Sunday, 23 September 2018

Promoting mental health as a place of possibility and promise in the sunshine of Croatia


Well what a week! Tuesday I was up at 4.30am to drive to the airport en route to Croatia. I normally use a ‘meet and greet’ service to park my car. However, J had secured a deal on Groupon which reduced the cost of parking a car at the airport. Now then sometimes getting a cheap deal is not always the best deal. I had to ring the firm up when I was 20 minutes away from the airport (difficult to do on a motorway even with a hands free phone). Sure enough there was a man waiting for me at the drop off point, who asked for the car keys and before I knew it, had driven off with my car. I have only had it for six weeks, so I was a little perturbed. I had been told to go to level three on my return and I wondered if I would ever see the car again. However, when I came back and got to level three, after a wait of 45 minutes, my car appeared. It seemed to be undamaged, but perhaps somewhat sadly there was no apology for the delay in returning it to me.  

I was in Croatia to present a couple of papers with my friend and long term collaborator Professor Sue McAndrew. This was the 7th European Conference of Mental Health. We have been to all but one of the conferences. Up until this conference, it was Tallinn, Estonia that had been my favourite venue. Split, Croatia, was something else. The city is wrapped around the coast and is nestled under huge, imposing mountains. The old town was medieval, beautifully preserved and full of tiny narrow winding streets. There are pavement cafes at every turn, and fish of all sorts appeared to feature heavily. The streets were thronged with folk, day and night. Everyone appeared to be making the most of the fabulously hot weather. We joined in and explored the city, and the coast (although it was burning hot when out in the sun) before the conference programme got started. 

The conference programme was full on, with some cracking keynote speakers at the start of each session. These featured talks on human rights and mental health; violence prediction; pragmatic psychology (my favourite); and the co-production of mental health policy. The concurrent sessions were also fabulous. There was a mixture of papers presented by academics, practitioners and service users.  I enjoyed hearing of the use of dogs in therapeutic work with children and young people; the very difficult job of working on a small island in the Caribbean (there is a vacancy for one more nurse:- DM me if you want details); how to balance the impact on sexual function and sexual desire with the benefits of prescribing psychotropic medication; and the use of ‘serious games’ and gaming in facilitating nurse education. 

Sue and I had two papers to present. The first one, which was presented in the first session on the first day, was a paper that had been co-produced with one of our PhD students, Dr Gareth Lyons. Unfortunately, despite trying hard we could not secure the funding for Gareth to join us in Split, so we presented his work on his behalf. His PhD study had focused on men with eating disorders and the way they can get lost in services which usually cater almost exclusively for women. It’s estimated that 1.25 million people in the UK live with an eating disorder. Whilst it’s true that many more women than men have an eating disorder, between ten and 25% of all those with an eating disorder are believed to be men. Gareth’s work was well received. We have sent a joint authored paper off for publication, watch this space. 

Our second paper was a ‘work in progress’ paper that considered the relationship between ‘doing therapy and doing research’. Mental health nurses in particular have the skills to do both although this is not something always appreciated and accepted. Sue and I have been interested in identifying what these skills are, but have also been interested in why people either want to participate in research or undertake research. We based our conference paper on some 26 PhD students we have supervised over the years. Drawing upon an auto-ethnographic approach we reviewed and analysed our supervision records and notes. Four emergent themes came to the fore. These were: Doing research ‘on’ or ‘with’ participants - the ethics of a symbiotic encounter; I’m just a researcher who can’t say no – the tensions in being a nurse with professional obligations and being a researcher; Transfer of feelings – developing both a sensitivity towards others and using this appropriately in recognising the presence of transference and counter transference present in all relationship encounters; Having no control, not being responsible – so is research as therapy so wrong? 

These were questions we explored in our paper. The audience were kind, but equally they challenged us. Together we explored the similarities of being a nurse and being a researcher, or being both. There lies a paper waiting to be written. In a week that began by saying goodbye to Neil, my friend, colleague and fellow NED at his funeral, a funeral celebrating his life, (and Christopher, you are not forgotten either) it was great to meet so many other old friends. The conference goes from strength to strength – next year we are in Belfast, and whilst the weather is unlikely to be as good as Split, it’s reassuring to know that there will be many good folk there all #makingadifference to the lives of others.