Thursday, 27 July 2017

Looking at Me - an arts and dementia initiative

Artist Terri Sweeney has been running some innovative mosaic workshops at the arts charity Celf o Gwmpas in Llandrindod Wells over the past few weeks (the last session was earlier today). They were specifically aimed at people living with dementia and those close to them.

Last week the PAVO meeting rooms were fully booked so we relocated to the Celf gallery for our team meeting. During a break I had the perfect opportunity to catch up with Anca Pancu, Project Co-ordinator at Celf, to find out more about how the workshops went.

Tell us more about your role at Celf

In this particular project, ‘Reaching Out, Drawing In,’ my role was to schedule dates and select artists to deliver sessions in liaison with the artists, volunteers and participants for each of the series of workshop sessions. I market our programme of workshop activities to relevant audiences and networks, manage the workshop bookings, and collect the relevant materials for evaluation purposes.

Who were the workshops for?

The workshops were for people in the early stages of dementia who were able to attend, communicate and participate in creative workshops. Sessions were free of charge for carers who were welcome to participate in the creative activities and socialise.

The weekly workshops are part of a two-year, European Union funded, Powys-based programme of arts & health activities (2017-2018). The programme aims to benefit over 150 participants and also includes:

  • 3 engagement artists’ residencies – working with people with a range of support needs.
  • Year-round weekly creative workshops for learning disabled adults at Centre Celf.
  • Outreach dementia support programme – creative opportunities for individuals in care settings & at home.
The programme is piloting and evaluating new ways of engaging with some of the most isolated people in Powys.

Tell us more about the workshops

Through our workshops we aim to reduce isolation for our participants, allowing people to develop new social connections and networks. We also bring disabled people into contact with wider society. 

We enable this process through exhibitions and events associated with residencies, improving communication and mutual understanding. We are helping people to develop new skills and to increase confidence which we hope will lead them towards engaging with the wider arts world. This is the reason we observe and act on the unmet needs of participants and we tailor work to support their needs and interests.

‘I wasn’t sure about the self-portrait mosaic workshop,
 if I will be able to do it, but the result surprised me, great fun!’

Why did you choose Terri to run the workshops?

We have chosen Terri Sweeney for the ‘Looking at me’ – mosaic workshops on the basis of her professional level of practice and experience of working with people with dementia. She works in a variety of media including mosaic, felt and mixed media painting and she has many years' experience working as an artist with people of all ages and background.

Why was there a focus on self-portraits in the mosaics?

This is a project that works very well for people with dementia. When they look down to their self-portrait they relate to their own identity as they are using an abstract manner of portraying. This method is challenging their preconceived ideas about who they are, it’s a reflection back in time: ‘this is who I am, this is who I always be’. 

It is a way for them to gain a better understanding of their condition in relation to dementia and to regain a sense of time, place and identity.

How did the participants find the sessions?

The participants were challenged by some of the activities in the beginning but they persevered and succeeded in producing mosaic work that they are happy with. 

They became more confident as the sessions went on, interacting with the artist and the volunteer. New skills were learnt and they interacted with each other and had fun. As the participants gained confidence they became more comfortable within the group.

What are the benefits of the creative arts for people with dementia?

The participants seemed to enjoy the social interaction of the group very much; they are very keen to come back. Through our research, preparation and running of these sessions they have learnt new skills, learning how to develop exercises that combine an appropriate level of intellectual stimulation with sufficient demands on manual dexterity. There was plenty of social interaction and with the right level of support the production of a satisfying result. 

At the end of the sessions they were pleasantly surprised by the standard of the work they have achieved. They have had fun and in the same time they have gained a sense of validation through their creative expression. ‘Looking at Me’ is not only about a memory journey, it's about finding strength inside yourself to do the best you can do, enjoying the moment, and the reflection of yourself in the present moment.

Do you have any other workshops coming up?

