If I don’t sum up the NSUE Conference now, I may get confused…
I’m going to DCU tomorrow, to another mental health event. There’s bound to be some overlap. I know one other person I’m hoping to meet there who was also at the Cork NSUE conference. Hopefully, there will be other faces I recognise. I’m flying up and down on RyanAir. (Wish me luck.)
Key points from the inaugural NSUE Conference @ Cork
(1) It was designed so that the first 75 minutes were totally dominated by service policy makers, planners, and managers (Chairman, minister, director). The first voice I heard of a service user was that of John Redican, national executive officer NSUE. The first carer heard was Jenny Kelly, chair of NSUE. They had a joint slot (which was wonderfully done) of 15 minutes. Then we all went to coffee for 30 minutes.
I hope the design of the next 3 conferences (which are scheduled for HSE areas West, North & East) will be changed to reverse the order of voices: so that there will be 75 minutes of service users & carers, followed by 15 minutes from service policy makers, planners and managers. This would make a huge positive and symbolic difference to everything. The service deliverers would have an opportunity to demonstrate listening in public - to service users & carers.
(2) Tony Leahy, HSE, chairman of the conference, did a great job. He had to think on his feet, attend to the pulse of the audience, and allow extra time for service users’ & carers’ voices to be heard. Otherwise, there might have been rebellion by the audience, many of whom may not have been fully listened to ever in their mental health lives, I thought. Judging by the energy in the room (and the number of people who put up their hands to speak), the conference could easily have gone into a second day.
It will be well worth ensuring that policy makers and managers are seen to stay right to the bitter end, thereby walking the talk, at future conferences. (One speaker drew attention to how unfortunate it was that everyone didn’t stay to the end.
(3) The presentations - by all the main speakers - well worth listening to. There was great content. I hope future conferences will be podcast, so that the full text of what each person says may be referred back to and sustain us in the struggle ahead.
(4) The re-affirmation of A Vision for Change by the minister, and all his departmental colleagues, was life affirming. It moved me. More experienced observers who know the history better than I do are not satisfied with progress. They are critical and demanding. It’s hard to convince them to draw a line in the sand, forget past failings and move forward together. (I personally find the government decision to locate the new central mental hospital in the grounds of a prison inexcusable. I find my attention returning to that terrible symbolism - as if it said to me "know me by my deeds, don’t be fooled by rhetoric.)
I asked Jenny Kelly a naive question over coffee: where is the pocket version of A Vision for Change? Where is the popular short summary of this new approach to mental health provision? I was so shocked - when she told me it didn’t exist - that I offered to write it myself. I made that offer through her to NSUE.
I’m a writer, a professional writer, a man with extensive experience of severe depression, a service user in Ireland and UK… I may not be the best person to write it. I don’t want to do anyone out of a job. But, if noone else gets off their arse to do it, I will do it myself, unauthorised or not. I feel that passionate about this. How in god’s name that oversight was committed I’ll never understand.
I better say that I may have misunderstood Jenny Kelly, and such a pocket document may be out there already. (For those of you who have never seen it, I assure you it’s beautiful to look at, well written, long [284 pages], and wise: the authors must be proud of it. I’ve been told by 3 people that copies are now hard to get. Before the minister authorises a reprint (that’s surely needed to support the re-commitment of government), I suggest he supports the publication of a popular, short version - in time for the next NSUE inaugural conference.)
I haven’t the time to produce a short version of this post. I dedicate it, with congratulations, to John Redican, in honour of his elevation to the post of chief executive of NSUE. I hope it will encourage him to crack on with the work he and his team of staff and volunteers have begun.