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Independent Mental Health Advocates aren't a threat

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A project involving SCIE and UCLan aims to dispel some of the anxieties that clinical staff can have around advocacy

The essence of our job is to have a meaningful dialogue with our service users.

Some may not have English as their first language, they may have a learning disability, or they may be very unwell.

From our point of view it’s fantastic that an advocate helps the staff to have a dialogue with a patient. So we should always see advocacy as a huge opportunity; and as a huge benefit.

As two clinicians working within East London NHS Foundation Trust, we’ve been very happy to be asked to give a staff perspective in a film, which aims to help mental health professionals understand the Independent Mental Health Advocacy (IMHA) role. Over the years we’ve seen advocacy make an incredible difference to people’s care and recovery.

When a person is detained under the Mental Health Act, or if they’re the subject of a Community Treatment Order, they often feel isolated and alone and can feel that everyone is against them, especially mental health staff.

The film is one of 12 new resources that are designed to support improved access to, and improved quality of, IMHAs. The resources were developed by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) and the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

One of the strengths of this project is that it’s been co-produced with people who use services. Users have been involved in a number of roles, including as advisory group members, writers, film-makers, editors and project leads.

IMHAs aren’t a threat. In the film, we’ve been keen to dispel some of the anxieties that clinical staff can have around advocacy. Staff can sometimes become defensive when an advocate is working with a service user. This is perhaps a human reaction in what is sometimes a stressful job, but staff should view the involvement of an IMHA positively.

The IMHA’s job is to help the service user find a voice, to say what they need to say at that point in their care.

It’s very important for staff to work collaboratively with the IMHA, who at the end of the day isn’t making decisions on behalf of the service user, but who is trying to represent those opinions and choices.

The kind of dialogue that IMHAs can support is great, because it opens the way to working together in partnership, which should be the objective in every person’s care.

Ultimately the IMHA is a bridge between the service user and the staff. It’s a vital role and the involvement of an IMHA should always be welcomed by staff as an opportunity to engage with the service user  and to improve their care.

The IMHA – being independent – has such an important role to play in helping that service user start to build back a level of trust, and to engage in a conversation with the world again, however difficult that conversation might be at the beginning.

Lawford Clough, a senior mental health nurse working in the community, and Paul McLaughlin, a senior mental health nurse working in an inpatient unit.

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