Please feel free to download this RITB poster (as seen in two gallery shows in 2019). In this time of Pandemic and the judging of human worth, we want to remind everyone we are all worthy of life. We are all valuable.
3 Point Plan to make DWP support people during Covid-19 Outbreak
1. Suspend all- assessments, reassessments, sanctions, conditionality jobcentre visits, training/work experience programs. Allow in claimants favour all Mandatory Reconsiderations and Tribunals. Default to granting awards until emergency over.
2. Introduce interim assessment phase payments equal to statutory sick pay for people making new claims of PIP, ESA, UC for reasons of illness or impairment.
3. End any delay in payment, begin with advance payment on day one of all benefits. As UC does not give enough to live on, it must be increased and all rent (LHA) and personal allowances increased to real world living amounts.
DWP- Pay people so they can stay in their homes, Help don’t Hinder the fight against Covid-19!
Note: This is a brief 3 point set of demands, it is a work in progress but the message is clear, the DWP as it is currently organised will hinder and harm people during the Covid-19 Outbreak unless it radically changes its policies and disposition.
I had attempted suicide, and been brought in against my will by police officers. They were kind and empathetic, and told me they couldn’t and wouldn’t let me die. They assured me they were taking me to get help. Imagine my shock when the psychiatrist sat in front of me showed no such empathy or concern for my life.
If you’ve ever been sectioned you’ll know it’s a pretty humiliating and distressing experience for one already so distressed. I had a Mental Health Act Assessment and was probably the most suicidal and hopeless I had ever been. I expressed that I intended to end my life and that I was not willing to engage with the crisis team in the morning because I would be dead by then.
From the assessment the psychiatrist came to the conclusion that I had Borderline Personality Disorder, and thus was probably not truly suicidal. He accused me of trying to manipulate my way onto a further section of the Mental Health Act, and I later found out had told the nurse at the 136 suite that I was ‘not treatable’. He courteously offered a referral to the home treatment team who would phone me in the morning, which as I mentioned above, felt was pointless as I intended to die.
I was told repeatedly that if I wanted to kill myself it was my decision to make. He stated very matter-of-factly that his only priority was to ensure that his back was covered legally, and that if I were to kill myself, he felt he could justify his decision to allow me to do so in a coroner’s inquest. I was told that ‘some psychiatrists would play it safe and section you to keep you alive’, but he felt that wasn’t best for me because he wanted me to ‘take some responsibility’. Because of the Personality Disorder label? Discharging me expecting me to either die or ‘learn my lesson’ and never dare to be suicidal again, as if my actions were bad behaviour symptomatic of a fault in my personality rather than severe and genuine distress, as if it’s a risk worth taking, as if the latter is a realistic outcome. If we are living in a world where doctors whose explicit responsibility it is to care for us are happy to let us die, something has gone drastically wrong.
Within 30 minutes I was sectioned by the police again after making another attempt on my life, exactly as I had told the psychiatrist I was going to. I was lucky the police got to me in time, had they not, my parents would have lost a child, my sister a brother, and I’d have become another suicide statistic and it would have been completely preventable.
This isn’t an anomaly when it comes to ‘care’ for those of us with enduring mental health problems; it’s not even an anomaly in my own life, I could give you a multitude of other examples. So many others have similar stories of being told their suicide would be justifiable, that they can kill themselves if they want to, being discharged with immediate suicidal intent, in the name of taking some responsibility. As if telling someone their death would be justifiable is providing them some kind of great empowerment rather than disgusting, abusive treatment of those for whom you’re supposed to care. Those of us here to tell these stories are the lucky ones, the deaths of so many mentally ill people go this way and are so easily presentable if those responsible for our care had a little more regard for our lives.
I understand that resources are scarce, and austerity has a huge role to play in the shifting of mental health trusts towards these kinds of approaches, but that will never make it okay. Discharging someone with expressed suicidal intent is the equivalent of discharging someone in the middle of a heart attack, there is nothing positive about positive risk taking, you’re gambling with people’s lives.
