Jeremy Weinstein of SWAN London reports from the recent 'Crisis in Mental Health' meeting on 8th November. The day was a packed and enthusiastic affair, following on from similar conferences in Bristol and Oxford. The hall we met in was packed and a second room had stalls from DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts), CoolTan Arts, Unison and a Bookmarks bookstall. Amongst the audience were practitioners from nine London boroughs and a range of service user groups, the most prominent being DPAC, several MIND groups and the Movement for an Adoption Apology.
Speakers included stalwart supporters of SWAN, Peter Beresford, Professor of Social Policy and chair of Shaping Our Lives, and June Sadd, a mental health survivor and researcher. We also heard from a member of Unison’s NEC (in her personal capacity) and a worker from Unite Community and activists came from two important disputes, both challenging the effects of privatisation of adult services, Your Choice Barnet, following which we collected £150 for their strike fund, and St Mungo’s Housing who didn’t need a collection since they’d just won their dispute!
This gives some idea of the scope of the conference. What we learnt from it? That ‘mental illness’ has a deep impact on both service users and practitioners, that it effects those diagnosed with specific conditions and less obviously but equally corrosively on the wider community. This includes vulnerable women forced into giving up their babies for adoption, children coping with abusive family conditions, members of the LGBT community facing domestic violence. And we also learnt how people can survive and thrive, whether it’s music or campaigning or both, there’s a collective response that takes on the aloneness.
What SWAN learns from the event is the need to address more clearly the experience of those in the Black and Ethnic Minority Communities. We’re also beginning to network with other campaigns concerned with the impact of privatisation on mental health services and the voluntary sector.