A tribute to Matt Stevenson by Jo Watson and Gary Sidley from ‘Drop the Disorder!’ Facebook group.
We never met Matt Stevenson face to face. But despite the 3700 miles between our homes, Matt has succeeded in leaving a legacy that will forever endure.
All our interactions with him occurred via social media, and included both individual contacts and collective debates within the ‘Drop the Disorder’ group.
Gary first touched base with Matt in April 2016 when he – using the name ‘BPD Transformation’ – expressed support for Gary’s maiden MIA blog-post and highlighted the ‘claptrap’ of politicians who refer to ‘those with serious mental illness’. On the same thread, Matt illustrated his zany humour by suggesting that psychiatrists were ‘covert emissaries sent by super-advanced aliens’ with the aim of drugging everyone on earth so ‘we won’t be able to resist when the alien invasion comes’. Matt became a regular responder on Gary’s subsequent MIA blog-posts, his feedback always remaining courteous even when energetically challenging the bits with which he disagreed, and usually supporting his arguments with references selected from the psychotherapy literature (of which he had a deep knowledge).
Jo found Matt hugely supportive and encouraging during the early days following the group’s creation and developed a friendship as the months progressed. As a nocturnal person, Jo often chatted with Matt during the night (it would have been daytime for Matt in Washington) and found his genius philosophical banter & obvious passion for change intoxicating. Matt would make her laugh and inspire her in equal measures.
There was never a shortage of Sun Tzu quotes, it seemed like Matt had one to cover any situation!
We feel privileged that he opted to join our ‘Drop the Disorder’ Facebook group where he quickly became a valued ally in the ongoing struggle to counter the dominance of biomedical and diagnostic approaches to human suffering. Within the group Matt was involved in multiple conversations, always demonstrating an engaging combination of compassion, humour and know-how when responding to other people. Since his death, we have received many messages from group members expressing sadness and shock, as well as reflections on their individual relationships with him; in particular, his passion and integrity have been highlighted.
Despite the pain we feel about Matt’s tragic death, we can still smile at the above recollections, and recognise how privileged we are to have had the opportunity to share many communications with such a worthwhile and courageous human being. In contrast, we feel intense rage when we reflect on the implications of some of our email discussions a couple of weeks before he ended his life.
Matt had contacted us to ask our opinion on a research paper that provided a systematic review of the literature on ‘recovery from schizophrenia’. He told us he’d been ‘struggling to resolve some concerns’ about this paper, in particular the 13% recovery rate cited therein. We responded, pointing out the major flaws in this study that had led to its unduly pessimistic and misleading conclusion. Matt’s reply, the last we heard from him, delivered in his usual respectful way, was: ‘Thank you this is very helpful. I appreciate you going into a lot of detail on everything. I’m going to take some time to think about what you said’.
We are left thinking about the central importance of maintaining hope when people are suffering emotional distress and overwhelm. How can it be that contemporary psychiatric practice is dominated by a biological paradigm that inherently stymies the aspirations of people through their array of hope-quashing assumptions of biogenetic deficits, and associated mantras such as: ‘brain disease’; ‘severe and enduring mental illness’; ‘life-long condition’; ‘personality disorder’ and ‘chronic schizophrenia’? Matt knew, intellectually, that this medicalising of human distress was pseudo-scientific nonsense, but – as described in his final letter shared by his sister Catherine after his death – he had heard these doom-laden messages from psychiatric professionals so often that they were now etched into his core and thereby resistant to rational challenge.
Micheal Cornwall’s words in his recent blog written in memory of Matt resonate painfully.
‘Tragically, their grossly untrue views about us, that they impose on us, can become as destructively powerful as if they have cursed us.’
In keeping with many more of Matt’s friends and allies, those of us involved in the ‘Drop the Disorder’ will strive, as Matt did, with passion, humour and regular philosophical quotes to channel our sadness and rage in a constructive way by continuing his fight for a greater recognition of the importance of adverse life experiences in the development emotional distress.
Matt’s legacy will live on in the collective struggle for change and in any changes that these efforts may bring.
RIP Matt 💚
Jo & Gary
Drop the Disorder