by Tracey Cannon
At aged 52 having worked in and around mental health services for the last 17 years, my identities as an artist, activist and mental health worker have collided to create this artwork.
This paper chain has been created from an entire volume of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders volume 4. It is made of 2239 individual paper links and is over 200 metres long end to end.
‘Chain-making Disorder’ (or Chain making disorder) symbolises the ever-expanding number of diagnosis that human experience is categorised into along with the impact that the diagnostic process can have on the life and prospects of people subjected to it.
The following is a brief description of what led me to create this work.
At age 23 I was travelling overseas when I began having unusual and extreme experiences. I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, restrained, forcibly medicated and woke up three days later to be informed I had a mental illness and was now a ‘psychiatric patient’. I immediately received one diagnosis and within a short period acquired two more.
I immediately (but silently) rejected the gloom of psychiatric diagnosis and as soon as practically possible ceased the drugs that had been forced on me, reclaiming my mind from numb lifelessness and my body from torturous side effects of alternating compulsive restlessness and frozen rigidity. The trauma of my psychiatric hospital experience and diagnosis started a chain of events that was to impact the rest of my life.
Two years later when I began to have similar experiences I took very great care to elude any form of authority that might attempt to impose force or limitation on my body or mind.
I emerged from this raw and ‘uninterrupted’ experience with renewed purpose, meaning and the beginning of a new life. I went on to heal from the grief, loss and trauma of my early years and of the prior psychiatric hospital admission and diagnosing to create a rich and fulfilling life.
For the past 17 years I worked in mental health in advocacy, consultancy and advisory roles. My observation is that for far too many people involved in these services, the receiving of a psychiatric diagnosis is a stigmatising, limiting and even disabling process.
‘Chain-making Disorder’ aims to stimulate discussion about the concept, purpose, use and usefulness of these diagnoses.
Commenting on Mental Health an exhibition of a Chain of Events by Tracey Cannon will run at the Art Centre, Helensville from February 3rd-24th.
by Tracey Cannon