... “I’ve just blown in from the windy city ...”
Just breaking into song for a moment there, prompted by being blown along the sea front to thePierheadBuilding, where Time to Change Wales is showcasing their achievements over the last two years.
In this time thousands of people have been encouraged to talk about the effect of mental health on their lives, and as a result thousands of people have been in the position to LISTEN. Listen to a new idea that mental health is acceptable to talk about and that there is no shame in sharing this part of what it is to be human.
Sitting with a group of Champions, with inspiring conversations flowing on both sides, I felt truly blessed to be part of such a positive movement for change; a feeling echoed by many people I have spoken too. I believe the support that “mental health service users” (I say that with a jolly smileJ) can offer each other is beyond compare; we completely understand, without judgement, because we have lived it. Yes, lived it with different problems, but the effects have a common thread - a feeling of being separate and alone.
The large room with stately pillars, displaying the Victorian wealth of Cardiff, filled up, as a gradual stream of people plundered the Welsh Cakes. Anthony Metcalfe welcomed everyone to a “Celebration of lived experience,” describing it as a “Social movement for change,” and introduced Mark Drakeford, the AM for Health and Social Services, who delivered a strong Key Note Address. Mark Drakeford noted how mental health gets in-between an individual and every life experience including work and relationships; making the link between stigma, shame and secrecy, which means that people do not come forward for help because of the discrimination they might face. He also let us into a little secret, (shhh) politicians don’t make admissions of mental health problems either, because they too are scared of being stigmatized!!
He named Time to Change as an important addition to fighting this stigma, with the powerful weapon of testimony; the first hand experience shared by those with Mental Health “directly disarms myths and misunderstandings.” Pinpointing conversation as a, “core part in responding to people with mental health needs.” Mark went on to say that the culture of conversation should be applied in the work place, an important place for the battle, where discrimination and stigma can be challenged. Boldly saying that small adjustments for employees suffering from mental health difficulties would be in the interests of the employer, as this would accommodate the needs of the work force and actually lead to fewer days off! Promoting Occupational Health needs as the centre of what the “Healthy Working Wales Programme” is all about, he urged Time to Change Wales to bring the message to a wider audience and win even further ground, based on the work that has already been done.
These words were inspiring, but blown out of the water by the personal testimony of the lived experience of the Time to Change Wales Educators and Champions.
These words were inspiring, but blown out of the water by the personal testimony of the lived experience of the Time to Change Wales Educators and Champions. Mark, coping with Bi-Polar II, who was supported at work, acknowledged that he performed better with understanding and no discrimination in his work place. Manon, with her loving Dad John, shared how being part of family therapy helped the family support her to cope with anorexia and OCD. Rachel, another fighter who refused to be defined by mental health, showed how it is possible to reclaim a meaningful life, after all that one has known before has been stripped away; rebuilding a new life from the ashes of the old. The stories different, but the feelings the same; a loss of self worth; purpose, friends; relationships; self respect ... feelings that get in-between every life experience. However there is also another familiar core to their personal stories, how being an Educator for Time to Change Wales has enhanced their lives, by giving them back confidence, self-esteem and more importantly, themselves.
“Time to Write” was one of the projects funded by time to Change Wales, in their presentation they mentioned the “Beacon of enthusiasm and warmth” that is Melanie Santorini; I have to say I totally agree! Highlighting how they blossomed through doing the writing and actively encouraging understanding by being able to creatively show what they were going through. Shaun, honestly lay bare how mental disturbance affects every day life, mentioning how by writing negativity onto the page made his mind lighter for a while, pragmatically adding “It all comes down to you, no-one can help.”
To wonderfully round off an inspiring day, Dai Sharkey serenaded us with his songs while we ate. As I sat there munching on a tomato, I mulled over the varied messages of the day and the wise words of Terry Pratchett came to mind, “Wouldn’t it be nice, if everyone was nice!” Yes, people who are fragile need consideration, they need to be supported by an understanding community, but wouldn’t it be more practical if we just supported people because they are human. Don’t undermine or dismiss anyone, respect others as individuals and maybe, maybe, if we all feel nurtured there will not be so many mental health issues. Just a thought ...
If you would like to become a Time to Change Wales Champion and help end mental health stigma, click here