When people talk about managing mental health the most frequent thing to do is to recourse to self help or looking to services to help. There is less recognition of the power of social networks for help and support based on connections and reciprocity around us.
Separating out the individual from their need for other people and ability to mobilise resources in order to manage effectively, has meant that the notion of a personal community of support (the array of personal ties with which people are located and embedded) has not tended to be included in understanding or responding to mental health need.
Now there’s a nascent social movement about networks.
More and more of us are looking online for information to support our health (see Chris Allen’s work on support in Online Communities). In my research, I have found that the ability to get hold of that information and support, which is personal to you, can make a huge difference to how well you are.
I’m focusing on insulin pumps, which are an alternative means to deliver insulin to people with diabetes – compared to the more traditional multiple daily injections.
Insulin pumps have been developed to help people with Type 1 diabetes manage the condition better; both in terms of their quality of life and by more closely resembling a fully-functioning pancreas.
However, introducing a new health technology to an already difficult to manage condition is not necessarily simple, or easy.
It was palpable with research geekery excitement while travelling to Nottingham for the 2017 Health Services Research UK Conference. I needed this, I thought, an opportunity for positivity, to talk enthusiastically about how we as researchers can help sustain the future of the NHS and wider health services. The conference didn’t disappoint.
We are all too aware of the popular rhetoric that consumes newsfeeds and social media channels, with headlines like ‘The NHS is in Crisis’ and ‘too many people are pitching up to A&E’. All doom and gloom. The conference was a perfect antidote to this. While there are no panaceas to these ongoing issues, my fellow health services researchers offered positivity and direction against the troubling backdrop of public service austerity and Brexit uncertainty.
In 2015 I was fortunate enough to be awarded some funding from Solent NHS Trust to explore the networks of people with long term mental health issues. This project looked at how people manage their networks day-to-day and when they are in crisis, looking to see what the differences were between networks and how people negotiate the relationships within them. All the participants were recruited from community groups and many of the participants were students of a local Recovery College*.
Could this statement be the one that encapsulates the perception that mental health services are frequently unable to help people with mental health issues?
A research participant in a study I’m conducting into support networks of people with long term mental health problems outlined what she saw as some of the problems with her encounters with health professionals in the mental health system.
I’ve been a clinician in mental health for many (many) years I have heard tales of woe and distress. They have often been so devastating, and at the same time, inspirational as one hears about the efforts people make to overcome the most extreme situations. I have always felt a sense of privilege at being allowed into these stories and as a researcher this privilege feels somehow even more intense.
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