Thursday, 18 December 2014

Top 10 Tips to Survive Christmas

The mental health team here at PAVO would like to wish you all the best for Christmas and New Year 2014. However, we understand that it can be a difficult time for some people, and between us the team have come up with ten (hopefully useful) tips for surviving Christmas. If you have ideas of your own we would really like to hear from you - just add them in the comments box at the end.

1 Get together with other people
If you haven’t got anything planned for Christmas and are worried about being on your own, why not contact someone who may be in a similar situation, and arrange to do something together.

2 Prepare in case of a crisis
Before Christmas make a list of people and places who could support you in a crisis. Make sure you have phone numbers to hand, opening times of places that are important to you, that you have renewed your prescription if you have medication, and have emergency cash if possible for taxis if you really need to get somewhere. If you self-injure and think this is likely over Christmas make sure you have what you need to be safe. (See links below for further support and help).

3 Remember lost loved ones
Christmas can be a difficult time if you have just lost someone. If you have lost someone close maybe acknowledge this and light a candle for them. You might like to give something to an appropriate charity in their memory.

4 Be a Christmas volunteer
What about actually volunteering to do something with a local group or charity? Many organisations would like to hear from you if you have time to help, but contact them in plenty of time so that your offer can be incorporated into the group's plans.

5 Just treat yourself!
Do something nurturing for yourself - get yourself a treat - plan to go to your favourite place or go on your favourite walk, or listen to music that you really like.

6 Celebrate in your own way
If the commercialisation or the religious aspects of Christmas are not for you celebrate the mid winter in your own ways - think of the mid winter as a time for reflection and quiet, a time for beginning to nurture new growth….think of all the things in nature which begin life in a period of dark and quiet - roots start to grow, trees rest before the new leaves of spring, sheep are in lamb ready for spring …...sow some seeds of change for yourself - what can you begin when the days start to get longer again?

7 Have a laugh!
Promise yourself a laugh on Christmas Day - even if you don’t really feel like it. Look at some funny DVDs or ring someone who makes you laugh - find a funny YouTube clip - even if you feel false doing it laughing can definitely help to lift negative feelings.

8 Take the time to be useful

Use the time to do something practical. You may get a sense of achievement for having accomplished something. Perhaps you have been waiting all year to find time to sort out that untidy room or make a new garden bed. Dive in and start now!
9 Create, create, create
Be creative - paint a picture, knit a scarf, design your garden ready for the new season, write a poem, make a fun mask, go for a walk and take some photographs, sing a song.... Perhaps it is an opportunity to try something new. There are lots of groups out there encouraging creative activity, such as Arts Alive in Crickhowell. Or you can search the internet for websites packed full of ideas, like this one.

10 Be a friend to someone else this Christmas
Think about what your neighbours might be doing, and if any of them might need some support, help or companionship at this time. Often helping someone else - even just small gestures such as collecting a newspaper for them from the local shop -  can take your mind off your own struggles and can be a very rewarding way to spend time over the Christmas period.

Wellness and Recovery Learning Centres around Powys are open at some point over Christmas and the New Year and would welcome your visit. Visit their websites to check their opening times, details here. You can link to national helplines here.

If you need help urgently find information here.

We look forward to hearing from you in 2015.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Dyfed-Powys Police: Dementia Friendly and Neighbourhood Friendly

Dyfed Powys Police is running an initiative to raise awareness of dementia in our communities and Inspector Brian Jones is at the forefront. In this guest post he tells us more about the initiative in Powys.

Inspector Brian Jones was born into a rural community near Hay-on-Wye and has spent his life in and around the county of Powys. Joining Dyfed Powys Police in 1994, he worked his way up the ranks, filling a variety of roles, to his present position of Neighbourhood Development Inspector, responsible for forging links with partner agencies to develop an integrated approach to addressing community problems. He is also responsible for equalities and the development of links with under-represented groups within the local community in order to increase police knowledge, understanding and awareness of the plethora of issues impacting on modern day life. 

Each of the four areas that make up Dyfed Powys Police has established a Confidence and Equality Group (CEG). These groups are organized by the police and seek representatives from communities that include young people, aged 16 to 25 years, elderly people, people with disabilities, people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender and people from minority ethnic communities. The purpose of the CEGs is to ensure access by under-represented groups within the community to the police and to provide a forum to discuss and resolve the needs and concerns of the community.

Brian chairs the Powys group, which meets quarterly, and involves members from these under-represented groups, as well as those actually living with a condition, for example, mental health. “I want the group to have a wider membership and create wider awareness”, said Brian. “To this end, the CEG meetings have been themed since 2012. These themes have covered a range of issues, such as mental health, dementia, ageing population and autism, to name a few.” 

Dyfed Powys Hate Crime Support Officers
The Powys CEG meeting, which is attended by a mixture of partner agencies and Community Support Police Officers, was held in November 2013. The theme was Dementia and Rhiannon Davies, Chair of the Brecon and Hay Dementia Friendly Community Group, agreed to attend to present the case for people living with Dementia. “It was following this meeting that Rhiannon asked me to become a Dementia Champion, which I did, and all 34 attendees subsequently signed up to become Dementia Friends,” said Brian. “Having this increased awareness and understanding of dementia is vital in assisting the police to treat those living with dementia with dignity and respect, to react appropriately to situations involving such people and to give the wider community the confidence to come forward, knowing that we, the police, can deliver the quality of service and support needed.” 

