Change can be empowering
Scottish Recovery Network’s Acting Director Louise Christie talks about how change can be empowering and why it’s time for the transformation of Scotland’s mental health system.
First published as an opinion piece for Health and Social Care ALLIANCE Scotland
A national engagement
During autumn 2020 Scottish Recovery Network reached out to a wide range of people, organisations and services to engage them in a conversation about the future for mental health recovery in Scotland.
The engagement highlighted that much has been achieved. Mental health recovery has become part of our dialogue and informs policy and practice. But it was also clear that there was still much to do. Our strategies and plans may reference recovery, people feel more comfortable talking about it but this has not resulted in a mental health system designed and delivered to support people on their recovery journey.
So, what does a recovery supporting mental health system look like? The engagement told us that people want a mental health system that:
- Takes a whole person approach
- Genuinely values lived experience
- Embeds peer support approaches and roles
- Offers more community-based supports and choices
- Works with others to create a more equal society where mental health and wellbeing can flourish
There is nothing in this vision that is very new or, in theory, controversial. Indeed, most of the elements are rooted in Scottish Government policies and strategies. What we do know is that despite a commitment to a system which reflects this vision we are in many ways very far from realising it.
Change can be empowering
There are so many great people and projects who want their services to be more recovery focused but the current mental health system often constrains these good intentions. Bureaucracy, a lack of investment in joined up working and resistance to change all play a part.
The experience of Covid-19 has also been a great challenge. However, we have witnessed people and organisations adapting to the restrictions with innovation. Many have shown a capacity and willingness for change that they probably didn’t know they had. We now have an opportunity to learn and build on this as we harness the idea that change can be empowering.
Working with different people across the country has shown us that those who embraced change were motivated by what it was they wanted to achieve – supporting those experiencing mental health problems. Focusing on what was needed rather than red tape and ‘the way things are normally done’ has led to responsive, informed decisions around change and risk.
The Meaningful connections research showed us 84% of providers set up their remote peer support service because they could not provide their usual service. 90% within a month! They balanced the risks associated with digital platforms against the risks of people being being isolated with no access to support. They put people first and this opened the door to an adaptation, flexibility and creativity we should celebrate.
It’s time for transformation
It’s time for transformation of Scotland’s mental health system. Not just improvements to existing services. Often when we talk about mental health the focus immediately goes to NHS mental health services.
We are not disputing their role, but through our work we know many recovery focused approaches are the result of innovation in the third sector and are informed and shaped by lived experience. The NHS is only one part of what could be a more accessible joined up approach that it is fit for purpose rather than being one that people have to fit into whether appropriate or not.
Translating this vision for a recovery focused mental health system into practice will not be easy. If it was it would have happened by now. However, we are not starting from scratch and there are examples of good recovery focused approaches we can build on. New effective ways of working such as peer support services and groups, open access drop-ins, link workers or community connectors and recovery colleges are becoming part of the landscape and interest in them is increasing.
As we plan for the future, we need to be ambitious and learn from the innovation and change of the last year. Let’s take this opportunity to work together. Let’s create a cross sector mental health system that nurtures the NHS, third sector and all that good practice happening on the ground in communities. A system that allows us to learn from each other.
Let’s embrace the value of lived experience and peer support and give people choice and different, easily accessible routes to support where, when and for however long they need them.
Let’s make mental health recovery real.