MIT have an award out currently for disobedience for any individual or group who feels they are being disobedient for social good. God help me, I put myself forward for it. And you can too, here is the link. As they say on the site, quoting from Joi Ito, the Director of MIT Media Lab, “You don’t change the world by doing what you’re told.”
I like the idea of putting what I am doing with my work at the moment, the video diary app Mental Snapp, under the heading of disobedience. Mental Snapp aims to change the concepts surrounding mental health by redefining the argument – people aren’t dependent on services, they actively manage their own mental health, and we believe they have the skills to do it already, we just provide the framework to draw them out. Having applied for the award, I was talking with my mother about the subject of disobedience as it related to that body of work. Her legal brain illuminated the argument by thinking of the necessity holding in balance the two concepts of disobedience and consent. Both are necessary for the smooth running of society. Without critical challenge, there is no progress. Without consent there is no community. So how do you decide when and how to swing from one mode to another?
The example my mother gave was that of the traffic light system and its enforcement, which has shifted since she studied law. The red light, when she was in training, was a legal requirement on all drivers. To jump a red light was to break the law, no excuses. There began to be an accepted norm however, through individual cases being raised, that in an emergency, say of having a woman in labour in the back seat, jumping a red light would still get you stopped by the police if they saw it, but then on seeing the woman in the back, they would wave you on. This principle was extended after a number of exceptions were found. Now there is a principle of disobedience to this law ‘by necessity’ which is understood and legally recognised.
I like this idea. I also like toying with the notion that a grown woman putting herself forward for a disobedience award still listens to her mother. Surely not.
The MIT award is for disobedience for the social good, and I believe this is important. Disobedience for its own sake is an unnecessary ego trip. Disobedience from necessity, on the other hand, leads to progress. This is where I think we are with Mental Snapp. After years of receiving services from mental health providers, I am fed up with being dependent on them. I am fed up of notions of co production of services between professionals and people with lived experience which pay lip service to the expertise and talents of the users they pretend to co opt. I want to see services which are peer led, but at the moment they are viewed with suspicion – the Cinderellas of a Cinderella service. I want to see users – people actively managing their mental health – in the driving seat and recognised financially for their expertise and the wealth of knowledge that they bring.
Mental health is a complex arena. Anyone who has experienced the process of diagnosis or gone through the system will attest to the hard imprint it leaves on your identity and self image. It is important that those who are able to understand this through direct experience take a lead in the setting of the recovery agenda. As the NHS seeks to disburden itself of the heavy load of managing long term health conditions – and the burden of mental health is the biggest financial spend of any category – new models have to be found. There is an urgency here. The rate of diagnosis of mental health is rising, and there is growing evidence that there will be a population bulge of new users among the rising millennial generation. We are indeed driving to the hospital, and there is a swathe of red lights in the way. Red lights of the medical model, red lights of disempowerment, red lights of the routine discounting and inadvertent lowering of the life expectations of those with a mental health diagnosis, leaving them to lives of low or no employment. Yes they contribute to society, whatever the weather. But they could do so much more, with the right model in place.
The model has to be one of disobedience. Whatever norm we are used to seeing mental health provision in, public, private, social care, whatever, that on its own is not going to provide the answer until we harness the considerable talents of those actively managing their mental health – and stop calling them service users. The model for these people to contribute their expertise has to be a mixed public/private/entrepreneurial one. I would like to set up an employment based model for people with such expertise to deliver a commercial service back to the NHS. I have a vision of what that would look like. It involves community, telling your own story, and skilling up and empowering others, whether they have the fortune to be active managers themselves or even if they unfortunately have not. The app I co founded, Mental Snapp, video diaries for anyone managing their mental health, has the potential to be spun in a variety of directions, and this is one that I hope to employ it into.
I can see the possibilities, and the red lights ahead. But we owe it to the lady in the back of the car to get this baby safely out into the world. Thanks mum, and to all those who call themselves disobedient from necessity, I salute you.