With his Dementia Champion hat on, Brian has now given Dementia Friends sessions to the scouts, to senior police officers and is soon to present a session to the Police Call Centre based in Carmarthen. All Hate Crime Support Officers throughout the 4 areas of Dyfed Powys Police are now Dementia Friends, trained by Brian. He also presented a session to the Powys Mental Health Planning and Development Partnership, as well as to a seminar for nurses and midwives. It is perhaps testament to the success of Brian’s role as a Dementia Champion and Neighbourhood Development Inspector that a police officer should be asked to stand before a group of health professionals to present the case for dementia.

Besides himself, Brian now has five Community Support Officers trained as Dementia Champions, whose responsibility it will be to train all staff in all stations in the Powys area.

For those police officers who have become Dementia Friends, the badge now forms part of their uniform and it is noticeable that wearing the badge opens up doors and initiates conversations. “My ultimate aim is for Dyfed Powys Police to become a Dementia Friendly organization” said Brian. “There are so many instances when we might be called upon to engage with someone, whether a carer or the family of someone, living with dementia. Whether it’s a missing person, a victim of hate crime or domestic crime, the level of response is extremely resource-intensive for the police. The key to providing the correct response, to picking up signals at an early stage, to treating people with dignity, respect and understanding, is in having that insight, that additional awareness, whether we’re dealing with dementia, autism or mental health.” 

“I’m very proud of how we’ve been able to change the culture within the organization over the last 20 years to where we are now” said Brian. “The culture of communities is changing as well and therefore how we engage with and police them and I’m proud to be part of that too.”

Do you live in a Dementia Friendly Community? Let us know what you think or if you have any queries in the comments box below.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Powys Mental Health Alliance Winter Open Day 2014

It's that time of year again already! The mental health charity - Powys Mental Health Alliance - holds two open days each year, one in spring/summer (you can see my colleague Freda joining in the Stretch and Smile session in May here), and another each winter. Last week I went along to the Royal British Legion in Llandrindod Wells to find out more about the group's latest activities and also listened to invited speakers on subjects as diverse as mental health research and dog-sitting.

Chair of the organisation, Bryan Douglas-Matthews, and trustee Debra Douglas-Matthews,
check out the latest edition of Headspace magazine with editor Carla Rosenthal.
The Open Day was well attended with individuals travelling from far and wide across the county, including Ystradgynlais in the South and Llanfair Caereinion to the North. Many organisations had stands on the day as it's a great way to share information about their activities - more details about some of those who came along at the end of the post.

The first business of the day was the charity's annual AGM, where members have the opportunity to sign off the annual report and accounts. The trustees are also voted in at this point for the coming year.

Current trustees of the organisation L-R: Christine Field, Bill Fawcett, Debra Douglas-Matthews,
Bryan Douglas-Matthews, John Steadman. Not pictured: Kelvin Mills, Robert Short.

First speaker of the day was Jenna Markham of the National Centre for Mental Health, a research organisation based in Cardiff and backed by Welsh Government, the NHS and Cardiff University. 

Jenna spoke about 
the current research programme which NCMH is running, and invited anyone who is interested to contact her to find out more.

This particular research
 "is working to find out more about mental health conditions so that we can make diagnosis, treatment and support better in the future." Jenna explained that the research started in 2011, and has a target of 6000 participants. So far 3000 people, aged from 4 - 96, have taken part across Wales.
NCMH is interviewing people both with and without a mental health diagnosis, as a control group is required. She said that the process was very informal, and also offered the opportunity to discuss how effective people thought any medication they were taking was, and if they received benefits from other therapies or approaches to their mental health problems.

After the serious matter of mental health research, it was time for some light relief in the form of Michele Hart's Stretch and Smile exercise session.This has proved extremely popular at previous Open Days, and this time was no different! 

Others took the opportunity for some gentle relaxation with Holistic Therapist Liz Gannon from Welshpool, who offered neck, shoulder and head massage and reiki sessions on the day.

Stretch & Smile, with Liz Gannon providing a neck
massage in the background
Liz told me that the benefits of massage included: 
  • Relief from pain, stress and tension, and the release of endorphins - the body's feel good hormones.
  • Increased energy levels and feelings of vitality.
  • A general sense of health and well-being.

A mask-making workshop, with former PMHA trustee Diane Hart, tempted others to put their creative skills to good use during the coffee break. Diane has created designs for a variety of animal masks which can easily be adapted - she showed us her lion, wolf and owl. They look gorgeous!

Diane holds regular Harts & Crafts workshops at Ponthafren Association's Welshpool base - you can find out more here.

Next up to speak was a regular supporter of PMHA - this year's Powys High Sheriff Phil Bowen. Phil has enjoyed an extremely busy year so far - the following week he was due to support the Lord Lieutenant at Princess Anne's visit to the Royal Welsh Winter Fair in Builth Wells. In his role Phil has provided huge support to a variety of mental health organisations and activities since April, including opening the new Wellness and Recovery Learning Centre at Bronllys Hospital and introducing new drama activities for mental health patients on Felindre Ward at the same hospital.