Trained artist facilitators are working with small groups, supporting them to use professional arts techniques and materials to keep their minds active and engaged. Examples include poetry and sculpture as well as sculpture, music and dance. The workshops take place year round in blocks of 6 x 2 hour sessions. The 2.5 hour workshops cost £3.50 to attend, and are free for carers. Participants should pre-book where possible.

All the workshops are listed on the Celf o Gwmpas website, but do get in touch if you want further information by ringing 01597 822777.

Many thanks to Anca for telling more about the mosaic workshops - and keep an eye out for more of their exciting programme of events and courses coming up in Llandrindod.

You can also read about Celf's 2016 project running sessional weekends for artists who have experience or knowledge of the arts and mental health.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Team building with a Treasure Hunt

The end is finally in sight! But yew won't need the buoyancy aid to rescue Clue No 8
Take two PAVO staff teams, 8 clues, an amazing outdoor local venue and a dry June afternoon day – and what do you have? Well, as it turns out, a really fun opportunity to find out more about your colleagues’ work whilst exercising and enjoying Nature at the same time! The perfect team building session!

It all started when our mental health team was asked to devise a “walk and talk” style engagement activity – along the lines of the dementia walks which have been taking place in North Powys for the past couple of years and which we wrote about here. The idea is that people in contact with mental health services, and those close to them, will have the opportunity to participate in a walk with people planning and providing those services (this activity is being planned for Autumn 2017). The dementia walks are very successful, as participants feel relaxed and happy to open up in a more informal environment. In other words, walking does prompt talking!

We decided it would be a good idea to stage a pilot event and troubleshoot any issues which may crop up before launching straight into the main gig. For example… when we did a risk assessment we realised a few fundamental things such as…. that at our chosen location – Llandrindod Lake – it is important to have a few twenty pence pieces in your pocket in case you want to use the facilities!

We had been trying to meet up with the new Community Connectors’ team at PAVO for some weeks, without much success, because how do you manage to find one day that all fourteen of us can make it for an office meeting? Tempt people with fresh strawberries and a treasure hunt though… and it’s surprising how quickly they get back to you with a positive response!

With a venue and a date confirmed, two of us walked the route for inspiration and set to writing our clues and picking hiding places. We also set eight questions for the Connectors which would reveal how much/little they knew about our work. On the day we planned to fill in any gaps and answer questions as we walked from one clue to the next.

Llandrindod Lake provided the perfect spot for the activity as it has well-spaced clue-hiding sites, a ready-made circular route, some mature trees for shade, and the stunning dragon fountain as a backdrop. The landowner, Powys County Council, gave us permission to go ahead once we clarified the details of our activity (and produced a copy of our insurance certificate!) We also informed the local police in case anyone reported “suspicious” activity. We bought some cheap sandwich boxes for clues and questions, and translated a couple into Welsh (with some “Emergency English” for non-Welsh speakers).

On the day Jane, our team manager, set up a base at the Capel Maelog stone circle a short distance from the Lake. After the briefest of briefings (no swimming in the Lake, no climbing the trees) and light refreshments we were ready for the off. We split the Connectors’ team into three groups and staggered their start times on the hunt. One of us went with each team to answer questions and help if the clues proved too testing. But mostly they were pretty straightforward…

Clue no 1: Bear left along the pavement towards the Lake: find a guarded question (sword and axe: both fake).

Community Connectors L:R - Suzanne Iuppa, Carla Rosenthal & Sally Richards

And Question no 1: What are the mental health team’s two core activities? (Answer: Information & Participation - just in case you haven't  worked it out already).

Over about the period of an hour and a half the teams then hunted high and low for their next clues and questions, and between clue locations staff chatted about their work, their feelings about their work, and the issues that were coming up regularly that they needed help with. Staff in the Community Connectors’ teams were also given the chance to ask their mental health colleagues one main question at each clue location. The three Connectors in my group paused at the jetty on the Lake (where they didn’t get “stumped or stung”) to ask “what is the biggest barrier to accessing mental health services?” This was where the thorny issue of waiting lists first came into the conversation…

Ella's favourite birdwatching seat sent us here...

