Survivors History archive
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EDUCATION AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
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There's too much pressure now for things to slip back to the way they were.
Rob Dellar, Mad Pride writes
Before 1997, Southwark Mind was essentially just a management committee accused by some of being a middle-class do-gooders consisting of Maudsley consultants' wives and the like, who would meet up every month or so to decide which worthy causes at the Maudsley should get grants out of the money Southwark Mind is given from the shop in East Dulwich. Pete, with the help of Denise Mckenna changed all this by carving up the 1997 AGM and turning Southwark Mind into a user-lead charity. This led to a development worker - me - being employed to take ideas forward including Pete's. I met him at my first day at work at Southwark Mind. He said that he'd just come out of hospital and was depressed, but nevertheless introduced me to the Lorrimore drop-in and Mary's Caff. We got on immediately.
Pete had already built up quite a reputation for himself by this stage. He was being groomed by Mental Health Media to be a top 'mad' media spokesman. He'd started the group 'Reclaim Bedlam' who had organised a sit-in outside the original Bedlam site at the Imperial War Museum to protest against ill-conceived 'anniversary celebrations.' And he'd started the Bermondsey and Rotherhithe mental health Support Group, a local self-help organisation. In all these ventures, Pete gave of himself without talking very much.
I was certainly inspired by Pete. It was clear when I started work for Southwark Mind that Pete was destined for a larger than local profile. When Southwark Mind members led by Pete, decided to target the SANE head-quarters in 1999 for a march opposing their support (at the time) for compulsory treatment orders being proposed by the government - to no small part because of SANE's lobbying - things started to get serious.
We managed to get 200 people turning up to the SANE march - which at the time was an unprecedented figure for a 'mad' demo. We had whistles, drums, a 7-foot long syringe together with a kitchen table, corn-flakes and milk, tridents (because we're the devil), banners, flyer you name it - we pulled out the stops. SANE didn't know what the fuck had hit them. They dropped their support for CTO's and to this day, they're still reeling from this event.
While we were organising this demo, Pete introduced me to Simon Barnett and Mark Roberts - at the time the rump of Survivors Speak Out which was on its last legs - and they were interested in what we were doing. Together, the four of us decided to set up MAD PRIDE.
Mad Pride has only ever been a small group, but what we've managed to do together has been tremendous, and this has been in no small part down to Pete - the ideas man. It was his idea to hold a vigil on Suicide Bridge in Archway, to remember all of the people who've died there and all of the other people who commit suicide - 'murder by society.' This felt particularly relevant to me as my friend Jo Crane had killed herself there not long before.
Pete's networking skills ensured that radical clinicians joined with us to protest against the pharmaceutical industry's predominance over psychiatric services in 2001. Pete offered endless good advice , calmed us and used brilliant conflict-resolution techniques to keep us together as a group. And if he hadn't woken up in time that fateful day on the 15th of July 2000 ( after a drunken Nikki Sudden performance at a book-shop the night before), the famous Mad Pride open-air festival in Stoke Newington wouldn't have happened, because the Festival Support Group would have assumed we weren't turning up. Pete was also our most prolific and best media spokesman, appearing on telly and in Newspapers all over the place. I'll go into more detail about some of this later, in a book.
I think that we (MAD PRIDE) over-reached ourselves during that summer of 2000, which also saw several indoor concerts, and the publication of a book ' Mad Pride: A Celebration of Mad Culture,' which was highly acclaimed and successful, and for which Pete wrote one of the best chapters( 'Into the Deep End'). The Mad Pride work was too intense, and none of us have ever been quite the same again. But we tried, we got user-led mental health issues into the media as never before, and we inspired many people. We also, without a doubt, moved the paradigm of the British 'user movement' left-wards.
Being a 'survivor activist' is hard work in a harsh world, and its not surprising that there is a large burn-out rate in this field. Pete burnt out in the most shocking way imaginable, but we must respect his decision whilst mourning his departure. I think Pete would have wanted us to carry on his work and stay alive and help change this obscene capitalist society so that it is not too awful a place for people like Pete - and us - to live in.
