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Social media meanderings from Saltaire

Image by Dan Bailey

Saltaire

By the time you read this, I will have given what has been billed by my Twitter chum @PGTips42 at Bradford District Care Trust as a Social Media Master Class. 

In fact you would have to look hard to find someone who is less of a social media master than me. If they were paying me, the 60 attendees would by now have asked for their money back. Luckily, I am doing it for free. This gives me a chance to explore some recent thoughts with them and to visit the beautiful model village of Saltaire in West Yorkshire. The legacy of Sir Titus Salt could teach us a thing or two about philanthropic investment in social capital and infrastucture for the good of everyone, not just the richest.

Back to social media. One of the promises I made to myself when I retired from the NHS was that I would accept speaking engagements only when they were about something that really interested me, and that I would never again use Powerpoint. I’ve stuck to this for 2 1/2 years and it has served me pretty well. I did think about breaking the second rule for this session, as some screen grabs from Facebook and Twitter would have been nice, especially if they included kittens. But I decided against it.

Instead, I will have meandered through some personal insights, drawn from this blog and the references herein, and even better, found out what the attendees think.

My personal approach to using social media is how I tend to approach most things – I jump in and have a go, ignore wise advice and instead work out the rules as I go along. This isn’t the wrong way, but nor is it the right way. It’s just my way. But however you choose to get started, putting yourself out there via social media is undoubtedly scary. It is important to take care. I do highly recommend this very well constructed article by Annie Cooper and Alison Inglehearn. It will help you stay safe.

Once you have chosen your preferred social media platform – such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc (and this can feel like a Betamax v VHS choice), here are an updated set of rules I shared in a previous blog that might help a social media novice get started.

  1. Do it yourself.
  2. Listen twice at least twice much as you speak.
  3. Don’t rise to the bait or post when angry or under the influence of dis-inhibitors.
  4. Share opinions but remember they are only your opinions. Others are allowed to disagree!
  5. Where possible, stick to facts and values.
  6. As in face-to-face conversation, seek common ground.
  7. Don’t believe everything you read.
  8. Don’t only talk to people you know you will agree with. Some people describe those who do as living in an echo-chamber.
  9. There ARE trolls out there. But not as many as you might be led to believe.
  10. Be kind, always – to yourself and to others.

It is possible, and great fun, to crowd-source a seminar, as I have now done a few times. Yes, it takes more time than the usual approach. (And it doesn’t finish on the day. It is important to thank people properly who have made the effort to help you.) The benefits are the potential to engage many times more not only with your direct audience but also with others via social media. And to widen your own learning in ways you could not have imagined. Most of what you see here has been achieved with the help of my social media friends. 

Given my passion about mental health, I must mention the impact of social media, which can either be overlooked or understated, in my experience. I thank my friends for reminding that social media is only a very small part of the world. It can be a source of solace and support, as I have sometimes found.  But it can also cut you off, if you let it. And it can be vicious, self-righteous and damaging. People can hide behind anonymity, so bad behaviour is invariably worse, goes more unchecked and can be more intrusive than in face-to-face interactions. I wrote this blog about Twitter  in 2014 which you might find helpful.

Blogging is not compulsory. If you like sharing thoughts in writing, you will probably enjoy blogging and learn to do it well. Like everything worthwhile, it takes practice. And if you don’t, you won’t. 

I would also mention that, however much you like the blog site you have chosen, unless someone (i.e. you and/or your readers) are paying for it, you and they ARE the product. The same applies to all social media platforms and indeed all publications, such as “free” newspapers. If we want original, independent writing to thrive, we MUST pay for books, journals, newspapers, even blog-sites. Otherwise it won’t be long before the only things available are products sponsored from a commercial or otherwise partisan perspective. And that is a very sinister prospect. 

Some people use social media platforms such as Twitter for swift repartee, and blog about more considered and complex thoughts.  I would argue that blogging can help us to work out what we think. And that we can use Twitter and other chat sites for this too. After all, there is no point getting involved in conversations if we have already made up our minds about something. Here is a bit more about why I write a blog.

Just to show that I have been thinking about social media for a while, here is something I wrote for the HSJ in 2012.

This slide deck on the role of social media in health is the extraordinary Dr Helen Bevan, @HelenBevan on Twitter. Helen is a genius in improvement methodology and practice as well as new ways of working, including using social media. 