The Open Day then welcomed Julia Roberts of Dementia Friends, an initiative of the Alzheimer's Society. Julia, who works in a shop in Knighton and is also busy as a school governor, recently took part in a Dementia Friendly Information Session, and became a Dementia Friend.

The Knighton Dementia Friendly Community held its first steering group meeting last week and Julia hopes that the initiative will prove as successful as that already underway in Brecon.

Julia had taken away many messages from her Dementia Friendly session, including that it is possible to live well with dementia, and that there is always more to a person than their dementia.

She said that she hoped to help make a community in Knighton where "I can feel safe, loved and valued if I develop dementia."

And then to Barking Mad. Local organiser Steve Gibbon was unable to attend the Open Day, but, luckily for us, Headspace Editor Carla Rosenthal had two moving doggy tales to tell.... Last summer Carla sadly lost her own much-loved dog and felt very miserable as a result. Whilst writing an article on Bob the Dog for the magazine she realised how depressed she was because she didn't have a dog any more, and then found out about Barking Mad.

Before long Carla found herself looking after a Staffordshire bull terrier called Nancy while her owners went on holiday. She took Nancy for a walk around Clun on a lovely sunny day and spoke to lots of other dog walkers. Her spirits were lifted. She felt energised. "It changed the whole weekend for me."

Carla has since looked after Ozzie for 10 days and went walking every day. She sent a postcard to the owner on behalf of Ozzie and even texts. "I had all the fun of a dog without commitment!" By the end of Carla's talk everyone seemed sold on the idea! Not to be left out, even the cat lovers were throwing out ideas about cat sitting and cat cafes!

PMHA were pleased to welcome a number of other organisations on the day, including the following:

Mel Santorini of Time to Change Wales
Denise Davies of Mid & West Wales
Fire & Rescue Service
Meg Lewis and Linda Jones of Powys Care & Repair
Lucy Taylor of Powys Carers
If you want to find out more about the future activities of Powys Mental Health Alliance, you can check out the organisation's website here.

You can also tweet the charity 

Tel:  07926 862 414

Were you at this year's Open Day? 
Let us know what you thought in the comments section below.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Safe, Safe, Safe – Standards for Health for mental health organisations

Nicky Morris (Ponthafren Association) receives a Standards for
Health certificate from Lesley at the charity's recent AGM 
My colleague Lesley Austen has been working for the past 12 months at Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations as the Safe Services Officer. Amongst many other things, she has supported organisations in the mental health voluntary sector to engage with the “Standards for Health” quality assurance scheme.

Safe Services is an increasingly important element of supporting the Third Sector to grow and thrive and we wanted to find out more. We caught up with Lesley at her PAVO base at Plas Dolerw in Newtown to ask a few questions.

What does a Safe Services Officer do on a daily basis?

I provide one to one support to organisations to help them comply with the standards. We map the standards against any existing quality assurance which may already be in place to avoid duplications.

Can you give us a bit more background information about the Standards for Health and explain why they are so important?

The ‘Doing Well, Doing Better Standards for Health Services in Wales’ came into force from the 1st April 2010 and replaced the previous standards that were introduced in 2005. The framework of standards (2010) sets out the requirements of what is expected of all health services in all settings.

Engaging with Standards for Health ensures organisations have the quality assurance in place to comply with Welsh Government issued National Minimum Standards for Independent Healthcare Services in Wales and be eligible to apply for Health Board funding, through grants, commissioning and tendering.

How can an organisation and/or service use the Standards?

A ‘How To’ guide has been developed to assist third sector organisations to use the Standards for Health Services. The guide aims not only to support you and your organisation/service to use the Standards, but also help NHS organisations and professionals to assure themselves that third sector partners delivering health services and care meet and use the Standards too.

If organisations do not comply with the Standards what implications does that have?

Current funding may not be renewed; opportunities for commissioning may be closed to them.

If an organisation is unclear about how to achieve the necessary Standards, what can the staff and/or volunteers do?

PAVO provides FREE information and training to help voluntary organisations in Powys comply with the Standards. You can contact me to find out more (see details below) or check out the PAVO website here.

How much work is involved in achieving the Standards?

For established organisations, not very much – most of the policies and procedures are already in place, and unlike some quality assurance system there is no requirement to produce a huge portfolio of evidence.

Organisations are asked to firstly identify which of the 26 standards apply to the service they provide, document what they have in place (on prepared electronic templates) and index where physical evidence (policies, documents, posters etc) are stored or displayed.

Then they identify what if anything they need to do to comply with the standards and develop an improvement plan (again on a prepared template) in order to achieve it.

Talk us through a particularly rewarding aspect to your role

PAVO recently had the great pleasure of presenting a certificate of completed engagement with the Standards for Health Quality Assurance system to Ponthafren Association at the organisation's recent AGM.

Ponthafren Association is the first organisation in Powys supported by PAVO to complete the process and their commitment and diligence will not only act as an incentive to other organisations, their approach will act as a framework of good practice and an aid to working with the Standards.

What are the most challenging aspects of the role?

The geography of Powys – everywhere takes so long to get to – but it also makes the journeys very enjoyable!

Tell us about the most valuable thing you have learnt since starting your role?

The variety and varying needs of the Third Sector in Powys and the untiring commitment of the army of volunteers who sustain it.