Simon Barnett, Mad Pride writes
This has to be the most difficult thing I've ever written. Pete Shaughnessy, a great man and true friend is dead. The last month has been a daze. Christmas and New Year have passed, seemingly everybody rushing around enjoying themselves, whilst I've been feeling anger and extreme sadness, then shock and disbelief.
I'm sure Southwark Mind Newsletter readers will know
Pete's vision, hard work and skills that have made Southwark Mind
unique as a service user-managed and staffed organisation, but I've
trying to think of something different and personal to say. The joy
Pete's funeral and wake was to see so many people there. This
how popular Pete was, how much he got around, and just how many
lives he touched.
Of course, that's what he did. Lots of other people helped, but I always found Pete inspirational. I honestly believe that without Reclaim Bedlam, Pete's brainchild, there would be no Mad Pride. Mad Pride was conceived in a manic rant but Pete kept the idea going and introduced me to so many other people without whom we would never have achieved what we have.
For me, Pete took grass-roots mental health issues into the media in a new and exciting way. I'm not dismissing the bravery of people who had told their life stories to the press before; however, TV coverage of the campaigning work was somehow much more exciting.
I'll miss Pete, a lot. I'll miss those long telephone conversations with his voice croaking, probably from smoking and talking so much. Those conversations were enlightening on topics such as politics, non-league football and Irish history, and life in general. He was very funny and insightful.
But his tenderness was beautiful as well. On the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral at the commemorative picket, I was agitated, upset, a little manic even. With a few words Pete calmed me.
My heartfelt sympathy goes to Penny, his children, his family and all his friends locally and nationally. Rest in peace, Peter Anthony Shaughnessy.
Pete and One-Liners, Mark Roberts writes
"Mad Frank for Mayor!" exclaimed Pete Shaughnessy, talking about Frank Dobson's covered-up depression when running for London Mayor. "Compassion not compulsion" he proclaimed on the Government's efforts to bring in a coercive new mental health Act. On the campaign by the royal College of Psychiatrists (In every family in the land), Pete said " It would be like the Metropolitan Police educating the community about Racism.!!". Mad Pride appealed to Pete because of the edgy punch the name packs.
Though Pete could be accused of sensationalism and reducing complex issues to glib catch-phrases, there was much more to his insistence on one-liners and sound bites than met the eye.
As a survivor campaigner, Pete was one of the best ever. A campaign, he would say, is nothing without the media. He had a deep understanding of the workings of TV, magazines and newspapers. And being reported in the way you want to be is a competitive business. If you have not grabbed the attention of the interviewer, and the editor and the consumers of the media - then you are just edited out. You are blanked. Pete was never ignored.
As a wordsmith, Pete would actually plan in advance and rehearse to himself two or three phrases that he knew would make people sit up. Sure the fact that he could come up with original ones is sheer talent. Pete of course unlike so may politicians who have speechwriters - was his own spin doctor. That's why he sounds genuine.
One day Pete and I were moaning about the elusiveness of the Government's mental health Czar - Professor Louis Appleby*. The esteemed professor had been due to travel from Manchester to London to do a Q and A session with survivors but hadn't turned up. He sent apologies citing rail disruption (whereas the trains were not very disrupted) as the reason. "That's funny," said Pete, "when some survivors met him and conversation got a bit interesting, he suddenly said he had to go. He had a train to catch." Appleby we agreed seemed to know much more about trains than about mental health.
Mused Pete, "If Appleby can't improve mental health services, maybe he could make the trains run on time. Like Mussolini. What was Mussolini's first name? Ay yes, Benito. BENITO APPLEBY!" Pete renamed the Czar.
* Professor Louis Appleby as incoming mental health Czar pledged to cut the number of suicides of psychiatric patients in treatment to 0% in 2002. Didn't quite work out. New target is to cut suicides by 20% in seven years.
Tessa Parkes writes
Pete had a way with words. He used to talk for hours
too long sometimes so that you were tired of listening and saying
Pete' - on his ideas for putting the world to rights, for
mental health services, for his right to be who he demanded to be.
verbal assaults could be exhausting, but he talked sense, with so
intelligence and flair for finding the right phrase for his latest
message; the best way to get people's attention, 'Mad Frank for
'Nutters with attitude': you could never stop listening.
