Being Frank: an interview with SRN’s new Director
31st August 2016
As he settles into his new role, we find out a little bit more about SRN’s new Director, Frank Reilly and how he feels about the challenges ahead.
You started at SRN in June, how has it been so far?
It’s been a whirlwind. There has been a lot to take on board in a very short space of time. It’s been extraordinarily exciting seeing the range of things the network is involved in and have been leading.
Initially I have been spending time learning about everybody’s job roles and how we fit into the larger constellation of mental health approaches across Scotland and taking it from there.
Why did you want to work with SRN?
SRN has been so influential over the last twelve years in pretty much every area of mental health and it has changed the landscape dramatically. SRN has not done this alone but is one of the driving forces enabling people to consider mental health in a totally different way.
I started in the health service in 1997 and we were still discharging long-term patients from institutions at that point and although attitudes began to improve that’s nothing compared to what’s happened during the twelve years that SRN has been in existence.
The organisation has prompted people to consider what wellness means to the individual and that is so important to me. It can be very easy for people to have in their mind a picture of what a ‘normal’ person is supposed to be but I have yet to meet that person. We are all different and all exceptional and that is central to the recovery message.
What does recovery means to you?
My recovery includes many things including my relationships with others and engaging with things that make me feel good about myself. One thing that keeps me well is playing music on a regular basis, particularly the ukulele. I even took it on holiday and my family play as well. It’s good fun and a very easy thing to pick up.
In the past I might not have framed what I was doing to keep well as recovery but in retrospect it was. Looking back has actually been central to my understanding of recovery. I know now what my strengths are and this is one of the key messages from SRN – to focus on peoples strengths. Sometimes it can be difficult to see your own strengths. SRN works hard to promote and support approaches and tools to help people work through this.
We need to move away from such a deficit focused assessment of health in general but particularly in relation to mental health. Wellness to me is about the positive things in my life that I do and can continue to do.
What are you looking forward to most in your new role?
The challenge. I have come from working in a closed institution (The State Hospital) but this is not where I started my career. What I am looking forward to is re-engaging with all of the background I had in the past within addiction and then in mental health planning services in communities. It was all about relationships. That was such a joyful thing to do: making things happen that made a difference to people.
What do you see as the biggest challenges for SRN over the next few years?
Some of them are related to much more recent political impacts such as the Brexit vote which has caused a lot of anxiety for a number of people.
We have also had a period of time over the last ten years where a number of groups within and beyond the mental health sector have become extremely isolated and marginalised. I think the challenge for SRN is to seek out those groups and engage with them.
Another thing which is really important in terms of the future direction of SRN is highlighting that recovery is more than individuals. Recovery is about communities as much as anything else. I will go back to what I said earlier on – my wellness is based on the relationships I have with other people. Community is very important for wellness and the more isolated people become, for whatever reason, the more vulnerable they become.
The future holds the opportunity for SRN to build on thinking a little wider than exclusively mental health. It is a chance to look at how the approaches and tools we have developed (and are developing) can have an impact on the health of communities and organisations.
What might our readers be surprised to know about you?
I am in a band called GeoFreeth (a nod to George Freeth who brought surfing to California-although no-one in the band surfs!). This is another part of my wellness. I have close friends who I have played music with for over 10 years. We helped run a small free music festival in East Kilbride for a couple of years. We play live rarely but record as often as we can. It is good fun.
I am also terrified of heights but did paragliding for a year and a half. It didn’t cure me. Sometimes I make poor decisions.
Finally, what are your top tips for being the ‘newbie’ in an organisation?
Spend time with the people that make the difference, and that is the team. Find out what their strengths are. I would also advise not making too many decisions too early.