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take the long view
I recently had the privilege of attending a webinar featuring Mary O'Hagan, which was organised by the Mad Studies programme at QMU. Mary is a leading mad activist in New Zealand who currently works in Australia as the Executive Director of Lived Experience in the Victoria Department of Health. Her website and LinkedIn page offer further information about her formidable career and lifetime work as a mad activist, including the creation and development of PeerZone.
When asked by one of the participants for her advice to young activists, O'Hagan responded: “Be prepared to be disappointed.” This reflects the decades of activism to which she has dedicated her life, and the slow headway that has been made is shifting the monolithic establishment. Mainstream mental health services continue to be dominated by the clinical approach of drug regimes and hospitalisation, what O'Hagan refers to as 'pills and pillows.'
But as well as her sobering experience, she had a pearl of wisdom to offer. It resonated with me strongly, as it is precisely the phrase that my grandmother used to say, to my mother and then my mother to me: “Take the long view.” During periods of difficulty, when the way ahead seems blocked and discouraging, taking the long view allows one to see beyond the here and now. Much of our work in the world – the really important and meaningful work – involves an investment in the future, with little immediate payoff. I think my grandmother most often gave this advice when considering matters of childcare, where the daily challenges can seem overwhelming, and yet the steady application of patience and effort lead ultimately to a good life for a human person.
O'Hagan's personal story was also inspiring. Encountering mental health services as a young woman, she was told essentially to expect less from her life: that she would be unable to work, or have children, and that her 'illness' would define the parameters for her forever. She proved the doctors wrong on all counts, and has led a deeply invested and fulfilling life as a leader in the psychiatric survivor movement.
There is so much work to be done, to create services that will bring respite and support to those who need it, without inflicting the violence of labelling, stigmatising, incarceration, forced medication and the demand to shut down experience and conform to capitalist society. There is so much work that it is bound to be disappointing, but I am prepared to take the long view.
Photo by jms on Unsplash