Pete and I found ourselves in situations where we were expected to do someone else's dirty work for them. That is often the nature of consultancy work, though you don't always see this until you are in the thick of it. In one instance we became involved in getting to know the users of a service and 'their views' on what they wanted to happen to the service they'd been using for years. The problem was, as ever, the other agendas being hatched by others, including the people who had brought us in to do the work, regarding the service and how it should be reorganised and redelivered. Pete soon smelt a rat and sussed that his role, as someone working directly with the users, was completely compromised. Indeed, he realised that he was being directly implicated in it all because the users would blame him at the end of the day, when their views were railroaded, for not being straight with them. Clever. Pete wasn't having that, he told the users exactly what was being hatched in the 'private' conversations between agencies without them. This caused a ruckus and a hysterical reaction from the agency who'd brought us in, describing it as 'unprofessional'. Which of course it was: but Pete wasn't about to act 'professionally' if it meant stitching up users in the process. He knew whose side he was on if it came to the crunch.
While Pete could be hard on front line staff and their role in the disempowerment of users he was also acutely aware of their own disempowerment too and, I think, genuinely sought to understand where staff were coming from too. My PhD research was on user involvement and power in mental health services and Pete recognised that staff were never going to be able to work better with users until they felt better about themselves and what they were doing. He saw that my research was about trying to articulate this and so worked with me to guide my research as a supervisor. He gave me some crystal clear clues as we went along 'attitudes are the problem and they are also the solution'; 'are user groups only doing things for perks?', 'professionals seem oblivious to the power they have'; 'when staff feel isolated it is easier to be custodial'; 'users want warm friendly services'; 'dangerousness issues have become an excuse'; 'hospital wards are abusive places to work too'; 'advocacy has been diverted into complaints'; 'the user movement can disown the truly disempowered'; 'there is a need to be adversarial'; 'staff can be as ignorant as Jo Public'; 'there has been bureaucratic change not real change', 'psychiatry has lost the plot!'.
Pete could talk the language of staff and managers as well as the language of users and survivors and this was one of the many things that made him as influential as he was within services as well as outside of them. He had credibility on both sides of the fence as both a fierce advocate for complete radical change at a societal level, and as someone who would reliably turn up to endless Trust meetings and be constructively, straightforwardly clear about the things that needed to be said. He created spaces for users and survivors who were not as confident as he was to have their say. I talked to some Trust managers who were really impressed with his approach and appreciated the difficult things he said because they knew that someone had to say them before things could change. There are few who can travel both insider and outsider paths successfully, credibly and with their conscious intact. And although he said things that made people uncomfortable and defensive - in user survivor settings as well as in managerial and professional settings, that was part of who he was. He liked to be provocateur, centre of attention, his acting training helped him to view much of life as a stage to perform on - and he was unquestioningly the star. I think part of him enjoyed flying off the handle. And he had an excuse - he was MAD!
This meant occasions with Pete were always unpredictable - in a formal classroom setting this was a challenge. As part of our work together Pete taught Masters, undergraduate students and professionals at the Tizard Centre - University of Kent, University of Brighton and Boston University London Programmes. I wanted students and professionals to have access to him and his ideas as part of their learning about 'mental health', 'psychology' or 'user involvement'. Pete believed in education and believed in the power of learning to think different and be different. It was great to see him at work when he taught American psychology students about what it was like to be on the receiving end of mental health services. They just weren't prepared for someone loud, proud, funny and serious at the same time. This was not what was expected from an ex-psychiatric patient! There was always an uncomfortable air of expectation and anxiety in the room 'What is he going to ask us to do/say next?' Starting sessions by asking students to say why they were studying mental health or psychology, he wanted to expose them to how few people will acknowledge mental illness in themselves or their family because of the stigma attached. Naturally this created a certain amount of angst amongst people trained to think themselves and their own pain out of what they were studying, but it was massively refreshing for them at the same time. He'd found their wavelength. It didn't always work - people were occasionally too taken aback by his passion and energy and found him and what he was saying too difficult to take on board. Sometimes his messages were too sophisticated for his audience and he left them bemused. You can prepare for teaching, but you could rarely ever be ready for Pete.