How did you come to work at PAVO originally?

Finding too much time on my hands after working for over 20 years in the voluntary sector in Wales, I thought my experience may be of benefit as a volunteer. I was fortunate to find an interesting opportunity at PAVO, and using my previous experience of Quality Assurance implementation I assisted in the achievement of PQASSO (Practical Quality Assurance System for Small Organisations) level 2.

After volunteering for a year, when a part time post became available, I applied, and the rest – as they say – is history!

Of course, you’re not just the Safe Services Officer at PAVO. You’ve had a number of other roles since joining the organisation. Tell us a little about them.

Whilst I was volunteering, I undertook the stakeholder feedback survey for the year, and was both surprised and honoured to be asked to write up the final report; de-duplicated the contacts in our complicated data base system and did preparatory work on other quality assurance systems.

As well as my Safe Service role, I also work as a Community Development Officer 2 days per week, providing advice and training to both new and established voluntary organisations, deliver outreach information sessions, assist with preparing grant applications, constitutions, charities registration etc.

What do you like to do in your own time when you’re not working for PAVO?

Spending time with my family – husband, five children and eight grandchildren - which takes up quite a lot of my time as they are spread between Anglesey, Brighton, Glasgow and Amsterdam!

I love to cook, especially to bake and always enjoy trying something new and the combination of those two activities is great – when my dining table is jam-packed with the people I love and the food that they love to eat. You can watch Lesley’s cookery YouTube channel here.

My other great passion is family history and so far I have traced mother’s maternal ancestry back to the 1600s and my father’s paternal ancestry to the early 1700s – it is an ongoing quest with every answer posing another dozen questions.

I also enjoy spending time in my garden, though my role is more artistic director than using the spade and hoe!  It’s a wild country cottage garden and not everyone’s taste – but I love it.

For more information please contact Lesley Austen, Safe Services Officer, email: or tel: 01597 822191.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Power and participation Part 2

by Jane Cooke

Last week Jane wrote the first of two blog posts on power and participation. This week we follow up with Part 2.

A long time ago I went on some race equality training. The trainer opened the first day by saying: “You can’t learn from someone who you feel is inferior to you," or words to that effect. That gave me a lot to think about. I wonder if it’s a challenge to lay down now to the many people who make decisions over and about what/who to ‘do to’, and who are also saying, in just about every report one reads, ‘we need to ensure effective participation’.

In our trainings and professional and personal development we don’t give enough time to considering the ‘other’; we gather around ourselves our professional identities, our roles, our pride in our achievements and positions. And, one way and another, we end up thinking about ‘them’ and often how to change and improve ‘them’. What we share, what we can learn from true openness, from open-hearted listening, is rarely in the frame.

In the realm of mental health there is another dimension. Do we question, think about and examine what we feel about the experience of ‘madness’, what we think about people who we categorise as ‘ill’? We are, I believe, still influenced by deep seated ‘folk’ theories about madness. Moral degeneracy had currency not so long ago. If you think that underpinning belief has gone, think about some of the notions that drive the endless, fruitless, search for medical markers, genes for ‘mental illness’. There is often an underpinning assumption that if such things can be found, we will eradicate them, the genes, the carriers, the ‘bad’ foetuses. In my book that’s eugenics. (I’m not anti-abortion by the way or condemning individual decisions about terminations, it’s the broader, unrecognised societal views that I’m saying are not questioned).  Didn’t eugenics die out with the Nazis? No. And it’s not just the domain of the far right, do a search around modern eugenics and you’ll find plenty there. I’m hoping you’ll find it chilling. I do.

We still, as a society, think of those ‘other’ people with characteristics, behaviours, ways of organising thoughts and experiences, as ‘flawed’. Intergenerational shame was (is?) an explanation. Or how about genetic flaws? I heard, about 10 years ago, a senior medical professional declare the view that the explanation for there having been three psychiatric hospitals built around Bridgend was that this was to meet a need generated by a flawed local gene pool. Seriously. As far as I can see there hasn’t been much of a sea change to counter such views.

I hear quite often references to people’s ‘condition’; sometimes there is a reference to someone being a ‘service user’ – a code quite often for ‘difficult’, a way of saying it’s them who is at fault because they are (lowered tone) mentally ill. Not us for having a closed mind, for not being able to manage the discomfort of difference, of challenge to our cherished views.

Many people who use, willingly or otherwise, mental health services have had very difficult life circumstances. Sometimes they, and services, know what these are, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it is more a case of a slow accretion, many compounding experiences. We know this statistically. We know it anecdotally, we know it empirically. But then there’s a gap in our thinking. We don’t seem to think “How can we adapt ourselves, our views, our ways of working that acknowledges that range of experiences, those various views and understandings of life in order to best share power, to best truly design services with citizens and service users. We say: to join us in our territory you must behave like we do, you must follow our codes (which by the way include the view that you are other, inferior, flawed, suspect). We offer training to ‘them’. Training is very good, personal and professional development is very good; but for all of us. Some people might need to skill up in one area, some in another, whoever they are; everyone brings something of value that others can learn from. There doesn’t, however, seem to be a view that there is a need, let alone a joy, in learning and developing together. There are a bunch of people who are seen as deficient until they know how to play the game. (Then they’ll be seen as a-typical).

