Sefton Recovery Group Experience and Vision, Merseyside, England

Karen Colligan

For and on behalf of Sefton Recovery Group Network, Merseyside, England

With the support of Piers Allott; from the outset and throughout; National Fellow for Recovery, Care Services Improvement Partnership, England:
This piece describes the development of Sefton Recovery Group, its vision and its current activities and its goals for the future.

Sefton Recovery Group is a group of ‘Experts by Experience’, an intentional peer governed network of 350 people deemed to be experiencing ‘serious and enduring mental illness’, people with lived experience of mental illness services, their family and friends all of whom practice Wellness Recovery Action Planning (WRAP). Being network centric is all about emotional security, democracy, flexibility and information sharing.

We believe that recovery is the vision for the future of mental health services, accelerating a shift away from a total focus on illness toward creating and maintaining mental well being. A recovery approach provides everyone with an opportunity to take back control over their life whether in the presence or absence of illness through self management approaches such as WRAP. This is part of a larger paradigmatic shift across the Western world in constructing healing contexts for individuals, organizations and community.

Beginnings

We came out of “user only” spaces and self financed North West Consumer Network over the last thirty years. There is a strong human rights and independent mental health advocacy ethos in our approach and we have cross party political support for our work.

In the spring of 2002 the group found a paper on the Internet entitled: ‘Discovering Hope for Recovery from a British Perspective’ (Allott, P. et al 2002). We found this paper inspirational and we decided to organize a conference ‘Focus on Recovery’. One hundred members participated at that 2002 conference and this signaled a significant change to our operations in Sefton.

We followed this in December of the same year with the first public showing in the UK of Mary Ellen Copeland’s Wellness Toolbox; and Wellness Recovery Action Plan videos which were played on the big screen at our local cinema.

The group then decided to commission a two day Mental Health Recovery and WRAP Education program facilitated by Piers Allot, now National Fellow for Recovery in England.

Twenty-one “Experts by Experience” participated including a local councilor, a Eucharistic minister, a manager of a large residential home for older people, a complementary therapist, a manager in further education and a professional musician. This training enabled members to equip themselves with the tools to self manage their own mental well being, and increased their enthusiasm to awaken others to Recovery as the vision for the future of mental health (meaning health) services.

A series of meetings were held over the course of a week in May 2003 at a Recovery Respite Centre, based in a Quaker Meeting House in mid Wales. A ‘Pursuit of Risk’ being the theme of the meetings testing unproven ideas, intangibles based on our instincts and vigor to invent new ways of working’ and change language. This inspired courage to deal with the power issues associated with pursuits of ‘positive risk’. Drawing on wisdom gained over a quarter of a century in the frontline of (not user involvement) but user engagement.

Recovery is a process which recognizes and acknowledges the tricks of discrimination sidelining, subjugating and silencing; and the very real attempts at character assassination led by those and theirs who belong to the old ways of working. We’d been at a pivotal point of change before; and we’d got through it against adversity. ’Resilience’ is our strength.

Supporters

Our group has continued to grow and develop its ideas. Successful cross platform collaboration with Southport and Waterloo Colleges of Further Education and Liverpool City Community College have borne fruit in a range of enable programs headed Wellness Toolbox sessions; complementary therapies, guitar keyboard and midi-recording, craftwork, T’ai Chi, journaling, creative writing recovery narratives; etc.

Lessons learned

We have learned that by practicing certain wellness tool disciplines over a period of time, confirmation in the light of painful experiences may be seen as meaningful and creative. What use is a session once or twice a week (people may ask) when you have to get on with your life in between? What these sessions provide are some powerful tools to incorporate in the flow of life which become our regular practice and our daily experience.

Coupled with a structured rolling program of MH Recovery and WRAP education; life becomes less of a struggle. We have found that most people delve into one wellness tool, and stick with it for an extended period of time in order to experience the healing and transformative effects of the tool, before adding more to their toolbox. We have learned Recovery takes effort by all parties, especially the person experiencing distress/illness.

Following is one person’s story of how WRAP is transforming her life:

WRAP has given me the framework to see the bigger picture. It not only equips me with a system to build my emotional and mental well being, but also a system to deal with my chronic physical condition.

I have built wellness tools into my everyday life, and they have become part of the fabric of my life. I don’t feel guilty about taking self time for Wellness Tools. I now feel obliged to create and maintain my mental well-being.

I ask myself do you want to be healthy? Do you want to be alive? Of course I want to be alive and I also want to be well. I am in control of my WRAP but I am not alone in achieving it. We each build up to five supporters in our life. Right now for me that includes my family, friends; SRG Network, direct payment worker and college support services.

