July 22, 2013

RichardOn a warm summer Saturday, I had my first experience of visiting a secure hospital caring for people with mental illness. I arrived by taxi with Angela, the South East Regional Coordinator for Time to Change Champions, such as myself.

As we walked into reception, I felt like I might be checking in myself and tried to imagine what the process of entering the world of a secure hospital may be like.

I was a little nervous entering the hospital at first. I had been treated as an outpatient by the same organisation in the past for my own depression, anxiety and OCD.

Before attending my first outpatient appointment, I wondered what that centre might be like. On both occasions I had images in my head and horror stories from the news and expressed in films. As an outpatient, I hardly saw any other patients. But my visit to the hospital on that Saturday would of course be very different.

This was my first experience as a Champion

This was my first experience of representing and supporting Time to Change as a Champion, although I have previously represented Mind at an event and participated in a Half Marathon for the same organisation.

Our purpose for visiting the hospital was to raise awareness of the Time to Change campaign to tackle mental health discrimination and provide people with the opportunity to support our work and build their confidence and self-esteem at the same time.

The Saturday was an annual ‘Carers’ Day’

The Saturday was an annual ‘Carers’ Day’ at the hospital. Although carers have the opportunity to attend regular meetings at the hospital, many have to travel such long distances that they simply can’t often meet fellow carers and support staff. In a conversation with one carer, I was told how important it was to have a larger annual gathering such as this where a greater number of carers can come together, share their experiences, and feel cared for themselves.

This was an important message from the day – carers need to be cared for too! Because of course the work of carers is invaluable to the wellbeing of the patient and yet carers could be struggling with their own mental health difficulties. Angela likened this to flight attendants in an emergency. If passengers are in danger, and the oxygen masks are deployed, flight attendants must first look after themselves. Why? Because once the flight attendants are safe they will then be in the best position to be able to look after the passengers.

Personal stories are often what is remembered from these presentations

After leaving all of our possessions in lockers at the entrance, we entered through secure doors and were led through corridors and further secure doors to a meeting room. Despite my slight nervousness at all this security, the hospital neither felt like a hospital nor anything like a prison. Although I didn’t see the patients’ rooms, the perception I had of the hospital was of a smart, modern, clean, and minimalist environment, designed to feel as warm and friendly as possible.

The presentation given by Angela was my first chance to see the Time to Change campaign delivered in this way. It was an opportunity for me to see the presentation, in the hope that I may deliver it myself some day. Another take home message from the day was that personal stories and anecdotes are often what are remembered most fondly from these presentations.

I started my first conversation

After the presentation we had a chance to grab a very quick drink and biscuit. Thirsty, I headed straight for this and used it as an opportunity to strike up my first conversation. My opening gambit with the first person I saw was “So had you heard of Time to Change before this presentation?”

I was so glad I felt confident enough to do this because not only had this lovely man not heard of Time to Change, but he later confessed to being the “quiet or shy one” and perhaps would not have instigated his own conservation with us. He had the confidence to tell me a little about his story as a carer and the story of his son who is a patient at the hospital. He was very pleased to hear that an organisation has taken on the role of tackling mental health stigma.

Hopefully my story will resonate with at least one person

Finally, we were taken to the hospital’s gym, which is a great space with lots of equipment and a badminton court in the centre – my favourite sport! The carers had an opportunity to experience a counseling and sharing session of their own. One of the key messages that came out of this was the vital role of volunteers in the mental health support and campaigning field.

One man passionately explained his belief that everyone has a duty to give something back by volunteering his or her time. Of course, not everyone is in the position to do this. However, I for one feel able to (most of the time) support the work of mental health charities. With lived experience myself, I understand the importance of the work of these organisations and believe I can and should give something back by sharing my story. Hopefully, my stories and future blogs will resonate with or help at least one person. If it does, I’ll deem my work a success!

The experience at the secure mental health hospital was an uplifting one. I hope and believe that it provided carers with an opportunity to get together, feel supported, and to express themselves. For me, I left feeling more confident in telling my own story and with a sense of satisfaction for being a part of the ‘Carers’ Day’.

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What are Time to Change Champions?

Time to Change Champions are people with lived experience of mental health problems (including carers) who campaign to end mental health discrimination in their communities.

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