Friday, 12 September 2014

Support in Mind Scotland (NSF) in Fife: a critical perspective

I admit to being a long term critic of NSF (SIMS) in Fife.  It didn't get any better over the years despite engaging with the staff, most of whom I got on with quite well at times, at other times we were poles apart.  I think the dividing line was the "severe and enduring mental illness" mantra.  For I am an unbeliever and their services are geared towards the "mentally ill".

Recently I got a letter from the NSF/SIMS chief exec, sent to my home, which announced that it was withdrawing my membership of SIMS and excluding me from attending or using any SIMS service anywhere.  I was banned.  It mentioned my "publicly-expressed discontent" "undermining" their organisation.  

I've made a formal complaint about the letter coming to my home address, an invasion of privacy, for I gave no permission for my personal details to be used in this way.  Secondly I have complained about the language used against me in the letter which I contend is patronising, belittling and derogatory.  

They may have the power to ban me but they don't have the right to badmouth and undermine my character in an official letter so as to justify their actions.  This is bullying behaviour from an organisation that purports to "support and empower all those affected by mental illness".  

Of course they prefer positive feedback and any negative stuff to be sugar coated.  Who doesn't?  But I contend it's the critical voices that should be listened to.  Especially in mental health matters where compulsion is rife by virtue of law ('Legal coercion: the elephant in the recovery room' Mary O'Hagan, SRN).  And I won't be silenced on their say so.  It's a free country, democratically speaking.

The main issue I have with SIMS in Fife is that their (organisation's) belief in "mental illness" has negatively affected the way they work with people who use their services, reinforcing stigma and discrimination.  However I do believe that they have always wanted the best for the people they serve.  The people who themselves believe they have a severe and enduring mental illness (SEMI).  For I was the odd one out.  Recovering from SEMI.

Cupar Cottage conservatory
I am critical of the way that the SIMS head office handled the closure of the Cottage drop-in facility in Cupar.  There was no consultation with the membership, of whom I was one, and instead the decision was made on high and a head office manager came out to announce the closure without any forewarning.  

I had received an invitation to attend with mention of Cottage "developments".  If I'd known the aim was to announce a closure without consultation then I wouldn't have attended.  Not a good use of my time.  

Therefore when I challenged the head office worker about there not being any consultation or negotiation with members she patronised me, gave me a telling off.  A woman about half my age and obviously inexperienced in how to work with difficult people.  At least she didn't resort to bullying.  

My complaint in July about the way the Cottage closure was handled resulted in another telling off by the chief exec, a woman I have met on a few occasions.  I can't say we hit it off.  Obviously any discontent or complaints by SIMS service users and carers will be met with patronising treatment, keeping everyone in their place.  If that doesn't work then "go to your room" or exclusion is the result.

The Fife SIMS way of handling critical voices was to exclude us from the mailing list and only invite chums to workshops and the like.  I challenged them on many occasions over the years as to why I wasn't sent this and that information.  I would hear about events after they happened.  But at least they didn't patronise and bully me.  

Rather they fobbed me off.  It meant that we stayed in touch and I could still drop by the Cottage and chat to the workers and other service users.  We had a relationship of sorts, were allies on occasion even if we didn't agree.  I am very annoyed in the way that the Cottage closure was handled.  It was unprofessional and a poor way of dealing with Fife SIMS staff and service users.  Nothing for the SIMS head office to be proud of.  

The Cottage was a base of historical importance for the user voice in Cupar, people speaking out and taking back the power, in the 1990's.  People with lived experience were key movers in developments, so I hear, and there were many positive achievements.  Unfortunately the user voice has been silenced over the years, culminating in the local mental health advocacy projects losing their funding in 2009, the council awarding it to an English service provider.

I think the Fife SIMS workers have had a difficult time over these years and have not been supported properly or effectively by the SIMS head office.  Not sure why this is. It's likely a combination of the Fife cultural situation regarding statutory mental health services and lack of resource.  Another issue is that east, west and central Fife all do their own thing, lack of joined up working which impacts negatively on voluntary sector mental health services.

Which results in competition between services rather than collaborative working.  Divide and conquer mentality fostered by statutory agency managers so as to keep more of the money for themselves.  Poor management of resources in NHS Fife and Fife Council psychiatric and mental health services.  Not being accountable to the public, to the patients, carers and service users.  Meaningless involvement of people with lived experience.  I've seen all of that since 2008 and trying to become involved in Fife mental health service design and delivery.

Support in Mind Scotland should have tried harder to keep the door open with me and taken on board my critical comments, rather than trying to control me by various means, failing then having to shut me out.  I prefer level playing fields.  The problem is theirs not mine.  The power rests with them as an organisation but as an individual I can have influence.  I do not respond to the misuse of power or to abusive treatment.  I will always resist.

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