Mind – the gap

What constitutes being more mental health friendly? And what does it take to try and accomplish it? One Sheffield organisation explains

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To James Poulter the most positive aspect of mental health support group Sheffield Flourish is the way it’s altered his own view of the time he spent living with mental health issues. He no longer sees the time as a waste, but as valuable experience that can be used to help others and create a better mental health environment for everybody in Sheffield.

Poulter, who has bipolar disorder, now volunteers for the Sheffield-based group to try to make the city a more friendly place for people with mental health problems. But what does that mean? And what does it take to accomplish it?

According to Poulter it’s about acknowledging mental health without stigma. “The most you can do is just acknowledge what they go through and to give people a second chance,” he says. “It’s about being open-hearted, and having more understanding of what mental health is. It doesn’t just mean something to be scared of. You’ve got to recognise that these people can go on to lead fulfilling lives.”

Being a more mental health friendly city, Poulter says, is about making people feel comfortable. “There needs to be a huge amount of work done on letting people know about mental health and creating a safe environment, so that when people start to experience mental health problems, which can be when they’re very young, they know they can talk openly about it.

People who have gone through mental health issues, because of the nature of what it is, become very isolated. I lost a lot of friends, lost work, you lose a lot of the things that give you meaning in your life.”

Sheffield Flourish runs a range of activities, including art, creative writing and horticultural workshops. It has lunch clubs and drop-in sessions, and offers advice online and a platform for people to tell their stories. Critically, the people who use the services have been at the centre of designing them.

Sheffield Flourish’s digital content and marketing manager Jo Eckersley said: “Unlike a lot of organisations, which say someone living with a mental health condition needs help, we’re actually saying these people have skills, these people have things they can contribute and we want to use them to help make the city better.

Our volunteers include people who have living experience of mental health and so do our staff, which is really important to how we do things. We’re community focused and we work to co-produce everything we do.”

Co-production means recognising service users as assets with skills, and using those skills to improve services and support. Placing more importance on co-production has, according to Poulter, set Sheffield Flourish apart. “By taking on people’s ideas and opinions from the very start they have actually managed to create an organisation that reflects the needs of those people from the outset,” he says. “It’s a big difference.”

A key part of what Sheffield Flourish does is helping people form the connections and access the resources they need to build the lives they want to lead. 

When an organisation or community gives you opportunities and accepts you, then you start to build back the fabric of your life and social interactions,” says Poulter. “Those are often the most important things that actually help you to feel well because they bring you back to a more holistic view of yourself.”

For Poulter, making Sheffield more mental health-friendly is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to change the way mental health is approached in the UK.

The funding is not equally spent. If you come in with a physical ailment you’ll have a much greater proportion of the funding than if you’re somebody that comes in with a mental health problem.

Mental health needs more funding. It’s a human right when people get poorly to help get them better. It’s not being taken seriously; people’s lives are being ruined.”

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