And I thank another wonderful friend @AnnieCoops for introducing me to this lovely video poem about the social media imprint we leave behind us. Like all good things on social media, it will make you think really hard. Which is the best sort of thinking. 

Here are some of my new friends at Bradford District Care Trust. They were AMAZING!!!

And given that I mentioned kittens, here is William to wish you all well for 2017.

What mental health means to me

I took part in a Twitter chat recently on the above topic. Thanks to @AnthonyLongbone for encouraging me to join in. Below are some thoughts I shared in advance.

What does mental health mean to me?

  1. Mental health is the most important part of health. And it is integral to physical health. You can’t look after your body if your mind is in a poorly way.

  2. Mental health is a continuum with optimal wellbeing at one end of the spectrum and mental illness at the other. Some people seem to be able to take good mental health for granted. For others, maintaining our mental health requires almost constant vigilance and care.

  3. Facing up to my tendency to depression has been the most important self-help step I have taken in my life so far. I’m hopeful I won’t ever sink as low as I did in 2013. But I’m not making any assumptions. And I do not plan to judge myself negatively if I do experience another bout either.

  4. Judging myself – or indeed others who experience mental illness – is the least helpful thing any of us can do. Who knows why I or anyone else has this tendency? What does matter is what I do from now on to help myself and allow others to help me. Which includes understanding my own triggers and warning signs.

  5. All serious illnesses require some degree of courage, so that we can face the pain and the treatment required to help us get better. But mental illnesses can be harder to bear than physical illnesses . They mess with your head.  They make you believe bad things about yourself and others. They take away your hope and they affect your judgement and even your personality. They make you isolated and afraid. Some people hear the voices of others telling them bad things. In my case, I only hear my own voice. When I am poorly, my internal voice is harsh, judgemental and cruel. It tells me I am worthless and evil. I am still learning how to notice that voice when it starts whispering to me, and how to answer it.

  6. Since I decided to be more open about my own experiences, I have made some extraordinary friends. Our mutual support during rocky moments via social media undoubtedly saves and enhances lives. I love the equality and the loving kindness of these relationships. We all have something to bring.

  7. It’s because of all this that I know how amazing other people who experience mental illness are. How courageous, funny, honest, thoughtful and kind – hearted.  And this is how I know, beyond all reasonable doubt, that people who have had such experiences have assets that should be applauded and sought by others. Rather than deficits to be pitied or avoided.

…………………………………………………………

After the chat, I felt a bit overwhelmed. The people who joined in were just amazing. Brave, honest, intelligent, thoughtful, generous and kind. I am in awe of them. They have far more of merit to say than I do.

In conclusion, what mental health means to me is being part of a group of wonderful people like the ones I was talking with tonight. They are helping me to become the best version of myself, which includes being kinder to myself. Through this, I can become kinder to others and do my tiny bit to help them too.

And I’m really grateful to be on that journey.

The ones who matter

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It was nice that 12,500 people read my two recent blogs on the mental health angle of a current The Archers storyline.

But it wasn’t all good. I am a sucker for positive reinforcement, including WordPress stats. And I doubt I will ever again get 4,500 views in a single day.

And that’s the thing about maintaining one’s mental well-being if you are one of the 1:4 people like me for whom it is sometimes a struggle. I’ve been a bit down since those two blogs. I’ve questioned whether I’ve got anything interesting left to say. And yet I know I need to write about stuff to work out what I think.

Here’s what I’m thinking about today.

Someone said to me recently, with real sincerity, that the tide is turning on the stigma of mental illness. They said they thought that the battle had been won because people like me can stand up and say that we sometimes need help from mental health services. And not be judged.

But I thought hmm.

Because it doesn’t feel that way. Not to me, nor the friends I’ve made through social media and in real life. Especially not those who haven’t been as fortunate as me and are forced to grind out an existence on state benefits juggled with occasional paid work. The positives from such work are overshadowed by arcane, dis-empowering rules of which it is almost impossible not to fall foul. Nor does it feel that way to those who live in fear of losing their homes, or who haven’t even got a place to call home. Current government policy feels deeply discriminatory and the exact opposite of therapeutic for those already experiencing the potentially crippling challenges of mental illness.