This is the first in a series of blogs we are publishing about ‘positive risk taking’ in mental health. The Department of Health published its guidance, Best Practice in Managing Risk, in 2007 as part of the National Mental Health Risk Management Programme. It describes positive risk management as a collaborative process with the service user and their carers, which emphasises the importance of building on the service user’s strengths, while recognising the responsibility of individual clinicians and organisations as a whole. Positive risk taking is meant to be about collaboratively weighing up potential benefits and harms, with the aim of taking a risk for a positive outcome. As you will read in the blog below, this couldn’t be further from how it is being used in practice.
At a time of continued austerity, and neoliberal and neorecovery agendas, I see a worrying trend. NHS mental health services are covertly enforcing positive risk taking as a way to justify neglect, lack of care and exclusion. As long as services can defend their actions it seems they can avoid blame. I can’t help thinking that it’s something else; decisions are made due to diagnostic discrimination, financial reasons and lack of resources – not of clinical need. But there is no honesty or transparency when it comes to discussing risk with me.
“Positive risk taking needs a person-centred approach, where staff take a positive, recovery- oriented view of the service user and investigate what is important to keep them and others safe as they move towards better health and more independence. Positive risk taking is based on finding creative solutions rather than simply ruling out options for recovery based on fears and worries of what might go wrong”
from ‘Therapeutic Positive Risk Taking’ by Greater Manchester West Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust
I was forced to wear the Bullshit label of Borderline Personality Disorder and remain unrecovered for many reasons, despite being under the so called care of secondary mental health services for almost three decades. I have already written about this here.
Having the BPD label is not conducive to a therapeutic and trauma informed relationship with professionals. Clinical judgement is biased and I have mainly been treated like shit on a shoe. Written throughout my clinical notes and said verbally so many times is; attention seeking, manipulative, complex, demanding and difficult. This has never changed. I’m sure I’m seen as someone who is taking up valuable resources. My severe distress seems to provoke negative reactions and less empathy from most professionals although it is not fake!
I have often found the mental health system to be coercive and controlling. In the past there have been times when I don’t think I needed to be detained under the Mental Health Act. Yet other times, I have no doubt that being locked up saved my life. I have recently tried to take back some control regarding risk, and whilst there aren’t as many threats of Mental Health Act Assessments and police involvement, there seems to be no action taken when I take responsibility and ask for help in an emergency situation.
Whilst I know that risk assessments are not that helpful in predicting suicide, I see the push towards positive risk taking from mental health services also comes alongside aims of zero suicide and suicide prevention, ‘ask for help if suicidal’ narratives, and Time to Talk. There seems to be an increased focus on those with milder mental health difficulties, yet those with long term need and severe and enduring difficulties are not having their needs met. I’m acutely aware that many people don’t have a Crisis Plan or a Care Coordinator despite being under the care of secondary mental health services. Some can’t access secondary mental health services at all, despite their need.
Over the years I have seen support for people like myself decimated. Crisis services are failing. I used to have some hope that services could keep me safe if I asked for help. I remember in years gone by there was more care in the community and effective and collaborative crisis planning. I could access the day hospital and extra appointments with my CPN or visits from the Home Crisis Resolution Team. I was offered short voluntary respite breaks in hospital as detailed in my Care Plan. Stays (even detained ones) in hospital were more therapeutic than they are now; nurses had more time to chat, there was not as much rush to be discharged and there was better follow up upon release.
Then came austerity, neoliberalism, minimisation of the State, the selling off of the NHS, social inequality and insecurity, and the move to a neorecovery based approach. This accelerated the emergence of individual responsibility and self-management, dependency and loss of productivity, all whilst ignoring the social detriments of health. Mental health services are now in crisis themselves and often struggle to provide even basic care. There is a lack of inpatient beds and more out of area beds. Emergency departments are under increased pressure. Community mental health teams are underfunded, under staffed and under pressure to discharge people who fail to recover. Staff seem to have become demotivated and detached and many of the better ones have left the NHS. Dual diagnosis services have been scrapped. There are long waits for therapy, which are often short term. Day centres closed and turned into recovery colleges, social care and welfare benefits cuts, peer workers are now often called recovery workers and bear no resemblance to grassroots peers. Police are taking up the slack for those in a crisis and some patients are even being prosecuted for trying to take their lives.
