Isabella Goldie, Head of Scotland for ‘see me’ management organisation Mental Health Foundation reflects on an afternoon of key discussion on human rights in mental health.
As part of the afternoon’s events at ‘see me’… Now, professor Alan Miller, chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, joined us. Alan’s presentation was a central part of today’s input, helping to frame the emerging approach to the refounded ‘see me’.
Earlier in the day the Health Minister, Michael Matheson, programme partners, myself on behalf of the Mental Health Foundation, Billy Watson as CEO of SAMH and Judith Robertson Director of See Me had outlined why the time was now right to begin to move to a rights based approach. Michael Matheson talked about the progress on stigma and discrimination to date and the ‘door’ that had been opened by ‘see me’ over the past 10 years. Now was the time to walk through that door. The Minister stated that we were now entering an important new phase that would most likely be more important than the last.
He then made a very strong and poignant rallying call for everyone to come together to address the unacceptable level of stigma that many people still face. It really resonated with those in the room when the Minister also stated that a key focal point needs to be the stigma and discrimination encountered in services. Judith laid out the vision and called for a collective approach to shaping the next phase of ‘see me’. She was clear that the next stage needed to be underpinned by the experiences of those who live with the challenges on a daily basis and addressed through local solutions.
Judith introduced Gordon Johnstone from VOX who talked about his own lived experience of mental health problems and also outlined the role of VOX in supporting a lived experience voice in the work to come. Gordon handed over to Gemma Walsh who shared her personal story, a story that inspired and moved those in the room but we also heard first hand about the negative impact that stigma and discrimination had on her life. It was testament to her strength of character and commitment to making a real difference that Gemma shared her own story and journey of recovery. It was a moment when a light was shone on the challenges that people with mental health problems still face and the job ahead for ‘see me’.
From that start of his discussion, we welcomed Alan Miller’s ability to look at people’s lives through a wider lens, beyond services into the inequalities that people with mental health problems have to endure on a daily basis. Earlier presentations from Billy Watson and myself commended the work of ‘see me’ to date but highlighted the unacceptable negative outcomes for many people in our society. Outcomes that include dying earlier, being socially isolated and much less likely to be in employment. Alan took these points up and stated strongly that this isn’t about empathy or being nice to people but about rights and dignity. But with rights come responsibilities.
We need to start thinking about ‘see me’ as each of us, casting a mirror on our own positions and abilities to affect change. Alan stayed to take some interesting and of course challenging questions from the audience. This was an important point in the day, one where we collectively acknowledged that there is a serious job of work to be done and that not everyone currently feels that they have a voice. As Chair of the session I felt it was important to commend people for being brave enough to share their personal stories, but over the next day and a half we need to use the time wisely and turn our attention to what we can do to individually but importantly collectively to ensure that in the future having a mental health problem will not carry with it shame, unfair treatment and lives that are unequal.