It doesn’t feel that the stigma has gone away for the people who can’t get the right mental health treatment, or even any treatment at all. As a wise person recently said, imagine telling the parents of a child with early stage cancer that they have to wait until things seriously deteriorate before they can see a specialist. And even then, the care will be rationed and probably not what is recommended. That’s the reality in many parts of the UK, for children and adults too.

I heard a senior commissioner say the other day that they would love to invest more in mental health, but the evidence just isn’t strong enough (my italics). What planet are they living on?? True, spending on mental health research is woeful. But there is nonetheless masses of really good evidence about what works. And it starts with intervening early via properly funded local services delivered by highly trained, well-supported staff.

What also doesn’t help reduce stigma is the almost constant service redesign and reconfiguration. Indeed, the billion pounds of “new” money announced by Jeremy Hunt after the Mental Health Taskforce Report was published is not, in fact, new at all. It has to be achieved through efficiency savings. I know from experience that such initiatives rarely achieve all that is promised. And they almost never take account of the collateral damage to staff well-being.

Not to mention competitive tendering, which mental health services face at disproportionately greater levels than other parts of the NHS. Plus the drip-drip reduction in mental health funding and the erosion of national data collection so that it takes the skills of investigative journalists to uncover the ongoing cuts that have been made over the past 6 years despite government rhetoric about parity of esteem for mental health.

And what adds further to the stigma is that the media rarely mention mental illness or mental health services except when something appears to have gone wrong. Where are the motivational stories like the ones about people who have “beaten” cancer? Even when no mistakes have been made, the finger of blame gets pointed. Imagine how this feels to staff who work in these services, being pilloried for doing a job that most people couldn’t begin to contemplate because they don’t have the skills, patience, courage and compassion needed to work in mental health. They should be lauded and supported, not ignored and criticised.

So no, the stigma of mental illness is not a thing of the past. It is ugly, cruel, destructive and ever-present. Like racism, sexism and homophobia, it will never truly go away. We have to be vigilant. And we have to keep working at it.

Despite the job I once did, it took me until I was 58 to get over my own self stigma and admit that I experienced clinical depression from time to time. Coming out about it was the hardest but also one of the best decisions I ever made. I take my hat off to others who have got to that point sooner than me. You are braver than anyone who hasn’t been there will ever know. Showing the world that people who experience mental illness have hopes and ideas and other wonderful human assets to share is the best way there is to make others want to join us and change the way things are.

Writing about mental health and The Archers was fun. Writing this piece was harder but far more satisfying. I will try not to care how many people read it.

Because the ones who do are the ones who matter.

 

How are you doing today?

I love talking about mental health. What could matter more? This blog is drawn from ideas I have developed (and squirreled) while thinking about well-being at work for a slot I did at the Health at Work Conference in Birmingham last week, and in advance of an NHS Employers webinar on staff well-being yesterday. I used an earlier version of this blog to give my talk, and I warmly thank everyone who contributed. Your questions and comments were wonderful and you will be able to see that i have made some changes because of them.

And what an exciting day yesterday was. Because the Girl Guides Association announced their first mental health badge. It has been developed with the excellent charity Young Minds. It uses theories about emotional literacy and resilience to help young people take care of themselves and help others. If only they had done this 48 years ago was I was a Girl Guide. And wouldn’t it be great if such an approach could be rolled out across all schools and colleges and youth groups? What a brilliant start this would give young people facing the world.

At the conference last week, we heard from companies large and small who are putting employee wellbeing front and centre of their investment strategies. And this isn’t because of any sense of duty or even kindness. They know that it pays. They want to know the best ways to help staff achieve optimum health and how best to work with employees who have physical or mental illnesses to manage their conditions and get back to work quickly and well.

If we consider the NHS as one employer, it is the largest in Europe, many times bigger than even the largest multinationals at that conference. And yet we seem slow to follow suit. I say we…I don’t work for the NHS any more. But having done so over a period of 41 years, I feel deeply concerned for its staff. So I was very grateful to take part in the NHS Employers webinar.

Well-being and resilience are the new buzzwords. They are being used everywhere. I like them. But I also have a few issues with them. If we aren’t careful, well-being strategies can feel as if they place responsibility on the individual. And I see well-being as a partnership between the individual, their employer, their co-workers and anyone else they choose to invite to help them achieve their optimum health.

I like the Maudsley Learning model of mental health very much. It shows a series of steps and explains that we are all on a spectrum of mental wellness. I like the way it removes a sense of us and them.

