Matthew Freud, Chairman, freuds and The Brewery
We didn’t talk about mental health in my house.
It was the 1970’s, very few people did.
My eldest sister once asked my father who Sigmund Freud was.
My dad said he had invented a new kind of toilet and she was not to mention him again.
The only other insight he offered was that Sigmund had been a ‘medium good grandfather’.
This mildly embarrassing half-truth probably informed the complicated relationship I had with my surname for much of my adult life.
It was apparently hard to pronounce to those unfamiliar with the lineage: ‘Frood’ mostly, I rarely corrected.
The other response was more annoying:
‘is it?/thanks/I didn’t know him/can we talk about something else’
‘I had this weird dream last night I need to tell you about’
‘it was probably about your penis or your mother or both’
To be fair, it once got me a client; I called the king of New York 80’s PR, Bobby Zarem, to pass on a message. He said :‘what was your name? any relation? I need to see you now, my shrink’s been out of town for 3 weeks’. Two hours later, I knew more about him than I wanted to but he gave me the Hard Rock Café to represent.
The other consequence of heavy surname baggage became apparent when I started trying to find a therapist in my early 20’s, trying to unpack complex identity issues was immeasurably harder when my shrink’s relationship with the Freud name was more twisted than my own.
I quickly gravitated towards Jung and his gentler approach to understanding the demons that plague our sub-conscious mind. I have mostly made friends with mine and learned to limit the chaos of internal conflict to insomnia and occasional ‘quiet’ days when I try and protect the people around me from feeling that my frustrations are with them rather than myself.
The schism between Freud & Jung is still thriving a full century after they failed to agree on the role of God in cognitive therapy. I believe it is partially responsible for the shocking lack of progress in understanding and treating mental health issues, in stark contrast to every other scientific field spawned in central Europe in the 19th century.
"The stalled revolution in psychotherapy and mental health is finally entering its renaissance."
Medicine, Physics, Chemistry and Biology are all unrecognisable from their formative discoveries, but someone frozen in time in 1890 and bought back to life today would find an all too familiar menu of weekly visits to a therapist as the primary treatment for mental illness. I deliberately do not regard pharmaceutical products as treatment in that they only offer symptomatic relief. Indeed, while prescription drugs have saved countless lives, I predict that the over-prescribing of anti-depressants will be a hideous sequel to the opioid crisis currently gripping America
But I believe the stalled revolution in psychotherapy and mental health is finally entering its renaissance. It may not be a direct result of Covid-19, but the pandemic has accelerated our understanding of the need to address so many systemic societal issues, from racism to child protection, gender imbalance to social justice, human rights to the needs of our planet. We have collectively woke with a new courage and determination to finally call out the multitude of barriers and obstacles to a sustainable and fair society which affords equal opportunity to everyone regardless of colour, gender, disability or impairment.
There is a very long road to travel to the acceptance of mental well-being as a universal right ranking equally with our physical needs, but I hope we have crossed the Rubicon of denial and recognised mental health is a global crisis of equal importance to climate change and development.
Every renaissance needs its da Vinci and Michelangelo and Raphael to challenge the status quo (and suffer for their art?), every revolution a Guevara, Castro or MLK to fight for their convictions. Where then are the freedom fighters for the war on complacency in the acceptance and treatment of mental illness as diagnosable but not curable and the innovators in fostering understanding and progressive therapies that can help billions of people lead happier and more purposeful lives.
You will hear from some of them in this Journal. There are more squirreling away in institutions and organisations across the globe. Gentle brave voices like Charlie Mackesy and Brené Brown helping millions see their vulnerability as a strength not a weakness. The pioneers in the field of psychedelics who are braving the treacherous waters of licensing mostly naturally occurring substances for medicinal use (as indigenous tribes have been doing for millennia).
At freuds, we are grateful to be a part of this sea change that is taking place, working alongside Public Health England on the UK’s first national mental health campaign, which has proved an unqualified success, and with a number of progressive clients who are increasingly embracing this issue in the public space.
There will be much potentially groundbreaking work in the years ahead, including looking at how social media meta data can unlock our understanding of the human condition. Before Marconi allowed doctors to look inside a living person, medicine was limited to guesswork and crude science; I think that the collated data of billions of people recording their lives in real time might eventually give therapists something close to an x-ray for the mind.
But the crisis is now and the Sistine Chapel took a long time to paint, so this is a time for patience and understanding. It is hard to argue with Charlie Mackesy’s central premise that Love Wins. While the world tries to find holistic solutions for the global crisis, we all have a role to play in being kind and empathetic to those suffering with the shame and debilitation of minds that don’t seem to be our friends.
Perhaps my father was not entirely wrong in his description of Freud’s invention as a new toilet. Healthy minds need a way to process their shit too.
Vive La Revolution.