Personally I found the activity the perfect way to get to know new colleagues in an informal and friendly yet also focussed way (if our conversations started to stray from the main agenda then the next clue just round the corner soon got us back on track). I had not previously met Sally Richards, the Connector from Ystradgynlais, so I was very pleased to have the chance to get to know her and also learn what was happening (or not) in Ystrad. And another bonus: we all laughed a lot on our way round – and not just because the previous team had sneakily hidden all the sandwich boxes in much less obvious places!

When we all regrouped at the end to talk through the activity, pretty much everyone had found it a positive experience. Several wondered what we would have done if it had poured down… so we need to take that on board when planning future outdoor activities.

Chwiliwch am greadur barfog ddwfn yn ei lyfr / Look for a bearded creature reading a book

When it came to conversation topics it turned out that one of the most popular questions was around counselling. There are currently many cases of counselling waiting lists across the county as we have previously discussed on this blog. However, the Connectors were pleased to discover that we have a Counselling Links page on our website with information about options other than NHS counselling in Powys. And one of the key things all the Connectors really wanted to find more about was: What are the participation opportunities in our team? At this point Anne and Philip were able to tell them all about their respective projects – Stand up! for emotional health & wellbeing, and supporting the individual representatives to feed back to various boards.

So… no blisters. No one stole our PAVO sandwich boxes. No one lost or missing. Just lots of smiley faces! Real faces! Bring on the next staff treasure hunt!

If you have any questions for us and can’t wait for the next treasure hunt activity, just pop them in the comments box below.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Pegasus – changing the way we talk to Dyfed-Powys Police

PCSO Aileen Stewart - 2nd from right, with colleagues from Dyfed Powys Police, PAVO and Mid & West Wales Fire Service

In May I met Police Community Support Officer Aileen Stewart at the Dementia Information Day in Newtown during Dementia Awareness Week. Aileen gave me an update about the Pegasus communication scheme used by police officers in the Dyfed Powys force area, and it seemed like a blog post would provide the ideal opportunity to share the information with a wider audience to further promote the scheme’s use.

First tell us a little about yourself and your role in Dyfed Powys Police

I am PCSO Aileen Stewart and I work within the Neighbourhood Policing team in Newtown. I have worked as a PCSO for five years.

As a PCSO we have various duties including high visibility patrols, public reassurance, safeguarding our community, gathering intelligence and dealing with anti-social behaviour. We also work closely with local agencies, for example housing, mental health services and voluntary services to deal with issues and solve problems, for example neighbourhood disputes.

What is the Pegasus scheme?

The Pegasus scheme is a service for people who live and/or work in the Dyfed Powys Police area aimed at those whose disability or illness makes it difficult for them to communicate when calling or speaking face to face to the Police.

It’s designed to make it easier to contact Dyfed Powys Police quickly and easily on both the 101 and 999 numbers.

How does Pegasus work?

Registering for the scheme is free. Once a person is registered and their selected password is approved the individual becomes a member of the scheme. The information will be stored securely.

Pegasus is really simple. The caller will only have to say ‘Pegasus’ and give their password to be identified by the call handlers.

The call handlers will then have access to details of the person calling – full name, home address, contact details for family member/support worker, and how best to communicate with the caller – this information will also be available to the incident handlers who can advise the officers on route to the call of the nature of the caller’s disabilities and how best to communicate with the caller.

Pegasus users will also be provided with a Pegasus key fob to carry. If they speak to Police Officers or PCSOs and find it difficult to communicate they can show this card, provide the officer with their password and they will be informed via radio of the person's details.

How would Pegasus work for people experiencing a mental health crisis?

The person calling would only have to concentrate on telling us what is happening once they have used their password and confirmed their details.

The call handler will have all the caller's personal information and be able to communicate with the caller in the way which they have said will help them or contact the family member/support worker that has been provided.

