To celebrate Co-Production Week (5-9 July 2021), MFT client and Advisory Group member Keri shares how being part of our Advisory Group inspired her to imagine a world where mental heath stigma didn’t exist.
“As is often the case in our lively chatter and debate at a Mary Frances Trust’s Advisory Group meeting, from somewhere obscure, one month I came up with the idea of ‘What would a mental health friendly society look like?’
‘Co-production’ is feeding off each other creatively and coming up with ideas to develop the beating pulse of the Trust. It is never dull. You do not hide behind a facade; in fact, I have not shown my authentic self to a group of people, who I have only got to know over the past three months on Zoom, so swiftly.
There is definite merit in this, which brings me back to the question in the opening paragraph: ‘What would a mental health friendly society look like?’ At the moment, although efforts are being made to make everyone feel inclusive, the words ‘mental health’ and ‘friendly’, jar when put together.
During the recent Mental Health Awareness Week, I came across a salutary statistic from RETHINK that frightened but did not surprise me: 86% of people living with a severe mental health condition feel stigmatised and discriminated against. This is not right.
But when you read the narrative about mental health, which people with lived experiences should control, there are serious flaws. A proportion of the public cannot accept ‘care in the community’ and it has somehow become a tagline for people who cause societal problems. Mental health hospitals are called ‘other names’ and not seen as places, where patients can learn to manage their conditions better and recover from mental health episodes. It is almost as if mental ill heath, part of the human condition, has been covered up, hoping that it will make a quiet exit.
But many people will appreciate if mental health conditions are neglected, compassion is not shown to the individual and holistic treatment is not sought, there is a tendency for these illnesses to manifest into something far greater.
Mental health is an invisible condition. We do not always know if a colleague or someone we come into contact is suffering. And whilst we may have good intentions of having an open-mind to people’s circumstances and showing kindness, when we can, we normally have a lot of our own burdens weighing us down.
Compassion comes from a place of looking after yourself, first and foremost, to enable you to reach out to others. I have just finished ‘How to Listen’ by Katie Colombus, who is affiliated to the Samaritans. This wonderful self-help book encourages us to increase our toolkit, so that, when appropriate we can be better listeners.
This really is the best starting point. Listening. If you have ever rung the Samaritans helpline, you will have been impressed by the selflessness of these volunteers and their listening skills. Indeed, the founder of the Samaritans, Chad Varah, calls his team, people, who ‘give their total attention. They listen and listen and listen, without interrupting. They do not preach. They have nothing to sell’.
Simply stated, people like this, can transform lives. And with the other members of the Advisory Group, which I volunteer for, when I have the time and capacity, I hope we can make tangible, impactful change to the lives of others through the Trust.
I once came across a wise quote from an ordinary citizen, which has stayed with me. He concluded that ‘you do not have to understand something to be able to help’. I suppose the trick is convincing that potential person who will assist in the future.
Stigma needs to be quashed soon and acceptance from society needs to follow next. The society I visualise is one, where inspired by the Covid vaccine breakthrough, world-wide scientists pull together their research and devise ground-breaking treatments for people with mental health conditions. Emotional and psychological support is more readily available for those who require it. And finally, that we adjust and examine our attitudes further towards mental health, so that everyone receives the same dignity and respect they justly deserve.”
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