The 15th Annual Mental Health Conference – 9th April 2014

The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you (BB King)

The 15th Annual Mental Health Conference was marked by one of the first truly sunny days of the year and the feeling of warmth that this gave was carried into the conference itself. In the canteen, as everyone filled up on coffee, it was a delight to see quite a few of the usual suspects and a smattering of new faces
The proceedings started with a brief introduction from Sharon Davies who announced that the conference has now acquired charity status. This should help with raising funds, ensuring that it runs annually and is free to all who attend. As Sharon said, there are those who would not attend regularly if there were a cost attached, so this was important and positive news.
The Marion Beeforth memorial lecture this year was given jointly by Sara Meddings, Diana Byrne and Hazel Lambe. They have all been involved in setting up a pilot project to establish Recovery Colleges in the Sussex area. The two initial projects were in Brighton & Hove and Hastings and it looks like they have both been a great success. Recovery Colleges are a pioneering way of helping people with a mental health diagnosis (or their carers) to cope with their illness, to take charge of their own recovery process and to live a freer and more fulfilling life. Having been established in various parts of the country, Sara and the team are now planning to open colleges in various parts of Sussex.
Sara told us that the principles behind the college are that they bring together people with lived experience and clinical training and that the expertise of both these groups is acknowledged and given equal status. The colleges offer a range of courses to teach people coping strategies and applicants can choose from prospectuses courses that will suit them best and then, at the end of the course, they receive a certificate celebrating their success.
One of the great things about these colleges is that they ‘recycle’. Students can, if they wish, become teachers, thus bringing their own skills to the mix. Diana talked us through how this worked and how valuing it is to be able to bring one’s own experiences to the table to help others.
Finally we heard from Hazel who had graduated as a student from the Recovery College. She told us how rewarding she had found the process, how she felt that she had ‘re-engaged’ her brain and how she was now training to be one of the Peer Support Workers.
It was a truly inspiring presentation of an initiative that looks as though it may fill a huge gap for many people who have experience of mental illness. One of the overwhelming impressions was that the Recovery College provided some thing that had been missing for many people – hope.
After the presentation the conference divided into group work sessions that, on returning, fed back their thoughts on the Recovery College initiative. Feedback was, unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly positive. It really felt like the sunshine had followed us into the conference and stayed there.

Steve Smith Mental Health Nursing BSc(Hons) student