Working with him in these situations and a mutual respect led us to becoming friends and more involved in each other's lives. I think it is important to be honest and straightforward, as Pete did, and that made for some dramatic stalemates, it's how we maintained our respect for each other, I think, over the years. What I do regret is not being there when he needed me to be. I deeply regret not knowing how bad he was feeling or being too involved in my own life to notice. As Cath and Lynn his close friends have said, Pete was always so big and so loud and so strong, you always expected him to be there. It is hard to believe that he is not.
He leaves with so much unsaid, but he also said so much, and now
because of him: some great things done as well.
Frank Keating writes
I first met Pete at Southwark Mind and then at Mind Conferences and meetings of this nature. I was always struck by his critical analysis of mental health services and how it was/is failing service users and his willingness to make a stand. His creativity in protesting his dissatisfaction with mental health services is a great legacy for those of use who oppose the oppressive nature of mental health services. We had interesting, and at times difficult, debates and exchanges. I can only say that I am richer for having those discussions with Pete. The mental health field has lost one of its giants. I salute Pete.
Jennie Williams writes
I first met Pete in 1995 when the Tizard Centre collaborated with Southwark Mind on a project to strengthen the user voice in Southwark. I was immediately struck by his strength of purpose and vision, and the warmth and fun he brought to motivating those around him. During the following years we were delighted to enlist his help with our MA programme for managers of community care services. He enabled many of the students to appreciate the possibilities and practicalities of collaborating with service users, and his teaching methods were a breath of fresh air. We also jointly supervised a piece of PhD research. I am sad to think of a world without Pete and the possibility of further such adventures.
Ian Watling writes
"What an amazing guy", I thought as I heard him speak for the first time in a session at the Tizard Centre in Canterbury, where I was studying for an MA. He was so 'too the point', none of the 'being careful about how something is said', just the message delivered in a raw and passionate way. I felt transfixed to what he was saying not only because it was so refreshing and interesting but because he had a way of saying something in a few words where others would use six times more - which meant he had so much more to say in the same space.
I instantly warmed to what Pete was saying and I was so impressed when he travelled over to my service to talk about how he might help out with some difficult local issues. He listened and within minutes began by offering useful insights and perspectives on what we were dealing with. In this respect I found him honest, open and keen to share his observations and his many experiences both painful and amusing.
On another occasion I invited him to meet some mental health service users I had been working with to develop a Patient's Council. They were trying to grapple with some issues and once shared he offered some remarkably simple but pointed advice to them, "I think you are trying to do too much, do what you want to do, if you can't go to the meetings tell the management to come to yours, you can't do it all and they will expect you to if you start out that way". Those few words were so useful to the formation of the Patient's Council, just one useful insight from a man of so much experience of trying to create real change in the system.
I will personally miss Pete. He was the sort of guy that you could share a roll-up with outside the back door of a venue and feel 'at home'. I recall him telling me that he had quoted me at some speech he had made and I was so chuffed. With Pete I didn't feel out of place being a manager of services in the company of service users, he made everyone around him feel part of something special, part of a movement, part of something radical and new. He inspired me to feel that I had important work to do in the struggle to change the system and I am still here doing that work and although Pete is not there to talk to, he will always be there - his lively spirit and his passion for the cause. Missed but never forgotten.
Peter Shaughnessy, Sherry writes
I have known Pete for about twelve years. He was my closest friend, my love, my best pal.
Pete used to drive buses, he was attacked. After this attack he was diagnosed with manic depression.
He trained to be an actor. Then his world changed forever, turned upside down.
Much of Pete's life revolved around mental health. Trying to understand and come to terms with this illness they call manic depression. The incredible and often frightening highs, the long bouts of hospitalisation and often soul-destroying medication, and the terrible and destructive lows that finally claimed his life.
Pete encountered much injustice and discrimination on his journey. Not only in the realms of mental health, but with learning disabilities too. He was a great advocate and a friend to may people with learning disabilities in Southwark.
