When no-one else’s standards matter but mine…

It’s fair to say that I’ve had my fair share of frustrations working in mental health and in the Third Sector over the years. I’m not particularly keen on the way the Third Sector is structured, the frustrations surrounding funding, virtually no priority in training and personal development of staff because when funds are tight it’s one of the first things to go.

I believe that the structure, legal entity and vision of a Social Enterprise fit today’s modern world much better. They can have a much better balance of being able to do good for people who need it, while being able to sell services and goods and the money being invested back into the Enterprise. It also creates a much fairer balance for staff too, knowing that they don’t need to solely rely on applying for funding, fundraising and more regular ups and downs of uncertainty.

Latterly as I’ve been studying for my CIPD in Learning and Development it’s opened my eyes even further on the adage that charities’ internal structures, processes and procedures often do not conform to my or CIPD’s standards and best practice. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been able to influence and change many things only for them to be un-done due to internal changes.

So, as I’ve been working from home for myself (with my remaining annual leave) before finally leaving the Third Sector behind in a couple of weeks, I have to admit feeling a huge sigh of relief that I can leave all that behind and move on. I have found the days spent at home relaxing and working to my own standards knowing that they are exactly how I want them to be. I feel less stressed and much more focused. I finally have my business well and truly off the ground and I am 100% in control.

What’s ironic is that my customers will be from the Third Sector, but that’s all they will be, customers. I will continue to work with the very people I have always enjoyed working with but without all the baggage.

Exciting times……..


#Seeme14, recovery, involvement and what do I know?

I’m actually sitting in one place long enough to write another blog post so soon after my last one. Train journeys on prescription. Dose: no less than 2hrs. Side effects: none unless you have restless legs! I might just survive this journey.

Actually between the fidgeting, view checking, txt’ing and munching I’ve been catching up on some of the blogs written about last weeks See Me re-launch. As a See Me media volunteer and speaker it was an event I had considered attending. I was certainly asked, but the first barrier to me attending was the location. Second, the fact it was nearly two whole days which would have required an overnight stay. I don’t feel I need to explain in-depth why these were issues for me and it wasn’t particularly a big deal not being there. After all, the event was well attended with like-minded people.

What did surprise me was some of the feedback. I can only comment on some of the factual issues, but the first one was attendees being offered support and help should the require it. What on earth was that about? Second, the theme of recovery seemed to engage only those who ‘have recovered’. Like many people have said in recent years, the word ‘recovery’ sounded like it was going to be something different, something new, something imaginative. I embraced it myself and then slowly the puzzle started to disintegrate. The more I thought about it and the more my physical condition affected how I feel, the more it didn’t make sense.

Recovery has been taken out of its box and used for the aims and purposes where it can be taken advantage of. Where it can be manipulated by the very people who 1. It doesn’t apply to and 2. Who think they know better.

Every one of us has the right to define ourselves how we see fit. If some people choose to use the word recovery then that’s fine, but YOU can’t apply it to others. Individuals have to apply it to themselves. If they then don’t use the word recovery for themselves and choose to describe it in a different way what right do we have to say otherwise. We shouldn’t be talking about a recovery movement, or choosing to engage only those in recovery. Are we not putting people in boxes, just like psychiatric labels do?

Mental health conditions are the most complex issues that we have to try and cope with and we need to start thinking differently about this whole area. I don’t know what the answers are, maybe we’re trying too hard. Every time we come up with something new we seem to create more problems.

When I tell my story now as I have done for many years I don’t use the word recovery anymore. I just tell it how it is. I’m hugely better than I was during all those years where I just didn’t function, but I’m not in-recovery or recovered. I’m just ME.

Breathing Space Day

Breathing Space Day 1st February 2014

Breathing Space Day 1st February 2014

Quite a day for Breathing Space.   I remember quite clearly when it was launched in 2004.  It had a very clear remit; one that would provide men aged between 16 and 40 with a service they could call in times of need.  Suicide rates for young men at the time were very high, they still are, but now spread over a wider age group of men.

I do remember wondering what would happen if 1. Females phoned and 2. If men called who were not in that age bracket.  The latter is harder to ascertain over the phone than the former of course!  Calls if the first year of Breathing Space reached 15,693 and nearly doubled in 2005.  Now they are at their second highest level since the service began; 75,410.   There is clearly a need and it didn’t stay limited to men aged between 16 and 40 for long.   The free service is also open to anyone living with a mental health problem or someone who is experiencing emotional distress such as low mood, anxiety or depression.  It’s open in the evenings from 6pm – 2am and all weekend, when most people find that their mental wellbeing takes a nosedive.  I have received calls to my work (Action on Depression) with some concerns about the service time, but given budgets and quality of service it really is best to have it open when it’s going to be most needed.  I’m pretty sure it evaluates that these are indeed the best times to be open.

