Friday, 6 September 2013

Mental Health Conference at Bournemouth University

I went to a mental health conference at Bournemouth Uni today - actually, I went to half a conference, because I left just after lunch.  It was a pity in a way, because the two workshops I attended were really interesting, and I am sure I would have learned more if I had stayed longer.  There were five (I think) lots of sessions taking place during the day - that is to say, whatever you went/listened to, you missed four others.  Which was a great shame - even those people who stayed until the end must have felt they'd missed out on a lot.  I think this event could easily have stretched to two, or even three, days.

And this is from someone who is trying to cut off from mental health issues!  I do enjoy these events, and still find the whole mental health thing fascinating.  The trouble is, I get more emotionally involved than I should.

I didn't sound off publicly about my various opinions - which I am wont to do in these sorts of situations.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course - plenty of others did make their views about various things known during the course of the workshops I attended.  But just listening for a change was interesting - I realised that however valid the points being made by members of the audience, I really would have preferred to be able to listen to the person who was supposed to be lecturing.

The first workshop was given by members of IMROC - I hope I have that right, I should really be consulting my notes now.  Jed Boardman and Geoff Shepherd were the speakers.  I warmed to both of them - they seemed to have the right attitude (were open minded and intelligent) and I learned some things I didn't know about the mental health system.  It was interesting when one of them made the point that often people get admitted to hospital because they have been admitted before - instead of trying to find alternative solutions, when the person presents with whatever symptoms the Mental Health Team simply apply the course of action that has been taken previously.

It is comforting to know that some people think about these things.

At the end of that workshop (which lasted an hour) there was a brief conversation about peer support workers.  The workshop had been on the subject of recovery outcomes and cost effectiveness, and Geoff Shepherd made the point that peer support workers provided very good value for money.  Partly because it makes them feel valued (and they are still seen as service users, so their wellbeing is also important). 

So one of the peer support workers present said that's great, then there should be more funding, and one of the mental health commissioners in the room said that was not going to happen in Dorset.  I waited around at the end to ask her why, but by then she was deep in conversation with somebody else.  I should then, by rights, have had a word with the speakers, who were free, and introduced myself and so on, but I came over all shy, and left to find a cup of tea instead.

So I am guessing that the reason there is not going to be more funding for peer support in Dorset was because we already receive more than the average.  And if I'd had the courage to speak with Geoff or Jed, or been able to converse with the Commissioner, I would have made the point that, in my opinion, better use could be made of that funding if peer support workers were to be employed directly by the NHS.  Not through an agency, as they are in Dorset (the Dorset Mental Health Forum).  Enough said.

So, after tea, during which I made contact with the person who had invited me to the event, and spoke to a few people from the Forum (I met many lovely people during my time there) there was another workshop, this one taken by Mark Brown of MarkOneInFour.  I amused myself during this event, which was about social media, by tweeting about the fact that I was in a social media workshop.  That made me feel very hip and trendy and down-with-the-times.  About as cool as I am ever going to get.

Then it was time for lunch.  I ate alone, because I couldn't see anyone who looked welcoming in that vast sea of faces, and because I usually prefer to eat alone anyway (I scoff, elegant it ain't).  After about five minutes I had finished my sandwiches, but I thought I would read the newspaper on my Nexus tablet and then attend the next keynote speech and one of the following talks.  Then I would have had to rush off to the school run.

By then though, I was feeling frazzled.  I couldn't be bothered finding somebody to speak to, because I knew I needed some peace and quiet, but I started to feel conspicuous sitting alone.  I suddenly realised that nobody would miss me if I left early, and that I would only be missing a couple of things to add on to all the other things I had missed (going back to my original point of only being able to attend one in five of the talks/workshops available). 

I also realised that everyone else at that conference was being paid to be there (which is part of the problem with mental health care, it is often only somebody's job).  But this meant for me that I did not have to be there - I was there because I wanted to help, and for two solid years now I have been trying to help, feeling that there must be lessons to be learned from my recovery, and wanting to pass them on.

But for a large part of that time I have felt that I have been banging my head against a wall.  Because nobody has actually asked for my help - except Newcastle University in that possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I was given last Autumn to speak to Psychology staff and students there about my experience.  Everybody else, at all the mental health conferences, events, online debates and so on that I have been to, even in my Psychology classes last year, has been subjected to my opinions - always peacefully expressed, but often too emotional, too deeply felt - without actually having expressed any desire to hear them.

I think I have more to contribute to society as a writer than as a mental health speaker, or an activist, or a peer support worker.  I can say more that way, I say it more articulately, and nobody is forced to listen.  If I can do it through fiction I will, if not then it's back to the darned 'Recovery Book' that I have been hammering away at for far too long now.

Anyway, I left the Uni early, I came home and I walked the dog.  As she frolicked and sniffed and rolled I picked blackberries, the sun came out unexpectedly and all was right with the world.



  1. Interesting post. I find it impossible to stand in front of a crowd and speak out. Much easier to put my thoughts on paper. I don't know why but I am sure there are a lot of us in the same boat.

  2. Interesting to hear more about the system that's in place in your county. Never heard of peer support workers!

  3. Hi Dito. Well, the peer support thing is very new, and quite tentative, but it is, IMO, a very good thing. The administration of it should, I think, be much more straightforward - peer support workers should be employed by the NHS directly, just like anyone else. There is a big movement towards peer support in the USA - for more info, look on the 'Mad In America' website. All the best, Louise