I have struggled with severe and enduring mental health challenges since my late teens, and have accessed secondary services at various points in my life. In 2004, I spent over 8 months on an acute ward at the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT). During my admission, I observed many things that could be have been done differently, which would have improved the quality of care provided. I was also alerted to some important safety and patient experience issues.
Following discharge, I had very few ambitions in life apart from a growing desire to influence the design and delivery of mental health services. Fortunately, I was offered the opportunity to train as an Expert by Experience, which was a stepping stone to involvement in research and many other mental health related activities. I also became a member of Mind, with the hope that I would be able to draw on my lived experience to promote change and turn a negative experience into a positive one.
After working in a variety of roles at CPFT, as a member of a NICE Quality Standards Topic Expert Group and as a non-executive Director of the CLAHRC (Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care) Board, I felt sufficiently empowered to apply for a place on Mind's Council of Management. I had mostly been working locally to improve service delivery, but my aspiration was to contribute to influencing and campaigning work at a national level.
I put myself forward for a position as an elected trustee in 2011. This necessitated completing an application form and submitting a 500-word personal statement explaining why I was interested in being part of Mind's governance. Once I had been shortlisted, my personal statement was circulated to Mind members, who were offered the chance to vote for their preferred candidate. I still remember my elation when I was invited to join Mind's Council of Management, having received the largest share of the vote.
The role of a trustee is a strategic one, which involves overseeing the general management of Mind by ensuring that the organisation has a clear purpose and direction. Trustees are also responsible for ensuring that Mind is solvent and delivers its charitable objectives. In order to set the direction and policies of Mind, Board members are required to attend 4 Council of Management meetings and 4 sub-committee meetings a year. There is also an expectation that they will engage in the wider work of Mind.
"The unique perspective that trustees who are experts by experience bring to the decision-making process keeps the Board focused and prevents mission drift."
Mind's constitution requires over 50% of the Board to have lived experience. The unique perspective that trustees who are experts by experience bring to the decision-making process keeps the Board focused and prevents mission drift. The importance of lived experience leadership is grounded in issues of credibility, inclusion and the ability to influence policy makers.
Working with Mind has been a richly rewarding experience, which has led to personal growth and skills development. My involvement has never felt tokenistic, it has given me a great sense of purpose and played an enormous part in my ongoing recovery. Over time, my confidence has increased and I have regained my sense of identity. I have also become engaged in several other high profile mental health initiatives, which, combined with the work I do for Mind, has greatly expanded my horizons.