Champion the voices of those affected by mental illness - Nick Ward

Across Scotland people aren’t getting the mental health support they need or want. A lot of attention is rightly focused on CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) where young people struggle to get the support they need in anything like a timely fashion.

Sadly, the same is true for adults as well who all too often find themselves stigmatised and forced into a clinical system that treats them like a patient, not a person.

I started as CEO of Support in Mind Scotland at the start of December 2021 and in the last six months I have spent my time getting to know and understand the organisation and the people we support so much better. I’ve now travelled to all of our offices across Scotland and met so many different folk across some of the most remote and disadvantaged communities. It has been incredibly moving to see the passion and conviction they have that mental ill health doesn’t have to define you; and that things can get better with the right help and support.

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The stories that the organisation and the people we support told me were wonderful and heart-breaking. Too often, there were stories of people recovering, getting better or improving their lives despite the system, not because of it. There were stories of individuals treated as a problem, put on a production line of clinical interventions in the hope that something might stick. However, what I heard, over and over again, was that this isn’t what people wanted or needed.

Nick Ward, CEO, Support in Mind

Noah, who visits the drop-in at Support in Mind’s Stafford Centre, said: “This place is inclusive. They take you as you are and ask, “how can we make your life better?”, and they’ll help you at your own pace. I was homeless and didn’t feel like part of society. They made me feel like a human.”

The message coming loud and clear from the people we support and from our staff was that they didn’t want to be treated like a patient or a problem to solve. They wanted to be given support where they lived in non-clinical settings. People with mental illness and mental health challenges want community-based, early support that they can access when they need it. This community support lowers the stigma that people face and, perhaps even more importantly, the stigma that individuals feel.

We at Support in Mind Scotland are proud of the work we do in communities but we want to do more. We want accessing mental health support to be like booking a haircut. We want it to be accessible, on the high street, non-stigmatised, talked about, encouraged and normal. We want to develop a model of support that everyone can access, whether they have a diagnosis or not and a model of support that flexes to fit the needs of the individual. Only then, once we stop pathologising people and start supporting them how and where they want, will we truly move towards addressing the mental health challenges that modern society can bring.

We will continue to try and provide this support, to argue for it at all levels and to champion the voices of those affected by mental illness. We’d love for you to join us.

Nick Ward, CEO, Support in Mind Scotland

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