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THE EARLY DAYS OF VOICES FORUM

Richard Jameson looks back


In the mid to late 1980s, National Voices Forum was in its infancy under the watchful eye of Fred Carney of NSF (now Rethink) and I, folks, was chairman.

If you think that being mentally ill is no picnic, committee work is infinitely worse. No, I'm joking! Those early days were stimulating and inspiring. I worked my typing finger to the bone. And we set up a force which the medics and even the government have to take notice of. We are people, not statistics - human beings, not simply nutcases.

I was pleased to invite my own psychiatrist (Desmond Kelly, director of the famous Priory hospital in Roehampton) to speak at one of our early meetings.

My mother was a founder member of the NSF (Rethink) in 1971. But my illness so frightened my mother that she has probably suffered more than I have - to this day. A whirlwind is frightening, but the centre of the whirlwind is calm. Voices Forum for me meant radio, TV and press articles. I was a star - or should I say a scar! - on the surface of society. Most surprisingly, I was top of the tree again in my own little way.

I had reached my goal, my temporary goal. But ruthlessly I resolved never to fall ill again. Self control is something all of us must learn, or go under. This does not mean holding our breath, but leading from ourselves, not our brains. The mind is a tool in the hands of the individual and we all know how minds can go wrong. The only one who can help you is you yourself.

Service -users have been helping themselves to the bounty showered upon them by well-wishers since 1960. What a long way we have come in 40 years! I don't like the politics of madness, but it appeals to some. Very necessary to keep the bounty flowing.

The worst part about madness is the loneliness. I was excited by the coming together of people who were hitherto so isolated - indeed completely cut off in a world of their own. From the very beginning Voices Forum has gone a long way to curing mental illness simply by being there. It certainly did a lot for me.

We may joke about madness from time to time but it is crippling, putting you totally out of action. We now have a body of people (patients, nurses and doctors) working together to beat this bug - and their labours are effective. Most schizophrenia stories have a happy ending.

The change since 1960 is colossal. But madness still strikes and only if you have known it can you dread it as much as we all do. If I, as a patient, helped in any way at all, I am absolutely delighted. Delighted too that the Forum has grown into the nation-wide organisation that it is today. Human -yes, therapeutic - yes, but not, I hope, too political!