI people.  I have also experienced this. 

If you are a man who’s had sex with a man  even if you don’t identify exclusively as gay or bisexual you are unable to give blood regardless of negative HIV status. This comes in the face of people dying for want of donations and severe shortages in times of crises.

Having compiled this (by no means exhaustive) checklist I’d like to now know what rights a heterosexual middle class journalist should tell me i am not entitled to. There is no empirical, scientific evidence that shows any disparity between my ability to parent and that of my straight peers. In fact, I came from a straight christian home that was riven with domestic violence and sexual abuse. I should have been so lucky to be raised by the absolutely doting gay and lesbian parents I have seen.  Nobody should use their privledge, societal or professional to deny the rights of others.  If you are lucky enough to be able to get paid for having an opinion, make sure it is one that empowers people and shows what i perceive as the true spirit of  journalism – fairness, equality and social justice.

in summary – don’t shit on my rights when they are decidedly fewer than yours.

my biggest wish.

the world is full of judgement. No matter where you look, someone is telling you you’re not good enough, you don’t earn enough, you don’t look right, think right,  love who you *should* love  buy the right products.  Your opinions aren’t valid unless they are the opinions of the “mainstream” – parrotted versions of what we hear on television, read in the papers, failing to take into account the agendas of these institutions.  Parrotted versions of what we’ve learned as children, what we’ve grown up to believe to be true, as if to dare to deviate from these assimilated ideas is a sin punishable by death.

the world is also full of people living with judgement. The homeless, the Gay and Lesbians, the transgendered, the drug addicted, the mentally ill, those who’ve sufffered abuse or domestic violence, the disabled. Always, we as a society are quick to come up with reasons why these people are in some way at fault for their own conditions. We never see beyond what’s immediately in front of our eyes, to what might lurk behind the guy asking you for change, the girl holding her girlfriend’s hand. The man who was born a woman. Tell me you’ve never stood in judgement of someone even without voicing it and i’ll tell you you’re a fucking liar. We’ve all done it, even if we aren’t aware of it.

my biggest wish is that we stop and think, reconsider that time we stared at the girl holding her girlfriend’s hand and rather than stare, be glad she found someone who loves her.  That we look beyond what our eyes and ears tell us and seek a more compassionate place within us.  If we took time out to find out a bit more about the person we think we see, we’d often find there is  something far more beautiful than we could imagine.  I write this knowing the police will arrest a drug addict or a street worker down the end of my street tonight.  I write this having lived amongst people who are far less priviledged than I am and yet finding more talent intelligence and insight amongst them than the highly educated people I once called friends.  It is so much easier to write people off than to stop, think, look, consider their worth.  We’re all worthy, some of us just haven’t had the luxury of knowing it or being told it. 

my biggest wish is that one day we all  find the flowers growing in our hearts and the hearts of others, and instead of ripping them out at the roots, let them grow and share them.  we’ll find then that life is an amazing garden and we’re all its gardeners.  And that sometimes the people with the dirtiest, most outstretched hands are often the ones offering you the most beautiful flowers.


A petition calling on the Hong Kong government to drop “gay cure” therapist Hong Kwai-wah — who claims he can “cure” LGBT people through cold showers, prayer, and abstinence — has reached more than 14,500 signatures in the last 48 hours, signaling momentum for the campaign started on by gay rights advocates Dan Choi and Truth Wins Out. The petition has taken off on following news that Hong Kong’s Social Welfare Department recently held a workshop for its staff led by Hong Kwai-wah. Hong Kong’s endorsement of discredited “ex-gay therapy” and psychologist Hong Kwai-wah prompted Choi — a West Point graduate, combat veteran, and a leading voice in the campaign to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — to work with Truth Wins Out to ask Hong Kong to end its sponsorship of “ex-gay therapy” and its promoters.“It is shocking that Hong Kong would risk its reputation as an international business and cultural center by hiring a therapist with such disturbing views,” said Choi. “Hong Kongshould move decisively to restore its honor and dignity by removing Hong Kwai-wah. The world is watching and taking note of this embarrassing travesty.” The effort to infiltrate Hong Kong’s government and promote anti-gay ideology has been spearheaded by Canada-based Exodus Global Alliance and United States-based Exodus International. Exodus International is the same organization behind the “ex-gay” iPhone apprecently removed from Apples’ iTunes store after more than 150,000 Truth Wins Out and members petitioned the technology company. Exodus has been spreading its fundamentalist anti-gay doctrine overseas for some time — as it did in Uganda, encouraging advocates of the notorious “Kill the Gays” bill to criminalize homosexuality. “Ex-gay therapy is rejected by all respected medical and mental health organizations across the world,” said Truth Wins Out’s Wayne Besen. “It is appalling that Hong Kongwould allow American fundamentalist Christians to infiltrate and bring great shame and dishonor. It is time for the good people of Hong Kong to stand up and not allow themselves to be exploited by America’s most notorious religious zealots.”Truth Wins Out released a comprehensive report this week — How Radical American Christian Sects Are Invading Hong Kong and Beyond — produced by researcher Bruce Wilson, detailing extensive efforts by American extremists to evangelize Hong Kong. “The hiring of Hong Kwai-wah is the tip of the iceberg,” said Besen. “If we don’t take a stand now and stop the Social Welfare Department, the efforts to infiltrate Hong Kongand spread a radical, hate-filled ideology will only intensify.” Rainbow Action, a Hong Kong-based organization, protested the Hong Kong Social Welfare Department last week to draw international attention to the issue. After a concerned citizen wrote the Social Welfare Department, he received a bizarre reply that wrongly equated “ex-gay” conversion therapy with more reputable therapy.
“We consider that knowledge from multiple perspectives is essential for social workers to make professional, comprehensive and independent assessment on their cases and to address the specific needs of individual clients,” responded Gloria Lee of the Social Welfare Department. “In this connection, the Department has adopted an open and impartial attitude in organizing training activities for the professional development of our social workers.”
“The Social Welfare Department’s reaction to the controversy is entirely inadequate and unacceptable. This is the equivalent of the tobacco industry infiltrating the health system and portraying the ‘health benefits’ of smoking as just another perspective,” said TWO’s Besen. “It is grossly irresponsible for the Social Welfare Department to embrace a form of dangerous, religious therapy that harms clients and ruins lives.” The American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association and American Psychological Association are all on record in stating that there is no evidence to support the efficacy of so-called “ex-gay” therapy and attempts to change sexual orientation can be psychologically harmful. View Dan Choi’s petition to the Hong Kong Social Welfare Department (including current signature total):
Fuck you hong kong

More Than 14,500 Rally Online To Fight “Gay Cure” Therapy In Hong Kong

just so I won’t forget him.

 There’s so much going on in the world, London’s in flames, there’s the Arab spring, and just so much art i’m creating at the moment that it feels like I should be focussing on those things instead of this.

Yet every night since i’ve been back in Melbourne I’ve thought about him. How ridiculously unfair it was that to have survived war, cancer and a divorce to die alone, without any of his family nearby.  His favourite band was Dire Straits, ok, so as a stupid teenager i’d roll my eyes every time he mentioned Mark Knoppfler or i’d ask for the hundredth time “dad, who the fuck is mark Knoppfler”? knowing full well he didn’t like swear words or the fact I didn’t know who the guitarist in his favourite band was. But today I found myself requesting dire straits on the radio.. yes you heard it, ringing up and requesting the music i rolled my eyes at just to piss him off.  Some how it’s like, through hearing music, i heard bits of him.

I want to take back all the times I ever fought with him, yelled at him, or wanted him out of my life. Because it feels like there’s a big fucking gaping hole in my chest that can’t be filled.  He won’t sit in the front row of my shows anymore, beaming with pride nudging the person next to him whispering (audibly, he was never a good whisperer in theatres) “that’s my daughter”   Nor will he be at my book launches or even on the other end of the phone line when I call.  He read every single poem i ever wrote and said I was the best writer he had ever read, disclaiming of course, that he was indeed, biased.  People describe my writing as “honest” “raw” “emotional” and “heartbreaking”  but the honesty and emotion I learned from him.  He was never afraid to cry, he said it was the hallmark of a strong man, not a weak one.  He was never afraid to tell the truth, even when it hurt because he knew in the long run people would be helped by it.  I watched him struggle to deal with my suffering,  and although he didn’t always understand he listened.   Unconditionally.  He said he wasn’t quite sure how he had come to raise someone like me, as he came from a totally different time, but he never realised how exactly alike we were.He said it was my struggle with PTSD that made him get help for his own. I cannot imagine, locked up in the chambers of his mind all those years what it must have been like. Thrust into a situation not of his making, not of his choice, but simply because of his year of birth.

My Dad had a massive heart. He loved everyone, and was compassionate even when there were situations when he should have been filled with resentment. He never once blamed my mother for their divorce. He never once blamed my brother for his problems with addiction. He just tried relentlessly to understand and make the best of things. Yet it was his heart that got him in the end.  It just stopped beating. just like that. I think it couldn’t take the loss he never expressed. His friends in vietnam, my brother, my uncle, my grandfather and grandmother whom he both watched slowly die before his eyes. He was always reluctant to discuss the things that bothered him. Yet there were times when his eyes told stories his voice didn’t have to. We would sit in our lounge room and not say a word to each other, he’d be reading i’d be watching tv and yet we knew exactly what the other was feeling. I am blogging about him so the internet has some record of the kind of man he was.  But most of all,  just so that I  won’t forget him.

Sometimes it’s easiest to take in a spatter of pimples or ingrown hairs. It’s easy to be content in closing our eyes and running our hands across the balmy skin of a stranger. But someone who is emotionally naked, who is daring you to experience them on a deeper level, who believes you’re worthy not just of their nudity, but of their nakedness? That’s worth celebrating.

Stephanie Georgopulos (via callieefornia)

Also. Mainly. This.