Thursday, 19 March 2015

remembering the SRN/Penumbra peer support conference December 2005: the shape of things to come: hierarchy; cronyism

I woke up this morning still annoyed about the Scottish Recovery Network/Penumbra and See Me Scotland conference on human rights planned for June (see short storify of tweets from last night).  Two organisations who in all the years since I've known them have reinforced stigma and practised cronyism.  Excluding critical voices.  Favouring chums for jobs and the like. 

(I tend to think of SRN and Penumbra as symbiotic twins, because Penumbra manages SRN and thereby influences their work) 

I was remembering my first taste of the hierarchical shenanigans at the SRN/Penumbra Peer Support conference, December 2005, in Glasgow.  Various high heid yins went about at the event like they were too busy to speak to the likes of me.  The only person who I engaged with as an equal was Lori Ashcraft of Recovery Innovations (Meta Services).  She spoke of living with depression, at the workshop she facilitated. 

The other workshop I attended was led by the CEO of Penumbra, didn't know him at the time, and he proceeded to call the folk he knew by their names and the rest of us were left out.  A pattern I got used to over the years as I tried to get meaningfully involved in Scotland's mental health world from that point on.

In January 2008 I gave up my paid work, at the time in FE lecturing, to concentrate on mental health matters and set up Peer Support Fife and Chrys Muirhead Associates, applied for the WRAP Facilitator training, tried to get on the PS training organised by Penumbra, with Recovery Innovations delivering the sessions.  And failed.  

For the second time.  Having tried in 2006 to get on the training organised by Penumbra in Edinburgh, speaking to CEO in person who said it would cost me £700 for the 2 week course which I couldn't afford as it would mean also taking the time off work.

I also tried to get involved with Penumbra's recovery training in 2008, but failed with that too.  Meanwhile after the WRAP Facilitator training in June 2008, one of the trainers, employed by Penumbra, gave me negative feedback which was relayed to me via the Director of SRN.  It looked like I was going to fail as a WRAP facilitator. 

I began to question the validity of a week long training course (WRAP) and how this could make anyone an expert facilitator or trainer.  Of course the more I questioned the more I was silenced, excluded from groups and badmouthed.  Eventually banned from the WRAP facilitator network and the "comfort agreement" was used against me by the ex-Penumbra worker who by this time had set herself up as an independent consultant and international expert.

Meanwhile the SRN Director used the draft PS HN unit that I had designed and given him a copy of it, took it to government, then I was left out of the unit developments with the Scottish Qualifications Authority.  No matter how much I tried to be included.  And I did try.

Despite being excluded and sidelined by SRN/Penumbra in 2008/9 I organised and delivered a number of WRAP workshops in different parts of Scotland, co-facilitated by a colleague who knew WRAP well.  We worked well together as a team.  Clients included Turning Point Scotland, NHS GGC, NSF in Dumfries & Galloway, Richmond Fellowship and we also ran workshops for individuals.

At the same time I did some sessions on peer support without any support from SRN/Penumbra.  Eventually caring responsibilities meant I gave up paid work and concentrated on voluntary work with Peer Support Fife, and supporting family.  I regret nothing.  

I am now a writer, activist and human rights campaigner in mental health matters, and a critical voice because of the exclusion and hierarchical shenanigans.  And because of psychiatric abuse which is a reality.  The Mental Health Act safeguards are not protecting the rights of mental patients.  That is a fact.

The behaviour of organisations like SRN and Penumbra I think are symptomatic of a patriarchal psychiatric system.  There is no difference.  SRN are a government arm, managed by Penumbra, with the aim of getting people with mental health issues off their welfare benefits and back to work.  

The peer support "movement" in Scotland was an employability agenda.  That's the bottom line.  Penumbra have won contracts using the PS and recovery agenda.  Local groups losing out.  I was delivering WRAP training to Angus Mental Health Association in 2009 on the day they heard their bid for continued funding was unsuccessful.

As for See Me Scotland it's under new management.  Time will tell if this will mean no more reinforcing stigma.  I am sceptical so far.  It will require challenging stigma and discrimination at the roots if they are to do the business and change the culture in mental health services.  I am not sure that their bosses and funders will want them to rearrange the status quo.

Scottish Government continues to separate the sheep and the goats, the common mental health problems from SEMI/severe and enduring mental illness.  Them and us.  Human rights are not a given behind the closed doors of psychiatric institutions where resistance to psychiatric drugging results in declarations of incapacity and forced treatment.

That is the reality.  Taste it and see.


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