One in four adults and one in ten children are likely to have a mental health problem in any given year. World Mental Health Day is an opportunity to inform and educate people about mental health, helping to end the stigma.
Glyn Ramsden who works in Adult Social Care for Leeds City Council talks about his time working in mental health and looks at how the service has developed for the better over the years.
This year Leeds will be celebrating World Mental Health Day on October 15th. Every year the event has a theme, provided by the World Health Organisation and this year it’s ‘Dignity in Mental Health’. I think we all accept that dignity is a good thing and most people appreciate that being valued and respected is a key part of human relationships and important for our wellbeing.
When I think back on my time working in mental health it strikes me that the vast majority of people working in this field have always taken dignity and respect seriously. The terminology changes, as does the service model, but for me the motivations and hopes of the mental health community are pretty much the same: a decent quality of life, friendship and community, some choice and control and a bit of money to spend.
If you look back a bit further dignity and rights did not feature heavily in the mental health system. The model of support and treatment relied on incarceration, sometimes for decades at a time and helped feed some of the myths around mental health. It’s worth remembering that not everyone accepted this state of affairs and that campaigners and reformers have played an important part in raising the issues of dignity and humane treatment, over many decades.
Locally our services have changed with the times, and continue to do so. I joined Social Services in 1990 to work at Spen Croft hostel. My memories of the experience are very positive and I feel lucky to have shared in the lives of such a diverse, interesting and warm group of people, both service users and staff. There was a strong community spirit and, I think, a commitment to dignity and quality of life. That said, the buildings were increasingly unfit for purpose; the people living there had a small, very basic room of their own, but everything else was shared – bathrooms, living rooms, kitchens. They became crowded and cluttered and I used to worry a lot about fire risks. I was always impressed by the tolerance that people showed each other, living in such a cramped environment and it’s certainly true that people felt very attached to the hostels, me included. But things needed to change and in terms of environment the Independent Living Project brought about significant improvements.
Of course the story doesn’t end there. The service model has also gone through significant changes and continues to do so and I think there is still work to do on getting the right sort of support to the right people, particularly for those who need longer term support. For many people recovery focused work offers hope and new possibilities, both key to a dignified existence, but there are others who need something different and, for some, stability is the key to a more dignified life.
There is plenty to celebrate: across our services we offer an impressive variety of activities and support, increasingly influenced by what service users tell us they want. Our day services are vibrant and welcoming and have significantly increased the number of people they support. There is clearly a high demand in Leeds for the things they do and they contribute massively to the dignity of people in the city.
We face plenty of problems, mainly to do with things like funding and resources. Our support services, in all areas, are under tremendous pressure, at a time when the needs of the population for mental health support are growing dramatically. As the World Health Organisation points out Mental Health is one of the biggest health challenges the world faces, with at least one in four people affected. When it comes to mental health we really are all in it together and the dignity of those who are suffering is closely linked to our own dignity.
In many ways dignity in mental health is linked to wider social issues such as housing, employment or occupation and poverty. Choice and control are issues that extend beyond mental health and in the end it’s about what sort of society we all want to live in. I think that having a voice and being able to contribute are part of what it means to live a dignified life for most of us; I don’t think it’s any different for people with a mental health issue. Dignity is about having worth and is about everybody having inherent rights. It’s an important measure of how civilized we are as a society and it is to the credit of mental health services that the idea is not only recognised but acted upon, even in the face of an extremely challenging financial and political environment. The passion and commitment shown by all those involved with mental health means that we will continue to make dignity, choice, control, respect and fairness central to what we do.
Full details of the event are listed on the poster or you can go to the Volition website. Follow all the social media activity using #WMHD15Leeds. We hope to see you there.