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The University of Southampton
Health Sciences

Mental Health: Everybody's Business

Write up of the week’s events

There is no doubt that many people in Portsmouth were talking about mental health last week! It was the week of activities arranged by a group of mental Health Service users and Sandy Walker to celebrate World Mental Health day. The aims of the week were to celebrate service user empowerment in mental health and to bring about a reduction in stigma via education and raising awareness. It all started with a group of volunteers giving out information about the week’s events in the Cascades in Portsmouth. It is most interesting to watch people and there were definitely different sorts of people that came out at different times. The early morning officious types, walking very fast with clear goals in mind, no time to stop. The late morning people with the small children, more relaxed having a look round, a quick chat then off for coffee or to the park. The early afternoon crowd on the way to or back from lunch, still browsing, small children often sleeping now, stopping to chat a bit longer, hmm quite interested. Then the later afternoon crowd, laid back, open, approachable and easy to engage, not worried about the thought of mental health. One very interesting moment for me was when I swapped bunch of flyers for a banana with a guy wearing a monkey suit, he went into the nearest shop then came out, laughing saying 'What are you trying to tell me!?' The flyers had the title 'Mental Health - Everyone's Business' on them and information about the events. No one mentioned anything about him and the leaflets state that it is a 'celebration' of mental health, nothing about mental illness and yet somehow, he had seen something potentially negative in them. That was a really clear example of the kind of ingrained stigma we are dealing with. He was in good spirits and didn't get offended, but it is interesting.

The Tongues and Grooves event oh, it was so wonderful! I have never been so nervous as I was waiting to see if enough people would turn up and hoping that everyone would have a good time. I needn't have worried. There were plenty of audience and so many talented people who shared not only their poems or songs, but also their experiences with mental health over the years. The whole evening was really humbling and I was close to tears many times as well as roaring with laughter at others. Wendy French, our featured poet http://www.poetrypf.co.uk/wendyfrenchpage.html was truly fabulous, sharing some poems written by young people with mental health problems that she has worked with over the years. It was a really moving, sometimes disturbing, but realistic look at mental health and still uplifting. Splendid!

The conference was really well attended, a combination of students, service-users, academics, professionals and members of the public were in the audience. Will Slocombe our keynote speaker who is writing the book ‘Bordering on Bedlam’, delivered a really interesting and thought provoking talk about the history of insanity and how that relates to Borderline Personality Disorder. The three workshops

got great feedback and the Fareham and Gosport Mind group were absolutely splendid doing their dramatisations around stigma. One thing that made me very proud, was that only one of the speakers was a professional the other presenters were all people with lived experience of mental health problems.

Human library was Tuesday's event which was quiet, mainly due to the position of the stand which was out of the way and not very noticeable. Here people with experience of stigma offer to be taken out on loan by the public as a reference book where the reader has a conversation with the book rather than read it. We had six books and some really interesting visitors despite the quiet location so the books were kept busy a lot of the time. The feedback from this event was amazing so even though we didn’t have loads of people we made a serious impact on those who came. ‘This is one of the most inspiring experiences I have come across in a long time!’ said one reader in the feedback book. Then the open day at St James Hospital on Wednesday which kicked off with a really interesting talk from Dr Di Carpenter about the history of care delivered there over the last 200 or so years and lots of stands from services, both formal and community advertising what is going on now.

Thursday was another interesting day engaging the public in the Cascades in the ‘listening space’. We had a range of people approach us with queries ranging from relatives who may have schizophrenia, to how to deal with depression, to how an arrest for a crime committed whilst mentally unwell would affect employment prospects. Many people just wanted to share their stories and lots of people shared that they felt so much better for having been able to speak about their experiences to someone.

At the closing event Madcap Han was terrific and shared some beautiful songs as well as her experiences of mental health problems/services over the years. Walker Broad were beset with technical problems for the first half which did not help, one speaker was crackling away then decided to give up the ghost mid set! This did not stop the evening being a great success and a fitting end to a marvellous week of events that made quite an impact on the city. To sum the week up, let me finish with a story of a person who arrived at the human library, incoherent, eyes full of tears, muttering about having depression and wanting to take out the book on depression. Four books later a totally different person walked out of the building with a smile on their face. Next day the same person arrived at the open day, enjoyed the talk, signed up for an evening class on offer and walked away from the hospital with their head held high, a purposeful stride and smiling broadly. If that was the only good thing that happened that week, then that’ll do for me.

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