- by a Service User
What if it were possible to:
- remove the stigma associated with the word schizophrenia and help bring peace of mind to those with mental health conditions?
- demonstrate that schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder and spiritual emergency ‘overlap’ and can sometimes occur at the same time?
- establish a more enlightened and compassionate approach to how the mind works?
For decades my older sister has had auditory and visual hallucinations, behaviour, mood and thought disturbances, paranoia, catatonia, panic attacks and other symptoms. The enormous and devastating impact on my small family unit is actually too painful and sad to describe in detail.
In addition, since 2002, I have personally experienced 3 ‘multi-sensory spiritual/mystical awakenings’. Thus, I have experienced ‘both sides of the coin’. We have tried professional support for my sister and now, decades later, we realise that, although there are many caring professionals, the mental health support services are inadequate for those of us who don’t ‘tick the right boxes’. My older sister has physical health problems in addition and hasn’t been able to work for many years. She is cared for at home; primarily by my twin sister who has been selfless in her devotion and love for her.
There are similarities between the ‘psychotic’ experience and the ‘spiritual’ one. In closely observing my older sister ‘in her world’ and having my own three spiritual awakenings, I realise that it would not be easy for an outsider to decide which one of us had indeed lost touch with ‘reality’. We have both experienced a different reality but I wasn’tsectioned or labelled for mine!
My ‘mystical experiences’ have shown me that we are multi-sensory human beings where everything is linked in a simple, beautiful and yet intricate way. However, the interconnectedness/one-ness of ourselves and everything in the Universe is not generally acknowledged. If we could approach both schizophrenia and the spiritual emergency with this perspective, a more holistic, compassionate and open minded viewpoint could be achieved.
In trying to find the right help for our older sister and to understand why she and neither I nor my twin have developed mental illness, I have done a lot of research. What were the trigger(s)? There are many possibilities: upbringing (nature/nurture),strict views on sex and religion, trauma at a young age, schooling experience, social programming, addictions, biochemical imbalances in the brain, eating issues etc.
Our sister has had an untreated eating disorder since childhood; anorexia and later bulimia. So we have questioned whether anorexia triggered the schizoaffective disorder in the first place or did ‘voices’ tell her to stop eating and drinking and hence bring about the eating disorder? Either way, the visual and auditory hallucinations around food were very real to her. In the early years this resulted in her being sectioned under the Mental Health Act when she came close to death.
I have also looked at spiritual reasons as to why our sister has the illness. Was there a pre-birth plan contract? If we tried past life regression might we find the answers?
What help is available for those who are scared of taking anti-psychotic medication? Given that our older sister has tried and subsequently refused psychotic medication due to the horrendous side effects, what other support and therapies are available? Counselling and psychiatric help is an option but given she is not acutely ill at the moment, and that she is not currently taking antipsychotic medication, she cannot, we are told, see a psychiatrist – that’s assuming that she would be willing to see one!
Our sister prefers to try and ‘manage’ her health herself. She oscillates between agreeing and disputing that she has a mental disorder; we the family have the problem, not her! We tried talking therapies but the apparently the complexity of so many issues was too much for the therapists. As a family, we have felt quite isolated and unsupported by the mental health system. Only when our sister is in crisis, does the support kick in. We have come across many kind professionals during crisis, yet the irony is that we are trying to avoid a crisis from happening! So, what can we do?
Our sister and so many like her are experiencing a different reality. Surely, it is worth considering a different approach? When do the voices of the family and carers really get heard? Why can’t there be an integrated and non-judgemental approach that looks inclusively at mental illnesses, spiritual potential and psychic sensitivity, an approach where everyone (professionals, families, service users) work together towards a common goal?
I would like to see a medical health system that encompasses different approaches, skills, and knowledge about how the mind works without one approach being seen as better than another, that values the overlap of the spiritual/psychic and the mental and seeking to understand the root cause of the voices. Disturbed patterns of behaviour and extremes of mood, as well as the impact of critical voices cause huge conflict within families. So, if for example, a family wants to explore the brain/nutrition link, instead of this viewpoint being ridiculed, it could be encouraged as an avenue to explore. Likewise, if a family chooses to consult a reputable psychic, support could be offered.
Such an integrated approach could include a wide range of organisations such as The Royal College of Psychiatrists, The Spiritual Crisis Network, Rethink, The Hearing Voices Network, The College of Psychic Studies, The British Psychological Society, The Foundation for Holistic Spirituality, The Brain Bio Centre, The Society for Psychical Research, The Scientific and Medical Network, The British Holistic Medical Association, The Mental Health Foundation and, not least, The Department of Health.