The attending officers will then be fully aware of the caller's need when dealing with them making it a more positive experience and aid in getting them the help they need as quickly as possible.

Where did the idea for the Pegasus scheme come from and when was it launched?

Pegasus was officially launched on 2nd April 2012 in Dyfed-Powys.

The idea originated in Nottinghamshire Police in 2008/9, from a member of the public who had suffered a stroke, and was also a victim of anti-social behaviour. When he called the police to report the anti-social behaviour he was told to phone back when he was sober. He then contacted the Chief Constable in Nottinghamshire and put forward an idea of having a PIN number which he could provide and they would have his details already.

After Nottinghamshire Police, City of London Police also adopted the scheme, and then ourselves, therefore we were the first force in Wales to adopt this kind of scheme.

How many people have signed up to Pegasus since then, and what kind of feedback do you get?

We currently have 440 members.

Some people that have signed up to the scheme have previously had a negative experience due to the officers dealing with them not having enough information about them before. They feel reassured about us having information about them that can make their experience with the Police a good one and also that we can deal with their needs should they need to contact us.

What is your personal experience of working with the Pegasus scheme out on the beat? 

There is a person that I speak to regularly that I signed up to the scheme. Due to knowing their needs I have been able to see when their mental health has begun to decline and get in touch with their mental health worker to begin the ball rolling for the person to have a psychiatric assessment.

And finally, why was the scheme named after a creature from Greek mythology?

The victim of the anti-social behaviour that prompted the creation of the scheme stated that in the worst times of the anti-social behaviour he used to imagine being whisked away by the Greek mythological flying horse “Pegasus” – hence the name.

Many thanks to Aileen for telling us all about the Pegasus communication scheme used by Dyfed Powys . What do you think of the scheme? We would love to hear from you - comment below or send us an email.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

CRAZYWISE - the Brecon screening

“Crazy…or wise? The traditional wisdom of indigenous cultures often contradicts modern views about a mental health crisis. Is it a ‘calling’ to grow or just a ‘broken brain’? The documentary CRAZYWISE explores what can be learned from people around the world who have turned their psychological crisis into a positive transformative experience.”

On the longest (and probably hottest) day of 2017 I was at The Wellington Hotel in Brecon with PAVO colleagues, community groups, staff from mental health services and individuals to watch this new documentary film by directors Phil Borges and Kevin Tomlinson. The free community screening had been arranged by Avril Meyler of Emerging Paradigms in partnership with PAVO and Brecon community organisations. My colleagues Anne Woods, Philip Moisson and Jane Cooke helped organise the event and also facilitated the open discussion sessions following the screening.

Regular readers of this blog will know that we are keen to promote alternative approaches to looking at mental health distress, asking what has happened to a person who is in mental health crisis rather than concluding that something is wrong with them. So we were delighted to be asked to be involved in the first screening of this groundbreaking, powerful and as it turned out, very moving film, in Powys.

Avril explained in her introduction that she first saw CRAZYWISE at an #EmergingProud event 
in London during Mental Health Awareness Week in May and knew immediately that she wanted to bring it to her local community. (She has written about the Brecon screening on her blog: A Multidimensional Paradigm).  Avril anticipated that the documentary would prompt much interesting discussion, and suggested some of the questions we might ask at our tables once we'd watched the film, such as: “What can we learn from people who have successfully navigated a psychological crisis?” and “Is it time to pay more attention to the psycho/social and spiritual underpinnings of mental health and bring a more balanced approach to mental health care?”

Phil Moisson, Anne Woods, Avril Meyler, Jane Cooke, Andy Hall, Paul Stephens
And so to the film. “CRAZYWISE follows two young Americans diagnosed with “mental illness.” Adam, 27, suffers devastating side effects from medications before embracing meditation in hopes of recovery. Ekhaya, 32, survives childhood molestation and several suicide attempts before spiritual training to become a traditional South African healer gives her suffering meaning and brings a deeper purpose to her life.” 

