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Strike: Socio-political mess and the responsibility of mental health professionals to activate

Why do I strike? I strike when a clear boundary needs to be laid down and it needs action to assert it.

As a member of University and College Union I am a part of the national strike today, and I want to say why from the point of view of being the Founder CEO of in2gr8mentalhealth who specialises in caring about valuing, supporting and destigmatising the lived/ing experience of mental health difficulties of our mental health professionals, a clinical psychologist who has worked in mental health in general, and as senior clinical tutor with skin in this particular strike in service of our future clinical psychologists. The mental health profession's business is our business here.

I am watching the wider clinical academic staff working every inch of their hearts (because it's not for the pay! We'll get to that), to provide clinical psychology training with little team resource, huge demand, and in the context of exponential increases in the number of trainees that we have all been asked to take on, with little understanding or listening at the time from the Health Education England as to how to infrastructure that huge step change. University lecturing is already rife with issues of capacity and resourcing, this is our additional context. That's why I stand.

I have seen teams fall apart in the past, I was there and suffered myself when this has happened, we work hard now to help this not happen again in the course where I work and that includes putting the responsibility for structural mess back to those with the power to make decisions about it. There isn't one person in these clinical teams who doesn't care deeply, and who won't find all the ways to make it happen. What was already a demanding job, that we are passionate about, has become almost inoperable. In turn, people are feeling the burn...I can't watch colleagues in the field in general suffer and not be a part of doing something. I can't watch the risk of trainees potentially getting less than what they might need, whilst we give as much as we can, because we are not listened to by 'the powers that be' when we voice. That's why I stand.

Those of us who have been though transformative processes of connecting with the meaning of our mental health distress, come back strong in our individual ways. We can often be the last person standing. We know how to be a supportive team member helping colleagues fire off their own energy, lending ours, and sharing our knowing about how to navigate tough times. That's why I stand.

Burnout? That's not a mental health problem in the individual, a reminder here of the World Health Organisation definition, it is an 'organisational syndrome'...that means the problem lies in the organisational structures, procedures and culture not the person. The 'intervention' therefore lies with the organisation itself, not the people suffering (whilst they may benefit from empathic support around emotional exhaustion). We see much of this burnout in the NHS, and here we are training the next generation of clinical psychologists for the NHS in a burning context...for what? so they can learn how to burn too? Or do we model something different and prepare them importantly for how to stand up to systems which can crush? This is important and protective work. That's why I stand.

And then there's the 11% pay cut. Many of us with lived experience of mental health difficulties know what it is like to be on benefits, not be able to pay rent or bills, and now with the cost of living increases our country is suffering. It is not good enough for anyone. At in2gr8mentalhealth we see mental health professionals travelling all sorts of socio-economic strife that comes alongside their mental health difficulties. That's why I stand.

I have seen my psychology colleagues galvanise around various demonstrations. I've witnessed what in my opinion has been somewhat of a resting on reflective laurels at times in the past, but those days are now over. The profession is stepping up more and more to name how damaging society can be to people's mental health. That IS our bag. Here's to peaceful powerful action at the heart of the socio-political agenda by the mental health professions, who have a responsibility to stand up and call out the determinants of threats to mental and physical health in all their widest, structural social 'glory': poverty, inequality, human rights abuses, discrimination, burnout, and short sighted, harmful Government agendas and policies in a dire changing polical landscape. That's why I stand.

What you are seeing here is also the value of lived experience of mental health difficulties; you'll not be able to drench our fires of working to change what is not ok, because we have deep energy fuelled from experience of our own soul's uprising, to meet uprisings 'out there'. We also in our community look after each other while we do it: sometimes it's a baton race and we take turns. I care deeply about all those who are connected to in2gr8mentalhealth, our community continues to gather, nourish and activate and we hope to be able to increase our work into the future as our capacity and funding allows. If you're speaking to us, you are speaking to people at the heart of deep and compelling change. That's why I stand proudly.

In all solidarity with those who train in our mental health professions, and all people, who show up and toe the UCU line.

Enough is enough.

Dr Natalie Kemp


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