As a direct result of Pete's illness, Pete, Des (an old friend and campaigner) and myself set up Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Mental Health Support Group. There was nothing them nowhere to go to get support, understanding, and practical help (other than the medical kind).
Many things have changed since then, although many services are still appalling and not fit for animals let alone human care. But due in part to Pete's campaigning and passion, there is now a strong and healthy user voice.
Pete was also a brother, a father, a son, godfather, and a friend to many.
I will always think of Pete with Love and pride. Pete was a man who was always incredibly honest and accepting of me. Pete was funny and he cared and he never judged me. Pete was a man who I loved and I was so very lucky to have him as my friend.
Pete Shaughnessy's association with Mental Health Media started through 'Headlines' - the initiative which preceded the current Media Bureau and which media trained and supported service users and survivors wanting to get their messages across in the media. As well as taking an active role at the launch at which broadcasters such as Martin Bashir heard user/survivor concerns around misrepresentation, misinformation and stereotyping, Pete was also on the Headlines Advisory Group and participated in the video "Hit The Headlines - a Survivors Guide to Using the Media".
Pete recognised the value and the power of the media in getting the message across. He used it to communicate positive and inspiring messages about his own madness and of the importance of staying proud and strong in the face of a psychiatric system whose coercive and punitive nature he believed left people crushed, silenced and disempowered.
He was also acutely aware of the importance of the soundbite and of the photo-opportunity in driving home the message. As I'm writing this I'm looking at a picture from Nursing Times (14 October 1996) which shows Pete crawling out from under the legs of Winston Churchill doing his own V for Victory sign as part of a protest organised by Reclaim Bedlam, ECT Anonymous and the All Wales User and Survivor Network against the anti-stigma campaign launched by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Another memorable media moment sees Pete on BBC Newsroom South East brandishing a giant syringe outside the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry on the Mad Pride/Critical Psychiatry Network Day of Action in July 2001.
On a personal level, Pete was an inspiration to me - I'd read about him and Mad Pride in the Big Issue not long after I'd come out of psychiatric hospital and was having trouble coming to terms with my experience of madness and the subsequent treatment and response. I held him in high regard - for his honesty and integrity in a world where there is so much insincerity, hypocrisy and artifice and for being an uncompromising force who fought for real, not cosmetic, change.
On a professional level, Pete was always encouraging and supportive of the Media Bureau. I first worked with him when I helped with media support for the aforementioned Mad Pride/Critical Psychiatry Network 'Hugs Not Drugs' demo and Day of Action. I was a little apprehensive as his reputation as a person who took no prisoners preceded him. However, I needn't have feared as we got on well. We were always direct with each other and we found that our overall view of the world was pretty similar - even if we went about things differently! I was always pleased to see him and will remember our chats with great fondness.
The world of survivor activism has a lost a guiding star who is sorely missed. I feel fortunate to have known Pete and I take some comfort in knowing that his spirit and legacy will live on.
Pete Shaughnessy, Debbie McNamara writes
He was a wild man, a howling wolf. In Mad Pride, Pete could be relied on to arrive dishevelled to our meeting place with always the most outrageous idea. He would have us lying down in the traffic at the Elephant dressed in doctor's coats, he posed before pigs (real ones) in Parliament Square hoisted up next to Churchill with our monster syringe, he formed our anarchic identity with his polemic and unremitting message of no compromise. Everybody knew Pete. At festivals he fixed up discussion for us in canvas premises of politics and maverick groups. He worked as a volunteer for the Big Issue. He was our mouthpiece, the mouthy one, one step away from professional journalism, the one the media always asked for. It is unthinkable that such a bright flame should end his own life, not reach his own potential, take himself away from us. But the chaos set in, and at one drastic and crucial moment he decided to could not beat it. How any of us wish we could have been with him at that moment to argue him round or try and instil some optimism. He is gone. Our roaring boy, who shocked the establishment and made them love him, as we did. He goes with all his energy, passion and success lighting his path. He was totally committed, to inclusion, to the Survivor Movement for over ten years. As a man and as a star he leaves a huge void which will never be filled. We mourn with pain for a great personality who lit our way for so long.
