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Joe Kelly's Blog - disability arts online
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Joe Kelly reflects on mental health issues and the Hearing Voices Network / 6 December 2009

I have a confession. Apart from having a so called mental health problem, I have yet another affliction. That is I suffer from difficulties with writing. The problem is not genetic or environmental, not infectious or of some strange origin or ague.

It’s merely this - I am so impassioned with my cause and so keen to say my piece, I seem to get overcome with a kind of word blockage and a compaction of thought that prevents me approaching the computer keyboard.

Now in the late hours of the day when it’s quiet and still, I’d like to write and tell you about something special, something good. Something that could help a lot of people who hear voices and experience unusual phenomena, including difficulty with obsessive thoughts.

Through my enquiries, I’ve heard about and had some contact with the Hearing Voices Movement. Recently I attended a Hearing Voices Course run by Mind in Camden in North London.

The course was held on four separate training days and was lead by a very good teacher called Rachel Waddingham. There were 12 learners on the course. Half were service users and half were mental health staff.

The Hearing Voices Movement is made up of an international network of groups. Each group is a peer group so is run by its members. Most are user-run but some are organised by mental health workers.

Originally the Movement was set up by Professor Marius Romme and his colleague Dr Sandra Escher of Maastricht University in the Netherlands after a patient confronted him and asked him to take his voice hearing more seriously.

This he did and Romme found out that about 10 per cent of the population hear voices but strangely only one per cent is diagnosed with Schizophrenia.

This started off a new therapeutic pathway of learning and thinking about hearing voices. A pathway which has grown and developed. A pathway which allows people to understand and come to terms with their voices and experiences.

This also concurs with Dr Rufus May who appeared in a film called The Doctor Who Hears Voices. This is a re-enacted Channel Four documentary, originally shown in 2008, about a psychologist who helped his patient - the doctor of the title - back to health and to live with her voices and avoid anti-psychotic drugs.

So much of conventional psychiatry involves heavy-handed interventionist treatment using drugs and ECT (electro convulsive treatment) often affecting function and dumbing down the thinking processes of the patient.

The drugs prescribed can have long-term effects such as Diabetes and Tardive Dyskinesia (an irreversible neurological condition which results in a person not being able to be in control of their movements). Meanwhile, less and less time is spent talking to the patient.

I think the advent of Hearing Voices groups offers an important new tool in the understanding of mental distress. This is a quantum leap from conventional treatment of diagnosis and drug therapy with difficult side effects.

Returning to where I began where I told you about my writing problem, I feel it is improving. It is better when addressed than neglected. And better still when I take my courage in my hands and face the computer keyboard.

Writing can be very therapeutic helping one to engage with life’s challenges. When I write that I have a 'so-called mental health problem', I’m reminded that Hearing Voices allows the rewriting of the rules of mental health. Hallelujah.

Keywords: hearing voices,mental health,psychiatry