We need to be more hopeful when it comes to mental health

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, Michael Rutter Centre for Children and Families. There I met two very impressive people who have been working with and researching families who are coping with mental illness. Chris McCree has been pioneering the Think Family approach for many years and has succeeded in getting this outlook to be incorporated in part of the way the institution thinks. The idea is that everyone has a family and that network of relationships is an important part of a person’s mental health and wellbeing.

She has been working tirelessly to link up adult and children’s mental health service provision as well as working with colleagues in social care to ensure all professionals talk to each other, prevent bad things happening and work in the interest of the family rather than be driven by service lines and individual approaches. Chris is one of those people who makes things happen despite the bureaucracy and territorialism of organisational life. She calls it ‘steering around the icebergs’.

Dr Crispin Day is the other person who took time to meet and talk to me despite his very busy life in the clinic and research groups. We discussed the highs and lows of randomised control trials and why he still loves them. I asked to meet him because we were speaking at a conference together and had just a few minutes to share our thoughts during the conference. I was impressed by his combination of realism and enthusiasm and the fact that he and his work is making a real difference to people’s lives, as well as doing research into what might be the best approach to helping families who face a variety of difficulties. I admire anyone who does something as well as talking about it. In his presentation he talked about the Recovery College which he set up using a simple idea that parents could be trained to mentor each other and didn’t need massive investment to do so. This idea is the basis of the Recovery College and it has taken off around the world. The research proves that it works — it really does help families to function better and children to become better adjusted and happier.

I walked away from that meeting with a clear thought in my head, we need to be more hopeful. Most of what we hear about mental illness is depressing and pessimistic but perhaps we can recover, given the right support, in the right way, maybe we have more capacity for recovery than we think. It seems clear that peer support is more effective than other interventions and this stands to reason because social isolation is in itself a source of distress and despair. Of course there is no magic bullet but maybe we need more low tech solutions to help families and children recover their sense of pride and self-confidence.