I was very lucky to be invited along to a workshop ran by MERIT Vanguard, which was to explore the ways in which equality and diversity can be better understood in mental health treatment. It was also the chance to cement the ideas for overall better quality care and thus put the plans in motion for the near future so that what was discussed would eventually become reality. The invitation came from the lovely Lakhvir Rellon, who had been one of my MHFA trainers only a week prior to this – and I pretty much jumped at the offer to come along! It’s no secret that I want to work in mental health. After all, it’s been such a huge part of my life and I want to be able to use my experiences – both negative and positive – to help those who need it.
Not gonna lie folks, I was pretty nervous. The workshop was being held at the gorgeous Uffculme Centre in Moseley, Birmingham, and the huge meeting room was filled with professionals from four Midlands-based mental health trusts. I clocked Lakhvir pretty quickly as I grabbed a coffee, and she was soon introducing me to people in the room. Before I could put my cup down I met John Short, CEO of Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust, who told me that he had read my blog about my MHFA training and was pleased with what I had written. I told him that I liked to write about these sorts of things from the view of a service user and that I hoped he would enjoy what I would write about the day’s event. (If you’re reading this Mr Short, I hope you like it!) Lakhvir then told me that the very same post he had mentioned had been read by an awful lot of people. I got a tweet and a Facebook comment from MHFA England, both positive in their feedback of what I had written – so, no pressure as long as I keep it up…I took my place at the table and we were introduced to the EDI team – including Lakhvir of course – before John Short gave a short introduction. “We are failing a number of our service users,” he said without flinching after he reminded us of the terrible events surrounding the death of local teenager Christina Edkins at the hands of a man whose ‘mental health needs […] had not been met’. In the case of Phillip Simelane, the man in question, John Short says that not nearly enough information was shared about his care and the result of this was devastating. What MERIT is about, he says, is ‘working together as four trusts to provide better care.’ With 35 Trust patients not in local care, he tells us that a dismissal of such numbers needs to stop. The three key areas to be focused on right now are crisis care, seven day agenda and recovery, with the reflections today hopefully helping to provide results in around between 18 months and two years time.
After this, we were told of the main focus of today’s workshop. An exercise involving an elephant and his giraffe friend destroying his home every visit showed us that reasonable adjustments need to be made in adapting services for patients and careers. However, there would also need to be a balance so as not to discriminate against groups unintentionally when making impact assessments. It’s clearly not as easy task as it might seem. We looked into The Equality Act 2010 as well as the medical and social models of disability before we split once again into our groups to talk about crisis care and improvements that could be made.
I was thrilled to be a part of this discussion as a service user, as I have admittedly been let down by the crisis care available to me – or lack thereof, if I’m being honest. I won’t go into everything that we discussed due to sensitivity of information, but I offered up the clear problem that we face currently with 111 being the go-to in times of crisis and yet they are not trained to deal with enough. I also spoke about how there is very little awareness of certain services, such as outpatient clinics and services other than Samaritans. Of course, Triage services exist but they aren’t always available.Then, the biggest issue I have faced personally. Times of crisis don’t always come between 9am and 5pm Monday-Friday – in fact from experience and having spoken to others, they very often happen in the dead of night. I spoke about this problem with a man named David Stocks who presented his own experience via a case study after the group work was finished. David gave an amazing insight into his own four stages of crisis and when he would benefit from help in each stage. As he spoke, I recognised those stages myself from when I had a BPD episode and it was amazing to hear it from someone else having gone through it himself. Afterwards we both spoke about how service users are crying out for better out-of-hours care – and that just shoving us into A&E to wait hours for someone to see us is just not good enough. More importantly, a focus on preventative care would be beneficial to both service users and medical staff alike. It would probably save money too.
The other point that we made was a pretty simple one too. Mental illness isn’t ‘one size fits all’. It is deeply personal to the individual, and despite their health they should not as an individual come second to their diagnosis. Their identity as a person should be made a priority and not pushed aside as is often the case. Maintaining trust was also something that we agreed to be very important to service users. As well as this, there was a good discussion about how employers have a key role in rehabilitation and recovery and yet there is still a huge stigma to be found in working with mentally ill people. This is something that I faced in both of my last roles in work thanks to unsympathetic managers. I’ll mental health doesn’t mean a person is incapable of work, they just need support. Flexible work times, reasonable adjustments and just some kindness is all it would take for some, if not most.
After lunch we were joined by Vidar Hjardeng MBE, who is a Diversity Consultant for ITV and is visually impaired – he sat in the centre of the room on a chair so he could ‘have a conversation and not give a lecture’. With a background in journalism, he works to ensure that the media we consume is diverse and representative of all races, cultures, gender, disabilities and so on. “Mental health has been a taboo subject for far too long,” Vidar tells us, “But very slowly these stereotypes encountered in the media are starting to dissolve. People can have their own success despite their physical or their mental health.” Vidar himself is testament to this.
We looked into Human Rights and how to fight unconscious exclusion/bias that may be faced in mental health and care in the future. There was a note about how decisions could be made by a more diverse team, as well as the need for more focus on the process of care and not just the outcome. Furthermore, the need for people higher up in the chain to come back down to explore the current situation is very present. I think that the longer someone stays up in the clouds on a throne, the further away they get from the job they started in – something I experience with my own senior consultant and his attitude towards my illness when we first met.
It’s not a good sign for your patient to feel like they want to throw themselves in front of a car after you’ve seen them.The day closed with a fascinating look into mental health within Gypsy and Romany Traveller communities, presented by Adrian Jones BSc MBc. He told us of the significant health inequalities between Gypsies and Travellers, and how a certain well-known trashy programme had not done either community any favours. It’s also incredibly difficult to collect data from these groups, but Adrian tells us that people within the communities look at mental health only on the extreme ends, not acknowledging just how common anxiety and depression can be. It was something I didn’t expect to learn about, but I’m glad I know a little more about those in both communities and the struggles they face. Adrian also gave me some information about a badass Traveller named Ryalla Duffy, someone I’m looking forward to reading more about!
Image from Twitter – Spot the Claire!
As we all said goodbye to each other and exchanged details (I gave out a few of my business cards… I’m still not used to that!) I felt very positive about the day as a whole. Admittedly I have always had a negative view of mental health professionals as I’ve wondered how they can know what’s best for service users if they aren’t one themselves. But I wasn’t the only service user there, and they seemed to have a positive impact on what was discussed. Each person I spoke to that day was genuine, nice and real. It was a good experience and I would be more than happy to attend another event such as this. It gives me hope for what is in store in the future of mental health care.
Thanks to Lakhvir for inviting me along, and to everyone I got tweet and chat to on the day as well. Also, a huge thanks to David Stocks, you’re awesome and I hope we meet again!