Friday, 18 May 2018

GUEST POST by Laura for Mental Health Awareness Week

Let's Share Positive Experiences, too!

We've all heard the horror stories (which are, sadly, true in most cases) about the failings of the mental health system in the UK. I absolutely agree that there is no physical  health without mental health (and vice versa), that mental health problems should be taken equally seriously as physical health problems, and that waiting times, the concept of ‘not ill enough', and this most recent get-out clause of ‘positive risk' should all be addressed and managed. There's plenty I could write about how BAD the mental health system is, and how people have been let down. I could EASILY do that, and, in fact, have done many times in the past, but for Mental Health Awareness Week this year, I thought I'd take a different angle  and emphasise the importance of sharing GOOD experiences too.

Anyone that's had contact with mental health services on any level can probably tell you a negative story, and it's important to share and expose the failings, but, as humans, we have an inherent negativity bias, meaning that we tend to remember the bad experiences (the time the Crisis team told you they were ‘too busy' to see you, or the time you were left waiting in pain in the A&E waiting room, for example) much more readily, and with greater intensity, than the good ones. Sometimes it feels as if the good experiences whilst navigating the ‘system', and fighting for help, are few and far between, but they are there, even if you have to look really hard!!!

And why, you may ask, should we go to such effort to find positives when there are so many negatives? Well, for one, it helps us to feel more positive about our experience, just by identifying a few small positives and noting them down. If you like things nice and ordered, like me (!), you could take the challenge to note down a positive every day, just to remind yourself they're there. But it goes beyond that. People expect to hear negative experiences, they're used to the media's dramatic headlines and shock tactics. What they're not used to is ‘average' people struggling with their mental health telling them the ways mental health services have helped them. It's unusual, but so reassuring, to hear about people who felt well supported by their Crisis team, felt an acute hospital admission was helpful, and who feel they are recovering or managing their mental health. I know that when I share positive experiences, I feel better afterwards than when I share bad ones, but this is true tenfold when hearing from others. Hearing that a service or individual has helped someone gives me hope. It stops me losing all faith in a mental health system which is doing its best with a 20 tonne weight on its back, and, in turn, helps me not to lose all faith in my own potential recovery. It's inspiring to hear how, with a lot of their own hard work  people have been able to use inpatient an/or outpatient services to move on with their lives. If other people can do it, so can we. People do get better and move on with their lives. Mental health services can help, and there is hope for everyone. 

So let's share our positive experiences too. What if we can help or inspire someone else? It's important to flag up badly done things, and to fight for quality care, but that doesn't mean there's no room for positivity alongside that, and it can only be a good thing to encourage sharing, validation, positivity, recovery...