Posted Monday 11 January 2010
A guest post by Zarathustra of the Mental Nurse blog.
It's not always easy for mental health professionals and patients to have an open and honest conversation with each other. In my own field, mental health nursing, we're often at the sharp end of the more coercive aspects of psychiatry - compulsory detention, restraint, rapid tranquilisation and so on. Such things may at times be an unpleasant necessity, but they inevitably put up barriers between staff and patient. Even in settings where there's no coercion at all - say, a CPN meeting with a patient on a community visit - there's still the structure of professional and patient, with all that entails in terms of boundaries, power hierarchies and so on.
So, where can all those involved in mental health meet as true equals to exchange banter, stories and the odd uncomfortable truth? I'd say one answer lies in blogging.
On my blog, Mental Nurse, we're keen to recognise the power of blogging as a way for people involved in mental health to tell their stories and debate with each other. That's why we host a weekly
round-up of the best in mental health blogs. On New Year's Day we hosted our own awards ceremony, recognising some of the writing talent that has impressed us and our readership over the past year.
Among the mental health blogs, one of the most popular is Seaneen Molloy's Mentally Interesting: The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive, recently adapted into an award-winning Radio 4 play Dos and Don'ts for the Mentally Interesting. Blogs like Seaneen's give the human story behind what it's like to live with a mental illness. Not just the experience of the mental illness itself (say, the experience of depression, or a mixed episode), but all the associated hassles and problems as well - the tussles with the benefits system, the side-effects of psychiatric medication, and so on.
Sometimes these blogs give stark illustrations of the failings of mental health services. Mad Sad Girl's description of her time on an acute ward makes for grim reading, showing how frightening it can be to be admitted to such wards, and how physical healthcare for patients can be sorely lacking
For those looking for accounts of specific conditions, I can recommend Marine Snow and Obsessively Compulsively Yours for first-person depictions of anorexia nervosa and obsessive-compulsive disorder respectively. Borderline personality disorder is particularly well-represented in the blogosphere; Genius Gone Wrong, Becoming Hannah, Writing in the Margins of My Mind and Confessions of a Serial Insomniac all give insightful chronicles of living with that most-unfairly maligned of conditions.
As well as patients, there are a number of good quality blogs written by professionals. I can recommend Fighting Monsters and The Masked AMHP, both written by social workers, as well as Frontier Psychiatrist.
There's also some blog written by a bunch of mental health nurses, but I wouldn't bother with that one.
There's a third set of stories to add into the mix, and that's of carers. Schizophrenia - A Carer's Journal relates the fears and frustrations of a father with a son in a forensic secure unit. The Wife of a Schizophrenic is sadly currently inactive, but her back catalogue of posts is still worth reading.
The posts and comments threads of blogs provide one of those very few places where mental health professionals, patients and carers can engage with each other on a genuinely level playing field. I think that's an opportunity we should take. If you're new to the blogosphere, then the above recommendations are a good place to start.
And if you don't like any of these blogs, then why not start your own?
Zarathustra, Mental Nurse
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