Using knowledge to make the change happen, one story at a time

Robert Mackay reflects on some of the things he took from #seeme14, focusing on the power of personal stories delivered in person for using contact theory to change minds:

“I am recovered” – this personal statement by Gemma Welsh at the seeme . . . . now conference was a moving and authentic sharing of her journey recovery that placed the lived experience at the centre of the much needed change process for seeme Scotland.

For me it was a joy to hear a personal story or narrative to be used, because I have been convinced for many years as to the power of narratives to transform people’s lives. Telling stories of our experiences and sharing with others is such a part of being human – it is how we make sense of our world. “Words are the world” (Michael White).

He meant by that the words we use about our experiences, the words that others use about us shapes how we see ourselves; sometimes the words can be very negative and pessimistic but in recovery terms the words can change to be optimistic and hopeful. So a great place for somebody who has experienced mental health problems to start on the recovery journey is in the company of other people with lived experience and give voice to their experiences using their own words to create meaning and awareness. We heard at the conference about the desire to encourage more people with lived experience to speak publicly and to get involved in social contact work:

“positive stories from people with lived experience delivered face to face”

I researched issues associated with story-sharing in 2008 and found that there are issues and dilemmas associated with this. There is a process of story development through which the person needs to be supported and valued for the incredible gift they are offering. Scottish Recovery Network has on its website guidance on story sharing.

“In small places close to home . . . . unless these rights have meaning there they have little meaning anywhere.”

This is part of the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt we heard and so I ask where are we in terms of human rights having meaning in our places close to home? According to a recent report (Griesbach & Gordon 2013) for the Mental Welfare Commission very few people with lived experience consulted in this study knew what their rights were and recommended there should be a major push about not only better information being made available but also that there is a need for “patient and carer information’.

There surely is a case for not reinventing the wheel but looking to groups and agencies that are embedded in human rights direct action in Scotland. Let’s mention the work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland and particularly the work of the locally based Equality councils that actually does the casework of supporting individuals to advocate for their rights through the appropriate channels and decision making channels. Under the Mental Health Act individuals have a right to independent advocacy and that is why we have independent advocacy projects across the country.

However there is a postcode problem as to the availability of these services – work needs to be undertaken to fill these gaps. Could seeme Scotland and other agencies come up with a plan to firstly identify a gap in the provision of these vital human rights services?

Lets make the links and work in partnership to secure rights as part of the empowerment journey.

What you’re supposed to do

When you don’t like a thing

Is change it. If you can’t

change it, change the way you

you think about it

Maya Angelou 1994


7 thoughts on “Using knowledge to make the change happen, one story at a time

  1. I agree Rob. To speak out so as to influence change is what I do as a mental health activist and campaigner, writer, blogger.

    You mention independent advocacy and MH Act safeguards. Unfortunately it’s been my family’s experience in Fife that the safeguards aren’t always safe and that advocacy isn’t independent.

  2. doyourememberthattime says:

    just a pity that the lived experience we always hear about is ‘ I am recovered’ & that the woman speaking reiterated that she has value only now that she is recovered.

    • good point about recovery being equal to value.

      It’s the employability stuff that I find annoying. If you’re not doing a paid job then you’re not contributing to society.

      And then there’s the peer support agenda. Why I first got involved in 2008, starting up Peer Support Fife, voluntarily. It now seems to be assimilated into health board culture but in jobs that are poorly paid. When real mental health peer support is a very hard job to do well. The pay should reflect this. Otherwise it’s all tokenistic. In my opinion.

  3. brokenbutbeingrepaired says:

    It`s good to read of the speaker being “recovered” from her MH problems.

    However, it is difficult to board this gravy train of “recovery” when living with a MH diagnosis which equates to no support, acceptance or even hope from neither statutory or voluntary services and instead having to navigate the many possible pit-falls of private sector assessment, treatment and support.

    I do hope that seeme read the link posted above by Diana Salad Pot, since it offers a huge amount of comfort to those of us not welcomed into the recovery network. I also hope that seeme tackles the stigma within the recovery network which equates only to the stigma in the local mental health services.

    I appreciate seeme, like all third sector organisations must toe the line, to some extent but we need radical activists within this sector.

    • Yes to radical activism. It’s what I’ve been doing since getting meaninglessly involved in Scotland’s mental health world in 2008. I had no other option but to be radical as every time I spoke out in truth I was excluded from the crony group.

      Ironically it was putting my story on SRN in 2005 that got me first interested, then updating my story in 2008. After that I dived in to peer support, WRAP and went out through Scotland with it. Only to be excluded, bad mouthed and back stabbed by the folks at the top that didn’t like my free spirit. I was 55yrs old, a seasoned community development worker. Was I going to wait for them to catch up?

      I don’t think so. And now I write what I like through my own blogs and speak out at any event I choose to attend and where I can get a place. It’s a free country and that includes in mental health matters. Whether “they” like it or not. So there.

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