But there are nonetheless inherent dangers in such models. Unless you have felt the terrifying symptoms of psychosis, clinical depression, an eating disorder or any of the other hundreds of mental illnesses, you might think that mental ill-health is merely an extreme version of the distress that anyone might feel when something bad happens. Using well-intentioned euphemisms like mental distress, intended to reduce stigma, can add to the isolation felt by people who experience mental illness. It’s important to say that most people won’t ever experience mental illness, just as most people won’t ever experience cancer or diabetes.

But 1:4 of us will. And we need skilled help from our employers if we are to go back to work at the right time and give of our best. The last time I was ill, I was lucky that I got the right help. Not everyone does. And that is why I do the work I do now, campaigning to improve things in the NHS and beyond for patients and staff.

I shared two specific insights at NHS Employers webinar. The first is that we separate mental and physical health for laudable reasons but at our peril. Obesity might get more sympathy if it were treated as an eating disorder; the most effective treatments combine diet with psychological support, including CBT techniques. Exercise is known to increase endorphins and improve mental wellbeing as well as physical health. People with serious mental illnesses die on average at least 20 years too soon, mainly because of associated poor physical health. And there is an increasing evidence base that people with chronic physical conditions such as cancer, heart disease and strokes have a greater tendency to experience clinical depression. Which comes first doesn’t really matter.

Employers should, in my view, use this knowledge of the inherent links between mind and body to devise their wellbeing strategies and make this explicit. Bringing the mind and the body back together needs to become the next Big Thing.

And secondly, I am increasingly of the view that people who experience mental illness, who are open about it and learn to live well with it despite the massive challenges it poses, can become even better employees than those who don’t have these experiences. I’m talking about people like many of the friends I have met since I came out about my own depression. Such people show extraordinary resilience, compassion for themselves and others, patience, creativity and highly developed social skills that would be valuable in any workplace. They are truly amazing. I try not to have regrets. But one of mine is that it took me far too long to realise that my experience of mental illness could become an asset, if I let it. So now I’m trying to make up for lost time!

I want to share links to my other blogs that I think might be helpful to anyone thinking about wellbeing at work.

This one is about taking the plunge and talking about your own mental health, perhaps for the first time.

This is my plea to be kinder about obesity, because what we are doing now simply isn’t working.

This is about the things you can say and do to help a friend or colleague who is experiencing mental illness. And the things that really don’t help.

These are my ten commandments for working in mental health

This is a blog in which I thank people who have helped me in my journey of self discovery – still very much a work in progress.

And this is my Letter to You. Which you might want to suggest to someone who you think may be struggling.

Life is hard for most employees these days. Working in the NHS holds particular challenges. Stress at work doesn’t have to make people ill. But it can. Employers can make a difference. And so can co-workers.

Please take a moment to think about your colleagues, especially the ones who are having a tough time, seem a bit quieter than usual or not quite their usual selves. Ask them how they are. And really listen carefully to what they reply.

And if you are one of the 1:4 of us who experience mental illness from time to time, I say this: go us. Because we rock. 😎😎😎

Wishing and Hoping and Blogging and Tweeting

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Bad selfie with 2 lovely Twitter chums @AgencyNurse and @AnnieCoops

Last Thursday, 3 March 2016, I facilitated a couple of seminars at the East Midlands Leadership Academy social media conference. Two days before the seminars, I invited anyone who felt so inclined to help me prepare via Twitter and a blog. I then used an updated version of the blog I had initially written as my audio-visual aid for the seminars. It was my very own small action research social media project.

Thank you to the 450 people who read the original blog, commented on it and/or joined the two seminars. I called the seminars Wishing and Hoping and Blogging and Tweeting, which hopefully gave attendees a hint that I’m no expert and that I take a don’t-wait-for-permission-but-ask-for-forgiveness approach to my own use of social media.

You can see the first blog and the comments on my blogsite directly below this one. Thank you very much indeed to Zoe Bojelian, Liz O’Riordan, Chris Richmond, John Walsh, Phil Jewitt, Annie Cooper, EM, Natasha Usher, Sian Spencer-Little, Lloyd Davies, Linda, Vicki W and Laura Hailes for taking the time to comment on the blog.

I apologise to Fenella Lemonsky, Gill Phillips and anyone else who tried to comment but were stymied by WordPress and/or their own social media platforms. I don’t know how these things work, but I know how annoying it is when they don’t.

