Getting it right together. Mental health and wellbeing for people living with mental distress.

By Alison Faulkner, Independent Service User Consultant.

Featured article - 01 July 2016


When I was asked to speak about mental health and wellbeing for the SCIE / PPL roundtable event earlier this year, I immediately thought of the Social Spider project A day in the life. This project asked the simple question: “What happens when you ask people who live with mental health difficulties to write about their everyday life?” People were invited to record a day in their life once a season over a single year. In March 2016, Social Spider CIC and the Centre for Mental Health published an analysis of what people told them affected their wellbeing.

The top three factors for promoting mental wellbeing were reported as: Friendship and support, people’s home life and providing a sense of purpose. Tellingly, the bottom three (or the factors found to most negatively affect people's wellbeing) were: Mental health service provision, poor sleep and poor physical health. Mark Brown of Social Spider believes that the systems and structures that have been created, around mental health, are out of step with the realities of living with a mental health difficulty in a modern world.

I believe that mental health services are looking intently in the wrong direction. They are searching for better medical treatments, reaching for the prescription pad and researching bigger and better drugs, when what people want and need is better social support and attention to their relationships with other people, whether it be friends, family, professionals or their peers.

There is a profound neglect of social factors when it comes to mental health care, and this is particularly significant when in a crisis. The priority is to find the 'right' medication, to contain and control, when people need to be heard and listened to. This is particularly the case for people from some black and minority ethnic communities, whose distress remains unheard. Mental health services, with their focus on control, containment, medicalisation and the suppression of distress, are so often creating new and bigger problems, both for people in distress and for themselves. By not listening to the meaning behind people's distress, health and social care professionals are denying people's own experiences and shoring up problems for the future.

So - what are some of the solutions? First and foremost is the profound importance of listening to and learning from people with lived experience: acknowledging the 'experiential knowledge' that people bring with them. Service users and survivors have written and spoken about the meaning of self-harm for many years now. There is a wealth of experiential knowledge out there, but it is often disregarded as anecdotal and without real evidence to support it. There are many sources of knowledge and evidence; and that mental health services (and mental health research) are the poorer for disregarding the experiential knowledge of mental health service users and survivors.

It is certainly not rocket science...but it requires a paradigm shift in the way that we think about mental health and provide mental health services.

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