Too cynical? Maybe. Let me know some stories to uplift my sometimes jaded optimism.

So, then, to move toward power with? Well first, like that old light bulb, we all need to really want to. And then we need to let go, to feel the discomfort and fear and, together, do it anyway.

Written by Jane Cooke in her capacity as a counsellor and psychotherapist, trainer and facilitator. All views are entirely her own. Email

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Power and participation Part 1

by Jane Cooke

I have been thinking a lot about power recently. Often my trains of thought are prompted by consideration of personal power. Some people assume that they have personal power and that seems to prompt a response in others that confirms this; other people defer, give away their own power. I am not sure that this is good for anyone, but I see a lot of it. Then I wander off into thinking about structural power. Who, as a result of the position that they hold in an organisation, has the power to require or demand certain actions and responses from others?

My experiences over the years have ranged from working with groups and networks of people who use/have used mental health services to working as a counsellor for a year in a prison, to being involved in reviews of NHS mental health trusts. Throughout all of these experiences there has been a theme; that many people, no matter what their position, feel that ‘The Power’ lies elsewhere. Someone else, some other group of people or some structural body, such as a Committee somewhere has ‘power over’ services, chief executives, service users, or the ‘power to’ concede or deny, for example, a place on a joint committee or board, or to close a service or to require that changes to working practices are made, to give or withhold funding or services.

The ‘power to’ sense that individuals and groups of people can take on board themselves seems to be dimmed right now. People working in services who would like to question views and cultures in their services can feel as if they had better not stick their head above the parapet. Organisations can feel limited in their capacity to explore and support challenging ideas (and people!) if they feel that a funder ‘won’t like it’. People who might coalesce around some form of collective action, identity or pressure group can feel that such actions might jeopardise their chances of making progress in the situations where they are involved, or participate.

This feeling that some OTHER has ‘power over’ or ‘power to '(do unto us)’ both stems from and leads to fear – fear of censure, or public criticism, of withdrawal of something valued, of negative comparisons. We live in an age that generates and feeds on fear. Our many forms of communication can spread and heighten fear. Much advertising is based on promoting fear, if you don’t buy this product whether it’s insurance or some sort of ‘germ’ killer, you will be endangering yourself or those you love. Much news coverage is based on fear and a lot of political policies and promotion major on fear; capturing media interest as they do so.

But what if we moved toward a conception of ‘power with’? As far as I know these ideas of power over, power to and power with originated in the peace and non-violent direct action movements. I find them very helpful. So; power with, what would that look and feel like? I wonder if people who are involved as citizens or service users in formal situations, committees and boards, feel as if they are in a ‘power with’ situation? I’d be inclined to imagine that often they don’t. It would be really interesting to hear from those of you in such situations. Do you feel as if you are truly sharing power and if so, what leads to and supports that? In my own experience, which goes back nearly 30 years, people in these situations have been asking for parity in one form or another for at least as long as that: receiving minutes in time, important paperwork circulated in a timely manner, acceptance that agenda items can be added, access to administrative facilities as a right, recognition of the representational time-frame required if people are to be ‘representatives’, meetings at a time and place accessible to all who want to and maybe have been elected to, attend, out of pocket expenses met in cash, broadband and Information Technology (IT) costs met. I would be very interested to hear of examples where there has been ‘up-front’ thinking around these issues before people are invited to the table, before it has been brought up by those ‘reps’, or equally current examples of representatives still finding themselves in these situations.

‘Power with’ requires a shift of mind-set. Power over might appease an ego, I would venture to say that it doesn’t do much good for the soul.

Look out for Part 2 of Jane's piece on Power and participation soon. What are your thoughts? We would like to hear from you. If you have any comments or questions just add them below.

Written by Jane Cooke in her capacity as a counsellor and psychotherapist, trainer and facilitator. All views are entirely her own. Email

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

My Recovery

This week we feature a blog post by a new guest author from South Powys. The author writes about the impact of creating art on recovery from heroin addiction, and the invaluable support provided by a number of organisations, including Brecon & District Mind.

I am 49 years young and about 3 – 4 years ago I tried heroin. I had never done any kind of drugs until then and because of the circumstances and one thing and another I got hooked on heroin. It is all true what they say about it, it’s so addictive you would not believe. I would not want my worst enemy to try it.

Anyway back to my journey.

It all started about a year ago. I was told by a friend to “go to Kaleidoscope, they can help you”, so I did. When opening the door of Kaleido I did not know what to expect. I was shocked, it was friendly and had a good feel about the place, not what I thought it would be like.

Anyway, I made an appointment. The first meeting you have is to discuss your addiction and how best to deal with it. After that you have an appointment to see a doctor. Then you have a chat and they will tell you how much methadone to put you on. I started with 50mg which took away any kind of cravings for heroin, gear, brown, smack, whatever you want to call it.

Then it’s back to Kaleidoscope to arrange courses and other things you may be interested in. At the first meeting there were about nine people all with different addictions. A few people I knew, which was good. Did not make me feel as nervous as I may have been. The course was a varied amount of topics. By the end of the course I felt good and more to the point looked good (LOL). And life was starting to look good too.

