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 Practice comment

'Mental health staff need a safe place to explore their values'

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Time to Change, the mental health anti-stigma campaign launched by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness in 2007, has achieved measurable attitudinal change in society, says Lisa Rodrigues

In February 2014 Time to Change announced that one in three people report lack of compassion, even stigma, when accessing NHS mental health services. These figures had been consistent since measurements started in 2007.

Those of us working in these services were distressed by what we heard. And we could not ignore it. It chimed with patient surveys, complaints, reports via social media, and the direct experiences of those of us who face mental illness ourselves.

Two years ago, after 13 years running mental health services in Sussex, I retired from the health service. However, I felt I had unfinished business on this issue, so I volunteered to help Time to Change and the NHS to address these problems.

Our Time to Change project with mental health professionals explored what gets in the way of compassionate care and what could make it better. During 2015, our team worked with patients’ representatives, senior and frontline staff at two mental health trusts, 2gether and Northumberland, Tyne and Wear.

In February 2016, four more trusts joined us: Cumbria Partnership; Cheshire and Wirral Partnership; Barnet, Enfield and Haringey; and Oxleas. Staff were encouraged to use our training materials and take part in facilitated discussions about experiences of stigma or lack of compassion within services. We published the materials online; in total, 14,000 people took part via the workshops or directly using the materials.

We found that staff need time out in a safe place to explore attitudes and values, and why sometimes they fall short of providing care to which they aspire. Evaluation from the project showed an 11% improvement in staff feeling able to make a difference to the experience of patients, with 46% of those attending workshops making subsequent improvements to their practice. A pivotal key to success was the participation of patients in the project.

For example, 2gether Foundation Trust now has eight permanent members of staff with running anti-stigma workshops included in their job roles. The aim is 100% staff participation. 2gether is also working with partner organisations to tackle stigma in the community.

The Mental Health Taskforce Report published earlier this year showed that those working in mental health face greater pressure than ever before. Mental health services have experienced more financial reductions than other parts of the NHS, and targets are often not considered as important as those in the acute hospital sector. And the media are quick to blame when things appear to go wrong.

There is still much to do to tackle the stigma associated with mental illness. Supporting mental health staff seems to me to be a really good place to start.

Lisa Rodrigues CBE is a writer and mental health campaigner

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