Voices of Recovery: Pat Deegan

In my humble opinion, one of the most impressive people and inspirational people in the mental health field is Pat Deegan. I love the above film clip from the Hogg Foundation of Mental Health, On becoming Doctor Deegan, of Pat talking about her experiences when diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager, and during her journey to recovery. It is an extraordinary Story.

‘… at the time I was told that I had schizophrenia. I was told that I needed to retire from life. That I needed to avoid stress and I needed simply to take large doses of antipsychotic medications for the rest of my life, and basically retire from living at the ripe old age of 17 years old. For me, that was a prognosis of doom.’

This view of this psychiatrist–shared by many other psychiatrists at the time—dates back to the ideas of Emile Kraepelin (1904), who viewed schizophrenia to be a problem akin to a ‘death sentence’… on the basis of clinical observations with patients in long-term institutionalised care.

Some time later, Pat saw her psychiatrist again and asked what was wrong with her. He told her that she had a disease called schizophrenia and that it was much like diabetes and she would have to take medication for the rest of her life. Something flared up inside of her.

‘… something inside of me was going, “No, you’re wrong about me, you’re wrong about me.” But by then I was pretty socialised into the role of being a mental patient, so I didn’t speak up for the fear of being put back into hospital or something, raise my meds.

Instead, I went out into the corridor after the appointment and I remember just, “You are wrong about me,” I was saying this to myself. And then this thought came into my head, ‘In fact, you are so wrong about me that I am going to become Doctor Deegan, and I’m going to change the mental health system so that no one ever gets hurt in it again.”‘

And so she did become Doctor Deegan… and she helped create major change!

To think that many psychiatrists today believe that few people recover from schizophrenia, and that they need long-term medication to ‘live a life’.

Please check out Pat’s CommonGround website.