I am delighted to announce the first meeting of In2gr8mentalhealth peers in April, with the support of the University of East London. Thank you UEL.
This is a meeting of the members of the in2gr8mentalhealth forum. We are mental health professionals with lived experience of mental ill health. The forums aim is to foster connection and networking for peers who can feel isolated and alone with navigating this dual identity, dual because of the way things still seem to be so divided in mental health services between service user and service provider. Any of us, given certain pressures in our lives can find ourselves requiring support, mental health professionals are not immune to this just because of training. In fact, our work can put us in the way of many demands and challenges that can mean looking after our own mental health is paramount to working well. Many of us who train in mental health are drawn in because of our lived experience of mental ill health, our experiences of helping or being helped in the past, whether positive or negative. We desire to understand human nature deeply and get to grips with complexities at the heart of suffering and pain and to help alleviate them.
Our role of provider and user of services flexes according to need over our lifetimes, and we question at the moment how easy the system makes it to transition between these roles without stigma, shame or increasing distress. We question what is out there for us in terms of supportive processes to navigate this. We question immediate assumptions of 'incompetency' that crop up. We forward the idea that we care deeply about our responsibilities as healthcare professionals in mental health and we turn to support where we can find it and learn keenly about how to balance self and other care.
We have been open in clinical supervision, with our own healthcare providers, and with peers to help to navigate our way in this, we have accessed increased support when we need it. The problem is, reaching out for support has been too hard won in too many situations. We have had to stand alone, by ourselves, sometimes at our most depleted, through stigma, shame, harassment, bullying at work and in training, exactly because we have been competent and have been bravely open because we know our responsibilities about managing lived and trained experience in practice. We take this seriously. None of us come to work wanting to be mediocre in our job and none of us are any less than passionate about helping others, as we have needed help ourselves and we get that. We ask for services and professional bodies to respond to us with all due respect, supports on their part, and with openness and curiosity where learning needs to happen so they can understand us better. Because it is shared this responsibility. When 'self' care becomes 'shared' care between the individual and organisations around, with informed organisational policies, practices and positive attitudes around staff mental health, with provision of supervision space and reflection time for staff, with clear understanding of how human capacity naturally ebbs and flows with various life pressures, and how human work impacts all of us from the positive to the needing support with, we can feel enabled to use our 'selves' to the best of our abilities in the emotional labour for which we are employed.
For our peers out there wanting to develop their knowledge in balancing self and other care, especially perhaps experiencing these challenges there for the first time, we are here to help support each other. Experiencing mental ill health should be no barrier to practicing as a mental health provider, in fact, it can enhance your practice.
In2gr8mentalhealth provides a supportive and non anti stigmatising space for us peers with lived and trained experience in mental health, to come together to discuss our diverse experiences in as much comfort and solidarity as we can engender together while fears abound in this area. This is a web of caring to wrap around those who feel needlessly alone and have felt wrongly bruised by their experiences of navigating being both, it is a also a web of strength and resource for each other and for standing-by and speaking out when needed. As we grow, we will form our ways and connections to help support each other whilst it feels like the world 'out there' is not quite ready to understand, listen to, or provide ways of doing this in a systematic and informed manner.
You are welcome to join our community if you identify as having lived and trained experience in mental health and would like a space to discuss these experiences with peers. You would need to sign up as a member of the forum via our website www.in2gr8mentalhealth.com.
With warm wishes,