Navigating Lived Experience in Mental Health Work Together
I was really happy to be invited to the launch of 'A Happy, Healthy Workplace', a report of good work in public services to support staff wellbeing commissioned by Positive Practice in Mental Health and the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health. I learnt that together they have formed a Special Interest Group (SIG) looking into staff wellbeing. I was wondering how this could be linked up with Acton for Careworker Wellbeing (ACW) also multidisciplinery and hosted by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), and the Pathfinder sites of the Collaborative Learning Network for staff wellbeing started by the New Savoy Partnership (NSP) and the British Psychological Society (BPS). If anyone else is feeling fairly loaded up with acronyms and initiatives at this point, I hear you! What is clear to anyone with an eye on the health scene at the moment, is that staff wellbeing is currently where it's at. In my opinion, we've hit a tipping point where resources have become so stripped back in public services, that staff who persevere in giving so much, have begun to hit empty too often and too hard. Add in also though, continued raised awareness of how important it is for all of us to destigmatise and look after our mental health, from public campaigns like Time to Change and Heads Together, and maybe we're beginning to ditch the paradox that it's ok for some people to ask for help and not others! ie professional providers of mental health help! Thank God and not before time! Given the focus of in2gr8mentalhealth not only on peer networking and support around mental health problems in the professions, but on challenging stigma and 'othering' of mental health problems within our professins themselves, we are keen to see services mirroring an outward positive attitude to mental health lived experience, inwardly. When that doesn't happen, it can make it hard to share mental health problems as a professional because there is such a fear of negative response, not to mention an internalising of public stigma that can affect us all, and a particular pain of having to smash through some idealised notion that mental health professionals are forever invunerable (see research by UCLUS). I was delighted to hear some speakers at the launch actively challenge organisations who might not engage with this issue and continue to hinder staff support and perpetuate stigma. But it is not just the role of mental health organisations to be looking at this, it is also for professional bodies, regulators and professional training courses, because open conversations about the big fears (occupational health and fitness to practice 'am I going to get the boot' / 'can I even train?' / 'is my competence under scrutiny here') need to begin openly, overtly, confidently , in all compassion for our humanity, with role model examples, and guidance and support options should anyone ever need. As professionals navigating mental health problems, these remain big fears that have been allowed to get too big for their boots. Thats not to say that in certain cases it might be important to rest from clinical work and step back if you are struggling, but that' just excellent competency in demonstration right there. We feel that there doesn't seem to be a place where we can all gather to have open helpful conversations about this. It's not enough for individuals to make themselves available to be giving positive guidance when fears come up, it needs to be widely tabled. In the case of Occupational Health, it's interesting to learn about the different aspects of staff wellbeing and OH programmes, the gaps between them and the hardline pressure of employment law. We are used to thinking about a client's journey through services, but are we used to thinking about ours as staff, where we any of us may hit mental health struggles due to factors inside or outside of work? I'm not sure we're there yet. I heard about a good system in a social enterprise where both staff and service users are stakeholders in the enterprise, and staff have different options away from clinical work clarified at the outset if they need a less pressured environment, if needing to look after themselves more, great! How much do we get to hear about these options and choices away from clinical work, that might be open to us as clinicians if needed without loosing our role or sometimes as it feels - the value of all the things we can do? I have to say, from the point of view of clinical psychology, if those who train and lead us are saying that we offer more than therapy (service deveopment work etc), then why are other routes not easily supported if we need a clinical break? Thinking about lived experience across the mental health patch, on Friday we had a first meeting of Leads of lived experience networks from CNWL, SLaM, Oxleas and myself representing in2gr8 members. It came about from peer support workers at CNWL being curious about the lived experience of professionals at in2gr8, and from further linking with Oxleas and SLaM about their lived experience network through coleagues and Twitter! We met at an Oxleas site to speak about our work to value and destigmatise lived experience, discuss our ways of working, the positives and the challenges. We have lived what we do and there was a genuineness, sincerity, consonance and heartfelt groundedness to the meeting. We all sat with minds busying away and hearts chiming along in concert, really rather beautiful to be amongst. We will meet again in 2 months time and will be contacting other lived experience networks in trusts to join. We are navigating differences in language, set up and what we cover, all from lived experience professionals, gentle peer support between any with lived experience, and intentional peer support working where there has been specific training. What we hold in common is that we've been through mental health problems, and we work in mental health to help others. Its an exciting development which is just forming, and the wish to bounce ideas off each other and learn is clear. We'll be doing some of our own peer support amongst us next time, we do what we do. Lived experience networks, fitness to practice debunking, occupational health offer improvement as well as staff wellbeing initiaves... there is so much to think about! As we all go forward I hope we can baance what we are trying to do, with feedback about abiding fears, and continue to work to make things feel clearer and less worrying. I don't know how we all gather around this, but I'm inclined to think that somehow, somewhere, big statements across all pillars of the mental health scene (Trusts, trainings, professional bodies and regulators) need to be made about lived experience, and pathways to guidance clarified. Until then, please, if you see someone very worried about any of these issues, could you gather them in and listen? And if you aren't sure how to help, that's ok it can feel a bit tricky to navigate for all of us still, could you reach out to someone you know who might? All the very best to those out there with hearts on sleeves and minds engaged on this, it will be a force for good together.
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