Higgins slates narrow focus on currency


President Michael D Higgins has criticised a focus in Europe “on the security of the currency” while “happy to leave aside” youth unemployment.

He also criticised capitalism for turning “universities into businesses” and citizens into clients.

“Unthinking self-interested individualism” and the notion that “people must work until they drop down dead” must be challenged, he told a conference that looked at a study on how people diagnosed with serious mental illness could recover and may no longer need medication.

Mr Higgins was speaking at a conference yesterday at the Trinity College school of nursing and midwifery.

“A hegemonic model of economic thinking was imposed on the world after 1981 in particular, assuming that every other model of the state’s relationship with the citizen had been defeated so therefore it was about universities becoming like businesses, about businesses becoming aggressively competitive, of citizens no longer being citizens but clients, and of the way people realise that time is money so therefore you speak [more] aggressively than with care,” he said.

Individualist thinking

“Our world must break away from the deadly narrative of individualist thinking,” he added.

“As President of a country that is a member of the European Union I am so conscious of the discourse that concentrates entirely on the security of the currency, but is happy to leave aside the question of an enormous wedge of the population that are unemployed – 55 per cent of people between 18 and 24 in some countries,” he said.

Dr Michael Watts presented his study at the conference. It showed that 16 out of 26 people with serious mental illness had stopped taking medication with the remaining 10 on reduced levels of medication.

All of the interviewees had completed a programme with the mental health organisation Grow.

Refocus on caring

Grow uses a 12-step programme, setting participants tasks to address their condition. Dr Watts, previously national co-ordinator of Grow, said the health system needed to refocus on the caring side of treatment as opposed to prescribing drugs.

Of the 10 people interviewed for the study with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, six had stopped taking medication and the remaining four were on reduced levels.

“Drugs are the first port of call when someone gets diagnosed with what is described as a lifelong condition caused by chemical imbalances, but this study shows this doesn’t have to be the case,” said Dr Watts, whose study, part of a doctoral thesis, was presented yesterday at the Trinity College conference.

Patients should have the option of taking drugs, which may be necessary if someone is out of control and in danger of harming themselves or others. But it should not be assumed that medication was needed forever, Dr Watts said.

The importance of the pharmaceutical industry to the economy was often a greater concern than how patients should be treated.

“I believe in 10 to 20 years time we will look back and think that people, and not just those with mental illnesses, were given too much medication,” he said.