[Mark Ellerby. On Anti-psychiatry: A Patients View. Brentwood, Essex, UK: Chipmunkapublishing, 2008.]
This will be an unusually short review of a short, unusual book.
Mark Ellerby is a young English man who identifies as someone who uses the mental health system in the U.K., and he mentions experiences with both schizophrenia and depression. He is not an academic but has some academic training, though it is not clear how much or what kind. His encounters with Foucault and other anti-psychiatry thinkers before and during the early stages of the onset of the experiences he identifies as mental illness led him to have a particular expectation of how he might experience the mental health system and thereby increased his sense of isolation and alienation. In fact, his experience has been quite different -- not perfect, but generally positive -- and this is his attempt to respond to Foucault, and in a much more limited way R.D. Laing and Erving Goffman.
I think this is a really important thing to be doing. All of us, regardless of the presence or absence of letters after our names, benefit from looking at our own experiences with a critical eye, and putting them in dialogue with analyses we get from different sorts of oral and written sources, and with other people's experiences as well. This is obviously a regular person doing this very thing and muddling through, much like I try to do on this blog.
One outcome of that, on this blog and in this book, is that the resultant writing sometimes has some rough edges. And, unfortunately, those rough edges mean I'm not sure I can really engage with Ellerby's ideas as thoroughly as I might like. He does not describe in any detail the ideas to which he is responding. I've read some of Foucault's writings on psychiatry, yet despite that I couldn't be sure what exactly Ellerby was responding to. In fact, in parts I wasn't convinced I'd understood Foucault to be saying what Ellerby understood him to be saying.
A larger and more difficult question is how to relate one's own experiences to the analyses of others. How do you do it? What is valid? What isn't? Whatever answers I have are tentative and in process, and way beyond what I intend this review to be. Ellerby does not give explicit answers either. However, I think I would probably have some quite different answers from him. There are places where it is not at all clear to me why he expected, based on the anti-psychiatry writings in question, that he would have certain kinds of experiences with the mental health system; nor is it always clear to me how particular experiences that he did have are sufficient (or in some cases even relevant) to rebut those ideas. Some of that, no doubt, is related to the fact that he approaches the material from a basis in experiences that are understood as severe mental illness and with institutions that claim to respond to those experiences, while I'm coming from a much different place, though I think a lot more could have been done in the writing to help readers bridge that gap. Another part of the mix, though, is arguing from experience in ways that I don't think hold.
And, finally, he talks a lot about capitalism in ways that are quite different than I would. His understanding of what Foucault has to say about capitalism is different than what I understand him to say. He also cites in response a number of (mostly English) conservative philosophers whose frameworks are of little interest to me, and, in any case, not explained enough for someone not already familiar with them. And he is pro-capitalist in ways that seem to me to sidestep rather than address about 98% of the relevant anti-capitalist ideas and arguments, and that again in places invoke individual experience in ways that just don't work for me.
So. I don't feel like I have a good enough handle on what Ellerby is saying to respond in any detail, and at least a few of the things that I do understand, I disagree with vehemently.
That said, I admire him a great deal. He is wrestling with his experience, he is wrestling with ideas, and he is putting the results out there for others to see, think about, and wrestle with, all in much more difficult circumstances than I face.
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