Saturday, 8 December 2012

Ruby Wax at the Anna Freud Centre on Mental Health

Recently - Ruby Wax gave a talk at the Anna Freud Centre on Mental Health. She posted it on her blog and I have re-posted it here as its a talk that I feel everyone needs to see and read. Its similar to her TED Talk and essential reading for anyone linked to the world of Mental Health.

I’m not going to harp on about depression, people glaze over, you can see them going “oh here she goes again yabbing on about the darkness.  I know when I’ve told anyone that I’ve got it, I get a few phone calls telling me to perk up - perk up, I didn’t think of that. It’s just not to be discussed. Once you couldn’t say gay, before that the c word (cancer), then a long time ago you couldn’t even mention you were a witch – this is the latest taboo.

 And this isn’t something that happens to a small minority it’s up to 1 in 4 of us, so where is everyone?

1234 it could be you or you or if it’s not you it’s probably a relative or a husband, everyone knows one. 

Thanks to the stigma a lot of shame comes with the package. I have friends who say “Show me the lumps show me the x rays” and of course you can’t, so there’s even more shame cause you think I’m not living in a township I’m not being carpet bombed so you get these abusive voices but not one voice about 100,000 voices, like if the devil had Tourette’s, that’s what it sounds like.

Some people think depression is what you have when you feel sad or having the blues, it’s such a deceptive word. Depression and other mental problems aren’t always situation appropriate; it’s a disease of the brain.

It is exactly like what cancer is to cells and cardiovascular disease is to the heart and you wouldn’t tell someone suffering from one of those to perk up. Why is it that every other organ in your body can get sick and you get sympathy except the brain?

When you have a mental disorder you get a double whammy because your brain has gone down and it’s ill but because you don’t have another brain to make an assessment, you can’t tell. I mean if you had a spare brain you could but you don’t. If you had a pain anywhere else in your body you’d be able to identify it, not when the brain itself is sick.

And the only reason we don’t know enough about mental disease, how to treat it is because brain research doesn’t get much funding - It’s not as sexy a disease as some of the others. You can’t get Sharon Stone to show up to do the raffle for this one, you can get Liz Hurley to raise money for aids, Greta Scacchi to save fish but there’s a no show for this one.

What’s bizarre to me is that it doesn’t seem to be public knowledge that everything, I mean everything, emanates from the brain - this is why you laugh, cry, feel, love, hope, dream, want to vault or become a prime minister.

And every single problem physically, sociologically, globally and psychologically is primarily because of some dysfunction in the brain, but now we have something that can be done about it. Now we have means to look right into the brain, right into the mothership for neurological investigation with MRI, FMRI, EEG to identify psychiatric disorders and then provide specific therapies.

Just to put it in perspective why research of this kind might be important I’d like to read you some figures.

  • By 2030, the World Health Organization predicts more people will be affected by depression than any other health problem.
  • It affects more people than all physical illnesses put together.
  • Mental ill health will soon be the biggest burden on society both economically and sociologically.
  • Even more of a drain on the economy is the fact mental illness accounts for nearly half of all people on incapacity benefits. The official figure here is 44%.
  • The World Economic Forum estimates that the global cost of mental illness will be about 16 trillion by 2030. 
  • The cost to the economy in the UK is now around £70 billion a year.  

There’s so much talk about the problems of rising crime and over crowded prisons. Again you might not care about mental illness but when you’re mugged or your house is broken into, the cause of the crime usually stems from someone with a mental pathology. 

So what can be done?

Some of these costs could be reduced by greater focus on early identification and intervention.

Neuroscience, through better understanding of children's brain development, will be able to target specific psychological treatments. And this is exactly what the Anna Freud Centre is doing and has always done, working with children to try and prevent them from developing severe pathologies in later life. But they want to do more.

Thanks to brain research, we now know that the brain can change throughout our lifetimes that we aren’t set in stone as it was once believed. We now know that our brains aren’t hard wired; now how we’re born no longer determines how we are for the rest of our lives.

Our brains are capable of neuro-plasticity throughout our lives, they constantly change depending on external experience; also by changing the way you think, you can re-route the brain cells or neurons, break habits and create a new patterns of behaviour.

Gloria Gaynor was wrong when she sang I am what I am. She will have to change those lyrics but it won’t be so easy to dance to, what rhymes with neuroplasticity?

The enormous support for research in the cure for cancer has had the result that oncologists have been able to target specific cancers with specific therapies and recommend preventions, and what has been accomplished is astonishing.

If mental health research was at this level, clinicians would be able to understand more about brain functions, especially how the brain is effected by a neglected and damaging childhood. Imagine how this necessary research might not just save lives, cut crime, improve the economy, diminish suicides, decrease drug and alcohol addiction, reduce heart disease and last but not least, make life less tortuous for the 1 in 4.

Before we point our fingers at politicians for making us suffer, or thinking our problems will be over if we sort out the ice cap melting, global conflict, taxes, corruption, phone hacking let us look in at ourselves, the problem isn’t out there, we are the emergency. We are not the victims we are the perpetrators. If we can learn about ourselves, how our brain actually shapes our behaviour and what we can do about it, only then can we find the solution to everything. It’s all in our heads.

By looking after our children’s minds, the Anna Freud Centre can help all of us shape a better society.

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