This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit

Disability Arts Online

Shame on the mental health system / 15 September 2015

Human beings are such strange creatures. I think sometimes some academics and mental health professionals alienate the experience they study by labels, words and concepts, and get angry when the people they work with or study don't 'engage' or yield to their so-called expertise. I have done a couple of workshops on shame recently to try and get people to feel it instead of intellectualise it.

Mad people are at the brunt of constant shaming by society, family, media, systems, etc, and also struggle with self-shame. I asked people to pick their smallest shame and share it with the group, as mad people are often ask to participate in their own shaming if they want to 'engage' with services.

Well, the outcome of both workshops was that some got it and took part, and some people could have torn me to pieces, some got extremely defensive, and intellectualised even more.

What was interesting, less people could look me in the eye. Welcome to our world, but you could leave the workshop, but some people can't leave the shame so many systems create.

Maybe a little poem called 'Shame on Mental Health System' will help some professionals see the invisible monologues they have with their 'patients'.


Tell us your shame
Tell me your most shameful secrets
You are not going to tell me?
Then you must be sick.

You need treatment.
You need my expertise.
My expertise means I can have no shame
I can hide it
But you must always tell me yours when you see me.
Must I restrain you to protect me from myself?
Here, have more shame to drown you.

You must engage.
You must engage in your shaming.
I don’t know why you are not getting any better.


Alison Faulkner

18 September 2015

Dolly, you have put into words something I have been thinking about on and of for several years. The shame we carry with us makes 'recovery' however we conceive of it, doubly hard to achieve. Well said.