I like the reciprocity that comes with WRAP; my supporters help me to help myself and vice versa. Before WRAP I would not have asked anyone for help. Now if I need help I ask for it. I have realized no one can ‘do life’ on their own. Wrap has given me a range of new constructs, and ways of living.

In activating WRAP, I’ve had to bite the bullet and address some things I’d rather not have had to address. It’s hard work, but it was my decision and I figured if I didn’t deal with what needed dealing with; it would have reared up its ugly head further on down the line, or maybe forever and in many different ways.

I am for the first time in my life getting to know myself, seeing and changing the patterns of me and my life. Doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t, WRAP gets you to the stuff you need to deal with and the changes you need to make in order to move forward.

Finding a meaning and a reason to recover/ change is integral to the Recovery process. Working as a group in our WRAP classes, we share our strategies for small but powerful changes; and for the first time in my life I have a vision for the life I want to lead.

My family have also directly and indirectly benefited from the program. I teach my family and friends about WRAP; they too are awakening to recovery and taking back control over their own lives.

We recently used WRAP to help our infant school son who was being bullied at school to understand why it was happening; and to help us as a family strategize ways of addressing and dealing with the situation and its outcomes.

Key obstacles and in getting to what really needs to be changed:

A key barrier has been the behavior of some people particularly in statutory services who don’t get it and yet retort; ‘But we’re already doing it’ … ‘Doing what?’ Equipping people to self manage their lives? In the presence or absence of a deemed serious and enduring mental illness?

Another is the distribution of wealth investment in mental illness services,. a real barometer of stigma and discrimination which is rife. In any one Primary Care Trust footprint there is probably less than a 0.05% of total ‘mental illness’ spent on intentional peer governed peer operated services. SHIFT that.

We also need to accelerate research to promote recovery and decrease the prevalence of ‘mental illness’ through rapid feedback loops reporting research findings of what helps and what hinders peoples recovery ‘real time’.

Finally, a belief that mental health systems have the ability to offer services that are helpful to a persons recovery is important and where this is not thought to be the case, a belief that systems can recover is essential.

Commissioning

We have further invested in expanding our portfolio of work by exploring and applying Mental Health Recovery Education and WRAP to the local commissioning cycle* using visioning exercises. Participants gather in a circle and a challenge question is posed: ‘We have been successful in achieving our Recovery vision in Sefton. What does it look like? What are it’s attributes? ‘How did we get here?’ Finish the exercise when it feels participants have expressed all attributes; and pathways to their Recovery Vision.

The Vision

‘Self agency is a new way of life here, as people educate themselves and others about Mental Health Recovery and WRAP. We have all worked together to make Recovery the expected outcome. Our vision is secure through educating (in the presence or absence of illness) all Sefton citizens in self management approaches such as WRAP’.

(*The commissioning cycle describes the main stages of the commissioning process, and tasks to be addressed within each stage of the strategic framework, planning, purchasing of services, monitoring and review.)

Future Plans

But how serious are we?

We are already committed to offering an entirely self financed, twice weekly Wellness Toolbox and Mental Health Recovery and WRAP training program to people with a deemed serious and enduring mental illness in Sefton.

We have formally put the following question (supported by a petition signed by the people of Sefton) to our Health and Overview Scrutiny Committee who from January 2003 has had a responsibility to scrutinize local health services ( Health and Social Care Act 2001 ).

This new function will look not only at National Health Service (NHS) services, but also at health inequalities and health improvement, with the aim of enhancing health and well being locally. Local Authority Overview and Scrutiny Committees will now also be consulted by the NHS on substantial service variations and can refer contested decisions to the Secretary of State for Health.

‘What percentage of total mental illness spend goes to ‘Intentional Peer Governed Peer Support Services? ‘

One of our major development priorities for the future will be a speculative demand led, investment program in Recovery literature. Our first publication has been an anglicized version of Wellness Recovery Action Plan, authored by Mary Ellen Copeland and edited by Piers Allott; (ISBN 0 9549295 0 0 January 2005).Income from WRAP book sales go to pay the rent at our centre for Wellness Tools in Sefton.

Tying all the different strands together

Recovery practice values the role hope plays in the recovery of individuals, organizations and community.

A vision of a Recovery world sets a transformational anchor to accelerate (coupled with a game fixing coalition that recognizes stigma and discrimination) a transfer of opportunity away from old ways of working toward healing systems liberated to self direct and explore every contextual opportunity for Wellness Recovery Action Planning.

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