Stories: Dan Beale-Cocks

Dan Beale-Cocks, Expert by Lived Experience in Gloucestershire, working to improve mental health services, and on the working group for this project, tells us about his experiences:

Most of the mental health professionals I've met in my time have been very caring and compassionate.  They're doing a difficult job in difficult circumstances. But sometimes I would meet a professional who said something dumb, and sometimes those off-the-cuff remarks stuck with me.

There was the time when I could barely get out of bed, and was having trouble talking to people. The doctor suggested that I join a rugby team. I felt like he hadn't heard anything I'd just said, that he'd dismissed everything I was going through.  

A few years later I started speaking to other people about their experiences, and they often said the same thing: “Most people are great, for most of the time.  But every now and again someone will say something, and it'll make me feel lousy.”

When I heard that Time to Change were thinking of running a project to tackle stigma from mental health professionals, I knew I wanted to get involved. I knew that Time to Change would not focus on the negatives, but would try to emphasise the small things we can do to make a difference. 

It's important to me that this project isn't me standing at the front of a room telling professionals that they're all bad - because they're not. This project is about having discussions with staff.  We provide examples of things mental health professionals have said, and ask participants to think about how those things are heard by people.  This project is not a list of words to avoid.  It's a discussion about values, attitudes and culture.

I also think it's important to help staff with mental illness too -if they want to disclose that to their colleagues.  Some people don't want to talk about their personal health with colleagues and that's fine. But some mental health professionals feel able to disclose physical health problems, but not mental health problems, and that's interesting and a bit worrying.

Being involved in this project has been useful to me.  Time to Change and the two mental health trusts involved (2gether NHS Foundation Trust (my local trust), and Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust) have been very careful to include me as an equal partner in the creation and delivery of this project.  I've been really listened to.  I feel like I can make a difference.

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