Why did I take on the work with the McPin Foundation?
by Gary Coyle
In March this year I took on an exciting opportunity: working with The McPin Foundation as a Peer Project Assistant on a pilot scheme entitled ‘My Story, Our Future’. We will be exploring the stories of people who have themselves used or supported others accessing Early Intervention for Psychosis (EIP) services. Over the next few months we will be carrying out recorded interviews, gathering qualitative data and using this to inspire original and collaborative creative work.
McPin has a policy of utilising people with first-hand experience of dealing with psychiatric problems, as a key part of their research team. This demonstrates in real life the wise saying ‘there’s no teacher like experience’. With too many professionals focusing only on their text book theories, it is good to ‘level the playing field’ by giving employment to people who have been through and know the system. When suffering from depression, ‘I felt like I was the only person in the world feeling so much pain. I know that isolation can be psychologically crippling. Listening to people’s stories, as others did for me, and giving back to the community are important.
Having met people with mental health experiences similar, and different to my own, I have a broad outlook on psychiatry, psychology and society. A person living with a mental illness has to make sense of what has happened and this can take many years. I could go on about my own experience of mental health services, but in a nutshell, they have helped me through the pain, to move on with my life. Due to government cuts, the help that I received is now not available to some people.
Not so long ago, it was government policy to give enough financial and social support to people with disabilities who needed it. Many of the day centres have closed down due to funding cuts and people are being assessed to have their benefits withdrawn. Providing housing and enough money to survive works to some extent. But cutting the money and social infrastructures which support people with disabilities is attacking the most vulnerable people in society.
My academic studies have also made me more aware of the social inequalities and deprivation people and communities have to live with. The language and practice of psychiatry are inaccessible to some.
During the past three years I have been a voluntary worker supporting people with mental health issues, through facilitating creative writing workshops. My position with McPin is my first step towards full time paid employment in many years. An exciting and optimistic time for me, working for a worthwhile cause. The people at McPin have made me very welcome and there is a strong sense of team spirit.
What I hope to get from my work with McPin?
By working on the EIP Life Stories study, I hope I will be able to listen to people’s accounts of how mental health has affected their lives and help identify strengths and weaknesses in the care they have received. Talking is a great therapy denied to some. Recording these personal and often sensitive explanations can be of great value to the person being interviewed and I hope the process will feed back to help to improve future services.
I would also like this project to help tackle the stigma attached to mental health. Many people are misunderstood by the psychiatric services and I want to help them to get their message across to people who can make a difference.
Finally, at a personal level, I hope to gain experience and learn new skills to use in the future, getting into a routine of working and eventually move on to full-time employment.