Social Aprtheid

Posted: December 5, 2012 in Mental Health

This is an article I am working on, the subject matter is easy enough to understand and I would appreciate any feedback from my blogosphere friends about the content and direction.

 

Apartheid is supposed to be dead and buried, it wasn’t mourned upon its passing and very few were upset about its demised outside of the sad fools who were deluded enough to believe their system was right. That’s what I believed and it’s certainly true of the colour bar, in South Africa at least but I was struck the other day by how alive it really is.

I was driving somewhere, it’s of no consequence where, listening to the radio as I always do, the Labi Sifre song Something inside so strong came on, it’s an inspirational song by a man who fought the apartheid regime with his words for so long, I was singing along and realised there was another message in there, not about colour alone but something easier to hide and harder to overcome.  

I heard the words and was struck by how they resonated with mental health. How the idea of struggle against the powers that be and public opinion seem to dehumanize you if you are diagnosed with a mental health problem in the UK today.

Overly dramatic? I was concerned I might be, but have taken some time to think about this and I don’t think so. We are affected in almost all areas of life, from health care to employment; our benefits and access to our basic rights are handled differently to others , even the response times we can expect from the police are different and who is out there, we have no heroes singing songs or suffering in jail to spearhead our plight, we are the unheard , unloved and unreported. If we die they ignore it, when we fall we are left to drop and the only time we get attention is when one of us steps over the bounds of normality or commits a crime.

If Apartheid was evil in its inequality, the sheer scale of its discrimination and degradation then I could not claim that the life of a mental health patient is much better. I do not diminish how bad it was, I was educated by teachers who were at the forefront of the anti-apartheid movement in the UK so I have read all about Sharpsville, Biko etc. and understand the horror for the Africans but this isn’t Africa, it’s not our colour being mistreated, indeed people of colour have a lesser chance of being diagnosed whilst there is no evidence they suffer any less. This problem is one of the weak being subjugated by the stronger, misuse of power and the exploitation of people with problems that they have no power over,  who are then treated as if they caused their own misery.

so Where do these so called prejudices come from? Government? Health Authorities? It’s hard to say. In reality the chances of knowing someone who has suffered a mental health problem is very high, more so  than meeting a criminal or celebrity, you may work with someone or have family members who suffer and because of the way of this country is you might not even know. It is in essence the public who hold sway in this situation, I have no axe to grind politically, the last government were as bad as this one, but they represent the people and no one is shouting about us, when they mention benefits they look at us with contempt and it seems anyone who expressed their will in penalising us gets support from the mainstream media in spades. The same old questions get asked about us, where are our wounds? How can we prove our illness even exists? There is indeed a school of thought that all such problems are born of bad behaviour, of malingering and that isn’t just from the elite but working men and women who are wrongly painted a picture of their taxes going to undeserving oiks with attitude problems. Where this idea comes from is a mystery, as much in fact as where the idea that Europeans were superior to the indigenous Africans they set out to rule, both ideas are preposterous but both have their believers, both had power to follow up on their beliefs and essentially coloured the lives of those deemed unworthy.

I don’t wish we had a Mandela or a Biko, I know we have not been killed indiscriminately by the authorities but we are dying out there, mainly through lack of care, suicides that may have been prevented go on every day with self-harm on the increase and personality disorders being diagnosed in the penal system at an alarming rate. I know not all crimes are committed by mentally ill people but some of them are there despite their diagnosis, it’s as if it’s immaterial to the case, whereas it’s most likely a very serious mitigating factor.

The homeless also have a high proportion of mental illness, yet they remain untreated because they don’t have an address to apportion the treatment to, there are too many patients already in the system so why look for more? If the homeless had a higher rate of cancer, if prisoners were showing alarming rates of AIDS we would be asking questions, the man on the street would want to know there was a plan to help, to change things. In fact the efforts to cure such illnesses are mainly based on the proliferation of them in any given demographic, Thalassemia isn’t funded anywhere near the level of MS, why because rich white people can’t get thalassemia and nor do their friends, cancer isn’t funded equally either but that’s another matter, the point is mental health is so stigmatised that trying to get funding would mean admission of a problem we seem desperate as a country to hide from entirely.

