Thursday, 23 February 2012

A new future for mental health awareness and involvement

One of the functions of The Enlightenment Project is to help build mental health awareness.  The way I hope this can be achieved is by setting up a service user-led organisation, in conjunction with a service user-led consultancy and training company called ARW, like the one currently in operation in Essex but with a much wider, long term focus.  The proposed aims of the new organisation would be:
  • Set up and support self-help groups (all we would ask in return is the phrase “Supported by” and our logo on any advertising)
  • Provide service user and carer training (with ARW)
  • Run consultations
  • Produce a magazine along the lines of The Big Issue, staffed by service users (and carers) to provide employment opportunities for those who want them.  The magazine could generate income for the organisation through selling advertising space in the magazine and sales.
  • Set up and run mental health awareness events
  • Provide service user/carer representation on boards, etc, who have been trained to fulfil those roles
  • Provide speakers to mental health organisations, schools, colleges and universities
  • Set up and support mental health service user and carer forums
  • Compile a comprehensive database of statutory and third sector services and self-help groups in the UK
  • Produce a series of ‘How To…’ guides (written by service users and carers with relevant experience or knowledge), for example:
    • Setting up self-help groups
    • ‘…Cope With’ mental health conditions
  • Produce a series of ‘condition guides’, written by service users and carers, that explain what the different conditions are like to live with and dispelling the common myths surrounding them.
  • Publish books/booklets of poetry, etc, written by service users and carers. (There is a group called “Survivors Poetry” in London who run a similar publishing venture.)
  • Signposting service users to the most appropriate services or groups
  • Provide Community Mental Health Advocates (through ARW)
  • Create a UK-wide network of mental health groups and facilitating a continuous exchange of information and best practice between them
  • Set up and run a ‘quality mark’ for services that is judged and awarded by service users and carers through a series of inspections, interviews with service users and a rigorous process of evidence-based presentations given by service providers. The new organisation would have no statutory powers but, if we had the backing of the mental health commissioners, it may be possible to have voluntary consent from service providers for the necessary processes.  It would certainly add weight to the argument for voluntary consent if it became requirement when awarding contracts for services.
  • Set up and run community caf├ęs
  • Set up and run an online forum to reach hard-to-reach communities
  • Set up Black and Minority Ethnic groups to cater to the needs of their communities

Most importantly, however, the service user and carer run organisation should maintain and strengthen the collaborative nature of the commissioner/service user and carer relationship that has been so successfully cultivated in Essex during the current project but widened to include the whole of the UK.
To achieve the aims of the new organisation we will need to look at and address the following issues:
Obviously it will not be possible to achieve the aims set out in Section 1 without the necessary training to ensure that the new organisation's ‘staff’ can carry out their duties so I have listed some of the training needed to do so.

Staff will need training in:
  • Interview panel skills
  • Financial responsibilities
  • Conflict resolution skills
  • Funding applications
  • Bid writing skills
  • Research skills (focussed workshops on):
    • Designing questionnaires
    • 1:1 interview techniques
    • Analysing data
    • Report writing skills
  • Networking skills
  • Project management skills
  • Negotiation skills
  • Media skills
  • Accessing GP commissioning
  • Benefit advice
  • Peer advocacy
  • Mentoring
  • Business skills

We should include in our budget a fund with which to pay for any training that we cannot either provide ourselves through ARW or get for free through such programmes as the Active Citizen Entitlement Programme.

We should also look into gaining accreditation on our training through the Open College Network or NCFE so that service users and carers can gain recognised qualifications through the accumulation of OCN or NCFE credits.

We should operate a ‘buddy’ scheme for service users who wish to undertake training allowing them to have an experienced mentor in whatever subject they are learning

An essential component for the success of a service user and carer run organisation is the partnerships that we can forge with other organisations.  I suggest that the current project’s Service User Advisory Board seeks to strengthen our current link with ARW, giving that organisation an equal voice with the Advisory Board in how the new organisation works due to their vast experience and the quality of their training.  I believe that this decision means that there will be a continuity of provision regarding training and the opportunity to build on the experience they have of setting up self-help groups, etc.

We should try to build a relationship with universities that provide mental health courses and undertake mental health research.  This would provide the partner universities with a supply of service users and carers to provide the much needed service user/carer perspective in their courses and provide the new organisation academic researchers to add weight to the findings of any research undertaken by the members.

Forging partnerships with universities with business faculties would help by offering business students the opportunity to use the new organisation as their project for their studies.  This would give the organisation a valuable pool of entrepreneurs to help set up the more business-like end of the project and business students valuable experience using the knowledge they gain from their studies.  A match made in heaven, perhaps?

One thing is certain, however, and that is that the service users and carers should be in control of the new organisation in the future with less obstructive interference from any partners we may decide to join up with so that the empowerment that we have gained from the current project is not lost.

This is only part of the plans that I believe The Enlightenment Project’s mental health team could implement given the core funding needed to set it up.  If you are interested in becoming a member of the mental health team and are a mental health service user or a carer for one, please contact me at
Until next time…

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