It’s difficult to get taken seriously when I’m desperate for help. Fears about my safety from my family aren’t taken into account and they no longer accept the responsibility forced on them by services to keep me safe when psychotic. There seems little point in having a crisis plan (now called a crisis recovery plan). Although I have had some input into my plan, it is very much led by professionals, with much less support on offer in a crisis situation than years ago. In any case the plan is no longer followed in acute crisis situations, despite it stating in capital letters at the top that if I do contact someone it will be an emergency. Professionals tell me that I have capacity to suicide but rarely provide any support. I feel like they just hope I don’t, and that if I do then I was actually telling the truth!
When I am detained under the Mental Health Act it’s often because of police involvement. Psychiatric wards are now hostile environments which I try to avoid at all costs. A recent CQC inspection of my Trust saw the safety of services had deteriorated and required improvement, and that acute inpatients wards were inadequate. Suddenly, it appears that only very short admissions to keep me safe are advised for people with my label and NICE guidelines for self harm are not being followed. Yet, the link between self harm and suicide is well known, with estimates of one out of 10 people with the BPD label taking their lives. Even coroners are issuing Prevention of Future Deaths notices after being alarmed at the lack of care that emerges during inquests.
For many years according to my clinical notes I was “at high risk of suicide.” This has now changed to “at high risk of accidental death.” In the last few years I have been left in high risk situations, because of the misuse of enforced positive risk taking. After a “near miss” serious incident a few years ago, whilst psychotic, three separate NHS mental health crisis services failed in their duty of care. Despite an internal investigation, which resulted in “lessons learned”, similar incidents have happened since (I will spare you the details). CPN stated that if I had died “the Trust wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on at a Coroner’s Court.” I am lucky to be alive! Others have sadly not been as lucky when asking for help and some simply gave up asking.
Neoliberal discourses attempt to position me as a responsible and active participant in my own care but also as blameworthy. I already feel like a failure, undeserving, worthless and ashamed. Am I not trying hard enough to be resilient, to be responsible and to recover? Am I too dependent? Have I not empowered myself enough? As a person with a severe and enduring mental health disability I realise I need to take some responsibility for reasonable risks in my daily life, but there are times that I simply can’t be responsible for my own safety. In these situations there is no joint decision making between myself and professionals. Being told it’s my choice to suicide when desperately asking for help in a life threatening situation as per my crisis plan is totally inappropriate and not one bit therapeutic. It seems to be shorthand for “We don’t give a fuck.”
Surely, services should not withhold support and care when I’m at serious risk of harm under the guise of it being in my best interests, to teach my badly behaved personality a lesson, as a way of tapering care to somehow facilitate resilience, or in a way to avoid blame. You’re actually gambling with my life. It’s scary! Positive risk taking – positive for who? It’s no good promoting recovery if I’m dead!
Written by G
This week The National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (NCCMH) – a partnership between Royal College of Psychiatrists and University College London – released a draft of their proposed Peer Worker Competence Framework for Mental Health. It brought together various groups and departments, including Health Education England, to develop and expand peer support work with the aim “to support the mental health workforce, as outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan”.
It is an insult to the survivor movement and everything we value in peer support.
It would be impossible to sum up this 56 (!) page document – along with its 30 page supporting document – in a few sentences, so I won’t be going into the finer details in this blog. But among other recommendations, peers would “offer a recovery-oriented perspective” while carrying out coaching, group work, psychological interventions and contributing to care plans. This is something that’s become increasingly normalised in peer support work. A recent job description for a senior lived experience practitioner included the expectation that, “after a period of skill-swapping with their clinically trained colleague” they would provide psychologically-informed assessments, care-planning and treatment.
