In more recent years within the UK, there has been a greater emphasis towards the ‘lived experience’ of people suffering with mental health problems. People working in the field have been asking how these people have found mental health services to be and what it is they have to offer in order to work towards improving the help available for those people that require it.
As someone who falls into that category, it’s a question I’ve pondered on from time to time. I’ve offered some of my time to different courses, workshops and volunteer opportunities with this question in mind, but I’ve found it a challenge to make effective use of the lived experience I have to offer. Having found that to be disheartening, I’m more curious to know the answer to the question asked.
I feel part of it has to do with the general attitude from professionals and employees within mental health services and the field, towards the people who look to use them. With how prominent the Psychiatric system is, and with what is considered to be the facts and truths associated with ‘service users’ and their health, having an opinion or personal evidence that contradicts this otherwise tends to be dismissed and given little consideration. Say, for example, you have lived experience of Psychiatric hospitals and their facilities. There are certain rules and laws that take away your basic human rights, but due to the models and beliefs in place from those in power, having lived experience doesn’t really have any value towards making a difference in this respect.
I feel for lived experience to truly make a difference, more people have to give much less power over to those in mental health services, and work towards taking it back for themselves. Having more people who are considered to be service users working together with each other, whether it be within their communities or within the mental health field, is probably what needs to happen for lived experience to be of any true worth or value. I feel it’s crucial that those who are directly involved in creating mental health services, have a great understanding of what it’s like to live with these problems. In saying this, the only way of truly understanding what it’s like to suffer with these problems is to have had first hand experience of it to begin with, as opposed to coming from a purely academic background on the matter.
Perhaps a greater challenge for those with lived experience, is that of having enough of a reason to care about making a difference. With what these people have to face on a daily basis, it can be of great difficulty to sustain an interest and to feel it’s worth their while to make the considerable effort required to contribute to the cause. Being able to give the people the courage, inspiration and motivation to better themselves, or to make the time for the cause, may end up being the one important key that opens the door to the greater possibility.