Thursday, 25 June 2009

Amazing 'Think Family' Day! Including pets!

Every now and then I am privileged to be part of an event which stands out from the rest. The ‘Think Family’ conference held today by West London Mental Health trust (Hounslow) was one of those!

The venue at St. George’s suite, Twickenham stadium was impressive to start with and I have never seen an event fill up so early! There were around 100 health professionals and students from across the area.

Dr Alice Parshall, the Clinical Director for Hounslow Service Delivery Unit (SDU), very impressively chaired the day, keeping us to time schedule almost to the second, with some of the best summing up after presentations I have ever heard! Her passion for getting services to work together and being aware that a person with a mental health problem has a family that is crucial to their care and recovery is an approach I would love to see nationally.

First speaker was the wonderful Dr Ian Banks who is a part-time GP, A & E doctor in Belfast but also the president of the European Men’s Health forum and medical journalist amongst other things. He effectively delivered a range of statistics showing the vast differences in gender differences around life expectancy and illnesses. There are 3,000 male suicides a year in the UK - a bigger killer than testicular cancer. Dr Banks suggested one theory of the reluctance by some men to go to the GPs was the female 'barrier's, e.g. receptionist, pharmacy staff.
He also quoted research by Madsen and Juhl (2007) which showed from a study of 607 new fathers 6.5% suffered from 'postnatal' depression but the feeling is that many more go undetected. His belief is that men need health issues presented in a more mechanical, lateral format rather than ‘holistic’. Consequently he has written some great books for men in the car manual format! Have a look at the excellent site

I gave my presentation but with the focus today on the effects of my illness on my family and gave some suggestions on how we can make services better for others.

After lunch was a very powerful presentation by Louise Wardale from Barnardo’s in Liverpool. I have admired Louise and the work she has done for several years and today was no exception. She showed a stunning DVD called ‘Telling it like it is’ which conveys what it feels like to be a young carer for a parent with mental health needs. Then the Splinter group of amazing youngsters from Liverpool who are all members of the Barnardo’s Action with Young Carers, gave a drama presentation of the issues affecting them. Stimulating stuff showing how we all need to feel safe, wanted and loved! I cannot recommend the work Louise and her team have done enough – especially their ‘Keeping the Family in Mind’ resource pack. See

I loved Louise's message from the youngsters that
'By listening you may be able to understand.
By understanding you may be able to help'.

Next we heard from Sarah Ghani, a Consultant Psychologist and Clinical Lead for Older people’s Services – she spoke about ‘Too old to help? Involving Older family members’. She effectively reminded us of the powerful resource they can be yet are often undervalued for their skills, knowledge and experience. It reminded me that we had done this with my grandparents when I was so poorly. The tendency is to want to protect the older family members yet they can offer great support. I had felt I did not want to upset my Grandma and I know I put an act on when I was with her! Maybe I should have been much more open with her? Mum and I miss her terribly these days, especially when we have a crisis – Mum always says her mother worried over incidental issues but had words of wisdom for big issues.

Very often the last session of a conference is thin on the ground for attendance as people slope off after coffee – not today. The final presentation was given by Graham Crennell (Head of Governance and Risk at Hounslow SDU) and Donna Sloss (Senior Nurse Clinical Lead for Treatment and Emergency Psychiatry). The subject – Home, Pets, the Family and Mental Well-being’. Fabulous!
They showed how important pets are to us humans showing us affection, giving us a purpose to get up, to exercise, etc. Research from America demonstrates how using pets with people with mental health problems can have a significant effect on recovery. A powereful and cheap way to help people – bring it on I say!

The only problem I had was making the assumption that Travelodge would have a hairdryer and an ironing board – oops! Arriving very late due to trains, road works, etc. meant they had all gone! My learning point for my travels in future!!
Other than that the whole event was a joy to be part of and I had one of the most informative and useful days I have had in a long while.

Dr Parshall and her team have a great deal to be proud of and I shall be pointing other areas to them as an example of good practice.

Thank you Suzanne and Jane for asking me to be part of such a wonderful event!


No comments: