The Mental Health Recovery Archive, The Wellcome Trust – review of its ‘soft launch’ (9 December 2013)

Roz Oates, a doctoral student in Durham’s Centre for Medical Humanities and Department of Geography, who is also part of the Hearing the Voice research team, writes:

The Mental Health Recovery Archive at the Wellcome Trust

On Monday 9 December, I attended a Mental Health Recovery Symposium at the Wellcome Trust in London. This event was organised by Anna Sexton, a Ph.D. researcher and archivist, and Professor Jerome Carson, and marked the soft launch of the recovery archive on the omega system that Anna initiated in the context of her doctoral research on ‘participatory archives’.

Anna Sexton started off by presenting the four moving and powerful stories of recovery from the recovery archive that she has created. Anna hoped that the individuals with lived experience who have provided these narratives would be regarded as professional experts. The aim of the archive is to recover and redefine the term ‘recovery’.

One of the contributors to the archive, Peter Bullimore, drawing on his personal experience of trauma, proposed that trauma often plays an important role in mental health problems. Peter is the founder of the Paranoia Network, and encourages mental health professionals to reach beyond diagnostic labels to help the individual with their recovery. Peter mentioned that it takes on average sixteen years for people with mental health problems to disclose abuse. But disclosure is important, otherwise ‘frozen fear’ can stop emotional development, preventing the person from feeling that they have control in their life.

A short film was shown featuring the recovery of Stuart Baker-Brown from schizophrenia. Inspired by John Nash’s film, ‘A Beautiful Mind’, Stuart was awarded a William Churchill Memorial Trust fellowship, and fulfilled a dream of hiking in the Himalayas and doing photography. He believes that recovery is ‘something the person has to work out for themselves’, but that it is important not to ‘bow down to stigma and discrimination’.

Dolly Sen, whose story also appears in the archive, spoke of the importance of laughter in her recovery. She is the author of numerous books, including ‘The World is Full of Laughter’. She believes that it is important that the story of recovery is one’s own. She reflected how in twenty-five years of psychiatric care, nobody asked her about her story. Yet, ‘finding the dolliness of Dolly is not a medical phenomenon’, she said, ‘it’s an emotional and spiritual one’. Dolly hopes that the mental health recovery model will revise and rewrite itself, and challenge the fear around mental health.

The fourth contributor to the archive, Andrew Voyce, spoke about his recovery from schizophrenia. After becoming unwell at university, he spent a long period homeless. Andrew feels that he was saved by the introduction of community care and the closure of the asylums. Instead of ‘mindbending injections’, he was finally given ‘satisfactory therapeutic medication’. Andrew believes that recovery ‘is not about a cure, but taking steps to becoming yourself again’. He named individuals who are important recovery heroes for him, and these include the psychologists Peter Chadwick and Patricia Deegan. Andrew is most happy to regain his intellectual functioning, and he is the author of ‘The Durham Light and Other Stories’.

The afternoon closed with Professor Jerome Carson speaking of how there is a continuing need for experiences of recovery from mental health problems to be shared by mental health professionals and service-users. He believes that a more positive image of psychosis is needed, and showed short films of Master’s students speaking of how they were inspired and impressed by the recovery stories in the archive. The archive is now live.

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