While on this journey of mine, I was living in sheltered accommodation through Gwalia. They have helped me with items for the flat, trips away for the day and just a chat. I was told about a place in town that would be good for me. So I went, it is called MIND, and that is where I met two painting artists. They got me painting and now I have won competitions and other things with my art work. I do watercolours mainly, I like working with this medium.

So it was thanks to everyone from Gwalia and Kaleidoscope for getting me involved with these activities. Otherwise I would never have known that I had a raw talent for painting, which was a shock to me because I could not even draw before let alone paint. So, just proves that it is worth going to activities and things with Kaleidoscope, Gwalia and Mind.

Even though I was taking my medication there were a few times that I was tempted to have a smoke as they say. Then I think back to how it was when I was on heroin. The sleepless nights, the stomach cramps, sweating and feeling like shit. So you could say that sometimes I do struggle with my addiction. Sobriety can seem like an impossible goal. But with the treatment and support that Kaleidoscope gave me, by addressing the root cause of my addiction - the road to recovery often involves bumps, set backs - but by examining the problem and thinking about change I was already on my way.

Another thing I thought about was the cost and how I looked when I was taking the drug. And believe me I could not believe what I looked like and when people found out I was on drugs, they would not talk to you or give you the time of day. That felt bad.

Addiction affects your whole life, relationships, health, work and psychological well being. And the ways to handle stressful situations.

The other good thing about my recovery is that I was taking a small amount of gear. Because the longer and more intense the heroin use, the longer and more intense the treatment will be. But regardless of the length in weeks, months or even years, the follow up care is crucial to the recovery. Another thing I did was not to bother with anybody that is on drugs. To stay away from some of the boys I used to smoke with. And I do not drink any more. That was down to heroin. Made me sick if I had a drink, so good in a way. I don't even like the smell of beer at all.

One of the main things that has helped me is my art. I paint every day without fail because I love it. Never knew how painting can bring back and raise so many emotions. So I look at life differently now.

Also I would like to say that the staff at Kaleidoscope are an invaluable asset in my recovery. I was very reluctant to turn to my family for help, because I felt I let them down before, so it can be hard. But remember, there is help out there no matter how you feel. Or think that the whole world is against you. All you've got to do is believe. Who knows, maybe you will find you have a raw talent. There are some of my mates that are helping me get back to some kind of life. Some of them know what it’s like to be where I've been, so that can be a great help.

Back to my recovery. Like I said before, I was with Gwalia who helped me get off the streets. You would not believe the help and commitment these people have doing their job. They helped me no end. That is why I have got where I am today. Because of the staff there and other bodies that have helped me.

After discovering this talent for drawing and painting I have not stopped. I am always out walking to see what catches my eye to paint. I can't describe the feeling I get when painting but it’s a good one, and I get lost in my artwork. I spend a lot of my time at my painting table. Well happy.

Without Mind and the staff there, I would never have been able to get where I am today. The staff at Ty Croeso (Brecon & District Mind) are brilliant and friendly. You just feel welcome, safe and at home there. Everybody is brilliant. So thanks to the staff at Mind.

So my recovery journey to now, you would not believe. The transformation from me being a smack head to now an Artist. I owe a lot of it to Kaleidoscope for getting me where I am today with the art and recovery. And the staff of Gwalia and Mind.

So a big thank you to everybody.

I hope your recovery journey is as eventful as mine.

Once again. Thank you all for helping me, on my recovery journey.

You will never know how much you have done for me.

Many thanks to our guest author for writing about a very personal recovery journey. If you want to tell us about your experiences you can comment  below.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Finally receiving treatment - a personal view

I was speaking to someone in Powys recently about their experience of "going outside of the NHS towards private talking therapy... a really positive step". A positive step seemed like a good subject for a blog post, and our guest author agreed. Read on....

As an individual I have been in contact with mainstream services for over nine years, both in Powys and in other areas of the UK. Over these years, a combination of GPs, psychiatrists and occasionally other staff such as Community Psychiatric Nurses and support staff from Community Mental Health Teams have made efforts to try and alleviate the severe difficulties that go along with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

I have found that during times of crisis access to support has been available, given that it is asked for in the right way. The problem however, for me and many others, has been with the issue of getting back to being able to live and function on a daily basis and to a level where it would be possible to believe that the goal of full and complete recovery is not only a real thing but something worth pursuing.

Although there can never be a guarantee that severe distress, mental ill health or challenges to wellbeing won’t occur either in someone who has previously had first-hand experience of these things, or in someone who hasn’t, the journey I have been on leads me to believe in one or two controversial things.

Firstly, like many others, and as supported by a growing body of evidence, I have a problem with the medical model of mental ‘illness’. The medical model is not a simple view and advanced neuroscience is often used to highlight areas of the human brain which may sometimes work differently in those who are labelled as ‘schizophrenic’ (to use but one example).

That shouldn’t detain us here, for as well as the causes for this diagnosis being perhaps still largely unknown and certainly not agreed upon amongst medics, the issue of how best to treat the condition is a big problem.

In my experience the first and last option for many practicing psychiatrists has been to prescribe powerful anti-psychotic medication, which especially since the second generation of a-typical anti-psychotics have been used, can and do alleviate or suppress ‘symptoms’ (such as psychosis) and with less pronounced side effects than the original first generation medications.

