For me, the thematic review shows we’ve got to utilise the resource of lived experience properly. To do this the Trust must fully understand the role of real peer support.
It’s not about buddying and it’s not an apprentice scheme to become part of the workforce (though both of these are positive and welcome). Done properly, it’s about a person with lived experience of debilitating distress having frank, eyeball to eyeball conversations with someone whose situation is similar to where they have been.
You can’t – indeed shouldn’t – do that if you’re a clinician. And you can’t do it if you’re seen as being on the ‘inside’; professionalised peer support isn’t authentic peer support. It’s all too common for NHS mental health services to run ‘peer support’ schemes on their own terms as part of the system. Because, of course, it’s convenient.
You have to know what it’s like to have had a breakdown, to be psychotic, to be terrified. You need that shared experience to have frank, precious, insightful, truthful conversations about what’s really going on for someone; conversations that can alert clinical teams about real issues. Peer support is something only peers can do and lead on.
As far as I’m concerned, getting to grips with the issues that come out of the thematic review will involve people with lived experience sharing power. That involves challenging the status quo, because if we keep doing the same things we run the risk of getting the same results.
I believe we’re pushing at an open door at Sussex Partnership. The organisation has looked in the mirror, found itself wanting and admitted this. That’s a brave first step in changing things.
People with lived experience may need to 'get in the way a bit' to help professionals see things in a different way. People who have used services can lead the way forward based on knowing what works and what hurts. I’m a naturally optimistic person and I think this approach of combining expertise will become the dominant force for good for patients, families and mental health staff in the future.
I’m a Non Executive Director who has broken down and experienced great troubles. These experiences were the most terrifying of my life and for my family. Like so many others, I refuse to let these experiences be anything less than useful to people who are still terrified themselves.