Some thoughts from today’s gathering
It was quite timely on a personal level to have found out about this gathering via Beatrice Bray’s comment in response to On anxiety overload. Over the past week or so I took a number of blows from leftfield that left me on the floor and back on the (smaller dose of) regular medication. Which is incredibly frustrating given that I hoped this attempt to come off the medication was going to be more successful than the one last autumn.
The days prior to Mind Tech involved going to a number of events. These were a social media awareness workshop to councillors in Cambridge, a talk on social media in the public sector for Teacambs, and finally an impromptu presentation for the launch of Idea Transform 2012 straight after, on my ponderings around Open data for transport infrastructure planning. I was also planning on a ‘hard launch’ of my new social media website but the owners of Cambridge First pulled the plug on the newspaper that I was hoping it would be featured in on the week of that launch – hence why I’ve had to have a rethink. Much as I wanted to stay in bed and sulk all day, I dragged myself out and took Puffles down to London.
What was Mind Tech all about?
The pitch was here. The idea of combining two of my interests – digital media and mental health – along with a free unConference set up at a venue I was familiar with, got me interested. There were one or two quizzical looks around the room when I rolled in just before the start with Puffles. This has sort of become normal for me now. It’s like one of the people at the Idea Transform event last night said. “All these other guys came in with business cards. You came in with a dragon. Which one are they going to remember?” Exactly. As it turned out, a number of well-known delegates in the room were already on Twitter and were more than familiar with Puffles – which always helps in these occasions. (In particular Andy Gibson and Mark Brown at OneInFour) Having some of the big screens in the room displaying the various tweets from the #MindTech hashtag on the day was also more than enough to show to many of the delegates what Puffles was linked to social-media-wise.
Excellent opening pitches
The three opening pitches were brilliant – the two from Jon Cousins of Moodscope and Andy Gibson of Mindapples. Short, sharp, relevant, humorous where it was appropriate, to the point and no death by PowerPoint. Andy’s quotation on comparing dental health with mental health (only one letter difference between them) was picked up by a number of people on Twitter. To paraphrase:
“If dental health was treated similarly to mental health, none of us would be brushing our teeth and we’d be spending millions on dental surgery”
The point being that little seems to be invested in prevention and in good mental health. When the phrase ‘mental health’ is used, it is often in a context of ‘mental health problems’. A number of healthcare professionals also mentioned the issue of trying to break away from the mindset of ‘you go to hospital to get fixed’ in the case of mental health. As I mentioned both in one of the workshops and in my first mental health blogpost Going beyond a pill, one of the big challenges I faced was getting away from the idea that a short course of medication was going to solve things. It didn’t and it hasn’t. If anything, it’s made me realise that medication in my case has only suppressed the worst of the symptoms and that a longer term recovery is only going to be achieved through a tailored/personalised combination of other things.
What was my big idea?
My big idea – which others had also come to similar independent conclusions to – was around the idea of ‘social prescribing‘. Conditions such as moderate to mild depression and anxiety by their nature affect and are affected by the lifestyles that we lead. Every time I’ve been through an acute period of anxiety, depression or generally being ‘a mess’ I’ve tried to pick myself up by trying new actions and activities to deal with it. On a number of occasions I’ve said to myself “I wish I had thought of that earlier” or “I wish I had known about that before”. Doing lunchtime circuit training at a local leisure centre for me is one example – something I only started recently but had I known about it would – and perhaps should have started as soon as I had left the civil service or while I was still in it.
In Cambridgeshire, we have Cambridgeshire.Net which tries to collate information on groups and courses in the county. But it’s not as user-friendly and social-media-friendly as perhaps it could be. For mild-to-moderate depression and anxiety, giving patients and GPs the option of looking at what activities might be beneficial for patients I think would be brilliant. Rather than a course of medication and a few sessions of counselling alone, what about things that can complement such treatments? And how about making them on the NHS? This could include things like exercise classes, cooking classes covering things such as foods that help and hinder conditions such as anxiety. It’s one thing saying ‘avoid X,Y & Z’ but quite another to build it into a lifestyle.
There’s also the concept of the ‘super social worker’ that I touched on in Joined up public services in Cambridge. This is something that goes beyond just mental health. It could be things like poor housing conditions that are having an impact on people’s health – in which case the solution is not necessarily a medical one but a housing one. Given the shortage of social housing and the state of the UK housing stock in general, I don’t know what difference someone who could ‘pull rank’ on others could have, but the point of this is that such professionals would have direct contact with the various public services on behalf of those individuals in most need. For example with housing, education, medical and welfare services.
The above acknowledges that for conditions similar to those that I suffer from, the solution may not be a medical one alone, but one that requires a combination. What is lacking at the moment is information on what is available locally, alongside the funding streams and mechanisms to allow the NHS to cover some (if not all) of the costs of the non-medicinal treatment.
Mental health of organisations
This was an interesting concept raised in the discussion group that I was in – one that had me pondering. Organisations collected various amounts of information on their employees, but I wonder how much of that data is anonymised and then used to help influence decisions taken by their organisations? What does the data appear to say about working practices and culture on the overall health of employees? Are there reasonable steps that can be taken to improve things? After all, it’s not as if corporations are short of cash. A healthier, happier workforce is also surely better for business to, is it not? Are there any examples of employers using anonymised health data to monitor the overall health of their employees in a manner that feeds directly into decision-making processes in the firm?
What made this unConference different?
This was an open gathering of healthcare professionals, activists and service users – and more. Some covered more than one role. This made a huge difference to the richness of the conversations – reflecting the benefits of the unConference format for me. It brought together people who were passionate about the issue, rather than people who, as with corporate conferences are often paid to be there by their employers rather than because they genuinely care about the issue.
I hope The Young Foundation (who were behind this gathering) will run repeated events of this nature. The format seems to work and it raises the possibility of creating grassroots networks of professionals, activists and service users that can help improve things from the bottom up. If – as what seems to have happened with the UKGovCamp & Teacamp network on government digital media – a critical mass of people can be formed, pressure can be put on those above to make real differences.