World Mental Health Day is an opportunity to celebrate how much the world has changed. In Scotland at least, there is a sense that some of the stigma that overwhelmed many of us with lived experience of distress, has begun to disappear.
I am Frank Reilly and I am Director of the Scottish Recovery Network (SRN). Before I came to this job I spent 19 years working for the NHS, intermittently suffering from bouts of depression and living daily with anxiety- what Claire Weekes many years ago called ‘fear of the fear’. I know I wasn’t alone in that battle every day but, whilst I was there, the NHS just didn’t seem to the right place to be open about distress. That’s a pretty serious problem. None of us is perfect. That is the essence of humanity, that we as a species are diverse. If those whose vocation is to help others cannot find spaces to talk about their own distress openly and build on the strength that helps them to survive that distress, then our NHS will remain an illness service forever.
SRN has built a formidable reputation internationally, driving debate on the value of lived experience and working with health and social care organisations to try and instil recovery values in every aspect of practice. And yet those who have grasped hold of those ideas and put them in to practice are not in our statutory services. We estimate that around 80 peer workers exist in Scotland. All bar a handful work with third sector organisations. Our colleagues in the Netherlands have 80 peer workers in one service alone.
And yet I do not come to bury our hopes and aspirations, but to praise them. We have so much more to do to make those aspirations real. And we begin by recognising that distress is a common human experience. For professionals to deny- or to be denied- the recognition that they too have lived experience that can and should inform their practice seems counterproductive to making Scotland a recovery-oriented nation. That is why SRN has been working with the Mental Health Foundation to adapt Honest Open Proud as a process that can help professionals explore their own experience of distress as a positive contribution to learning. In the end, we are all peers just as we are all human. Only the job title divides us.
Over the last two years SRN has taken that philosophy out to communities across Scotland, creating spaces for honest and respectful -in the main- conversations about distress, recovery and strengths-based approaches to mental health. With partners across the third sector, a growing host of willing ‘professionals’ and people who are not yet ready to talk about their experiences-and those that are- we are being helped to make our vision of a Scotland where ‘recovery is real for everyone in every community’ a reality.
Find out more about SRN’s work here.
Frank Reilly, 10th October 2018