I was told a little while ago that my granddad died of Alzheimer’s. I couldn’t quite work out how he actually died. Did he just forget to breath? Keep forgetting to eat until his final emaciation? It’s still never been explained to me fully, but in a long line of mental degradation on my father’s side I stand to inherit it, along with the richness of gout.
Although Alzheimer’s isn’t a mental illness, it is the saddest of declines in dignity that affords your lasting days are fraught with guilt and embarrassment. To dementia and on to manic depression, society’s longing to ignore the decay of people who have paid taxes, killed Nazi’s and who held you on their knee is now hushed into terrible care via the NHS, where being left to die next to the mentally deranged is pretty much routine.
Around 300 people out of 1,000 experience mental health problems every year in Britain, where 9.2% of our entire British population suffer from depression with anxiety. Depression is still seen as a bit of an ugly word, an easy excuse because it is a disease that is physically unrecognisable in its distortion of the human body. It can be hard to define, and is stuck with verbal stigmas like it can be ‘run off’ down the park or cured with a healthy diet.
The most recent available survey shows that in 2006 31million prescriptions of antidepressants were rightly or wrongly issued to the masses, where in well over 600,000 were issued to children . Recently some research has suggested that ‘anti-depressants have little clinical benefit for most patients’ and that ‘only the most severely depressed patients’ should be prescribed such drugs, likening certain pills with a ‘placebo effect’ it gives the patient.
My Nan is what can be safely called a manic-depressive. My dad has had this constant ache since he was born knowing that at any time his mum could have a ‘funny turn’ (‘funny’ means ‘full scale manic episode’ in SE London). But if your family member is ill, diseased, whatever, please leave the London borough of Lewisham. Apparently it has a mental impatient wing. Less surprisingly, it’s pretty rank. Not renowned for being the most pleasant hospital, for it treats the whole of SE London’s ill, it is by far one of the biggest in London, by far the biggest in South London, but probably lacks the beauty of sitting in a nice wealthy area to extract that type of budget from the government.
Coincidently or not, my dad’s favourite film is ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ so he can see the sense of absurdity in these visits (once my dad had a full scale conversation for an hour with a smartly dressed woman claiming responsibility over his mum – she turned out to be a patient), but humour probably gets lost when you’re probably sharing a corridor with someone who’s just killed the next-door neighbour and ate them.
As well as the Prozac, sadly my Nan has had a penchant for electroconvulsive therapy (loves the stuff), but gladly they’re phasing it out (Probably because of the huge bill rise by Npower - Or the fact that it isn’t the 40’s anymore - Or the fact that evil demons don’t live inside your skulls nowadays). To believe that in the 21st century people were still strapped into beds, a plastic gum shield inserted between their teeth and blasted with fuck knows how much voltage makes me wonder how advanced our medicines have actually become.
Similarly, these famous people also had ECT - Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath and Francis Farmer. So glad to see it worked out well for them.
I remember when I was a little skint and decided to work with my electrician father for a week at an old people’s home. It was the first day of the first test of the Ashes Series when England beat the Australians, but that isn’t the reason I remember it. I remember it because of the bitter taste of urine you’d get by breathing when entering the front reception area. It still upsets me to this day thinking of when I was doing some random bit of light bulb screwing, I’d look to my left and see these faces distorted in dementia, like moving pictures of Munch’s Scream, carrying cabbage patch dolls, talking to them in hushed voices like they were their children. It was like some weird roll reversed nursery school, but you wouldn’t let your children play in the conditions.
We try and forget these people, tut or laugh when we see someone out of our norm acting a tad ‘difficult’ on the bus (if you’ve just moved from nowhere-shire to Goldsmith’s and a morsel sceptical, let me recommend the 136 bus route to Grove Park for the most scenic tour of mental institutions). Society is keen to wash their hands of these people; they want people to make them money, not cost them.
The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/feb/08/uk.liberaldemocrats
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7263494.stm - University of Hull - Professor Irving Kirsch
(ECT) Shock Therapy to you and me