Social inclusion and its importance to recovery


It’s rare that I have to seek permissions before writing a blog but I wanted to post today about Creative Support and Community Restart – the two organisations which have played the biggest role in helping me regain my independence and restarting employment after a very major meltdown.

Creative Support does not have a high profile but is one of the largest and most important providers of independent care, support, housing, social inclusion services and outreach for people with mental health conditions and learning disabilities in the UK.   I’ve been a member and volunteer at the organisation, where I live, and more recently at Head Office, since last September. 

In that time, I’ve made new friends, joined an art group, attended special functions e,g, the Royal Wedding, taken part in fundraising and other activities, but most importantly to my recovery, have joined the editorial team of its magazine, Creative Life, where I go for monthly meetings at Head Office in Manchester.  As my background is a radio and magazine journalist and I have mental health problems and an interest in learning disabilities, this was a match made in heaven!

Thinking positive!

I hadn’t left the area in which I live for nearly 3 years before this – I couldn’t even take a bus to the next village.  I was so low, depressed, anxious, paranoid and suffered constant panic attacks.  And this is where Community Restart came in – because their occupational therapist assessed me and allocated a support worker to gradually build up my trips on public transport, initially accompanying me all the way and staying within the building during editorial meetings, and my interview for the role, but then gradually pulling back.  Only a few weeks ago I had my last supported visit and my support worker followed me at a distance, allowing me to take wrong turns, and meeting me at various places in Manchester where we’d go by different routes.  

This was to build up my confidence that I CAN do this on my own at last.  3 years down the line.  And I really can.  I did it for the first time this Tuesday, completely independently, although of course I was supported during the editorial meeting by kind Head Office colleagues. Nothing at all went wrong. I’ve found if I take the tram instead of changing trains I don’t have to subject myself to platform politics on the outskirts of Manchester any more. And I get a seat!

Community Restart and Creative Support both promote a concept called “social inclusion” which led to the death of traditional mental health day services a few years ago.  I was one of the most vocal critics of this policy at the time – writing to the Head of Social Inclusion at the local council saying how invaluable a role the day centre had played in my recovery and maintaining it.  And that all of us would languish at home doing nothing all day and become mentally unwell when it closed, possibly leading to hospitalisations.

Brain Pills

Well I have to eat a LOT of humble pie at this point, because I couldn’t possibly have been more wrong.  Just look at us all now.  Yes, the occasional person is festering at home and hasn’t moved on.  But 95% of us are socialising outside services, volunteering or even working like me.  We are motivated, optimistic about our futures, happier, enjoying life and our lives have so much more meaning and purpose!

I have written to said Head of Social Inclusion to express my gratitude to him for what he has done for us all.  I’ll give you the example of “Roy”, not his real name, who has been volunteering for Age UK for the past couple of years and is expecting to move into part-time employment at a day centre for older people in the near future.  Another former day centre attendee is on a committee.  And another runs arts and crafts classes at a community centre.  I am so proud of everybody and each time I meet someone on the bus or – because a couple live near me – in the village centre – we remark to each other what an amazing and insightful decision services made a few years ago to integrate people with mental health conditions back into mainstream life.

I count my blessings that, whilst I have extraordinarily serious relapses which result in claiming benefits for years at a time occasionally, I am told by the NHS that I am “in recovery”.  As I have said previously on this blog, there is no cure for either schizophrenia or ME/CFS, so, medical breakthroughs excepted, I will never recover fully.  I will always be fatigued, exhausted, feel fluey and achy, have poor sleep patterns, be paranoid and depressed, anxious, occasionally manic, and sometimes suicidal.

But would I go back three years and spend three to five days a week drinking cheap tea and coffee all day long in a local authority mental health day service - occasionally playing the odd game of pool or going on an outing?   You bet I wouldn't - even though it played a significant part in my recovery at the time and the staff there were all kind, friendly and very supportive and indeed are now part of Community Restart.  I count my blessings that the day centre shut every day.  My new life is fantastic.  I am free of the angst and grief over the loss of my BBC career and the complete disrespect with which it treated me and its contempt for my disabilities.  I am free from moving from commercial radio station to commercial radio station whenever a line manager discovered my conditions too.   In the wonderful world of mental health journalism, personal experience is almost a pre-requisite – and always an advantage. 

I feel so lucky and privileged to be on the Mental Healthy and Creative Support editorial teams.  They’ve given me my life back.  And I’m so incredibly grateful to everyone who’s made this achievement possible along the way – the editorial teams, my consultant, psychologist, care coordinator, CPN/CBT therapist, OTs, support time and recovery workers, welfare rights advisors, the tutor on my PC Cert in Career Planning two years ago, who continues to be a really good friend, and most of all, my friends and family, without whom I would never have reached where I am today.

Thank you all so much.  And thank you to everyone reading this so much for sharing my journey and I really hope that, if you’re in the process of beginning recovery, or even still in relapse, it will inspire you to become confident that with the right support, you too can do anything within reason that you want to with your life.  Life is great.  Let’s celebrate!

More information about social inclusion:

Royal College of Psychiatrists - position on social inclusion report

Links to organisations mentioned in this blog:

Creative Support - Mental Health Services


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