Talking to Alison Meiklejohn, a non-executive member of the Lothian NHS Board at the letswalkamile event at the Royal Edinburgh (psychiatric) Hospital’s Fete at the weekend, I realised that even with all my experience in all things mental, I’m still prone to making assumptions.
In amongst our chats about how up to 75% of folk we lock up in prisons have a diagnosed mental health problem; how parity in the funding of mental health services with physical health services still seems a distant dream & other stuff, I’d assumed that attitudes towards mental maladies in the higher echelons would be dazzlingly positive.
And that, in such a positive climate, access to gold plaited, top quality mental health support would be an unquestioned given.
Cutting to the chase, and keeping with the climate metaphor, the forecast is, at best, dreich.
I appreciate this comes from one person’s perspective at a particular time on a given day, but there doesn’t appear to be a culture of openness and honesty with staff in the (psychiatric) hospital – where there appears to be a mass reluctance to declare personal experience of work stress/ anxiety or other mental maladies.
This is combined with, let’s call them lack lustre (my words) mental health services for staff struggling to cope, with long waiting lists and counselling limited to 6 weeks for those who have the courage to cry out for help.
I’d expected tales of something deluxe – a Gold Standard for others to follow…instead…well, instead it sounds like more of the same…
I’d smiled, ‘You’d hope to get some perks…’ but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
This is so desperately short sighted – indulge me – type ‘ROI (that’s Return of investment) Mental Health’ in any search engine & take a look at any of the bazillion (or so) studies that show just how many bangs for your buck you get when you invest in mental health care.
Crazy though this is, it isn’t my biggest bugbear. I don’t think I was naive to believe – to expect – that these guys would be leading the way.
If this is the organisation’s attitude to the mental health of it’s staff – what view must it have of the people it’s charged to care for?
I can’t help but think (although I’m open to any alternative suggestions ANYONE might have) that this reflects an othering, us and them, perspective of mental ill health.
This was, by no means, the attitude that came from Alison – her words and attitudes were thoughtful, inclusive, and non stigmatising.
It was an pleasure to walk a mile with her.
The atmosphere was great.
People were happy and chatty – talking openly about mental health. We walked past the greenhouses, the Cyrenian’s gardens that cost next to nothing, but improved the quality of patient care for so many.
We caught a glimpse at the new hospital to be, where the patients of the future will be shown respect through their environment, where Victorian multi-bedded dormitories will be a thing of the past…
But will those attitudes change?
Will that nebulous, ethereal entity that is the organisation adapt with the buildings?
Which brings me back to the start.
Walk a mile begins with you. If you see or hear something that stigmatises people with mental health problems and you do or say nothing, does that make you complicit with that….something?
I’m not remotely interested in trying to guilt trip folk into action.
God knows how difficult I found it to speak out from both within the system, where the wood is often indiscernible from the trees, and from the outside where that forest can seem impenetrable.
People are fabulous – you’ve proven that time, and time, and time again.
It won’t happen overnight – and, without overly labouring the point, it starts with you.