So that was christmas, and what have we done?

As Christmas comes and goes and we romp into the dark days of overdrafts and empty nights, crackers and fireworks a dim memory, thoughts turn to taking account and reckoning up.

As I say in the editorial to this quarter’s One in Four, 2011 was not been an easy one for many of us, myself and One in Four included. It was a year where we’ve continually had to snatch hope from the jaws of despair and to find an answer to the question troubling many of us: Just how do you keep going?

In the spirit of reckoning up I’m going to try to answer to John Lennon’s grump-at-the-party cynical idealist question: So this was Christmas, what have I done?

In 2011 I have, in no particular order:

Co-written a thinkpiece Better mental health in a bigger society? was finally published in December by The Mental Health Providers Forum. Originally commissioned by the National Mental Health Development Unit, funded by the NHS Confederation and written by me and my colleague David Floyd it’s our attempt to forge a way forward for people with mental health difficulties in the current policy and economic situation. We think that it’s a continuation of a lot of long held ideals within mental health and a guide, of sorts, for ways to make sure that we as people with mental health difficulties do not lose out from the direction that our country is taking. It stresses that mental health services and local authorities can play a large role in unlocking the capacities and resources to help people to find their own solutions to problems. It also stresses that we’re going to need to come up with new ways to do stuff if we’re going to make sure that mental health needs can be met. We also hope that it catches the fine line between terror and exhilaration that comes when old ways of doing things are in the process of giving way to new things.

Did thirteen weekly creative writing sessions with a great group of folks in Hackney It might come as a surprise to some people reading this, but Social Spider is a small social enterprise with its roots in literature. David my colleague is a seasoned poet, is on the board of Impress, is a editor of a literary magazine and co-runs a small literature venue in his spare time. I’m a published short writer and used to run a creative writing website. This year we did thirteen brilliant sessions of creative writing with a great group of folks in Hackney. Some of them were contributors to a previous project we did in Hackney which generated this small anthology of writing. if you head down to the organisation (The Centre for Better Health) you might just be able to buy a printed copy at a very reasonable price.

Inspired and supported young people with mental health difficulties This year I delivered sessions to young people as part of RADAR‘s Mental Health Young Ambassadors project. I did various things, including advising young people on how to use their own stories of mental health difficulty strategically, explaining how you can keep going trying to make mental health change happen when all the odds seem set against you and how to make sure that you don’t end up being trapped by your own story and status as a person who experiences mental health difficulties.

Delivered a number of sessions of mental health awareness training in the community As part of the pan-London Well London project, I co-developed and delivered a number of sessions of mental health awareness training in the community local to our office in Walthamstow. These ranged from training for the staff of a local credit union and local voluntary sector umbrella body, to a range of volunteers of a local older people services to people with an interest from the local community. It was great to work with people trained as trainers by the Changing Minds programme that began life within South London and Maudsley Hospital and it cemented my belief that the best people to train about mental health are people who have actually experienced it. It also presented me with an interesting insight: Very often the organisations most enthusiastic about having training around mental health awareness are the organisations that already have the best understanding of mental health. It’s the ones that really need a better understanding that are incredibly difficult to interest the possibility of broadening their knowledge of mental health.

Conceived, programmed and delivered a conference In May, we put on a conference called ‘Mental health – What do we do now?’. We wanted to discuss some of the issues, ideas and possibilities that our work on ‘Better mental health in a bigger society?’ and to hopefully begin to build a picture of where we might be going in mental health. It was clear to us that the combined effect of the advent of the coalition government and the concurrent shift in policy and the effects of ongoing financial and economic instability was creating a new landscape in mental health, so we wanted to try to get some of the possibilities that this creates on the agenda as a way of answering many of the challenges it also presents. We got a great crowd of people together, some excellent speakers and sponsorship from both Mind and NSUN. The write up of the conference is here, and includes videos (though luckily none of me!)

Blogged and wrote on mental health in a variety of places Like here, here and here.

Started a mental health forum in Waltham Forest We spotted that there wasn’t really a place for people doing mental health stuff to get together in Waltham Forest, so we decided to start one, the first meeting of which is detailed here. It’s an interesting process, getting people from a range of organisations together to try to discuss what should happen next in a given place. One of the major tensions is between the impulse to get on with stuff, often to fill in for things that haven’t been done by more traditional public sector methods and the impulse to draw the public sector to account for its perceived shortcomings. We haven’t quite cracked it in Waltham Forest, but we’re trying.  I wrote about the first meeting here.

Got out a pamphlet of people’s experience of mental health difficult in the North East Working with a range of people in the north east we did a week of workshops in 2010, and we published the resulting publication in 2011. It’s been distributed across the region and, quite brilliantly, also made it onto the list of a book group at Newcastle Central Library. You can download a .pdf of the project here and check out the organisation, Launchpad, that we did it with here.  (I grew up in Newcastle.  For those of you who wonder how much of my accent remains after years down south, you can survey the evidence in the video below.)

Made four editions of a certain mental health magazine Can you guess which one?

Went innovating with young people as detailed in this blog post

Then of course there’s the ones that got away or, more optimistically, the projects that we didn’t quite get off the ground in 2011 but which might happen in 2012:

A version of a One in Four style project for Scotland Mental health stuff works slightly differently in Scotland, so we’ve long thought it’d be great to do something very like One in Four in Scotland. We’re hopeful that we’ll get somewhere with this in 2012

A young person’s mental health magazine We had a load of meetings and the like in 2011 about trying to get a young people’s version of something like One in Four off the ground which became a bit mired in a series of discussions about whether young people actually read magazines and similar. We still maintain that getting information in the form of a magazine into places where young people actually go is one of the simplest ways of getting good stuff about mental health to people who need it. Don’t get me started on the ‘young people love interactive websites’ argument…

Citizen Journalism Training We developed a way of teaching the range of journalism skills, laws and principles that you need to make good blogs, newsletters, publications and other kinds of investigative writing produced by people who aren’t professional journalists. We tried hard to find groups of people who could pay us a bit of cash to learn that stuff, ut never quite nailed any dates. We’ll by trying that again in 2012.

The New Mental Health… Well, this isn’t quite one that’s got away, but one we’re raising the money for now. If you can take it, here’s a video of me explaining a bit more about our attempt to capture, publicise and disseminate learning from the best and most innovative mental health projects in the country.

I still don’t feel like I’ve done enough. 2011 was a year when I ran hard into my own limitations and where I had to admit that I couldn’t do everything that I want to. There’s still so much that needs to be done in mental health, in a landscape that is changing more rapidly than it has in at least a decade. Hopefully in 2012 I’ll be able to help you do what you need or want to do and I’ll get to the end of the year and think: “Yes, that was the year where I got done what needs to be done.”

Mark Brown is the editor of One in Four Magazine

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