Interspersed with Adam and Ekhaya’s stories are interviews with mental health professionals and indigenous peoples, and the director Phil Borges discovers: “a growing movement of professionals and psychiatric survivors who demand alternative treatments that focus on recovery, nurturing social connections, and finding meaning.” 

In the early scenes of CRAZYWISE, human-rights photographer and filmmaker Phil tells us what inspired him to start filming. After many years documenting indigenous cultures, he realised that their interpretation of “psychotic” symptoms as a journey of spiritual transformation is completely different to the way that psychosis is regarded in the West and a deep curiosity drew him to find out more. In an interview with Frontier Therapy magazine Phil describes changing his mind about “mental illness” – which he used to think was caused by a “chemical inbalance in the brain. “I now look at it as a natural transformational process waiting to happen. Unfortunately our culture does not look at it this way and so there is little support in helping the individual find meaning and purpose in their suffering."

Round table discussions

The film prompted some really thought-provoking discussion throughout the remainder of the day. Without divulging personal stories, I picked up on several key themes: 

The not so good…
  • Questions about what has happened to you are never asked.
  • In Powys the first port of call for someone in mental health distress is the GP – so people are set on to the medical route right at the start.
  • If a GP was amenable to other options what would they offer? What is the alternative in Powys?
  • It is horrendous trying to fight for help if labelled as an “alcoholic” or “nicotine-dependent.”
  • People are labelled as having a problem when often the problem is external, such as work-related stress.
  • If you have a problem outside Mon-Fri 9 – 5 you are stuck mental health-wise.
  • Some people feared that if they referred to a spiritual experience that this would just add to their medical diagnosis.
  • Patients with a physical illness are trusted to understand and monitor their medication. This happens far less with mental “illness”. 
  • Being challenging is not an illness.
  • Doctors will always be in control as they prescribe the medication.
Jane Cooke, Senior Officer Mental Health at PAVO and Tania Dolley, Psychologist at Powys Teaching Health Board

The opportunities for different approaches…
  • “When I am in emotional crisis I want a community that welcomes the symptoms and says it will be alright. That is so healing.”
  • “This could be a half-way house that accepts me for who I am. I don’t mind if the people there are peers or professionals, so long as they are the right people. This would save money as it would prevent long-term issues from developing and also possibly hospitalisation.”
  • There should be a support system for people using services to empower them to question treatments and medication.
  • In the film the professionals who supported The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) are now against it. Some people in the system are more open-minded.
  • "It would be nice to present a “basket of fruit” to the world – what works for one person is different for another. Someone might want a peach one day and a nectarine the next."

Andy Hall edits One in Four three times a year, available from Brecon & District Mind

And other questions and comments…
  • Several people were keen to find out more about shamanism. (In some cultures a psychotic experience is viewed as a calling to become a healer or shaman). Others pointed out that a spiritual way is different for everybody – it could be a drumming session…. it could be being a mother….
  • Medication works for some people and sometimes it can be helpful. In the film this was also stated.
  • There are no psychiatrists or community psychiatric nurses in the room today. Where are they? We want them to hear our story.
  • Are the professionals the community leaders of our time in terms of spiritual growth and connection? Or can it just be about grassroots social connections?
The hope now is that we can acquire the licence to show CRAZYWISE to many more audiences throughout Powys, so that further discussion can be stimulated and ideas gathered about changing the response to mental distress in the county.
What do you think? Would you be interested to see the film? If so, get in touch, or leave a comment below. You may also like to find out more about Open Dialogue, the Spiritual Crisis Network, and the Hearing Voices Network.

Whilst the film was running I was transfixed. It’s compelling stuff. I lifted my pen only once to write down a quote from mental health advocate and counsellor Will Hall who said: “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual is basically a sophisticated way of not listening to people...” 

But as the film reinforced over and over again – people just want to be listened to no matter what they're going through.