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On mental health and HIV, charity comms, Princess Diana and why Lansley needs to start engaging a bit

Posted on 22 March 2011 | 6:03am

I was at Warwick University yesterday where Rethink, the mental health charity, is holding a staff conference.

I was there for a session on comms, stressing to people who deliver services to the mentally ill why communications matters – to awareness of the services among people who might need them, to fundraising, to morale inside the organisation, and to their ability to influence local and national politicians and policy-makers.

As I tweeted after our session, I was impressed by a speech by Genevieve Edwards, comms director of the Terence Higgins Trust, who set out some compelling evidence of how her charity is able to punch above its weight. Low budget, but high profile and attitude changes aplenty. It is listed at 264th among UK charities in terms of size and turnover, and 72nd in terms of ‘brand awareness’.

It was good of her to take time out to speak to a different  cause, but she rightly coupled Rethink and THT as charities operating in difficult areas, from which many people wish to turn their eyes and ears. The stigma and taboo associated with HIV is less than it was, not least thanks to THT, but it is still there. As I listened, I couldn’t help thinking of the impact Princess Diana made on the issue and wondering what other causes she might have gone on to help had she still been with us. God, she’d have been a brilliant Time to Change ambassador.

In my own remarks, I spoke as I often do of mental illness as the last great taboo, the reason why there remains the need for the Time to Change campaign. We got a sneak preview of the latest TV ad which was shown during the break on Coronation Street last night. We will know we have made progress when the need for such ads no longer exists.

Yesterday’s was but the latest gathering of health experts I have attended at which I heard a growing refrain – that it is impossible to have any kind of genuine dialogue with health secretary Andrew Lansley on his planned reforms.

One charity leader – not mine and not Genevieve’s – told me at the weekend of a meeting he had recently with a gathering of charities involved in the NHS. They set out their stall and his response was ‘you’re all wrong’. Nice.

He might do better to nip down to his local Westminster council and get some lessons in basic politics from councillor Daniel Astaire. On Saturday I blogged on the plans of the council to do away with soup runs. I thank him for taking the trouble to write a response, which you will see in the comments section.

I hope between now and legislation, Mr Lansley starts similarly to engage with the many organisations involved with the running of the NHS – pretty much all of them – who have genuine concerns about his plans.

  • Communication for the service user is vital. Many are left with out a voice, nearly all are not listened to when they have some great ideas and strong feelings about how `´their´¨ serice can support and enhancw their daily life needs. Most are treated as underclass, never taken seriously because of their condition(s) . As an ex sercice man (Army) suffering PTSD i still find the service challenging. Once at a service user and provider meeting i spoke out on issues dealing with care and care plans. At the end of the meeting i was praised and was asked if i wanted to do a course. Thrilled by the fact that these profesionals had listened, i took up their challeng. Four years down the line and armed with a Health and Social care degree i applied to the NHS for a job helping soldiers deal with trauma and its associated social effects. I passed the first interview only later to be informed by letter that i was unsuitable due to…. My mental health condition! Thank you for listening Alastair.

  • I don’t think it’s just in health where the Tories aren’t listening. They don’t seem to be engaging in any kind of dialogue with any of the public sector bodies who actually deliver services on the ground in any field – other than to tell them how poor they’ve been in the past. The battle between DCLG and local government has been particularly fiery, but I can’t think of many instances where Ministers are trying to take people along with the reforms they’re proposing by persuasion. Either they don’t care about the long period of trench warfare they’re risking, or they genuinely don’t know how to do things any differently. T

  • Gilliebc

    A very good and interesting post Mark. As I read it I was expecting a “happy ending” but sadly not. I can only imagine how you must have felt after all that work and earning your Health and Social Care degree only to be slapped in the face when trying to put your degree to good use in the form of a job. There’s something very wrong with “the system” that that should have happened to you and probably to others also I suspect.
    So, where did you go from there, I wonder? Do hope things are okay for you and you’ve been able to find something that is fulfilling for you.
    With Kindest Regards to you,

  • Hi Gilli
    Thanks for taking the time to read the post, firstly I was shocked at how bad my spelling and grammer had become! Well, no I never did get a paid job but i did work for more than two years in the voluntary sector from mental health, to student welfare within the Anglican Chaplaincy. This time was rewarding and gave me both a chance to put back into society and to experiance the difficulties voluntry and self help organisations face daily.
    Seen some shocking things in the mental health world, people desperate for help yet cannot access specialist help due to heavy waiting lists, overloaded case workers or lack of resources. Many are medicated by their GP untill they eventualy are seen. This can be from weeks to months. Many do not make it that far.
    These problems put a strain on local self help groups who increasingly rely on “well” service users to act as “listeners” to those in crisis. These groups are vital for the maintaince of recovery and as a first point of contact. During this time i suffered a relapse and after further treatment at Combat Stress (ex services mental health welfare) i decided i needed a change. I now live in the mountains in Spain maintaining recovery as best i can at a day at a time.
    Kindest regards to you

