“I dont think many people would gate-crash a mental health conference, so we should be OK” …commented team member Kate Northcott re: her faulty name badge. After following their twitter account for some time, @ChesterPlus had invited us to the world mental health day conference at the historic (and cold) Town hall.
Chris Lynch of Chester Plus introduced the conference with the statistics that 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 10 children will experience mental health problems at some point in their lives. He thanked Cllr Bob Rudd and Cwac for their support before handing over to comedian Patrick Monahan who was compere for the day.
A self confessed “hugging addict” Patrick said that “If you hug someone for five minutes that’s the equivalent of half a pain killer..” and was a relaxed and engaging host.
Jane Cummings ,Chief Nursing officer for England was the first speaker. She spoke about she saw the role of the nurse as being both a huge privilege and challenge to support the nations health. She spoke of how the “6 C’s” were being applied across all aspects of mental health care.
Jane acknowledged inconsistencies in treatment and regional differences, but stressed how good practice could be highlighted and shared nationally.
A performance from the Grace Note recovery choir followed. The Chester based choir is the creation of a former alcoholic , and has performed at events all across the country. http://thegracenotechoir.com/
Chris Lynch returned and spoke openly of his struggles with anxiety and depression and how peer support has helped him. Peer support was described as “the support exchanged between people who have had affected by mental health issues based on shared understanding”
5 years ag0 Chris was a trustee of MIND. After some financial and governance issues, the group re-emerged as Chester Plus. Plus is a registered charity with no staff, run entirely by service users. Originally a monthly support group, PLUS now run a Monday and Wednesday drop ins in Boughton. The council have also been supportive and allowed the use of their resource centre on Canal St. PLUS are involved in many community events such as Pride, and the recovery walk. They received a small grant from Chester voluntary action and made a film showing how peer support had helped users become more confident and independent, reducing their feelings of isolation and loneliness. Chris is hoping the community involvement will develop and there will be more collaborative working and partnership with local groups. So far PLUS have run various events including a gardening club, breakfast club and drop ins. New projects being introduced include Tai Chi, meditation and cookery. “Were not professionals, its not counselling. Of the 11 trustees, 10 are service users and 1 is a carer” said Chris.
Julie Sheen is the group co ordinator for Rethink Chester Support, and also trustee of Chester Plus. Julie told the story of her struggle with mental health problems since her teenage years. After reaching a crisis point, and recovering she decided she wanted to become a mental health nurse. She achieved her goal and qualified in June 2014 and now campaigns to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. Julie and Chris were both examples of people using their own experiences to help others with similar problems.
26 year old Joel received a standing ovation for his video about how Schizo-affective disorder had impacted upon his life. Joel bravely took to the stage and my words would be inadequate to describe how moving it was. Joel has suffered from severe depression and hearing voices for 5 years and spoke of how , positive encouragement can help recovery: “something as simple as sitting in a room with someone in silence will do more good than you can know” .
Tim McDougall, Nurse Director and Clinical Director was next up, talking about the evolution of child and adolescent mental health care treatment. Tim covered everything from the 1845 Lunacy Act to Great Ormond St hospital and modern developments such as neuro imagery. He highlighted how globalisation had allowed the sharing of knowledge but also opened the door to new dangers such as cyber bullying and web based sexual abuse.
Representatives from The University of Chester wellbeing project took to the stage to summarise their progress over the last year. Welfare manager Jamie Morris said that the university had recognised the number of students with mild mental health problems such as anxiety or isolation, which could potentially escalate if not treated. The peer mentoring system was expanded to include pre arrival students and commuting students. October will see the Exercise for Health programme take place, aiming to help students exercise and lead a healthy lifestyle. Active on twitter at @ , a mental health peer support group has been established and also 30 university staff have received the AIST suicide prevention training.
A performance by the Fallen Angels dance theatre followed. The Angels are based at the Chester music theatre and combine professional dance with community programmes. They place an emphasis on involving those recovering from addiction but welcome all. One of the dancers said that Fallen Angels had offered her “expression through movement, as well as a network of support..” and “the dance is great, we’re breaking down stigma, but they’re my family” The Angels have upcoming performances at The Lowry and the Royal Opera House http://www.fallenangelsdancetheatre.co.uk/
Dementia campaigner Tommy Whitelaw then spoke passionately about his quest to raise awareness of dementia and the challenges faced by carers. Tommy cared for his mother who suffered from vascular dementia until her death. In 2011 he walked around Scottish towns and cities collecting the life stories of dementia carers. More details at Tommy’s blog: http://tommy-on-tour-2011.blogspot.co.uk/
Closing the afternoon was Paul Jebb of NHS England who spoke about the continuous experience of patients as well as improving support for carers.
Hugs with strangers rounded off the day. Many moving stories had been told, not only of struggle but also positive ones of recovery and success. I was not aware of the range of support available in the community, much of it led by service users themselves. I left the conference with the feeling that while there was a still a huge stigma attached to mental health, however dark things may seem , there is always help available. As a lot of the promotional material stated, “its the little things that matter”. The smallest things can make a difference.
With thanks to Julie Sheen for organising the event and the invite.