Podcast Episode: Acumen: giving mental health service users and carers a voice
Category: Mental health
What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.
MM - Michael McEwan
PV - Pauline Vance
MM Okay now on Iriss.fm we are joined by Pauline Vance. Pauline is a Development Worker for Acumen. Acumen is a Mental Health charity. Thanks Pauline for giving up your time and speaking to us. First of all, what can you tell us what is ACUMEN?
PV Okay, I’ll tell you what it stands for first of all. It stands for Advancing Community Understanding of Mental and Emotional Needs, which is a very long thing to stand for. So, as you can see from that it has lots of different functions. One of them is increasing the general understanding of mental and mental health issues. What we really are is a network of mental health service users and carers and the idea is to give mental health service users and carers a voice. Within East Renfrewshire there’s a Singing for Wellbeing group because as anybody who’s ever tried singing knows it’s good for your mental health, you’re getting together with others, you’re breathing together, you’re enjoying some creativity together. There’s a drama group which I’ll maybe speak more of in a minute or two. Again, it’s fantastic for handling stress. They sort of explore all sorts of issue through drama and they, but they’re so confident now that they actually do performances as well which is super. So, they take part in all these things. So, these are the kind of events that ACUMEN will take on and organise. We very much link up with the Mental Health Arts and Film Festival every year, which is on in October every year and has a theme. We try and arrange an event around that quite often along the same lines as a Burns afternoon. We quite often have, you know we involve the singing group, we involve the drama group if we can. People coming along sharing poems, sharing songs. Last year we also involved various community groups. We had a knitting group came along which was absolutely brilliant. A photography group and just to try and make that link because people with mental health issues they can sometimes just rely on groups set up for people with mental health issues whereas it’s sometimes good to see, well what’s going on in the community. If they have an interest in, for example, knitting it doesn’t mean that, you know, somewhere has to set up a group especially for them. There might be an existing group and it might be a case of tying in with them. So, that event was very much about bringing in community groups and working together. So, that was really successful as well. We obviously work very closely with ERDA because a lot of the issues that is East Renfrewshire Disability Action, because a lot of the issues that we face are very similar, particularly the issue of welfare rights. So, we do, quite a few of our members are members of ERDA as well. There’s just a lot of sort of co-working which is great. We do that with a lot of groups. We can’t, you know, no group can exist on its own. We’ve got to sort of work together. What are the common grounds? You know, where do we work together? So, that’s always really helpful. Something else we do which is more to do with taking ideas of discussion about mental health out to the wider public is our radio show. Your expert radio, Michael. In the past, we have had a regular slot on, this is East Renfrewshire again, on the Pulse FM from REMH as well talking about what everybody’s doing. That’s been really, really good.
MM I think you’ve, I think you’ve answered my next question but is there any other projects that you run that people can get involved in?
PV Okay. As I say because we’re so small, so light on staff, it’s not so much about us running things, it’s more about us working with other people and coming in as and when we’re needed. Something else that I should say that we do that is really important as well is ward conversations. So what we do is we go into mental health wards at times that are arranged obviously with the staff there, and just ask the service users and their families if they’re there, just very simple questions about how they’re getting on, if there’s anything they’re not happy about, anything they particularly like, and that’s then fed back to the staff in the word and then they sort of publicise that, they sort of say, “This is the feedback we got. People talked about this, that and the other. They maybe didn’t like something about the mealtimes,” it could be something as simple as that or something really complex, and then the staff have to put up what they’ve done about that. So, if somebody’s raised a concern they have to say how they’re addressing that. So, that’s another way that ACUMEN gives people their voice. As I say for myself I can mainly speak about the events in East Renfrewshire because, maybe another time you might want to talk to David Wright my Manager who covers everything, because it is quite a wide area. In fact, today he’s involved in an event down in Greenock. We get involved in things to a greater or lesser degree, I mean that’s again because we’re small. We can’t just take on organising everything and often we don’t need to because there are so many other people and so many partner organisations. That’s the strength of partnership working. You do what you need to do to make something happen. So, if somebody came along and said, “We would like such and such an event to happen.” And nobody else is doing it and nobody else is likely to, then yes, we will step in and we’ll do it. If somebody else is organising something and they would like us to be part of that then that’s great as well. We will do that to whatever extent we need to do it. So, its… I know that sounds, that’s maybe not a direct answer to your question but we have, we have to look at everything. I mean if it’s, you now there’s no point, we don’t really have a choice because of our staffing and its, as you know yourself it’s really helpful working in partnership because people bring different things and maybe think of things that you wouldn’t have thought of. As I say in terms of East Renfrewshire the next, well I would say there’s various things. We also get involved in, well a kind of event which is called the Recovery Cafe. There are four of those a year in East Renfrewshire and again it’s very much a partnership thing. There’s a multi-agency steering group and I’m part of that steering group and a couple of our members are as well but there’s various other people involved in the steering group including staff from RAMH and from the Community Mental Health Team and a lot of volunteers and, as I say, we meet four times a year and it’s really talking about the whole concept of recovery in mental health which a lot of people have difficulty with, with the term because it doesn’t always mean the same as it does in other areas. Recovery is just basically the person’s journey. Whatever stage they’re at in terms of their mental health and it’s about people leading full and fulfilled lives with or without a mental health condition and it’s the whole process of that and what helps people in their recovery journey because its, you know, people aren’t going to say, “I’m completely better now, that’s it.” It’s a journey it’s always, for everybody with diagnosed mental health issues or not. I mean everybody’s mental health is an up and down journey every day kind of thing so. Anyway, the Recovery Cafe meets four times a year to explore these kinds of issues and usually they have a speaker who is talking about their own mental health journey and then we have table top discussions. So again, that’s something we’re part of. It’s just we’re part of the organising group but we’re not, it’s not completely our project. So probably that was with a lot of things but just in the nature of what we do we will contribute to something as we need to and if we do need to set something up because it’s not happening and our members would like us to do that, then we do that.
