To all memebers of in2gr8mentalhealth, its
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US!
on 27th October.
Its a celebration of the bravery of being able to bring everything we are to our work as mental health professionals. Bravery, because our explorations here are happening in the context of systemic silence and stigma, over-conflation of vulnerability and issues of competency. It is a celebration of being able to explore and be your whole self here without judgement or shame, which we know when engaged with, will strengthen the heart of your work.
In the year ahead we need to find ways to help the mental health scene explore the fears and assumptions out there about lived expertise in professionals. We are the ones who know about this from inside out, can discuss our thoughts safely with each other, and then consult and advise to training, to NHS Trusts and to professional bodies.
We also need to help the scene not loose sight of the processes of post traumatic growth, strength from having experienced trauma, and the beauty of being able to pay hope forward because of what we have gone through. The formative experiences some of us have brought from growing up through CAMHS services, and then meeting those who will enter the profession in the future who are going through that now and will be inspired to help others. The focus at the moment is on children and adolescent mental health, some of these wonderful people will be our therapists of the future because they will understand the pain and want to help others with theirs.
We also understand what it is about systems that can become so toxic, that it can feel like an impossible task for anyone to flourish in their emotional labour work, whether they have lived experience or not. We understand the importance of intrinsic reflective space, support where needed. Living in such straitened times, and such scythed mental health services is a deeply worrying challenge to us all, and the ingredients of nourishing work places are seen as a luxury rather than as an essential part of what helps emotional work to breathe. Its a wonder that, in cases where environments are toxic and teams are tanking, we don't just all walk out for the sake of each other - those who deliver and use services - we are in fact each other's natural allies.
Continuing to think about the experience of 'burnout'(which is only one part of what we might dicsuss at in2gr8mentalhealth, being focussed on thinking of the whole person at work, at home and through our history) perhaps we first need to be brave enough to find our way to the thought 'it's not me that is 'not good enough' when feeling so pressured its actually this system", when you have wounds this can be harder to get to, but no less correct. Giving back projections from the system into the individual of 'not good enough' will free up the individual to think more clearly, make good career choices that fit for them, and give the system important feedback required for the system to change. Hence the importance of noticing where 'staff wellbeing' interventions start to feel like rhetoric or where individual resilience work in the context of toxic services is quite rightly unethical. Work must be systemic and policies actioned and implemented in accountable ways starting from the Board level - the work of the Accreditation Programme for Psychological Therapies Services includes this auditable thinking, as does the Pathfinder Site for Staff Wellbeing audit process set up by the New Savoy Partnership and the British Psychological Society.
To all of us in this grassroots development, today on our first birthday, simply being alongside each other in troublesome times is enough, whether it is stigma, toxicity, misunderstandings, or not knowings that we are negotiating in the mental health systems we train and work in. It is moving when we meet just to even say hello and connect around this. To hold space and thought for each other to think and grow in our confidence. And when it is time for any of us to speak in our own ways about this in our own places of work or training, we can know that we are not alone.
I raise a toast to us all (and cut a bit of cake) :)