After talking to a pleasant local GP about the possibility of finding other ways to treat my own condition than medication alone, we loosely agreed that some combination of medication and talking therapy would be a sensible plan. However, in Powys the availability of talking therapy through the NHS is highly limited and the waiting list spans several years. One person I met has waited for more than 6 years already.

There are organisations such as Mid Powys Mind in Llandrindod Wells who are able to offer a free counselling service and having tried a couple of months of weekly sessions with a volunteer counsellor I found that the ability to share problems confidentially and in a non-judgemental setting brought much relief. 

More recently though, the view that a deeper and longer level of talking therapy could bring improvements to the way a person feels and functions is something which I managed to pick up from sources such as this blog and which in turn led me to explore the availability of private psychotherapy in our area.

Despite living on benefits, with advice on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) from the Citizens Advice Bureau it has finally been possible to find just enough capital to arrange for regular sessions with a practicing psychotherapist. Partly this is enabled by my practitioner’s policy of subsidising out of work patients with a slightly lower rate to those who are in work.

When making the long decision to proceed, the view of my psychiatrist was that for certain conditions which they believe to be entirely inherent or set in stone within a person’s biological constitution, there would be a risk associated with stirring up long lost memories or otherwise suppressed thoughts and feelings. I was glad of the discussion we had but, in the nicest possible way, could not disagree more strongly with any view which maintains it is not worth pursuing.

After the first couple of months of psychotherapy the tangible areas that many doctors ask about such as mood, sleep and appetite showed marked improvement and once more it seemed that the future could hold prospect and possibility rather than simply being a drab and bleak inevitability, where, to put it frankly, death would have been a welcome event.

I can’t speak highly enough of the time and space that I am lucky enough to have found within which help is given by another mind to sort through the problems and issues which we otherwise face on our own. This would include issues that an individual is aware of and also issues which it is almost impossible to be aware of by yourself.

As for ‘symptoms’, although my therapist is mindful of these and very respectful of the view of GP and psychiatrist, the outlet for me to unburden and unpack life’s major and minor worries means that as long as any possible reduction in medication is done gradually and carefully there is someone else to help keep a watch should difficulties arise.

There is still lots to do, but finally having some level of regular support has been a great relief not just to me but to remaining friends and family. As for the financing of this I would make the case to individuals, health professionals, charities and funding bodies to give increased engagement with other therapy some serious thought.

Have you had experience of talking therapies in Powys recently, whether provided by the NHS, by the voluntary sector or privately? Or are you still on the NHS waiting list? Let us know about your experiences in the comments' section below.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Art in Brecon 2014

This year sees the fourth Art Fair in Brecon. It is a time when both professional and amateur artists, along with groups from Brecon and District Mind, come together in St Mary's Church in Brecon to each have a stand and display their work. This year’s fair takes place on Thursday 16 (6 – 8pm), Friday 17 (10am – 4pm) and Saturday 18 October (10am – 4pm).

We talked to Sue Hiley Harris, a professional sculpture weaver, who has been involved with organising the Art Fair since the first one in 2011 and will have a stand.

Whose idea was the Art Fair and how did it evolve? Tell us more about the early years.

The first art fair came about when some of the members of Brecon and District Mind (then Brecon and District Contact Association) approached me – as chair of
the Friends – to see if the Friends could help them sell their art and craft work. We decided rather than an exhibition we would have a fair where each artist would set up their own stand and be there to talk to the public about their work. There are quite a few professional artists in the Friends and they were happy to get involved. The church was prepared for us be there and to rearrange the seats.

Gleanie II by Victoria Keeble

Is it different this year?

It is on for longer this year. Previously it opened on the Friday evening and was open all day Saturday. This year we were trying to avoid opening on the Friday evening as it clashed with a lecture on art in Crickhowell. I sent a message to the artists and the majority opted for an extra day. It is generally thought that it is a lot of work setting up so it would be good to stay open for longer. So this year we open on Thursday night with wine and jazz, and then will be open all day Friday and Saturday. It is then all hands on deck as we return the church ready for the Sunday morning service. The church has been very supportive.

Another first this year is a raffle. The artists have been asked to contribute and by the sounds of it they have been very generous. 

Allotment Retreat by Veronica Gibson

What do you feels works so well about the Art Fair?

I really like the mixture of professional artists, amateur artists and artist groups that all exhibit together. Contacts and friendships are made. To me this is one of the most important outcomes of the fair. We also have other people, Friends and members, coming in to help – either with the setting up or to give look after stands so that the artists can have lunch or take a break. So generally I would say a sense of community makes it work so well – and of course there are a great number of art and craft work on display and for sale.

Dragon by Anna Lawday

What do you get out of the Art Fair by exhibiting?

I really like to exhibit my work locally and it is an opportunity to see people I might not have seen for a while and introduce more people to my work. I often exhibit abroad or in other parts of the country but I do like to see how people I know react to new work. This is a really nice, safe, unpressured place to do that.

What will you be showing this year?

