Back to 2016: This Book

The world outlined above may look naive/silly/hideous/odd/irrespon- sible depending on your positioning, but you don’t have to buy into the notion of hovercrafts to know that there is, and always has been, something quite fundamentally wrong with the institutions that have coalesced around people’s misery over the years. This book won’t chart a path to some form of mental distress utopia, but what it will provide is an unashamed and much-needed celebration of the precious and often invisible non-professional, non-technical mental distress work happening in communities up and down the country on any given day. We want to tease out, and articulate in some detail, the very texture of the kinds of things that are happening in this arena.

We will get to that in due course. But first we will provide an account of some of the fundamental misunderstandings which underpin much of the theory and practice of mainstream psychiatry and psychology, outline some of the implicit and explicit problems with any institution that has an impulse to reward professional expertise and in so doing highlight the profound need for a banality of misery, not one which privileges the notion that misery is somehow exotic, distant and irrelevant to most people’s lives. Psychological misery is largely a social phenomenon and its potential lies within every single living person. Moreover, despite esoteric enclaves of expertise often anointing themselves as the only sources of authority on misery, there is a perfectly good lay vocabulary on misery that is reproduced all over the country by people with no mental health training and in all manner of institutions and settlings around the country. And it’s often happening with barely a psy person in sight. It works because people and distress are fundamentally social in nature.

After outlining some of the difficulties with psych institutions and the social character of misery, this book will set out case studies that show what is already happening for many people experiencing misery, albeit sidelined and marginalised in the dominant story of biomedicine. There are 161,000 active voluntary organisations in the UK, 2.5 voluntary organisations for every 1000 people doing immensely valuable work.14 This book is a celebration of the non-technical, but it is far from a celebration of anti-intellectualism and the two should not be conflated. It marks a movement from one set of dominant conceptual and institutionalised ideas of biomedicine, to one which explores the knowledge and capabilities inherent in many of the informal community settings and spaces around the country. We hope to reinforce the understanding that important mental distress work occurs in a great variety of lay social settings: in arts centres, schools and libraries; along river paths; and in sports clubs, community groups and support groups.

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