Thursday, 15 May 2014

Powys Mental Health Alliance Open Day 2014

Yesterday my colleague Freda and I went along to the latest Powys Mental Health Alliance Open Day at The Commodore Hotel in Llandrindod Wells. These days are a great opportunity to find out more about what is happening in the county around mental health, and to meet up with other members and people representing organisations to chat, catch up and have... as it happens... fun! The big yellow inflatable football in the photograph below is a bit of a clue...

L - R, top row: Debra Douglas-Matthews (PMHA trustee), Philip Bowen (High Sheriff of Powys),
Bryan Douglas-Matthews (PMHA chair)
middle row: Christine Field (PMHA trustee),  Kelvin Mills (PMHA trustee), Carla Rosenthal (PMHA magazine editor)
bottom row: Bill Fawcett (PMHA Vice Chair), Michelle Hart (Stretch & Smile)

Surprise guest this time round was Philip Bowen, the High Sheriff of Powys. "The Office of High Sheriff is an independent non-political Royal appointment for a single year". Philip has many hats it seems, as he is also Artistic Director of The Willow Globe - a scaled down, living willow theatre, based on The Globe Theatre in London. Philip enthusiastically opened the day with, appropriately enough, a reference to some of the distressed heroes of Shakespeare's plays, including Prospero and Pericles. By the end of the drama they are able to say - "this is who I am.... this is my story." Through the storytelling process they are healed.

Eddie Evans, the Regional Welfare Officer for Combat Stress, the veterans' mental health charity, kicked off as first speaker of the day. He had served in the army for 26 years, and now works with Community Psychiatric Nurses and Mental Health Practitioners to provide support to ex-servicemen and women in the community.

Eddie spoke about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - "a normal reaction to an abnormal situation". Personnel often go back to their families after being in a war zone and try and start up again as if nothing has happened... but problems can quickly escalate if people need help. "It is as if the wheels fall off before some people seek help... there are failed marriages, lost jobs..." Eddie is the first point of contact for people as there "is a bond of history". Some veterans can receive support in the community, including practical support if there are money issues; others, who may be more severely distressed, enter one of three Combat Stress treatment centres - the one serving Wales is in Newport, Shropshire. "Some veterans smile for the first time as they are amongst other veterans."

Freda catches up with Eddie Evans in the coffee break
Eddie's obvious understanding and empathy for struggling veterans was picked up by several people in the audience, who responded by describing moving experiences relating to themselves and family members. "You could not believe some of the sights that they see..."
"My son went away for a week (with Combat Stress) and the difference was so remarkable that you wouldn't think it was the same person!"
"People don't realise that veterans suffer from mental health problems in a big way."

The coffee break was followed by a brilliant session of seated exercises with Michelle Hart from Stretch & Smile. Nearly everyone joined in, including the High Sheriff of Powys and Freda! 

L - R: Carla Rosenthal, Philip Bowen, Michelle Hart & two others stretching!
These were just the warm-up exercises.... but then the large inflatable balls were rolled out and the real fun began... 

Chris Coe - Am I really as tough as old boots?
How to follow that...? Well, what better choice than Chris Coe of the Farming Community Network (previously Farming Crisis Network).

Chris had been a Rural Officer with the United Reform Church when an opportunity arose for an additional part-time post - this time as Regional Director for FCN based in Llandrindod Wells. Chris explained that the charity's main role was to "walk with people" - to be there, to listen, to respond - as a friend. He can go with farmers to court, to the bank, to a doctor... shopping... even organise to have a field ploughed if that is what is needed when someone is too distressed to do the work themselves. The service is free and confidential. The hardest part is encouraging people to ask for help in the first place.

Chris works with a large team of volunteers covering Powys and SW Wales... and if the two case studies he gave us are anything to go by the work is very much needed in the county. He said "45% of the people helped suffer some form of mental illness caused through the stress and hardship of producing the food we all depend on." The farming community is currently bracing itself for changes in the Single Farm Payment from the government which so many depend on to stay afloat.

After a delicious lunch Inspector Brian Jones of Dyfed-Powys Police stepped up to take the microphone. He is stationed in Brecon and works as a Partnership Inspector - one of his key responsibilities being mental health. The two main areas of discussion which developed around this session focused on the Section 136 detentions (when people are taken to a place of safety and possibly assessed by mental health professionals before a decision is made about next steps) and police training.

Many of those in the audience were keen to relate their own experiences of contact with police officers whilst distressed, some of them quite negative, and Brian listened carefully to them all.
Brian explained that:
  • Sometimes people will be taken into custody when they shouldn't be.
  • Sometimes people don't know who to call when a crisis/incident develops so they call the police.
  • New officers (recruited over the past 2 years and ongoing) have to spend three days in Bronllys Hospital as part of their training.
  • A new training programme is being developed, in partnership with other organisations including Powys Association of Voluntary Organisations (PAVO), which will be rolled out to all officers. Individuals, including those in contact with mental health services and those close to them, will be involved in this training. Mental Health First Aid sessions are also likely to be made available.
  • He is trying to bring about change and influence to the police by listening to people's experiences (which is why today was so valuable to him).
There followed a much longer discussion, including topics such as anti-social behaviour, multi-agency problem solving, mental health advocates and hate crime... if only we had the space and time here to relate it all! At the end of a really interesting session Brian rounded up by saying: "Give the officers a chance. Approach them. Speak to them. When we are called out we will say - the next time we come here, how would you like us to treat you? Tell us and the details will be linked to your address. We want to do the best we can."

Other mental health organisations were present on the day, and Freda and I enjoyed meeting up with colleagues at The Alzheimer's Society:

Kate Llewellyn (Advocate) and Pat Griffiths (Dementia Support Worker)
Pat reminded me about the Memory Cafe which runs every second Friday of the month at the Methodist Church in Newtown.

Here at Powys Mental Health Information Service we often signpost people to Journeys and the C.A.L.L. helpline, so it was great to meet everyone at their stands.

Lorraine Jones and Jackie Faichney of C.A.L.L. Helpline 
Gareth Childs, Journeys

Finally, I'll sign off with this photo of Freda joining Pat and Kate of The Alzheimer's Society for the Stretch & Smile session... The smiles on their faces say it all!

We look forward to the next PMHA Open Day. If you were there, tell us what you thought. Do you have suggestions about speakers or activities for future open days? Did you try out the Listening Table? Or listen to Diane Milberry's talk? We'd love to know, as we had to shoot off back to the office at that point...


  1. Absolutely fantastic event! Diane helped us all relax in the last session and after the buzz of the day, it was a much needed time of reflection. There is so much going on in the field of mental health and it's great to see so many individuals and organisations talking about the issues in an open and confident manner. HeadSpace will be signposting many of these local and national organisations in the next magazine due out in the Summer and of course, PMHA will be planning the next Open Day which promises to be even bigger and better!

    1. Thanks for the update! Look forward to hearing more about the next Open Day which we can promote on the website.

      And just to let everyone out there know - if you are organising an event in Powys which has relevance to emotional wellbeing, mental health - whatever you like to call it - just get in touch. We can promote activities both prior to and after events and make sure your activities reach a wider Powys audience.