Impact News

Responding to Violence, Suicide, Psychosis and Trauma

Untold stories set to tackle stigma

* Fay Wertheimer
* The Guardian, Wednesday 6 May 2009

Profesor Protasia Torkington, director, Granby Community Mental Health Group, Liverpool.
Protasia Torkington has edited a book by black users of a mental health centre in Liverpool.

A rundown four-storey Georgian terrace in the Toxteth area of central Liverpool, probably built on the back of slave trade money, couldn’t have been the most propitious location for a day centre for black mentally ill adults. But 18 years after it opened its doors, Granby Community Mental Health Group’s drop-in and advocacy project, at the now immaculate Mary Seacole House, offers rights advice, recreational activities, care and a calming environment to 90 people, six days a week.

And to ensure that its legacy endures, seven members’ life stories have been documented in a book called Their Untold Stories, to be launched later this week at a black mental health conference at Liverpool Convention Centre.

Edited by the centre’s co-founder and Hope University emeritus professor Ntombenhle Protasia Khoti Torkington – known as “Pro” for short – the book features clients’ histories in the form of artwork, poetry and prose, which are cathartic and morale-boosting exercises.

Torkington, born in South Africa, qualified as a nurse and midwife and then came to the UK to get specialist paediatric training at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, where she worked as a ward sister before going back into education.

She says of the book: “I asked people when they first realised they were ill, and then to what they attributed their illness. What unfolded was often rooted in serious sexual violence, long-term physical abuse and racial discrimination. I also encouraged contributors to consider the voluntary and statutory sector services available to them, and to suggest solutions for their own individual needs. Our book concludes by pinpointing key issues that providers should consider when delivering services to mainly black and racial minority communities with mental health needs.”

It logs Mary Seacole House’s success in keeping members out of hospital and endorses the links between a childhood in care and poor mental health. It also supports the request by staff – the nine full-time staff and part-timers are supported by Liverpool primary care trust, the city council and Mersey Care NHS mental health trust – for extra premises to cater for the centre’s 20 daily visitors.

Two weekly art sessions in a small basement, which is also used for IT and snooker, aren’t enough to nurture members’ burgeoning artistry. But this hasn’t deterred 56-year-old Kojo Udarku from attending the centre four days a week since 2005. Following years of discrimination, illness and prison, he found understanding at Mary Seacole House.

“Dictating my story and having my pictures in the book gave me confidence and greater self-trust,” Udarku says. “But those negative feelings from the past never go. My mother, being a white woman in Liverpool with five black kids, had it very hard. And being black in Liverpool in them days was always bad. I was illiterate too, years before they called it dyslexia and gave you help. I experienced prisons, hospitals and sectioning, and I still avoid authority.”

The book presents guidelines for running a non-medical drop-in for mainly black mentally ill adults, as well as displaying their talents – which Torkington hopes will help to tackle the stigma these people face every day.

• Their Untold Stories, edited by Protasia Torkington, can be ordered from Waterstones, price £19.99. maryseacolehouse.com

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Filed under: Other Mental Health, , ,

Mentally Disordered More Likely To Become Victims Of Violence When Showing Increased Symptoms

Article Date: 16 Apr 2009 – 0:00 PDT

Contrary to common stereotypes, individuals with major mental disorders are more likely to become victims of violent crimes when they are experiencing an increase in symptoms than they are to commit crime, according to a new study by Brent Teasdale, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Georgia State University.

Teasdale found that patients experiencing delusions, hallucinations and worsening symptoms generally are most likely to become victims of violence. In addition, individuals with mental disorders are particularly vulnerable for victimization during times of homelessness and when suffering from alcohol abuse.

“They actually have higher rates of victimization than they have of violence commission, which I think is counter to the stereotype that highly symptomatic, obviously delusional, visibly mentally disordered people are dangerous, unpredictable and violent,” Teasdale said. “There’s no one size fits all approach to these delusions, but the odds of victimization are multiplied almost by a factor of two when a person experiences these delusions.”

Teasdale analyzed data from the MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Study, a longitudinal study of psychiatric patients released from three psychiatric hospitals in Pittsburgh, Pa., Kansas City, Mo., and Worchester, Mass. During the MacArthur study, participants were interviewed every 10 weeks for one year about violence committed against them, stress, symptoms and social relationships.

When individuals with mental disorders experience increases in delusions, symptom severity and alcohol problems they may be more focused on their internal states and have fewer cognitive resources available to devote to interactions with other people, Teasdale said. Other research suggests that victimization happens because caretakers may be driven away, leaving the disordered unprotected.

“If the stigma is that those are people we need to protect ourselves from, one of the ways in which we might do that is self defensive violence. We might strike first and that would lead to the victimization of these folks,” Teasdale said. “If there’s a person that could intercede before that happens, that may be one strategy for reducing victimization risk.”

The findings of the study are important for clinicians who must pay attention to warning signs of worsening disorders as potential risk markers for violent behavior committed by their client, Teasdale said. They could also aid in the creation of assessment tools that focus on victimization risk and classes that better educate families about caring for the mentally ill.

Clinicians also could provide clients suggestions for reducing victimization risk when they notice patients exhibiting greater than usual symptoms, Teasdale said. For instance, during these times clinicians may recommend spending less time in public spaces, increases in guardianship or mandated community treatment programs.

“Most of us know people who have mental disorders. These are our family members and our friends and so we should care about their victimization experience,” Teasdale said. “The stereotypes persist because people are unaware of the victimization risk to people with mental illness. If they learned that victimization risk were higher than the violence commission rates, I think that would help alleviate some of that stigma and help people think about people with mental disorders in a different way.”

Notes:

The study, “Mental Disorder and Violent Victimization,” was published in the 2009 edition of Criminal Justice and Behavior.

Source:
Leah Seupersad
Georgia State University

Filed under: Other Mental Health, Violence, , , , , ,