Yesterday’s government report into mental health – Thriving at work – provided sobering headlines: mental health problems cause 300,000 people to leave their jobs each year; they cost the economy £99bn annually; they will affect 1 in 6 of us at some point in our lives; and even those trained and paid to support us – the mental health professionals – are increasingly off work with stress. It’s no wonder that the Prime Minister, Theresa May, says “we need to take action”. But what action?
One of the report’s key recommendations is that workplaces should become better at encouraging open conversations. We need to learn about mental illness and feel more comfortable talking about it. Often, a person in distress doesn’t need us to solve their problems. What they need is for us to show interest, ask questions, listen, offer support. In fact, isn’t that what we all need from one another?
As part of our research for Scrambled, we invited members of the Bipolar Scotland network to get involved in the story development by sharing their view and experiences. The issues they raised, their language and descriptions, and elements of their stories were then built into our Storyworld though the characters of John and his family. He may live with bipolar disorder, but that isn’t the main focus of his life: for much of the story he’s dealing with the ordinary things of life – being a parent, a family carer for his aging mum, trying to earn a living.
John and his family allow us to explore questions like:
- what’s it like to have a mental illness?
- what’s it like to for a person’s family and friends?
- how do you manage other people’s reactions (fears, attitudes, silence)?
- how do you manage your own reactions (feelings of guilt and responsibility)?
- how can you access support when you need it?
- what do supportive psychiatric services look like?
As might be expected, John’s partner – Sarah – and their two children – Joe, 17 and Islay, 13 – have had a lot to manage at times as a result of his bipolar disorder. Much of this experience has not been openly talked about. Maybe things aren’t said for fear of upsetting one another. Maybe it just never feels the right time. But in Scene 7, the time is right, and John, Joe and Islay end up talking about what it’s been like for them over the years. Just when you think you’ve got everything under control…..!
Although is own mental health is John’s particular challenge, mental and physical health and well-being are themes that run throughout the story. It’s designed to enable people – whether at work, home or in the wider community – to have conversations about feelings, relationships, family, medication, accessing support and the challenges of life. The purpose is to help us understand what we can do to provide a more supportive environment for the child, young person or vulnerable adult (which means any of us!)
If you’re interested in using this Tool in your local area, or have ideas about how it could support individuals and families, then please share your views on our Forum (you’ll be asked to register). We’d particularly like to hear from people who are interested in trialing it for us and sharing what they find useful.