William Gibson, famous ‘father of cyberpunk’ science fiction writer, in response to people congratulating him on the correctness of his predictions for the future, has been quoted as saying “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.” (Or at least seems he said words to that effect, but that’s another interesting story.)
It’s an idea that I’ve found myself falling back on a lot over the last couple of weeks when thinking about mental health and changing attitudes.
When I was #mindtech (as detailed in this blog post) I was very struck by the different level exposure various attendees had to particular mental health ideas, services or ways of working.
How could it be, I wondered, that millions of people have been exposed to the message of anti-stigma campaign Time to Change during its four years so far of existence but a room of ten people interested enough in mental health to come to an all-day event during the working week precisely because they were interested in mental health had never heard of it?
When people were trying to come up with solutions for mental health challenges, how was it that so often they suggested things that were very similar to things that were already happening?
This led me to me to think about why there were such huge disparities between what between people’s exposure to various ideas, projects, initiatives and ways of working.
That’s where I hit upon it: “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
When William Gibson used it he was trying to say that most of the things in his novels that seemed futuristic at the time they were published (big mega corporations, hackers, cyberspace etc.) weren’t in fact futuristic, but were things from the present that weren’t new, but were new to most of the people reading. Hacking had been going on since computers began to be networked and had origins in 1960s phone phreaking, using dialcodes and phone equipment usually used by repair people to fool telephone exchanges and make free phonecalls, create party lines and the like.
The point being, big jumps forward in thinking or technology don’t reach all people at the same time. That’s where we’re at with mental health.
I think that there’s a new generation of mental health projects, campaigners and organisations that are developing new ways of thinking about mental health. Over the last decade there have been a number of successful projects and people that have answered the question ‘How do we do services and projects by and for people with mental health difficulties differently?’ by just getting on and doing services and projects by and for people with mental health difficulties differently.
I think that there is a new mental health, one that isn’t defined by the term service user. More than ever people with mental health difficulties are finding themselves in situations that would probably not have happened to previous generations. We’re running into questions that don’t have established answers.
I think one of the shifts that I’m noticing is people with mental health difficulties moving beyond seeing their identity being defined by their interactions with services, moving beyond seeing themselves as ‘service users’ but as people in our right with complex needs, wishes, aspirations and ideas.
I also see a move away from the illness / cure model of mental health and toward a disability view of mental health where we don’t feel it’s acceptable to be judged as somehow ‘lesser’ because of the mental health challenges that we face.
When I read twitter or look at the madosphere (the mental health blogosphere as captured by TWIM ) I see fiercely clever people running headlong into the fact that things aren’t changing as fast as we want or need them to, hitting every glitch in the way services work and uncovering every inconsistency in public attitudes or the conduct of organisations or individuals because they have moved into the mental health future more quickly than those around them – the future that isn’t distributed evenly.
But this isn’t where everyone is at. There isn’t a consensus view or a consensus opinion. There isn’t ever a point where you can draw a line and say ‘now we’ve reached the future’. The bits that will make up the future are already around us in the present.
When it comes to anti-stigma work and public attitudes to mental health, good information doesn’t permeate every group of people at the same speed. The same is true of good ideas.
It’s easy for us to assume that either everyone is on the same page as us or they are wallowing in the stickiness of the past, refusing to move. Change takes time and most people only notice it once it’s happened, not while it’s happening.
I think we’re seeing that sort of change in mental health. Not everywhere at once, but in certain places and certain situations. It’s a change that isn’t controlled by anyone group of people, and which might go in all manner of different directions, but is based on people with mental health difficulties taking control in ways that haven’t happened before.
What I think is extremely interesting is that this change isn’t just coming from tradition sources or traditional power blocs: It’s coming from people who see mental health as something worth thinking about who are coming from various walks of life and situations. It’s not just doctors or self defined ‘service users’.
I’m trying to crowdsource funds to look at some of the ways that change is happening (you can click below to watch the terrifying video and try to guess my accent).
Sometimes it’s easier to see where things are getting stuck. (Personalisation I’m looking at you) but it’s often hard to see why they’re getting stuck. Sometimes it’s because, actually, things are fine as they are. Judging by the experiences of many people with mental health difficulties things staying the same because they’re great isn’t always the case in mental health.
Can you spot places where the future happening in mental health? Where and who do you think the future is coming from and how do you think it’s shaping up?
Mark Brown is the editor of One in Four magazine and the development director of Social Spider CIC.