I also warmly thank everyone who helped share my requests to get involved or commented themselves via Twitter, including @bipolarblogger @hpiandycowper @davidgilbert45 @AgencyNurse @whoseshoes @jbmccrea @kirsti79 @andrew_davis @noshinakiani @carolinewild @LindsayHobbs51 @HubTube @OrganicLemon @LisaMillerVC @NHSE_PaulT @AlysColeKing @PeterMEnglish @HollowDave @MargoJMilne @endless_psych @JYoolz @QueerAndConcise @ethicConsult @allyC375 @HealthWKTD @ pgtips42 @LearnHospice @alisonleary1 @Lindawr45160138 @Lucy EMLA @LucyMorley1 @JennyTheM @PatientOpinion  @DaniG34 @JOMWLever @emetalic @DanileOyayoyi @MConroy09  @GeorgeTruSATCGirl @AMKane87 @ImtiazGiriach @ElizabethJSays @DebElSayedd @GeorgeJulian @LyndsayShort1 @NickiH @bigronstevenson @wendynicholson @andrewbeee @rosgodson @wendyJNicholson @gremlin2C @mynameisAndyJ @sara_J_Brown @penny_thompson @jackiecassell @claudemmx2 @roz_davies @sweeternigel @nonnazoo74 @garethpresch @anyadei @beckyOT @claudia_writes @spencer_sian  Sincere apologies to anyone I have misspelt or missed out.

Most of all, I want to thank the two sets of participants at the seminars. When I asked them where they were on a scale of 1 = social media virgin – 10 = social media warrior/maven, the lowest score anyone gave was a 4, and I think that person was being overly modest. There were lots of 7s and 8s and quite a few 9s. Given I would put myself at 6.5, it felt rather like a master-class in reverse. Which is the story of my life.

I’ve drawn my personal learning points from all of this into a list below, and included some references for you.

  1. It is possible, and great fun, to crowd-source a seminar, even a podium address in the way I’ve just done. Yes, it takes more time than the usual approach. And it doesn’t finish on the day. It is important to thank people properly who have made the effort to help you. I hope I have paid enough attention to this. The benefits are the potential to engage many times more not only with your direct audience but also with others via social media. And to widen your own learning in ways you could not have imagined.
  2. My personal approach to using social media is how I tend to approach most new things – I jump in and have a go, and work out the rules as I go along. This isn’t the wrong way, but nor is it the right way. It’s just my way. However you choose to get started, putting yourself out there is undoubtedly scary. It is important to take care. If you are in a high profile role and/or a health care practitioner, this very well constructed article by Annie Cooper and Alison Inglehearn is just great. It will help you stay safe.
  3. My session last week was about using social media as an individual who may (or may not) happen to work for an organisation. NHS social media guru Joe McCrea (@jbmccrea on Twitter) gave a fascinating presentation at the same conference about the use of social media by NHS organisations. He is about to publish a seriously interesting report – please do keep an eye out for it on his wesbite.
  4. The mental well-being side of social media can be either overlooked or understated, in my experience. I thank several folk for reminding me to remind others to be aware that social media is only a very small part of the world. It can be a source of solace and support, as I have often found.  But it can also be vicious, mean, self-righteous and damaging. And because people can hide behind anonymity, bad behaviour is invariably worse, goes more unchecked and can be more intrusive than in face-to-face interactions. I wrote this blog about Twitter  last year. I think what I said then still holds true.
  5. Lots of people want to share their ideas by blogging but have yet to get started, and are keen to choose a good blog-site. I can’t recommend any specific sites because I’ve only used WordPress. I do like it, but like all software, it has downsides. I would just remind you that, however much you like the site you have chosen, unless you are paying for it, you and your readers ARE the product. If we want independent writing to thrive, we MUST somehow pay for books, journals, newspapers and maybe even blog-sites. Otherwise it won’t be long before the only things available to read are the ones that carry adverts or are sponsored from a commercial or otherwise partisan perspective.
  6. Quite a few people have pointed out the difference between posting comments on social media sites like Twitter, and blogging. Which is that the former is for swift repartee, and the latter is for more considered thoughts.  I agree. But I would also argue that blogging helps us to work out what we think. And we can use Twitter and other chat sites for this too. After all, there is no point getting involved in conversations if we have already made up our minds about something. Here is a bit more about why I blog.
  7. This slide deck on the role of social media in health is from my extraordinary friend Dr Helen Bevan (@HelenBevan on Twitter – if you don’t know who to follow, follow Helen). Helen is a genius in new ways of thinking, including social media. She presented this at a social media get-together event at the beginning of last week. I’m sad I couldn’t go, because it looked highly informative and fun.