In South Africa it took one man to change everything; he worked the system and rose through its ranks until he was in a position to change everything. De Klerk changed the world, Mandela was the rallying point but it took a man in power to change things and unfortunately there is no one of power willing to vouch for us and our rallying points are always chided by the press for having ‘issues’ as if that makes them less believable and therefore not relevant.

So where does the change come from? Who is going to change things and if they could get the ear of the nation why would they listen? Well that is the real question, as Labi Sifre so beautifully sang it will come from within, as the song states so strongly that the people of South Africa would endure and one day win their freedom it must be taken as a new rallying cry by the oppressed and downtrodden, I do not claim we are the only group who need this, but it’s one of the biggest groups and it crosses all barriers, race, religion and class whilst staying hidden behind them all, we have no left wing to support us, no right wing who would make us part of their agenda and the centre is so soft there is no point in looking there.

If the world and the UK especially is going to address this issue then it must be done soon, the big society is not including us, the newly formed Foundations or the older trusts formed to care for all have not divided the pie equally. I have sat in on meetings that have terrified me, mental illness is being graded and separated into clusters which then get separated into revenue related sections and care pathways that are costed accordingly. In essence we have become a business model. When you are sitting in the corner of your bedroom in the foetal position rocking back and forth because the world is crushing your very fibre try and remember that you are probably only a cluster four and the doctor really needs a few cluster sixes to bump up the budget, it won’t help much but it’s about as much help as you’ll get anyway.

With the use of crisis resolution teams supporting patients at home seemingly the way forward one would expect they would have a freshly trained crack team awaiting your call, an international rescue for the mentally ill. Sadly this isn’t the case, it’s the same bods who were failing us in the first place, they may have changed offices, even title but it’s still them. I have a multitude of examples of where the “Apartheid” is in existence but have to draw a line somewhere. If you are in any doubt then consider the reaction to other illnesses, the more serious a cancer you have the greater the sympathy and care offered, you may even have a public collection in your honour, the local pub do a quiz night in your honour. In the case of mental illness the worse the condition the further people run away from you. The boys in the pub that actually knew you won’t turn up to visit you let alone set up a charity football match. If you are unfortunate enough to need chemo then neighbours will call by to offer support maybe even cook a meal to help you through. But let them know you’re a schizophrenic and they will cross the street to avoid you, put out gossip condemning everything you ever did and in the end hound you out.

The famous are a good indicator of the ziet geist and they are wary to admit their own demons for fear of constant piss taking by the likes of Jimmy Carr and Frankie Boyle, ironic that many comedians are on the cusp of depression for long periods, those ones are fair game for piss taking too by the way. Now if Kerry Katona is fair game and Frank Bruno too, they wouldn’t take the mick out of him face to face I grant you then what does that say to us commoners who don’t have the redress of the press complaints commission or expensive lawyers to fight our corner. We sit and shiver in our own circle of gloom, too scared to make a target of ourselves and no one, not family , friends or our own mental health professionals will help us.

The beauty of the South African system of apartheid was its acceptance by everyone else. For years the governments of Europe and North America not only allowed the white minority to rule but dealt with them on equal footings, it was long after Mandela was incarcerated that the wealth of public opinion turned the world against it. I imagine in those dark days the black South Africans felt alone and disregarded, possibly even helpless, powerless. These exact feelings that the mentally ill are feeling today in modern, enlightened Britain, we huddle together when we can, we bemoan our lot and mourn our losses of which there are many. We lose so much and still we carry on, in the vain hope that we will be cured when we all know that’s impossible, we are what we are. The very best we can hope for is the hardest part of all. We want acceptance and equality, to be regarded as worthwhile by our peers and not rely on the kindness of a minority of good people to allow us to live fruitful lives.

The civil rights movement in America had its heroes, great orators, as did the African National Conference, not just the great Mandela, silenced by the robin island prison censor but Tutu, Tambo and the other brave souls who risked their own lives to speak out. Where if anywhere will we find our hero, our emancipator? I hope against hope they come, where and how they will arrive I don’t care to guess but I do know they will have suffered, they will have had to in order for them to be believed and trusted, so as much as I wish them to arrive I pity them the journey the will have travelled to get here.

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