AN INTERVIEW WITH DR LUCY JOHNSTONE ON MENTAL HEALTH AND SPIRITUALITY

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr Lucy Johnstone, a Consultant Clinical Psychologist, an Independent Trainer and one of the lead authors of the Power Threat Meaning Framework. We had a great conversation on mental health and spirituality globally. Below are the questions and Lucy’s answers on how to bring about peace and unity by understanding mental distress, the human rights violations against persons with mental distress and the way forward.

 

How does your work and the Power Threat Meaning Framework (PTMF) relate to human rights and the wider context of world peace?

The PTMF is a new perspective on why people sometimes experience a whole range of forms of distress, confusion, fear, despair, and troubled or troubling behaviour. The PTMF can be used as a way of helping people to create more hopeful narratives or stories about their lives and the difficulties they may have faced or are still facing, instead of seeing themselves as blameworthy, weak, deficient or ‘mentally ill.’

The framework makes links between mental distress and the societies and countries we live in. This includes living in societies that were torn by war and conflicts, which is one of the major causes of distress worldwide.  

Lack of human rights in the mental health field can affect how people think about themselves and can perpetuate inequalities and all forms of discrimination or social injustice.

How do we produce a constructive and evidence-based conceptual framework for mental distress?

To produce a constructive, evidence-based conceptual framework for mental distress we can use these simple questions, either when we are supporting or working with people in distress, or for ourselves. Below are the questions we need to take into consideration, although we don’t have to use these exact words or this exact order:

  • What has happened to them?’ (How is Power operating in their lives?)
  • How did it affect them?’ (What kind of Threats does this pose?)
  • What sense did you make of it?’ (What is the Meaning of these situations and experiences to them?)
  • What do they have to do to survive?’ (What kinds of Threat Response are they using?) 

‘Spiritual bypassing’ is the belief that ‘God’ / spiritual practice can solve everything even when there is underlying trauma and more support is needed to address this. How do you think this concept could be included in explanations of mental health?

The PTM Framework of mental distress is very accepting of whatever way of understanding the stress you want to adopt. This may include for some people as a spiritual experience or spiritual emergency in explaining mental distress. Any narrative can be used in explaining mental distress based on the individual’s beliefs and cultural values. However, any narrative can also be used as a way of avoiding issues that need to be resolved. Each individual case is different.

 Do you think persons with mental distress are abused or violated in any way? 

People that visit mental health services very often have histories of abuse from childhood experiences, and sometimes from later experiences as adults. This can include trauma, neglect, domestic violence and so on, as well as living in poverty and racial discrimination. Unfortunately, mental health services are sometimes re-traumatising and abusive in response. For example, people may be given ECT (electroconvulsive therapy), forced to take drugs, have stigmatising labels applied to them, or be physically restrained.

What are some of the human rights violations that persons with mental distress are facing recently?

The COVID pandemic situation (2019 – 2020) has certainly caused difficulties and problems across the world, but these are understandable responses to people’s situations, not an epidemic of mental illness. The distress of people losing their jobs, the distress of people losing their loved ones, the distress of financial constraints and the distress of how to reintegrate back to society after this pandemic, are all very real, and cannot be solved with pills. 

From your own point of view, how do you think we can prevent all forms of human rights violations against persons with mental health challenges to bring about peace and unity?

Change the language of mental health to help people see or understand the problem clearly. If we abandon diagnostic labels, we will be able to see more clearly the reasons for people’s distress

Reduce and stop all forms of human rights violations against persons with all forms of mental health challenges, as recommended by the United Nations 

United Nations Report June 2017

‘We have been sold a myth that the best solutions for addressing mental health challenges are medications and other biomedical interventions….many of the concepts supporting the biomedical model in mental health have failed to be confirmed by further research. Diagnostic tools, such as the ICD and the DSM, continue to expand the parameters of individual diagnosis, often without a solid scientific basis.

 ‘The urgent need for a shift in approach should prioritize policy innovation at the population level, targeting social determinants and abandon the predominant medical model that seeks to cure individuals by targeting “disorders” …..  Reductive biomedical approaches to treatment that do not adequately address contexts and relationships can no longer be considered compliant with the right to health…’ 

Do you have any advice to share globally to help improve upon mental health challenges and all forms of human rights violations against persons with mental health issues for the upcoming World Peace Day in September?

People must question the language of mental distress by understanding the root cause of mental health challenges. People must also be educated so that they will be aware of the damage that can result in using wrong languages in addressing persons with mental distress. We need alternatives – the PTM Framework is not the only one, but it is attracting a lot of interest, and is found helpful by many.

 United Nations Report June 2017

The urgent need to…target social determinants and abandon the predominant medical model that seeks to cure individuals by targeting “disorders”.

Mental health policies should address the “power imbalance” rather than “chemical imbalance”.

 Conclusion

Caravan of Unity seeks to address human related issues of which discrimination, social injustice and all forms of abuses are some such issues. It is very fortunate that a movement with the aim of ensuring peace and unity is gradually looking at issues affecting minority groups such as persons with mental distress to help in making the world a better place for everyone.

Awareness-raising and education on the negative consequences of all forms of human rights violations against persons with mental distress can help minimize issues related to discrimination, abuses and all forms of psychological stress people face to bring about peace and unity globally.

 

Follow this Link to join Dr Lucy Johnstone online for further clarification on PTMF on the 15th September 2020 at 8:00pm CEST.

Can’t wait to welcome you on board!

 

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