There is not much I regret in my life, but right up there with getting dumped by Mary Jane, in primary school, are my years as a CEO of one of the largest non-governmental health providers.
I arrived in the job all bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to change the face of mental health in New Zealand. I soon got bogged down in government contract details, bureaucrats who were fascinated by their own egos, and medical professionals who were committed to maintaining the status quo and their domains.
I was told numerous times that mental illness was genetic and that there was nothing that could be done; real healing was not possible; drugs were the only answer and not to deviate from the well worn track.
Well, the well-worn track was going nowhere. The sector celebrated because someone had walked to the letterbox after 3 months; that someone had progressed to a point that he was able to make the decision to take his own life and that the new five drugs were successfully combating the symptoms of the first ongoing drug.
I had to ask on many occasions where the mental illness lay.
One day when I was visiting one of our government funded homes, a client came up to me and begged to be taken off Clozapine (a drug). He said it was like being in a mental prison, screaming to get out, but no one could hear him. He said that he would rather die than take it again.
That started me on a hunt. I found institutes and foundations around the world achieving amazing results. People like Dr Bill Walsh from the Walsh Pfeiffer Institute in the US were showing the world what was possible, without mind numbing drugs; only New Zealand wasn’t listening.
Now here is the tragedy. There are hundred of committed and devoted support workers, executive teams and board members working diligently, doing what has always been done, but with a new coat of paint. The results remain the same. Millions of dollars are spent, with more needed for the next mind numbing drug.
Now I work with one client at a time, with a very small team. I am achieving better results than I did with 400 staff 70 plus centres and in conjunction with one of the most “progressive” DHBs in NZ.
I live in hope that the drug companies will lose their power, that devoted people will get the direction they deserve and that clients will get a chance at living normal lives. Personally, I think that there is more chance of Mary Jane finding me to tell me she made a mistake.