Is 'wellbeing' the new 'recovery'?
Posted Tuesday 1 December 2009
Well, I haven’t been to a Mind conference for some years. This year, it was the topic that decided me; I have had trouble getting my head around the ‘wellbeing' agenda.
Having been involved in the mental health world for over twenty years I hope you can forgive me for a little scepticism. Like one of the conference delegates I spoke to, I too have wondered if it is simply the new buzz word brought in to replace ‘recovery’.
One of the speakers suggested that recovery is only for people in contact with secondary services, whereas wellbeing is for all. Well, I am not sure about that, but they do have something important in common: a thread of optimism or hope that things can and should be better.
So, I started with the impression of wellbeing holding overtones of happiness and rose-tinted spectacles, wondering if it is really the business of mental health policy or services.
The first speakers on Thursday evening, Jonathan Naess, Jeff Walker and Kevin Lewis, did not do a great deal to contradict this, although Jeff’s enthusiasm was catching and probably made many of us feel that there has to be something in it!
A self-confessed academic, who described himself as being half way up an ivory tower, Richard Bentall nonetheless managed to ‘ground’ wellbeing for people with severe mental health problems. Richard identified four succinct threats to wellbeing in the form of mortality, disorder, low self-esteem and identity. All of these, with the possible exception of mortality, are key themes in many discussions about recovery. He talked us through ways of managing these threats.
This was neatly followed up by Dr Jo Nurse, who has been key in developing the New Horizons document. (Perhaps to her surprise, many people in the audience had not heard of New Horizons). Another ivory tower perhaps? Anyway, Jo talked us through much of the thinking behind it, the wellbeing agenda and the ideas behind promoting mental health and wellbeing across the life course, from childhood through to old age and death.
What I found encouraging is the focus on the influence of social factors on mental health and wellbeing, the recognition that our social circumstances, adverse life events, relationships and inequalities are major factors in determining all of our mental health…and wellbeing. Taking Richard and Jo's presentations together, I had a brief moment of hope that we might be seeing the beginnings of the demise of the medical model.
Throughout the conference, the question about an impending change of Government hovered in the air. Will the newly formed National Mental Health Development Unit survive? Will welfare benefits become more restricted? Will New Horizons hit the dust?
We don’t know. But, some of us at least are more informed and perhaps more open-minded about the 'wellbeing agenda', thanks to the Mind conference….
Alison is a freelance researcher, trainer and consultant, working from a service user/survivor perspective. She has over 20 years experience of social research mainly in the mental health field, and has worked for the Mental Health Foundation, the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health and the National Centre for Social Research.
Since becoming freelance in 2002, she has worked for a range of organisations including Mind and Rethink. As a user of mental health services, Alison has experience of a range of services including acute inpatient care, crisis services, psychotherapy and medication.
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