Authors: John Downie, Suzanne Leckie, Ceris Lane, Rhiannon Waugh
Event: 2017 TheMHS Conference
Subject: Symposium, Wellbeing, Sexuality,
Type of resource: Conference Presentations and Papers
Abstract: Several severe mental health conditions first impact on a person’s life during adolescence. It is well know how this can divert young lives away from a happy and healthy course through life. It is good that an increasing interest is paid toward early intervention so as to keep young people in education.
Little or no interest, however, seems to be paid to the disruption that can happen to a person’s awakening need for emotional, physical and sexual intimacy.
How can it be that we have overcome our hang-ups and risk-aversion to ensure that we can respect the full sexual humanity of people with a physical or intellectual disability but we cannot (or will not) do so with people who have a diagnosed mental illness?
Cast forward from adolescence another 20 or so years to the typical age of the PIR consumer (35-45) to witness people whose lives are characterised by abject loneliness. If already few have someone they could call a friend or a carer, how many less have someone they can hold or kiss or share a bed with?
What of older people who dare to be sexually active in the face of openly expressed disgust?
Mental ill-health and sexual awakening can however, come at any age and may take many forms. Stigma can be deeply compounded by the multiplying effect of different reasons for conferring “otherness” upon a person.
Long term relationships can be destroyed by the roller-coaster experience of poor mental health. Former trust and intimacy can be hard to repair.
In a new relationship when is it (if ever) right to disclose?
It may be fair to classify dating as an extreme sport (for it has many dangers) but how much less do we care about the anguish of life if we have warm arms to enfold us? How much greater is our resilience and our sense of self-worth if we have someone who is special to us?
PIR consumers across the nation have some common needs – that vie for pole position – typically it goes something like this: psychological distress, followed by loneliness, followed by lack of stuff to do followed by accommodation, employment etc. However, bobbing along in the pack but still in serious contention are unmet needs in the areas of physical intimacy and sexual expression. What is special about these unmet needs is that they are grossly under-reported. It is much more likely that questions about those needs will not be asked by the PIR worker and much more likely that if the questions are asked that they won’t be answered.
We are well into the 21st century and yet we still show 19th century attitudes to human sexuality when it involves people with a mental illness. Consequently even the people that have those unmet needs don’t talk about it.
The symposium will explore what should we do about it and guest speakers will discuss what, if anything is already being done about it?
Learning Objective 1: The audience will be awakened to an enormous unmet and unmentioned need. They will explore their own values and give thought to the double or triple standards that exist in relation to the essential human need for emotional and physical intimacy and how this is ignored and even suppressed within mental health but celebrated within intellectual and physical disabilities.
Visions Journal (Canada), Couples – “Is there love after the psych ward?” Vol 10, No.4 2015, Sara Hamid-Balma (edit)
Creating Better Systemic Responses for people with severe and persistent mental illnesses and complex needs (Project of 15 NSW PIRs) – Philip Amos Consulting 2105