Tuesday 17 March 2020

A Manifesto for Mental Health

Today's post is by Peter Kinderman, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Liverpool, who presents his recent book, A Manifesto for Mental Health  (Palgrave 2019).

Nobody really believes that our mental health system is fit for purpose, but too many people persist in reinforcing that failed system. It is no longer good enough to call for better funding; we need genuinely radical change.

My new book presents a new and distinctive perspective. One that challenges traditional approaches and vested interests of professionals, but one with surprisingly well-placed support.

I argue that we need to change our ideas about what mental health actually is.

Before setting out practically how our mental health system should change, A Manifesto for Mental Health critically examines the dominant ‘disease-model’ of mental health care. Using research into both biological neuroscience and the social determinants of psychological problems, the book offers a contemporary, genuinely biopsychosocial, alternative to the idea that our psychological distress is best thought of as symptoms of illnesses, and treated as such. The way we care for people with mental health problems at present is not only unscientific and ineffective, it is creating a hidden human rights emergency. We need a new approach.

It is clear that our mental health and wellbeing depend largely on the society in which we live, on the things happen to us, and on how we learn to make sense of and respond to those events. To move forwards, we need to recognise that distress is usually an understandable human response to life's challenges, especially experiences of abuse, neglect and inequity, and offer practical help rather than medication. We could start by rejecting invalid diagnostic labels, and instead pay attention to the circumstances of our lives (something understood by public health physicians) and record the emotional consequences in simple, straightforward, non-medical language.

Our mental health cannot simply be reduced to genetic vulnerability, and distress merely passed off as the symptom of an illness – it depends heavily on the society in which we live, on the major life events we face, and the ways in which we interpret and face them. It’s about collectively creating a more humane society and establishing healthier communities. It’s about recognising the human and psychological cost of failed societies, ensuring that people get the practical and emotional support they need... and it’s about reminding ourselves that social problems ultimately require social solutions.

Offering a serious critique of establishment thinking, A Manifesto for Mental Health explains how, with scientific rigour and empathy, a revolution in mental health care is not only highly desirable, it is also entirely achievable.

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