MM I suppose a question here would be about. Do you see somebody, sorry do you see a difference in somebody coming in at first to maybe a year down the line or six months? Do you see a change in the health and wellbeing or is it …
PV Yes, that’s a good question. Yes, I think in terms of involvement with us again people get involved as much or as little as they want to but a lot of our active members, yes, we really do see a change in confidence. We have, one example is the member who suggested a Burns afternoon for example then decided that they would read the first poem on that afternoon and then it was just as the event was approaching we realised what a big deal that was for this person. They’d never read in public before. This was just something that he wanted to do and he did do it and afterwards just felt really confident and a real boost and was able to do that at other events after that. We’ve had, yes, we’ve had members who have been heavily involved in ACUMEN have come in and maybe volunteered at some of the, volunteered in this office for example with the idea then that the skills and the confidence they pick up will then hopefully help them move on to employment it that’s the route they want to go in. So, yes, yes, I would say that. Obviously in terms of mental health, people’s mental health can go up and down so people can be involved in this for a while and then maybe have to withdraw for various reasons and that’s fine as well, but we hope that from us they get a sense of their voice being heard. I’ll give the example of the drama group. I mean probably a year or two ago if you had said to most people in the group, “You will actually appear at a Conference full of, you know a mixture of professionals and volunteers.” They’d probably have said, “No, I don’t think that’s likely to happen.” But we had an event in East Renfrewshire just before Christmas where they did that very thing. They presented some very short sketches to a whole conference of people and it was the highlight, absolutely the highlight of the day and it set the tone for the whole day.
MM So in terms of people coming to you when you were saying about confidence and all that, I suppose it makes you feel good about the work that you’re doing and you’re trying to achieve, but I mean we’ve spoken numerous times as well Pauline about confidence and self-esteem and it goes hand in hand I suppose with disability but also mental health as well.
PV Yes because I think when people’s mental health is low then yes, their belief in themselves and their ability to do things goes away down so it’s really great for people to get involved in something that interests them and that they see is making a difference. You know again I’ll use the example of the drama group. People will get involved because they enjoy it. It’s the getting together with other people, exploring issues, having a bit of a laugh. It’s all good but the consequence of that is then they’ve then worked to produce something which they can then show to other people which then helps other people to, their discussions to take off as well. So, it’s, you know, a sort of win, win situation there. They feel good about doing something but then it’s enabling other people to explore issues in a better way as well so it’s all good.
MM So what has the feedback been like from people that have been using your services but they don’t tend to call you for support but you’re always in the background if, and when they need your support, but what has the feedback been like from different people about ACUMEN and stuff?
PV I think people really value the fact that it’s totally their voice that we’re listening to because we’re not service providers, we’re not tied to certain things at certain times. We’re very much member led which, and I think people really, there’s place for all these things. Our place is for giving members a voice and I think people appreciate that. We can also tie people in with other groups and other ways of having their voice heard as well. So, people can end up sitting at a meeting with, you know, high powered doctors and psychiatrists who are for example planning new wards in a hospital, that we can have members sitting in groups or physically planning how thing should be based on their experience and what they know works. So, I think people really see the value of that. We will hopefully tie in people to what they need to be tied into to make their voice heard in whatever way that is. I know that sounds a wee bit vague, and I think it does really help people. We’re a very flexible charity so we’re there to do what people feel is important and, yes, people say how much it’s grown their confidence getting involved in the various things that they have been. The members that help with the radio show for example, I mean that’s again, you know a couple of years ago, if you’d said somebody, “You’ll be appearing talking regularly on the radio.” They would have said, “I really don’t think so.” But they’re doing it and that’s absolutely fine. And the other thing is I suppose from people who design services’ point of view, they also approach us, that’s maybe a side that I haven’t mentioned so much of. They will approach us and hopefully more and more, whenever they’re planning events or planning services or as I say planning actual physical hospitals or places they will hopefully approach us to make sure that mental health service users and carers are having their voice heard and then that’s up to us to work out how we do that. So, that’s from two points of view. People who are planning services know that if they come to us then they can see that service users have been consulted. So, it’s a two-way thing. Service users will approach us and also people planning services. That’s really what we’re there to do is to tie the two up.
MM I suppose it gives a quick point if they get regulars is a good way of building your confidence because you’re not seeing people but people are actually listening to you, so that’s a good way. So, basically now it’s kind of your platform to advertise ACUMEN. I know you’re working on your website just now so we won’t speak about that but if you can let us know how people can get involved to Facebook or the phone number for the office.
PV The phone number for the office is 0141 887 9103. I’ll hopefully be able to host a show myself which I’m really excited about, because that way rather than relying on going in and taking over somebody else’s show it’ll be our show to plan as we like and hopefully we’ll be more regular. So, when that happens I’ll let you know about that and obviously, you’ll come on and be a guest regularly I hope, but then hopefully you’ll be able to publicise that as well and tell people when they can listen out because that’s what we’re really hoping for is a regular slot.
MM Okay, well thanks for your time Pauline.
PV You’re very welcome
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