I am working on new work that is not really in a state to show so I have decided to do something different this year. I received an Arts Council of Wales ‘Creative Wales Award’ last year and my work is definitely changing. I will be showing some life drawings and collages, which has been a very new direction for me. I don’t have my new woven work ready for show so have decided to show a selection of my small woven sculptures from the last fifteen years in what I have called a ‘table retrospective’. Some weavers were at my studio for a visit a few weeks ago and I got out some of my early sculptural pieces. I decided that it would be good for me and for others if I had a little show of these works alongside the drawings. I will also be happy to talk to people about my new work and the direction it is taking me.

Artist Veronica Gibson teaches art classes at Brecon and District Mind. 
Here she is at her stand at last year's Art Fair, with Dave Griffiths, 
one of the members of the Art Group at Mind.

Art Fair Launch: Thursday 16th October 6-8 pm at St Mary's Church, Brecon.

The Art Fair will be opened by Philip Bowen, High Sheriff of Powys, and the Charles Castle Three  (Mike Chappell, Bert Morris and Mike Jones) will be playing live.

The Art Fair will also be open on Friday 17th and Saturday 18th October from 10am to 4pm.

You can find out more about Brecon and District Mind here.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

North Powys Crisis Resolution Home Treatment Team

I first wrote about the introduction of a Crisis Resolution Home Treatment Team for North Powys (Montgomeryshire) in February 2013 (Home Treatment Team for the North) when Mike Shone unveiled the plans for the new team. Earlier this month I met with the team’s manager, Graham Batha, and asked him for an update about the service.

Tell us a bit about your background

I am a registered mental health nurse, and have been registered in this profession for approximately 10 years. I trained at the University of Central Lancashire, and then worked in Preston in an acute inpatient setting before moving to the Preston home treatment team. I later went on to work within the Wrexham home treatment team before moving to this post as the team manager for the Crisis Resolution Home Treatment Team in April 2013. My professional interests include service user involvement in the development of services, and professional education for students.

Tell us more about the service

The CRHT in North Powys opened in May 2013. To date we have received 419 referrals into the team, and our service is open 7 days a week, from 9am to 9pm Monday to Friday, and 11am to 7pm at weekends and Bank Holidays. The objective of the team is to provide an equal alternative to inpatient care, and to facilitate early discharge from hospital when it is safe to do so.

What staff roles do you have on the team?

The team consists of one team manager, one team secretary, one health care support worker and six registered nurses. The team is also having an additional 3 members of staff in the future. The team is also supported by a dedicated Consultant Psychiatrist.

Who can refer people for the CRHT service?

The Community Mental Health Team can refer people into our service, during the hours of 9am to 5pm. Out of hours, the CRHT does accept referrals from ShropDoc, which is the out of hours GP service.

Can people of all ages be referred?

We look after people aged 18 or over with a functional* illness.

What happens if someone experiences a crisis outside of your usual hours?

It can be useful to write a contingency plan with your care coordinator (if you have one), which can be used to highlight what needs to happen in an emergency. I would suggest that you contact your on call GP or in an emergency attend your local Accident and Emergency Department.

What is the nature of the service provided by a Crisis Resolution Home Treatment Team?

The CRHT is a short term but intensive service. The team visits service users on a frequent basis, up to twice a day, providing the same service as you would receive in hospital. When someone is referred into the CRHT team, the team will arrange an assessment as soon as possible. The team will then develop a care and treatment plan with that person, with the aim of supporting and aiding recovery. 

How do you promote a person’s recovery?

Twice a week, the whole team meets in a confidential environment to discuss each person that the CRHT is caring for. This allows the team to do its very best for the people we care for, and to support recovery in a timely manner. People who have used our service have been positive about their experience with us. The team does share the entire CRHT caseload, and people who do use our service can see all members of the team.

As a relatively new service in North Powys, how has the CRHT impacted on provision of mental health services generally?

The CRHT has had huge benefits in supporting those who really don’t want to go into hospital, and would rather stay at home. The team does, however, understand that sometimes hospital is necessary, and the CRHT will try to facilitate an early discharge with our support at the earliest opportunity when it is safe to do so.

Are there any specific needs that can be well-addressed by the CRHT?

The CRHT can help with practical issues such as housing etc, and will do all they can to ensure carers are supported.

Do you refer people on to other services?

When someone has recovered in the CRHT, their care is either referred on to additional mental health services or another appropriate service, or their care is handed back to the GP. In all cases the CRHT writes to the GP to ensure that the GP is aware of our intervention and any changes we may have made to the person’s care or treatment.

What are the challenges for a CRHT in a large rural area like North Powys?

The distance of travel that is required within this area is a challenge for the team, but it does not cause us too many problems once you become familiar with the area.

What are the most rewarding aspects of the work you do?

For me it is rewarding to see people recover at home, within a familiar setting, as opposed to a hospital setting. I feel that you are able to work with people more creatively and independently at home, as hospital can sometimes be restrictive.

How would you like to see mental health services developing in North Powys in the next few years?

From the view of the CRHT we would like to help and support more people to recover at home. We understand that hospital admissions will always be needed at times, but if we can reduce the stress of going into hospital for the client and their family, this may limit the amount of time it takes to recover.

Many thanks to Graham for the update. If you have any queries relating to the Crisis Resolution Home Treatment Team in North Powys, you can comment below.

*This term is defined online on an NHS jargon-busting website: "A term for any mental illness in which there is no evidence of organic disturbance (as there is with dementia) even though physical performance is impaired".