  • Gilliebc

    Hi Mark,
    So pleased to hear you are going on reasonably well. How lovely to be living in the mountains in Spain! You are so right to take things one day at a time, that’s the best way to live (IMHO). I think the Bible says something like that actually. Much good advice to be found in the Bible, I believe. Though many others may disagree. I look upon it as a handbook or guide to life. It’s also very true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. There were times when I didn’t think I’d get to 35 years old, but I did, and then some! more years than I once thought possible. And what’s more to the point it was well worth the (somtimes) struggle.
    Take good care of yourself, don’t let anyone get you down or put you down. Remember, you’re as good as any one else and probably a damn sight better than most.
    With more kind regards to you
    P.S. Your grammar is fine. Spelling is a little iffy (as is mine) but that could just be “typos” 🙂

  • Dave Simons

    Speaking about ‘Biblical’ good advice I think if you retain the ability to laugh at yourself it helps. Here’s a bit of good advice from the Danish poet, Piet Hein (1905 – 1996):

    We ought to live
    each day as though
    it were our last day
    here below.

    But if I did, alas,
    I know
    it would have killed me
    long ago.

  • Gilliebc

    Nice one Dave! You are so right about retaining the ability to laugh at yourself. So many people take themselves and life in general far too seriously. However, I do worry a little about those people who haven’t been “blessed” with any sense of humour whatsoever. Life for them must be so bleak. Now that I’m older and no longer seeking the next “big adventure” (what the hell was I thinking!) I find great contentment and joy even, from the seemingly mundane. Nature and it’s wildlife can be truly inspirational. I think it’s about getting and being in touch with the rhythm of life. I guess we all have to seek and find whatever it maybe that justifies our “being alive” Family and good friends are also very important to most.
    But, I don’t think the lack of both or either of these is essential to justify anyone’s own life. Life is a precious gift and is to be enjoyed to the best of our ability, not simply endured.
    Actually Dave, that little poem by Piet Heim, is very apposite.

  • Dave Simons

    Thanks Gillie. Glad you liked the Piet Hein poem and hope you’re enjoying the simple pleasures of life down in lovely Devon – the return of the warblers, the early spring blossoms, etc.

  • Gilliebc

    Hi Dave, Devon is indeed a very beautiful part of the UK and being born and brought up down here I really appreciate it. There are many other lovely places in the UK also. So something for everyone to enjoy.
    Spring and early summer is my favourite time of year. Soon the House Martins will return to their old nests to evict the sparrows that have been “squating” over the winter period. Much load sqawking usually ensues.
    In our previous house we had a bat colony that came to live with us when their barn was demolished next door to us, to make way for yet more new houses. The colony increased by about 3 or 4 fold during the following years. We, well my husband actually sometimes had to return the baby bats to our roofspace after they had fallen out of the nests. Thankfully they were always unharmed. When we were selling the property about 4 years ago, we always told any prospective purchasers about the bats.
    Some were put off, but eventually a local couple who didn’t mind about the bats bought the house. We were down-sizing to a more economical mid-terrace, with retirement in mind, lower fuel bills and such like. The fuel bills have been much lower too, but not for much longer. No one can win in that department any more.

  • Anonymous

    The trouble with having a mental illness is that even mental health charities don’t want to listen to you. I recently wrote to Sane, a charity which I discovered nearly 4 years ago, that I felt their new-style online forum had lost the sense of empathy which once used to exist, that old members were no longer using it, and that I felt as though an old friend was committing suicide before my eyes.
    Their response? They suggested I should take a break from the forum as I was obviously finding it difficult. Despite having written more than once to this charity about the way the changes had had a negative impact on users (at one point, while the charity proudly proclaimed it had over 3200 members, only about 20 were using the site and over 50% had posted no more than once, if at all), I received no acknowledgment that changes needed to be made, or that its figures were misleading.Its position appears to be “We are right; it’s your problem.” So much for communication and being responsive to the needs of users! Even mental health charities blame users for failures outside the control of the user. What a wonderful example!

  • Anonymous