The framework also talks about embedding peer workers in specialist services, such as acute and forensic. An acquaintance who worked briefly as a Peer Support Worker at a mental health hospital had to undergo Prevention and Management of Violence and Aggression (PMVA) Training. PMVA training includes how to ‘safely’ restrain someone. Peer support work increasingly is asking those with lived experience to be nurses, psychologists or therapists in everything but name. It blurs the lines of responsibility about who provides care and why.
My most recent personal insight into NHS peer support was while I was under the care of the crisis team last year. I find the crisis team incredibly stressful, but because I was being threatened with the Mental Health Act, I accepted their involvement as the “least worst” option. The person doing the assessment suggested I see the Peer Support Worker in their team. I refused. They tried to persuade me. Apparently this person was “really special” and “could really get through to me”. I refused again. They tried to persuade me some more. I refused, more forcefully this time, and they finally got the message.
How is any of this staying true to the values of peer support? Is it really an offer of support when it’s an aggressive demand by an overstretched team? How can a peer stay true to the values of peer work when they are embedded in a team that by it’s nature sometimes uses detention and coercion? How often are NHS staff using Peer Support Workers to gain trust where they’ve previously lost it with patients, instead of addressing their own failures directly? Am I a peer worker if the majority of my job description is focused on ‘interventions’ and ‘treatment’?
How the hell have we got here?
The move to bring lived experience into mental health may have begun with noble intentions, but it’s been horribly exploited. I do not blame peer support workers themselves for these failings and believe they are just as in danger of being exploited as the patients they serve. But we are now feeling the effects of a system that actively refused to think through the implications of having lived experience in mental health, while ploughing ahead with embedding them uncritically in their services. This was done by design, not by accident. Too often peer support work in the NHS is used to plug gaps in overstretched and underfunded teams. Equality and mutuality, central to the values of peer support work, gets lost in a relationship that by it’s nature can never be equal. Are we really peers if you have access to my notes? How do peer workers deal with a conflict of interest between peer support values and the values of their employer? Why have divide and conquer techniques become a central tenet of peer support in services? It is co-option in the name of co-production.
In contrast to this version of peer support, I’ve received a great deal of brilliant ‘peer support’ through my involvement in the survivor movement, grassroots organisations and (despite their national mass-closure) at local drop-in centres. We don’t use the phrase ‘peer support’ much anymore – it has already been so co-opted by mainstream services that it often feels beyond repair – but that’s what I understand these experiences to be.
In this version of peer support we arrive at the conversation as equals. Recovery is neither a requirement nor an obligation – for either of us. I do not ‘coach’ or offer ‘interventions’ and am safe in the knowledge that they will never do the same in return. I can talk about experiences I wouldn’t share with mental health workers – peer or otherwise – because I don’t fear it being documented in my notes and shared amongst people I’ve never met. I am able to learn about the history of the survivor movement spanning 50+ years from people who have lived it. I gain strength from our conversations about this history, and about how we can use our collective knowledge to heal ourselves and, perhaps, society. I learn new ways of coping with my own struggles through understanding other peoples. Sometimes just having someone alongside me in my distress has made me feel less alone. Other times peers have been able to provide practical support and advice, for example, about benefits and navigating services. When I’ve faced mistreatment from mental health services, they have understood implicitly the trauma this can inflict. We are able to set boundaries and do our best to resolve conflict or disagreements authentically, without intermediaries. We are not a homogeneous group and we embrace that – our diversity is our strength.
Why are these voices no longer important in the debate about what a ‘Peer Worker Competence Framework’ should look like? Why is this the first we are hearing about a document that must have been meticulously planned for a considerable period of time? Peer support has been so badly co-opted by the establishment that it is no longer recognisable. If any of the major health and academic establishments currently claiming to be carrying out peer support work/consultancy really want to hear about what we value, the grassroots are here and ready to tell you.