• Tod James CF FRSA

Summary report of my experience of mental health in Lowestoft

Updated: 2 days ago

This is the summary of my report My Lived Experience of Mental Health in Lowestoft as

‘Lowestoft Mental Health Ambassador’ 2018-2020. The suggestions that I make can be accessed here and the full report can be found here.

Summary Introduction

For some people this will understandably be far too big of a report to easily consume, and for many the case studies and examples will be familiar and represent the kinds of issues found in towns and cities around the country. I hope that the suggestions made over the final seven pages of this report will be useful in having conversations across the town about how we can achieve the ultimate aim of making Lowestoft the best place on earth for good mental health. It may then be that in time you can see from where I have gathered the stories and experiences described in case studies and examples.

As you read through the document you will be able to see where I have identified some areas of possible improvement but this should not take away from the fact that Lowestoft is starting from a far better place than many other towns. In the light of Coronavirus we have been able to see the extraordinary efforts to aid community resilience which were made far easier (though very challenging) to draw together because the town already has outstanding practice and good people working in and out of services within the town.

Lowestoft Rising has contributed greatly to the coherent way in which urgent and important messages can be shared and vital community projects can be supported. The achievements in reductions in homelessness, emergency admissions, coordination of free school meals in summer holidays, and urgent recovery of vital assets such as food banks are all possible because of the leadership shown by Lowestoft Rising. The Collaboration Academy of which I was part is a good example of efforts to join up and coordinate efforts around a common issue, engaging as many parts of the system as possible. The leadership, drive, and experience of Phil Aves have been essential.

Across the town are many providers of support to people with mental health issues from support group volunteers to NHS staff and projects. In all cases we have some outstanding work which has seen many people find healing in mental health. Multi agency work is common, and challenging issues and people have been identified and through collaboration there is support available far more quickly to people in need. They are of course faced with the fact that resource is stretched and unmet need is very difficult to identify.

Several providers are incredibly agile and this has enabled organisations like Access Community Trust for example to rapidly trial crisis cafes, accommodate other agencies, support food banks and other local services, and inspire people and organisations around them. Their leadership team, with Emma Ratzer MBE working to connect others across the system and encourage her teams to innovate, are able to react and adapt. Many other organisations work hard to promote community resilience but I was most exposed to the work of Access.

Many outstanding people across the town are campaigning and advocating for better support within, for, and around the services provided for people. In looking at what we may need more of it is also essential to appreciate what exists. From a terrible tragedy we have seen the birth of a campaign focussed on reducing suicides within the town, Liftloud for Danny have raised issues of advocacy and concern, worked with services to support greater understanding, and have engaged with a large number of people to raise awareness of a range of issues. They and others have created groups, charities, online activities, and have gained skills and qualifications to enable them to further support people.

I and my colleagues with lived experience have been welcomed into organisations across the town from schools, colleges, almost all councils, our local MP, and we have been able to train front line staff using lived experience. I have found that every person in the town who I speak to has a positive view about how we can make our communities stronger, although sometimes it is hard to see how they can change the system around them, that is the hard work. We have some outstanding democratic institutions, a large district council within a strong leadership team and an experienced, compassionate, and respected Chief Executive, and a new town council who have the chance to shape the way that they represent the town. Despite this there is a lack of engagement with democracy, and I hope that is something we could change in towns like Lowestoft with confident advocacy and community engagement.

By adding far more community awareness of mental health I believe that we can reduce the reliance upon services, encourage more people to engage with their community, and support people to be more emotionally resilient and happy. We have a range of other organisations such as Sentinel Leisure, Marina Theatre, Norse, the Chamber of Commerce, Seagull Thestre and many others who want to support healthy communities and can help us engage more people.

Within the report you will be able to see some of the experiences I drew upon, I am always seeking to learn more about mental health and encourage anyone with an interest in shared learning to connect with me. I hope to build this into a network which will share best practice and help to establish a lived experience accreditation.

If any individuals or organisations find my suggestions interesting then I would be happy to provide a summary to them of ways in which I believe they can benefit from understanding mental health and community resilience and contribute to creating more healthy and resilient communities.

I believe today as I did on the day when I stated the aim, that Lowestoft can be the best place on earth for good mental health, I hope we can see that happen and I hope to help. If you would like to understand the position Lowestoft is in at the moment fully then I encourage you to visit the Lowestoft Rising website, it is an outstanding model for community engagement. I also strongly recommend visiting the website of Access Community Trust who provide a range of services which have been used to both create support opportunities and to underpin wider work, the MEAM Team is a case study in identifying and supporting vulnerable people. Lowestoft Rising and the organisations working with them have done a great deal to overcome the issues of GDPR and data sharing in working with vulnerable people.

The next step for a town such as Lowestoft is to build upon the remarkable people, services, groups, and organisations across the town to not only meet the needs of more vulnerable people but to reach even further into communities to find those people at high risk but who do not consider themselves vulnerable. People like me when I was suicidal.

What I can say about the town from lived experience is this, that I was the hardest to reach person, I spent many years not recognising the signs of my own mental health experience. But the people and the services in the town, as well as personal change, helped me immeasurably, but I only found all of these services because I was exposed to them through my various roles. Many more people are stuck where I was, unsure of why they feel like they cannot cope when they have ‘no excuse’, we don’t need to give people excuses but more people need help to understand the reasons for their feelings.

Our conferences and the work being done across the town show there is an appetite to tackle the mental health issues we all share, and I hope we can all go on working to make more people feel safe, connected, and heard.

Tod James CF FRSA

20th June 2020


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