Finally, I thank Annie Cooper for sharing this lovely video poem about the social media imprint we leave behind us. Like all good things on social media, I promise it will make you think really hard. Which is the best sort of thinking.

Please join my social media experiment

I haven’t done a blog like this before. I’m trying what I hope will be a relatively simple experiment to help me run some seminars on Thursday 3 March 2016 for the East Midlands NHS Leadership Academy.

And you can help me!

  • If you read the blog before Thursday, I would love to have your comments at the bottom of this blog to help me help the people in the seminar groups think about the use of social media in the NHS.
  • And if you read it afterwards, you can help me to think about it some more. Comments would be really welcome from seminar participants and others. Because like all of you, I am a lifelong learner.
  • I intend to use this blog as my main audio-visual aid for the seminars. It is therefore shorter than usual and presented mainly as
    • Bullet points!
  • As well as seeking your comments in bold, I will be encouraging comments and discussion from the attendees.
  • I plan to start by asking people where they are on scale of 1 – 10
    • 1 = a social media virgin
    • And 10 = social media savvy warrior
    • I am pitching the seminars and the blog towards the people who place themselves towards the lower end of this scale, but I will try to engage the more informed attendees by inviting their comments, as I am inviting yours.
  • How does that sound to you?
  • I will then introduce social media as a form of media where the control lies with the individual.
  • I will illustrate my point with a newspaper story that ran about me recently (two blogs down from this one if you haven’t heard about it) and how I was able to redress the balance myself via Twitter, Facebook and my blog.
  • Is the above example too self-indulgent, do you think? And if it is, can you think of a better one?

I will then list the different forms of social media thus:

Social media products:

  • Facebook: An early product. I use it to stay in touch with family + friends. But people use it very successfully for work, even instead of a website
  • Instagram – good for sharing photos, I am told.
  • Linked-In: For keeping in touch with people at work, finding jobs, making connections. Again an early product. I don’t like the interface. But I’ve missed some important messages from people who have tried to contact me that way, so be warned!
  • Skype: Free video calls. Can be erratic. But great for interviews or meetings with people far away. Much cheaper than video conferencing
  • Twitter: Admission time – my favourite. I love the discipline of the character limit.
  • Viber: Similar to WhatsApp. Also free calls
  • YouTube: used by President Obama, Justin Beiber and me!

  • WhatsApp: Great for staying in touch with individuals and groups. And free phone calls!

Does that sound overwhelming? Any glaring omissions? And does expressing my preferences help or hinder?

Benefits of using any/all of the above:

  • Control
  • Thrift
  • Contacts and connections
  • Equality

Things to look out for:

  • No such thing as a free lunch – you are the product for the companies providing these “free” services
  • Warning: social media can be addictive
  • Loss of privacy with some formats (see my blog On Forgiveness)
  • Trolls and other monsters (see my blog Please Take Care, Twitter can be Cruel)

Again, your thoughts please?

Blogging

  • Why do it? (see my blog called Why do you Blog?)
  • And why not do it? (hint: there are lots of good reasons)

This is where I hope we will have the richest discussion.

I’d really welcome your comments here too please.

Some NHS-inspired bloggers that I think are worth following:

  • Zoe Bojelian Wonderful mother of a brilliant boy who we will never forget
  • Annie Cooper Senior nurse + social media genius – she will be at the conference
  • Andy Cowper The most original writer on health policy I know. Also v funny
  • David Gilbert Writes in a brilliant, challenging way about patient leadership
  • Paul Jenkins Ex CE of Rethink, now runs a mental health trust. Deep thinker
  • Liz O’Riordan A breast surgeon with breast cancer. Stunning
  • Charlotte Walker A mental health patient (like me). Writes in real time. Gutty, startling insights
  • John Walsh My personal compassion guru
  • Rob Webster A brave, wise leader who shares generously

The list is of course not exhaustive, but I’d love your thoughts – who would you add?

My plan is to share this blog via the seminars, including all comments received, to stimulate discussion. And I will invite those who take longer to decide what they want to say, to add their comments after the event.

