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The University of Southampton
Health Sciences

Conference addresses labelling of service users within mental health care

Published: 14 November 2013

The 12th Annual Service User and Carer Conference titled ‘This is me’ recently took place at the University of Southampton to raise awareness of issues within mental health care and gain insight from service users in the region.

The conference was hosted at the Faculty of Health Sciences by the Lived Experience Reference Group (LERG). The group is made up of mental health service users, carers of people with mental health problems, representatives of statutory and voluntary agencies in the field, nursing students and academic staff.

The aim of LERG and the conference is to raise awareness amongst future health and social care practitioners across all fields and reduce the levels of stigma and misunderstanding of mental illness often attached to this population group.

Keynote sessions and a full day of workshops followed an opening speech by Associate Dean of Health Sciences, Sue Colley.

Keynote speaker, Clare Shaw, grounded in a political and professional history of Borderline Personality Disorder, drew from lived experience and poetry to offer a critique of the diagnosis to her audience.

Eight concurrent workshops which ran throughout the day were led by a range of experts in the mental health field including Age UK, Princes Royal Trust for Carers, service users themselves, researchers and activists. Topics included hearing loss and mental health, self-harm, older persons mental health, OCD and recovery.

One such workshop was ‘Falling down the rabbit hole' where Health Sciences students from nursing, midwifery, allied health professions and medicine participated in a unique forum theatre session led by their third year counterparts.  Participants were invited to follow a real life story and see the impact that decisions and interpersonal skills can have on the overall outcome.

The use of forum theatre as a teaching method in Health Sciences has been pioneered by the Faculty and cited as an example of best practice in the recent Clwyd report.

Attendees also had the opportunity to access a Human Library where the ‘books' are people - service users each with different experiences of mental health issues.  This is an incredibly useful tool for students in providing the opportunity to find out more, first hand, about these issues. 

The day ended with keynote speaker Caroline Guinness who spoke about surviving against the odds of living with HIV for three decades. Speaking from the heart about her journey and living with one of the most feared and stigmatised diseases, Caroline shared the personal psychological impact of living with the disease.

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