To take forward this approach would require co-operation with the TV and media services to inform and educate society about mental illness. It is so distressing to see the misconceptions, fears and ignorance that still exist, let alone how the media sensationalises mental illness. Not everyone with psychosis is an axe murderer! Those suffering have enough to contend with, without feeling isolation, shame, fear and judgement.
An integrated support network could be a ‘One Stop Shop’. Initially, a simple leaflet could be distributed to explain the various services; medical, counselling, spiritual guidance, psychic, nutritional or other complementary therapies. This leaflet could be distributed to GP surgeries, community centres, libraries and supermarkets; places that might be overlooked but are used by the General Public. In time there could be a comprehensive website and a directory (similar to the Yellow Pages). Information could be available in public places so that those on low incomes, with poor literacy and/or IT skills could have access to it. Ideally the information would be translated into many languages to reach those from ethnic minorities who may be especially reluctant to seek help.
A Freephone facility could be created – something similar to ChildLine or the Samaritans. This would be a HopeLine available 24/7. Mental illness does not follow 9-5 office hours; when our sister was in a catatonic state, totally delusional and terrified, there was no professional support available at 3am apart from phoning for an ambulance.
Since 1983, oursister’s illness has dominated and continues to dominate the family unit however hard we have tried not to allow this. Only other service users will understand the impact of isolation ongoing distress and worry for the future. We continue to love, support and keep our sister safe. We have learnt so much ‘the hard way’. We’ve made notes and graphs to analyse patterns and triggers and researched and read so much. The family home rarely has visits or celebrations with relatives and friends so that our sister’s mind is kept as calm as possible. Managing the mind means a lot of avoidance of life events and normalising an abnormal situation. We have grown older, wearier and wiser in the process. Our beloved sister regularly contemplates suicide and sees death as the answer to making life easier for herself and for us. Surely this can’t be right?
More needs to be done to support those whose minds are dominated by voices causing them to think and behave in ways that not only set them apart from society, but also limits their quality of life, and the lives of their loved ones. I believe that there are many people within mental health who care and would be willing to work with others on an integrated and different approach.
Resource list and selected reading:
- ‘In case of spiritual emergency – Moving successfully through your awakening’ Catherine G Lucas www.spiritualcrisisnetwork.org.uk
- ‘Psychosis and Spirituality now Consolidating the New Paradigm’ (2nd edition) edited by Isabel Clarke 2010 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
- David Lukoff Spiritual Competency Resource Centre www.spiritualcompetency.com, www.spiritualemergency.blogspot.com/2006/01/personal-account-dr-david-lukoff.html
- Spiritual Emergency: When Personal Transformation Becomes a Crisis by Stanislav Grof. www.stanislavgrof.com/
- ‘Soul Lessons and Soul Purpose’ Sonia Choquette www.soniachoquette.net/
- ‘From Atoms to Angels’ Paul D Walsh Roberts www.lifeoflight.com
- William Bloom: Foundation for Holistic Spirituality www.f4hs.org , www.williambloom.com,
- ‘The Power of Modern Spirituality – how to live a life of compassion and personal fulfilment’ William Bloom 2011 Paitkus
- ‘Countdown to Coherence – A Spiritual Journey Toward a Scientific Theory of Everything’ Hazel Courtney, www.hazelcourteney.com
- ‘The Healing Code’ Dr Alex Loyd www.thehealingcodes.com/
- ‘The Biology of Belief’ Bruce Lipton www.brucelipton.com/
- ‘The Psychic’s Handbook, Your Essential Guide to Psycho-Spiritual Energies’ Julie Soskin 2012 Watkins Publishing
- ‘Shamanism and the Future of Mental Illness’ Extract in Light Double Edition, College of Psychic Studies, Vol 128, No 2, Winter 2008/Vol 129, No 1 Summer 2009.