It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.  I’ve spoken to people who have used it and gained nothing from it, to those who haven’t used it and wouldn’t use it, to those who don’t like calling helplines, to those who don’t like Breathing Space or the Samaritans.  We can’t be so narrow-minded to think that this is the complete solution, because it isn’t.  It’s about giving people choice.  Enough of a mix of services that are fund-able and used, online, offline, small, medium, large, accessible, unusual, creative and even different..

I have worked with the Breathing Space and Samaritans as part of my role at Action on Depression.  They do great work and we complement the work they do by doing what we can to support those experiencing depression, anxiety, stress, low-mood and their family and carers.  Our focus is more early intervention and trying to reach people before they get to the point where they require the services of Breathing Space, Samaritans or another crisis service.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my time working in mental health, it’s that services come and go.  They unfortunately go because of funding issues, but they are created too with new funding streams.  Just the other day I heard about a new service in Lanarkshire called Hope Cafe.  They officially launch on the 26th February 2014 as a pilot project.  Here’s a little taster about what they’re going to be doing when they open.

From Wed 26th of February 2014 you will find us in Greyfriars Church Hall from 10am-2pm.  We will operate on a Wednesday each week.  On the day of the café there will be lots of self help information resources available and individuals using the café facilities will have the option of participating in various well-being groups such as arts & crafts/jewellery making/knit and natter .  We will also be offering various activities such as Mindfullness, Relaxation Techniques, Laughter Yoga and much more.  Pop in to the cafe to see what’s on the menu.

If you’re in the area, why don’t you give them your support.   You can also visit them on Facebook and Twitter.

I wish them all the best on the day and I hope they go from strength to strength.

National Suicide Prevention Week 2013

National Suicide Prevention Week 2013

World Suicide Prevention Day

This week has been a very significant week in the calendar of health events. World Suicide Prevention Day on the 10th September tied in with this whole week of Suicide Prevention which is now coming to an end for another year.

I have seen a great response on social media, blogs, newspapers, forums and live chats.

Working in mental health there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t have some involvement in suicide awareness, depression, supportive measures, individual difficulties and problems and of course the positives in seeing people get better.  Nothing can really bring home the true cost of poor mental health other than direct support work with individuals, carers and families.  The stories, the exhaustion, the frustration with service, and the positives all have a huge impact on the way I go about my work.

There used to be a time when I would count the days, months and then years since I had been admitted to hospital for having tried to take my own life. I’m glad to say I stopped counting a while ago now when in 1998 I vowed it would be my last and it was. This coincided with a few significant key moments. Being a missing person, being in complete and utter despair, guilt at what I was doing to those I’d left behind, guilt that I was costing enormous amounts of money on police searches, being locked up in a police cell and lastly sitting defeated in a psychiatric hospital yet AGAIN. It wouldn’t be my last hospital admission but that wasn’t too far behind.

Many times during my period of poor wellbeing which went on for 18 years I really didn’t know what direction I was going in. I knew so many of my problems about the way I thought and behaved went back to childhood. How are we, as we get in to adulthood, meant to make sense of all the negative and traumatic events that happen to us? These events happened during times when we fail to fully realise or understand the impact this is going to have on us later on.

For me, this ties in very well with Suicide Prevention Week. The people we need to be targeting and talking to about suicide, desperation, despair, isolation and loneliness are youngsters. Why?

Young people learn too many negative emotions, behaviours and stigma in relation to sharing how they feel. One negative reaction, comment or sign towards those feeling sad and you can lose someone for a very long time. They may never ever in the future be able to reach out, trust you and say ” I’m not OK, I need help”. This is the kind of damage that can last a lifetime and we wonder why we have such a hard time reducing the suicide fatalities. If that’s not enough we don’t keep records and stats on how many people attempt to take their own life. It doesn’t matter whether someone really meant it or not. After all, a percentage of those who make attempts do in fact go on to die by suicide.  It’s the very fact that they felt so low and so desperate to even think of it as a possible solution.

Attempts damage lives too.  They cause huge emotional turmoil for people who’ve attempted, their families, friends, work prospects, education, on-going well-being and can scar people psychologically for many years to come.

For me, I’d like to see far more work done with young people. Practical workshops, drama, art and music are all ways that can be used to engage young people in what mental well-being actually means, trust, compassion, communication and most of all getting to know themselves and feel comfortable with sadness and loss and at what point to seek further help.

And lastly, let’s be realistic, we will never not have people take their own lives, but what we can do is help some of those make changes to lead better, happier and more content lives where they don’t feel the suicide needs to be an option.