Ru and I headed up to Canary Wharf on Thursday night, to attend an event which the Mental Health Charity MQ had put on for its ambassadors. It was a kind of meet and greet, where we could network and chat to one another about how we had interpreted the ambassadorial role and what work we had done so far to promote the vision of MQ.
I became an ambassador for MQ late last year, and whist I am excited about the potential of this role and the work I could do to promote this important charities work, I have not yet really sunk my teeth into it. I’ve been too busy with the book, and work, to sit down as of yet and come up with some kind of plan, or strategy, for getting the most out of this opportunity.
However I went up to the event on Thursday night, and was excited to meet people connected to MQ, and learn a little bit more about the charity and the people who work within it.
I was lucky enough to speak to Lindsey Bennister, the CEO of the Charity, for a little while. I told her a little bit about my hopes for the ambassadorial role, and we also chatted a little bit about the jobs she had had before starting with MQ, and her reasons for wanting to work for a Mental Health Charity.
She was really nice, and so down-to-earth and relaxed, I felt comfortable enough to answer her honestly when she asked me, So, Alex, which areas do you feel MQ’s research should focus on going forward?
This was the question! This was the loaded, million dollar question which a small part of me had been hoping someone would ask me for quite some time now, because I have so many ideas!
It was one of those moments I thought, I could tow the sensible line here, and say something very general and focused on what we’ve already discussed, or I could honestly open up a little bit about my own ideas and passions. I had a kind of brief internal debate, and then thought- why not be honest, why not voice the things you’ve been thinking about.
I admitted that I had a lot of ideas which were fairly ‘out there,’ and then said that I felt as though current research, whilst being really important, was skirting round the issue of what mental illness really was. I do think it’s so very important to develop ways of better treating it, and determining who may be at risk, and so helping more people who are currently suffering- but really I pray for a day where we understand what the mind blowing experiences people have are really about.
I said that MQ currently funds research focusing upon the social factors, biological factors, psychological factors and more- but I said that when I first became unwell it felt very much like a spiritual experience, and that whilst I acknowledged that this really was getting into the realm of the unknown, and the abstract, I felt as though delving into this area, daring to look into a space which up until now we haven’t, might provide us with more clues as to why people suffer, and how those people who are suffering could be treated and brought back to a state of well-being.
I can’t remember exactly how I put it now, but I felt as though I’d made the point I wanted to whilst also acknowledging how ‘out there’ my ideas were. I’d already said that one of the things which drew me to MQ was their acknowledgement of the challenge ahead of them. On their web-page, MQ states that their vision is to “create a world where mental illness is understood, effectively treated, and one day made preventable.”
I made a comment along the lines of, mental illness really does represent the unknown- and so perhaps to move forward, and for MQ to achieve the goals they want to, they may need to start to look into areas which are currently unknown, and currently very evasive- like the spiritual, the world of emotions and all things non-rational. I didn’t put it this bluntly, or this crudely, and she did seem interested in what I was trying to get across.
I do understand how unusual my ideas are, and Ru did have to reassure me later that I didn’t simply some across as some crack-pot schizophrenia, waxing lyrical about all things imagined. I understand the kind of resistance anybody who starts talking about spiritual matters in a room full up with scientists and researchers is bound to encounter.
However, there are psychiatrists and psychologists who have already made moves in this area, and who have already opened up dialogues which are considered extreme or on the fringes of traditional debate. I suppose I feel as though so much has changed in the last ten years or so; previously people suffering mental illness were all locked up in asylums, and their versions of events were deemed to contain nothing more than madness.
Now you have millions of people across the globe, living with mental illness’s and engaging in debates and conversations- people who see a very different face of mental illness are coming out into the light and describing the experiences they have had, and perhaps these peoples opinions and voices should influence the way charities such as MQ approach the task of understanding what mental illness is, and working out ways to best approach it.
The attitude towards mental illness is changing, and I feel as though this could be the time that we stop approaching these issues through a lens of simple psychiatry or biology- stop reducing these experiences in ways which hold onto the past and instead start approaching them from new directions.
I have to confess I didn’t get quite this passionate when talking to Lindsey Bennister- but these were the ideas I was trying to get across, and I did leave feeling as though I had expressed myself well, or at least, not terribly.
Ru and I travelled back to my flat, and chatted more about the evening and the different areas (social, biological, psychological) people had been focused upon. After a few beers, on my part, we came up with a general ‘all round theory’ on how best to treat the spiralling epidemic of mental illness, particularly focusing upon how best to prevent so many young people from being negatively affected.
I’ll sum it up in next post 🙂