My final question to readers of the blog is this:

  • Would you find a seminar structured in this way useful?
  • And if not, and I really want your honest answers, please tell me how you would improve it.

I promise to incorporate your ideas. And I will also let you know how it goes.

Thank you very much indeed for joining my social media experiment!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A bit of courage

The more worried I feel about expressing my views on a particular topic, the more interest a blog seems to generate.

I’ve written this in anticipation of the Mental Health Taskforce Report, finally due out next week. Although, I’m unsure what you’ll think, I feel the need to say some things I could not have said when I was doing my old job running mental health services.

  1. Mental health services are undoubtedly scary. But they are not all the same. The atmosphere and standard of care even on different wards in the same hospital can vary widely. It depends on the expertise and most of all the compassion of the doctors, nurses and the people in charge. If you have had a poor experience of care, either as a patient or a family member, that is terrible. It is vital that we face the fact that 1 in 3 people say they experience stigma within services. The Time to Change project I’ve been chairing addresses this, with more to report later this month. But at the same time, we must do all we can not to terrify people who need treatment. The chances are they will receive care that will really help. And if they start out assuming the worst, it will be even harder for the staff working with them to establish a therapeutic relationship. And this is the most valuable treatment tool available. I know this from personal experience.
  2. The standard and availability of care in mental health services also depends on the attitudes and expertise of those running and commissioning these services. There is a real and present danger that, faced with wicked choices of saving vast sums of money from the NHS, commissioners look to make savings which will cause the the least outcry, ie from mental health. This isn’t an opinion, by the way. It is a fact. In particular, they look at most expensive care, which happens to be in hospitals, and persuade themselves that the local population can do without most or even all of it. But they can’t. To try to “re-engineer” aka cut beds without careful testing and sustained investment in evidence-based alternatives is irresponsible and dangerous. And yet this is exactly what has been done and continues to be done all over the country right now. Lord Crisp’s report into the availability of acute mental hospital beds published yesterday laid the facts bare. It was a good start. And the access targets it proposes will help. But we still have a long battle to rid ourselves of stigma towards mental health services not only from society but also from the rest of the NHS.
  3. Alcoholism and misuse of drugs are symptoms of mental distress and/or of underlying mental illness. To treat them simply as addictions is cruel and pointless. It may seem cheaper in the short term to separate such services from the NHS and employ unqualified staff to provide care. And it may be politically attractive to take a punitive, non-therapeutic approach to those who self medicate with alcohol or illegal drugs. But to do so condemns vulnerable people to a half life of pain and a premature, horrible death.
  4. There are millions of treatments available for physical illnesses. The same is so for mental illnesses. But why is it that people think they have a right to comment on the treatment of others who are mentally ill in a way they would be unlikely to do for, say, diabetes or heart disease? It’s true that psychiatry and psychology are inexact sciences. This is why they take more expertise, humanity and humility than the other disciplines of medicine. So if you feel tempted to comment on someone else’s treatment, unless you are their trusted clinician, please don’t.
  5. There is no hierarchy of mental illnesses, and no patients who are more “deserving” than others. People who experience psychosis don’t deserve more pity than those who have bipolar disorder, or vice versa. And a short bout of clinical depression can be just as fatal as anorexia nervosa. Please remember this and put away your judgements.
  6. You can’t see mental illness. And that’s part of the cruelty. Getting up and going to a cheap cafe to spend the day with others who understand the challenges of mental illness might sound easy to you. If you feel inclined to bang on about the value of work to those for whom the thought of being compelled to attend a job interview causes them to seriously consider jumping under a train, please shut up. Just because some people don’t get sympathy from tabloid newspapers doesn’t make them any less of a human being than you.
  7. I’ve no problem with the use of words like bravery to refer to those experiencing cancer. And I know from friends with cancer that they have no choice but to be brave. But can we please recognise the courage, guts and determination of those who experience life with mental illness? And can we stop talking about suffering, because it implies passivity and weakness. The one thing I know about every person I have ever met who lives with a mental illness is that they are anything but weak. They are creative and heroic, in ways those who’ve never faced a life such as theirs can only imagine.

People who live with mental illness should be applauded and lionized. Not criticised, preached at, commented on, misunderstood and shunned. I hope next week’s taskforce report will recognise this.

Go us. Thank you.