I've used the analogy with Pete verbally many times that its as if we were side by side in the fucking trenches in a war, in battle. That's what it felt like doing all the MAD PRIDE stuff with him. I'll never forget Pete: my friend, my comrade, a man brave and able enough to change the world through force of personality rather than power. It's an incredible strength that he had. Hopefully some of us will have learnt something from this.
Sara Meddings' memories of Pete
1. Inclusivity - My first memory of Pete was at the PPR evening
'challenging psychiatry' about five years ago - he made a point of
to a man (who I'd come with) who had been quite mad and who some
had disrupted the meeting - Pete talked about the importance, within
survivor movement, of including everyone, however crazy, and not
presenting as a sanitised group. He believed in real inclusivity and
the hypocrisy of excluding the most mad from campaigns and
about that very issue.
For me, all this linked to his funeral being on christmas eve. It caused disruption to our lives, but it also meant that we had to talk about him, not only to other people who knew him, but also to everyone else whose christmas plans had to be altered to take account of Pete. I think I'll go on to miss him for all this - his inclusivity, innovation, support and the fact that he could also be a pain in the neck!
Number One! By Ena Daemon
In my living room, at half past three,
It's all quite simple, all quite clear,
And, no, I'm not alone down here -
And now the State has got my body finally,
And if you think that now I'm gone,
Pete said to pass it on.
Stay mad, stay proud. Penny Shaughnessy
When the revolutionary takes his own life, it must be examined but more importantly the reasons must be examined. Lessons need to be learned. Could Pete's suicide be linked to the antidepressants he was prescribed five days before that fateful day? Drug companies would no doubt dismiss this claim. They would say for the few these S.S.R.I.s do not work, the majority of patients show a good response. Luckily I'm in the majority and they have helped. But my husband is dead like so many others.
Drug companies do most, if not all, of the research on their own drugs, so they are not going to admit responsibility for Pete's death and no amount of Sipromil is going to bring him back to me.
In my opinion drug companies are only interested in making a profit and they profit from our misery. Although Pete had suffered from severe depression in the past he had never attempted suicide before. And the violent way he took his life does make me suspicious.
My first reaction though was to blame the health authority who I hold responsible for the break-up of our marriage a year ago. After months of frantic mania Pete was admitted to hospital. Two days later he phoned to say he was being discharged the following day. I was distraught, exhausted and I begged them to extend his stay. They gave him one more night. Pete's average stay in hospital before he had me as his carer was 6 weeks. In the 5 years we were together his average stay was 4 nights. Carers needs have to be considered. At present, they are not listened to and I feel, are used by the health authority to cut costs. They just pass the buck. We are not given any support, all we are given is £39 a week.
With no support and my own mental health deteriorating and tension mounting with certain family issues, I decided I could no longer cope and Pete and I separated. Pete's mania continued and he travelled all over England. Robert Dellar kindly let him stay with him while Pete was chaotic and confused. He was hospitalised in Worthing months later and during this time depression took hold. He took stock and realised his marriage was over. This time without a carer his hospital stay was 5 months, a little too much, too late. With the right help and support I'm sure me and Pete would still be together now or at least he would still be alive. As it is, though, I believe Pete couldn't find the strength to start all over again, I blame the health authority, if they had listened to me he would be alive. Life would still be difficult but he would be alive.
I didn't dare give Pete the hope he desperately needed. I was scared I couldn't commit, but I never stopped loving him, and I do wish I had now. Pete gave thousands of people hope and support and he will continue to do so even after his death.
I loved Pete so much and it will be a difficult life without him. But he gave me enough love and support to last a life time. Pete wasn't only my husband he was the best teacher I ever had and what he taught me I hope is never to judge, basic humanity and how to respect.
am a lucky person to have had Pete love me. I can't pretend it was all roses, quite the opposite. He was a raging bull and it was his rage that drove him to become the greatest Mad activist to date. Rage at the system and how they can't even meet simple needs. Pete leaves a void which will never be filled but the fight must go on.
© Asylum Magazine 2002