Wednesday, 9 April 2014

the challenge of keeping voices of experience independent in Scotland's mental health world

Today, in Emails with a government high heid yin, I've been reminded of the issues around government funding of national mental health user voice groups and the challenges of independence, being free to speak out about human rights abuses and incorporating critical voices into the mix.  I wonder if it can be done, bearing in mind the history of user involvement in Scotland?

I've heard that in Fife there were voices of experience speaking out and being involved back in the 1990's and into the 2000's but they soon became burned out and disillusioned with tokenism and tick-box (TT) exercises.  This happened before I got involved in 2008 with Peer Support Fife and WRAP facilitation, and then in 2009 campaigning against the advocacy tendering in Fife. 

Since then in Fife there has been little meaningful involvement (MI) of people with lived experience, according to the local voluntary organisations working in mental health.  I know of one activist who is involved elsewhere, out of Fife, in another setting but still having an influence.  

But the ground here is barren towards any real fertilisation of MI seeds.  They are too used to TT involvement as I think it's less effort for statutory agencies and easier to make targets by saying they've asked service users' opinions.  They admit it's a focus group, I'll say that for them.  They're under no illusion that it's meaningful. 

In the national scene VOX purports to be a mental health user led and member organisation, representing the views of its members, but it's not an automatic membership process and applications have to be filtered through their board of management.  This is the case for individuals and groups who have to be "approved" by the high heid yins at Voices of eXperience.  

Which means it might only be certain voices and not others who are heard.  I've tried being a member and it didn't work out.  I found out that when my son was dehumanisingly treated and I was in pain then there was no support from VOX.  They weren't in solidarity and did nothing to help me.  So what use membership of a group that has no benefit when times are hard?  A fair weather friend.

I blame the government's mental health division for the exclusivity of VOX and its having to weed out the awkward among us.  The VOX board chair works with a government quango and this is a conflict of interest which I've already highlighted and others have agreed with me.  It muddies the water for the cause of independent voices.  Compromises the membership's viewpoint which will be moderated to fit.  

For the government high heid yins just don't like critical voices or to be challenged in their thinking or doing.  It's a nuisance for them having to "accommodate" people like me who just won't "be quiet and go to bed".  Rather we speak out continuously about human rights abuse in psychiatric settings at every opportunity.  

The team at government haven't got time to listen to our grievances and prefer the voices that are more accommodating, that hang on their every word and agree with the fine rhetoric and impossible targets.  Resulting in actors and puppets, reading their lines and dancing to their tune.  It looks good and ticks a box, meets a target, everyone's happy except the people with lived experience who are struggling on the ground.

Government doesn't want a hard life of having to be accountable to user groups with critical voices, demanding their human rights and to be treated fairly and justly.  Much easier to use the voices of experience as a focus group for gathering views and ticking boxes.  Commitment 1, tick.  Commitment 2, tick.  And so on.  Ad infinitum.  As usual.

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