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.
The everyday management of a long-term condition is almost never done by individuals in isolation from others. The networks of relationships around people may include family members, friends, neighbours, colleagues, health professionals and even pets all of who play an important role in the management of long-term conditions. This is through, for example, their knowledge, support, help with accessing services, resources and valued activities.
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.
Professor Anne Rogers explains how weaker social ties play a role in helping people manage a long term illness.
With ever more attention on the NHS and how many nurses and doctors are needed to give people the best care, one part of the health equation is going unnoticed – What attention is being paid to the role of the patient and their extended network of relationships? In early 70s West Coast America a piece of research by Anselm Strauss and colleagues examined a set of questions on ‘self-care’.
Managing our mental health is something we all do and for many of us it is a fairly straightforward process, but a significant number of us are likely to find it rather more complex, sometimes needing support from our GP or mental health services. As part of our research in CLAHRC Wessex we’re looking at how people use their social networks to improve and manage their mental health.
Here at the CLAHRC Wessex we have been using and developing an interactive tool called GENIE . This is designed to engage and link people with long-term health conditions to social activities and support they value and find useful.
We have been working on the Isle of Wight with the My Life a Full Life team and other organisations to see how we can integrate GENIE as part of day-to-day support for people. Last week we had our first meeting, after months of using the system there to work towards making GENIE ‘Business as Usual’.
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