- ‘The Way Beyond The Shaman – Birthing a New Earth Consciousness by Barry Cottrell www.earth-awareness.com
- ‘The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell’ Aldous Huxley 1952 Thinking Ink 2011
- ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ Viktor Frankl 1946 Rider, Imprint of Random House 2004
REINCARNATION/SOULS/PRE-BIRTH CONTRACTS & PLANNING
- ‘Many Lives, Many Masters’, ‘Messages from the Masters’,
- ‘Miracles Happen’ Brian Weiss: www.brianweiss.com
- ‘The Seat of the Soul’ Gary Zukav www.seatofthesoul.com/about/gary-zukav
- ‘Your Soul’s Plan’ Robert Schwartz www.yoursoulsplan.com/
- ‘Agnes’s Jacket: A Psychologist’s Search for the Meanings of Madness’: Gail A Hornstein 2009 Rodale Books
- ‘Out of the Darkness’ Steve Taylor, http://www.stevenmtaylor.co.uk/ David Lukoff: www.spiritualcompetency.com
- ‘Hearing Voices – A common human experience’ John Watkins 2008 Michelle Anderson Publishing Hearing Voices Network: www.hearing-voices.org Rufus May: www.rufusmay.com
- ‘Intervoice’: www.intervoiceonline.org ‘Living with Voices: 50 Stories of Recovery’ Prof Marius Romme Dr Sandra Escher, Jacqui Dillon, Dr Dirk Corstens, Prof Mervyn Morris
- ‘The Complete Family Guide to Schizophrenia: Helping Your Loved One Get the Most Out of Life’: Kim Mueser and Susan Gingerich 2006
- The Guildford Press CASL (Campaign to Abolish the Schizophrenia Label): www.mentalhealthleeds.info
- Schizophrenia & Natural Remedies, Withdrawing Safely from Psychiatric Drugs www.jungcircle.com/schiznatural.htm
- SANE: www.sane.org.uk/uploads/schizophrenia.pdf
- ‘The Tidal Model: A guide for mental health professionals and Spirituality and Mental Health: Breakthrough’ Barker and Poppy Buchanan-Barker www.tidal-model.com.
- ‘Delayed PTSD from infancy – the 2 Trauma Mechanism’ Dr McKenzie has studied the relationship between trauma and Schizophrenia. www.drmckenzie.com/
- ‘The Body Has a Mind of Its Own’: Sandra and Matthew Blakeslee, www.somaticexperiencing.com
- Royal College of Psychiatrists www.rcpsych.ac.uk/
- Rethink Mental illness www.rethink.org
- Department of Health: Mental Health strategy www.gov.uk/government/policies/makingmental-health-services-more-effective-and-accessible–2
- Loving Someone in Psychosis www.lsip.org.uk/
- Mental Health Foundation: www.mentalhealth.org.uk/content/assets/PDF/publications/recovery_and_resilience.pdf
- Mind: www.mind.org.uk/help/diagnoses_and_conditions/schizophrenia
- How to recognise the early signs of mental distress (Mind 2008)
- Hearing voices: working out a positive approach (Mind 2005)
- Understanding schizoaffective disorder (Mind 2003)
- Understanding schizophrenia (Mind 2008)
- ‘Rethinking Madness – towards a paradigm shift in our understanding and treatment of psychosis’ Paris Williams, PhD Sky’s Edge Publishing 2012
- PsychMinded http://www.psychminded.co.uk
- Mind Freedom www.mindfreedom.org
- Human rights in the mental health system
- ‘Art of Recovery’ Simon Heyes & Stephen Tate, South Somerset Mind 2005 http://www.artofrecovery.com/art-of-recovery-book.html
- ‘To the brink and back’ Barbara Taylor – Times Higher Education, 6 February 2014
- Food for the Brain/Brain Bio Centre www.foodforthebrain.org/
- ‘Optimum Nutrition for the Mind’ Patrick Holford www.patrickholford.com/
- Navigating the space between brilliance and madness – http://theicarusproject.net/alternativetreatments/mind-uk-coping-with-coming-off-psych-drugs-guide
- ‘The Unleashed Mind’ Shelley Carson, May/June 2011, Scientific American
- Mind – ‘Highly creative people often seem weirder than the rest of us. Now researchers know why’ ‘A revolution in mental health’ Peter Aldhous & Andy Coghlan, 11 May 2013 New Scientist
- The Scientific and Medical Network www.scimednet.org/
- ‘Spiritual Wisdom for Secular Times’ People with Schizophrenia: Each person is much more than any diagnosis: There is no such thing as ‘a schizophrenic’ Psychology Today May 28, 2011, www.mentalhealth.org.uk/content/assets/PDF/publications/Keeping_the_faith.pdf
- ‘Spirituality and Mental Health: A Handbook for Service Users, Carers and Staff Wishing to Bring a Spiritual Dimension to Mental Health Services 2011 Pavilion Publishing (Brighton) Ltd
- ‘Spirituality and Psychiatry’ edited by Chris Cook, Andrew Powell and Andrew Sims 2009 RCPsych Publications.
- Spiritual Healing of Mental Disorders. http://healingmentaldisorders.com/
© Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group 2014