A fellow social work student asked me last week where I am on placement. I told her I'm working in a hearing voices clinic, to which she laughed hysterically for a few minutes. I don’t know what was so funny and I still don’t. Perhaps if I said I worked with ‘schizophrenics’ it wouldn’t have been so hysterical. Is it more acceptable to work with people with labels rather than to hear a person’s story and treat them as individuals with individual needs?
Which leads me to my experience at ReAwaken, which was an event with the purpose of creating connection, compassion and shifting paradigms in the mental health system. Did I see any mad people? No, what I saw were strong-willed people attuned to the idea of a compassionate recovery rather that the current shitstorm of a mental health system which provides limited emphasis or explanations on the impact that trauma and abuse can have on someone. It was liberating to be in the company of like-minded individuals; you could see in each persons eyes, the determination, the strength, the mirrored frustration of seeing the system's lack of compassion and the impact this has on people.
We came from all walks of life, different countries, cultures, attitudes and beliefs, we all had our own stories and experiences but at the end of the day we were all on the same page about what we are fighting for. And that is for recognition that we are not broken, recognition of earlier traumas and abuses and how they affect people’s mental health, and the choice whether to be medicated or not.
One of the big ones for me is the importance of peer work. To recognise that these people have suffered horrific and dark experiences, have got through it and are dedicating their lives to helping others heal themselves. Although it may be painful and triggering, it is powerful and will change the world. That to me is COMPASSION. Let’s not lose the momentum, let’s keep everything we learnt fresh in our heads, let’s spread the word, let’s keep talking until people are tired of hearing about it!
In the words of Mr Cohen “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”
The light was very much shining bright through the week at REAWAKEN!
Claire McClorey is a social work student at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia. She is currently doing field placement with the HUMANE Clinic and was a core member of the ReAwaken organizing team. Oh yeah, and she's Irish.