February 2016

How many years later?

Ok nearly new year, nearly new start.

And in the meantime, wordpress has kind of updated, so I’m all rusty and will have to catch up with it again. Does all look vaguely familiar though, so hopefully it won’t be too painful.


IMHA – Independent Mental Health Advocacy

I so admire people who keep blogging every day, or even every week. I must do better.

One of the events I’ve been to recently was the launch of ‘The Right to be Heard‘, a review of the quality of Independent Mental Health Advocacy across England. I was one of the service user researchers on the project at University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

The event was chaired by Charles Walker MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on mental health. He described how he had gained a lot from ‘coming out’ about his OCD at the mental health debate on June 14th (read the full debate on Hansard). He talked about how he had meant to speak for much longer about access to IMHA services, but time had run out after he spoke so passionately about his own experiences. 

One of the recommendations from the report is that IMHA services should be opt out rather than opt in as they are currently. Access to services is patchy with only around half of eligible people actually using their services. Access is particularly poor for people from specific groups such as BME communities, younger people (under 18), older people (especially those who need non-instructed advocacy) and people from D/deaf communities.

There are changes to commissioning of IMHA services, with it moving from PCT to Local Authorities for April 2013. I hope all local authority commissioners are made aware of the report so that they can implement the recommendations in their new tender documents. People who use services and their supporters can help in making their commissioners, as well as their peers, aware of the report.

The full report, as well as a summary and leaflet, are available on the project website at 

time to change – wedding video

A short humorous film featuring Menisha and her Mum entertaining guests at her sister’s wedding reception. Menisha has recently been unwell with depression and her Mum is worried about how the guests will react and what they’ll think of the family until Menisha explains to her Mum that depression is nothing to be ashamed of.

A great film which doesn’t rely on the spoken word – so it can be subtitled in other languages.

Wai Yin Chinese Women’s Centre

The Wai Yin Chinese Women Society is the largest Chinese community centre in Britain, providing community services for the Chinese population in Manchester.

Mark and Louise described all the work they do and showed me around their Sheung Lok Centre where they provide activities including a Lunch Club for older people and Tai Chi sessions. The organisation works very closely with other BME women’s organisations in the city.

Louise described how mental health issues are perceived within the Chinese Community. There is a lot of stigma and discrimination, so that people do not like their friends, family and neighbours to know they are experiencing problems.

Wai Yin have developed projects including the Kwan Wai project which offers some one to one support for people experiencing distress. Louise  has worked for many years to build awareness and create trust, so that she is now trusted and people feel able to open up to her and share their stories. They have produced a booklet with words from  people who have used their services. Some of the authors felt confident enough to do this without anonymity, which is a huge step. They also produced a DVD for their tenth anniversary.

We had a long discussion on using the media to reach out to communities who may not feel able to access a service. They described how one way to do this may be to link up with other people in Hong Kong and others who were not from within their immediate community.

Peer Leaders – as an example of recovery

I’ve been running (slowly) three times a week since the New Year*, and I’ve now started to run along to some of the recordings I’ve made of events.

This morning I listened to the inspirational speech given by Gene Johnson of Recovery Innovations at the NHS Confed Peer Workers event last week (as described in this earlier post). He covered a lot of ideas and I’m sure I’ll refer to it repeatedly.

He described how peer workers encourage recovery in many ways. They encourage recovery for the people they work with, and their work also aids their own recovery. But importantly they also help recovery within the organisation.

Staff, especially in inpatient units, can get so used to seeing people in times of crisis and distress that they start to lose sight of what people can be like without that distress. Having peer workers working alongside them, reminds existing staff that people do recover to something much more than their distressed selves would suggest. Peer workers raise ambitions for recovery.

I have seen peers doing this for people who are experiencing distress in my own work as a researcher and trainer. Interviewees have fed back that they have appreciated being interviewed by a peer as they know I have that understanding from personal experience. Many have expressed their surprise that a researcher can have been there, and that it gives them some hope that they too can recover their own strengths. I have seen the same as a trainer: students at the end of the course feed back that I have given them hope just by being there to provide an example that recovery is possible.

And if it works in this way with people who are experiencing distress, then it must have a similar effect with existing staff. Peers have a definite role in offering hope to all of an ambitious level of recovery.

* Latest running enthusiasm (and I was never a runner) is entirely down to Laura and the NHS Couch to 5k Podcasts.


A really inspiring chat with Elaine and others from Lilyfield at St Mary’s Church in Wavertree. They have created a very welcoming cafe area at the Church which is open to everyone in the community and especially people who have experience of distress. Their Monday morning sessions are supported by people who were previously based at a drop-in centre which has now closed.

We talked about their singing sessions and how they could develop some songs of their own to describe their own experiences*. They’ll be holding another talent contest, so hopefully we’ll hear their creations there.

Elaine is also keen to hear from other faith organisations who have set up similar drop in sessions to welcome people who have experienced distress. I was surprised to hear that there aren’t existing networks to share that learning, because I know that people who are feeling vulnerable often turn to the Church as a calm and peaceful space. I had assumed that there would be a network around mental health for people to share and learn.

*They’d watched the video of the St Helens Carers Complaints Choir here: