A really unexpected thing happened today – a group of protesters turned up to the conference and started ‘presenting’ their opinions via placards and song – something along the lines of “give the children a chance”. Clearly I’m not going to name the organization that arranged the protest. I don’t want my blog to be an inadvertent platform for the distribution of their cause or material.
I hear that the protesters yelled at some delegates as they entered the building – I didn’t see that behavior myself, but when I saw them security had already confined them behind some barricades. I’m not sure what went down before I arrived. A few delegates came out the front and openly shared their disgust at the protestor’s presence there. I decided on a different tact. Seeing as though one of the key messages of this conference is about bridging understanding through dialogue, I chose to approach one of the protesters to find out what on earth about this conference could have knotted their knickers so uncomfortably.
After many questions I finally got to what (I think) was the deeper issue underpinning their racket – psychiatrists who prescribe medication to people as the first and only option for treatment to gain financial revenue for drug companies. After many questions I ascertained that they weren’t against the medications themselves and recognized the need for these – they were against them being prescribed independently of other therapy options.
Now, I’m no psychiatrist but in my work as a teacher I’ve worked with plenty – never, ever have I heard of any psychiatrist prescribing medication as the first and only form of treatment for anyone. As gently as I could, I attempted to explain to the woman that all of the attendees at this particular conference would agree with their message – and that there would be absolutely no psychiatrists present here who would be prescribing medication as the one and only form of treatment for anyone. I added by saying that this entire conference is about collaboration and finding various ways to help young people get the appropriate and best help they need at the time when they need it. I’m certainly an advocate for free speech and I explained this to her – hey, if you have an opinion you’ve got a right to express it – but in this case, this organization was certainly protesting to the wrong audience and just upsetting professionals who are simply trying to innovate for the greater good of our young people! I guess we agreed to disagree at that point – I re-entered the conference and the protesters continued their song. I certainly don’t agree with them, but I do love the fact that England, like Australia, is a place where anyone can freely express a point of view.
In fact, this whole situation linked remarkably well to the plenary speech made this morning by Professor Pat McGorry, Exectutive Director of Orygen Youth Health in Melbourne. Prof McGorry spoke about the role of skeptics in our society and the fact that there will always be resistance when something significant is being done – and this conference is overflowing with significance! Ultimately, the presence of these protestors today served to strengthen the resolve of every delegate, clarifying their purpose for the work that they do, uniting them with a common direction and reminding them of the ultimate importance and the RIGHTness of the work they are doing. No protest could ever hamper the enthusiasm of this gathering.
And in case you’re wondering – the work they are doing is top rate! I sat in on more inspirational sessions today examining the various ways technology is being used to engage people in mental health services, through every avenue from social media to online gaming tools. There were a number of great resources that were identified and I’ve added each of these to the resource page on my blog. We also learnt from Justin Scaini about an inspiring collaborative summit that was held in Canada by young people for young people. Take a look at ‘unleash the noise’ and ‘The Jack Project’ on the resource page. We need to give young people more credit and more responsibility – they are more capable and more willing than what we assume!
Other topics of interest included a presentation by Prof Jeffery Arnett on the changing nature of how people in their twenties are emerging into ‘adulthood’ later and later in life and the implications of this for the mental health services. We got a deeper look at the work and evolution of Headspace Australia from the CEO Chris Tanti and a very interesting insight into the economic implications of mental health globally by Prof Martin Knapp.
A very insightful day with lots of learnings – and a very poignant reminder about how skeptics and doubters (however misguided they might be) ultimately serve us by assisting us to clarify our vision, thereby strengthening our mission.
Everything is a learning opportunity – dialogue is always the road to true understanding.
Night night world,