“Constrained by the limits of your own mind”

This is about baseball:

[N]o matter how much will and determination you might muster, you will always be constrained by the limits of your own mind. Ankiel doesn’t know why he can’t pitch anymore. All he knows is that he can’t.

It is also about a lot more than baseball.

Was I an unwitting subject of a psychology experiment?

psychology experiment
Image via Answers.com

93% of tweets sent during commuter hours are complaints about trains or fellow passengers on them.

As much as I can, therefore, I try to limit the amount I say about trains – with the notable exception of an entire essay on why we should ban quiet carriages.

I’m breaking this self-restriction, though, to report the following: on a 1.5-hour journey, the person sitting next to me bumped me with their elbow approximately once every two minutes. When I say bump, I’m talking a hefty whack caused by them putting their hands in their coat pockets and taking them out again, and not just the occasional nudge. It became so incessant that I actually got used to it; on at least two occasions I nodded off only to be woken up by a considerable jolt from my big-elbowed neighbour!

The remarkable thing about this is that (1) I said not a word apart from… (2) I eventually apologised when they looked at me in a “why are you looking at me strangely?”-type way.

It was honestly such a bizarre experience that I fear I was an unwitting subject of a psychology experiment.

(On which, this is a great read:

Thirty years ago, they were wide-eyed, first-year graduate students, ordered by their iconoclastic professor, Dr. Stanley Milgram, to venture into the New York City subway to conduct an unusual experiment.

Their assignment: to board a crowded train and ask someone for a seat. Then do it again. And again… an astonishing percentage of riders — 68 percent when they were asked directly — got up willingly.



Examples of changing your mind

Understanding the process of how and why someone changes their mind seems vital to me. As I’ve noted before, understanding this is of fundamental importance to the process of public sector change.

Here’s a nice article on whether economics can change people’s minds (via Marginal Revolution), including examples of where it has done exactly that.

Altogether, there are many examples of economists who change their minds, even when doing so involves repudiating their own previous research and policy positions. Maybe these economists are special and possess an inhuman lack of bias. But I doubt that.

Feel free to share examples of where you’ve changed your own mind, particularly when it comes to public service reform.

Mental health and the social model (plus a bit of nonsense from the Guardian’s sub-editors) (updated)

For the past 10 years or so, my work has been in the area of disability rights, especially from a user perspective.

One of the great privileges of that work is observing the reactions of people – disabled and non-disabled people alike – when they are introduced to the Social Model of Disability, and how it affects their attitudes and everyday life in the subsequent weeks, months and years.

To recap: there are various models of disability. The two most common are the “medical” model and the “social” model.

The medical model focuses on the medical condition of a person – their impairment; their condition; their disease. And it looks for ways for these to be diagnosed, categorised and ultimately cured. What flows from the medical model of disability is typically a focus on someone’s physical or mental condition rather than the person themselves.

The social model of disability puts the person at the centre. It says that a person is disabled by society around them – not just physical barriers such as steps or revolving doors, but also by attitudes towards disabled people (such as pity, charity or fear). Though a disabled person still has an impairment (i.e. in the broadest sense their condition), what makes them disabled is not their condition, it’s society.

Many important things flow from this shift in thinking, and it’s how people approach this shift in thinking that’s such a great privilege to observe.

(For anyone who is interested in more about different models of disability and their implications this guide is an excellent introduction, and I’ve written at further length about this here.)

Why am I blogging on this now? It’s because there’s a fascinating debate at the moment about how the social model of disability (or other models) apply, or not, or some version of it, specifically to the area of mental health.

The latest manifestation of this debate is prompted by the division of clinical psychology (DCP), part of the British Psychological Society, who will be publishing a statement that calls for a “paradigm shift” in how mental health is understood.

(Update: here’s the statement (pdf)).

It’s great that this professional body is engaging in the debate in this way. It draws on a significant literature that mental health users/survivors and others have been writing for a considerable time – see, for example, this paper from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation from 2010 or pretty much anything on the social model from the Centre for Disability Studies at Leeds. This is also a significant theme that runs through the literature on recovery and mental health (such as these papers from the Implementing Recovery through Organisational Change project).

It will be interesting to see how the debate progresses, and good on DCP for going with it.

In their usual subtle contribution to the issue at hand, the Guardian’s sub-editors have called this a “battle” between the British Psychological Society and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. To ensure maximum helpfulness, the Guardian also poses the question “Do we need to change the way we are thinking about mental illness?” and asks people from both “sides” to argue either “yes” (clinical psychologist) or “no” (clinical psychiatrist).

In understanding this to be a debate that perhaps can’t be characterised in such black and white terms, below are 3 principles I modestly suggest it will be useful to keep in mind:

  1. It’s not an either/or between a social and medical way of thinking about mental health – these things are complicated, endlessly fascinating and subject to however people choose to perceive them from whatever their perspective might happen to be at any particular time
  2. Let’s ensure that all people have a chance to contribute to and define this debate: it’s particularly important – paramount, actually – that people with mental health conditions themselves are central to the debate, with professionals, family, carers and others all contributing
  3. We mustn’t forget that these debates – genuinely fascinating and important as they are – don’t always have an immediate impact on the lives of people with mental health conditions and their day-to-day experiences of public services. Alongside the theoretical debates, there is a lot we can all practically do to improve people’s experience of mental health services and their lives as part of their local communities.