- Is Writing Good for Your Mental Health or Is There More to Life?
user, survivor, therapy, experiences
The answer, if you look at this paper, is that writing is not good for your mental health, but I think that anything done excessively is not good for your mental health. This paper is about excessive reactions, which given the childhood he gives us a glimpse of he has a tendency toward.
I, like him, am a mental health service user. However, all experiences of mental ill health are unique to the person concerned. We all have a tendency to blame others for what has happened to us, for what has triggered our mental distress. For Jason, it is his mother who was triggered in to mental illness. For me it was an alcoholic husband, who was triggered in to alcoholism/mental illness by childhood events. This is a chain, a perpetual cycle, and Jason is to be applauded for writing about his distress and his attempts to deal with that seem to have been cathartic.
He has been lucky enough to have psychotherapy, and was supported and encouraged to write between sessions because it helps to get the memories often buried deep out into the open and therefore make them easier to deal with. I was subject to waiting list therapy, where you are encouraged to write and then wait a minimum of six months to talk about it, by which time it is hoped you have ‘got better’—not a therapeutic process.
Jason wrote and it got out of hand; I find art therapy, being able to splurge your feelings in a one-to-one session and having safe and supportive feedback, suits me a lot better. I talk a lot and ‘talking treatment’ is less helpful, because I find myself telling a story and hiding my feelings behind that.
There is, of course, a lot more to Jason’s story, which is based on his reaction to one event. I hope he feels able to think about an autobiography that would place his story in context and hopefully will help him to remember the good times as well as the bad. There is a growing literature of people writing about their experiences, and I feel this is an excellent development. There is so much stigma and discrimination about revealing your mental health history; even with legislation in place it is difficult to change mindsets.
I believe in speaking up and speaking out about the reality for me of being a mental health service user. This is therapeutic for me. I am chair of ENUSP (European Network of (ex) Users and Survivors of Psychiatry; available at: www.enusp.org) and find that being involved with other service [End Page 269] users in trying to make change is very worthwhile. I am self-employed as a mental health user consultant, so I try to get paid for helping bring about change. I do this mainly by research, because it is very important to have the evidence base of what works from the service user perspective. There are many service user researchers in the United Kingdom, where I live and I have helped edit a book called This is Survivor Research, edited by Sweeney, Beresford, Faulkner, Nettle, and Rose (available at: www.pccs-books.co.uk). This documents the work of service user researchers and, although I say it myself, is a very inspiring read. It is good to be positive about things if you are able to.
I hope Jason manages to write for pleasure, and can resolve those demons that still may want to haunt him, by building his mental resilience like we all need to. Having friendships, good food, and a way to relax helps. If he manages to do this, I hope he will find a way to share it; we are all on a journey together, although it is only the courageous among us who will admit it.
ENUSP is a partner in the next International Philosophy and Mental Health Conference in Manchester in September 2010. I look forward to seeing people there. It will be really good to have a debate about...