So now I've set myself a nearly impossible challenge; what would Martin Luther King have done?
Martin Luther King sets us the challenge that: “there are some things in our society, some things in our world, to which we … must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good will". We must refuse to tolerate the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of people in psychiatric care. This includes the appalling inhumanity described – correctly – by the United Nations as "akin to torture".
But such extremes are also supported by everyday inhumanity – and by the inadequate, cruel and uncaring treatment experienced every day and in many (if perhaps not all) settings. On the same day I read the UN report, a man wrote to me describing his experiences of psychiatric 'care'. The whole incident is traumatic; from the initial involuntary admission (in handcuffs, by the police) to discharge. I was particularly struck, however, by the everyday inadequacy of the inpatient stay. This won't be terribly surprising to people working in mental health care... but the fact that this account will be recognised speaks to its truth.
My correspondent reported; "... Rather than engaging with the patients on the ward, the staff instead shepherded them around like sheep with bullying commands, threats of ‘jabs’ (injections), and removal to an acute ward elsewhere in the hospital, if they did not co-operate. The staff also stressed medication rather than engagement as a way of controlling the patients.
And the staff closeted themselves in the ward office, instead of being out and about on the corridors and in the vestibule where they should have been. The staff wrote daily reports on each patient on the hospital’s Intranet system; these reports were depended upon by the consultant psychiatrists for their diagnoses and medication prescriptions, but were patently fabricated and false, because the staff had never engaged or observed properly the patient they were writing about in their reports. The psychiatrists themselves were rarely seen on the ward, and only consulted with their patients once a week."
I certainly recognise this account. It doesn't represent absolutely all psychiatric units... but it isn't bizarre or unrepresentative. It reflects - in psychiatric rather than acute medical care - the findings of the Francis Report into uncaring and inhumane treatment in the Mid-Staffordshire NHS scandal. And we should absolutely refuse to accept it. I don't want to accept this as the status quo. And we should absolutely refuse to accept it. I don't want to accept this as the status quo.
So... what would Martin Luther King have done? What should we do when we see this?