Community Mental Health Forums and the Unicorn Project
The Unicorn Project is a seed. It is a vision of a network of people involved in Process Work and Mental Health in the UK, acting as a resource to support the creation and facilitation of community mental health forums.
This seed has come from the incredible experiences we had facilitating several community mental health forums in the UK, as well as numerous seminars within Mental Health Hospitals for patients, psychiatric professionals, carers and students.
The idea of the Unicorn Project is to further the mental health of our communities. It aims to support awareness of mental health as a community issue as well as further the mental health of individuals.
The Unicorn Project can help community groups, clinics, hospitals, and councils to create and facilitate community mental health forums. The Unicorn Project can provide:
written guidelines for organizing a community (or organizational) forum
consultation and active support for organizing community forums, in respect for unique regional concerns
experienced facilitators and assistants
How is mental health a community issue?
Mental health problems of individuals are deeply influenced by attitudes in the community
People with mental health diagnoses often feel marginalized by society
Mental health services, clinics and hospitals treating people with mental health problems cannot act in isolation from the community at large. They need opportunities to interface with the larger community.
People working in mental health services often feel overworked and need opportunities to meet with one another to explore and contribute their expertise and concern to improve the mental health of communities
People with mental health issues often carry concerns about a wide range of social issues that belong to the community as a whole. They need support to voice these concerns, and for their concerns to be heard within the community. They also have ideas and resources for improving mental health services in the community.
The whole community suffers from isolation when some of its members do not feel welcome. All of us in community feel isolated when we do not feel we contribute actively towards community improvement for those in need.
Many different groups of people within our community, such as youth, elderly, or the homeless, also have mental health needs
What is a Community Mental Health Forum?
A Mental Health Forum gathers 40-200 people interested in mental health, to engage in dynamic discussions and deepen their awareness about mental health needs, welcoming all parts and processes usually marginalized by society – in a facilitated interaction.
Who are the Participants?
Participants include people who use mental health services, mental health professionals and service providers, family members, carers, administrators and leaders in the field of mental health, representatives of community organizations, such as police, housing, legal advocacy, and organizations serving the youth, elderly, homeless, government representatives and other interested community members.
Facilitators are experienced in forum facilitation using Process Work methods to help the group focus on themes it wants to address, and support all feelings, experiences and points of view to be heard. Polarized needs and views are represented. ‘Hot spots’ are those points we all recognize in which discussions often break down, conflict escalates, themes cycle, and hopelessness results. At these ‘hotspots’ careful facilitation leads into new territory, where there is increased levels of understanding, care, community wisdom and energy released for practical realization of community goals.
Who and What is The Unicorn Project?
The Unicorn Project is a network of people, from regions throughout the UK, who are actively involved in the field of mental health and interested in the contribution of Process Work to community dialogue and to individuals’ mental health. Each is committed to sharing information, resources, and actively supporting the development of Process Work Community Mental health forums.
Community and Individual Mental Health
HISTORY OF MENTAL HEALTH SEMINARS AND FORUMS
Once, at Princess Royal Hospital, a patient, when asked what he was doing at the hospital, replied that he was “looking for unicorns”. Unicorns had not been sited in quite some time. He was looking to reconnect to a sense of magic, and truth in his life.
In 1987, Arlene and Jean-Claude Audergon began teaching Process Work in the UK. Sheila McClelland determined that Process Work could make a significant impact to her work with mental health patients in the Princess Royal hospital, in Haywards Heath. Together with support from Dr. Alison Abrahams, Process Work was introduced to the hospital in 1989. Over the following twelve years, seminars took place, annually or twice annually. The seminars were usually four days, and included people with mental health issues who were in-patients at the hospital, some out-patients, as well as mental health professionals, students and others interested. Everyone learned together Process Work methods for understanding our own extreme experiences and to work with the life experiences of people with acute and chronic mental health difficulties.
Participants came from all over the UK as well as from other countries to study in this unique setting.. In Haywards Heath, there were Process Work groups that met regularly, groups of people with mental health issues, and groups of professionals to learn Process Work.
Through the years, we focused on learning to accurately perceive and support each person’s unique process to discover pathways forward within even the most apparently disturbing situations such as clinical depression, eating disorders, panic, mania, hearing voices, addictions, compulsions and self -harm. Over the years, we also encountered the deep suffering, the trauma and stories of abuse in so many people’s lives. We also became increasingly aware of how the stigma of society reinforces mental health problems, and replays the sense of oppression in many people’s lives.
Group interactions and intense dialogue between patients and professionals became a part of the seminar design, with powerful learning and deepening of understanding on all sides.
Community Mental Health Forums in Hayward Heath
In 2000, a Community Mental Health Forum was added to the agenda. In 2001, we had a full day Community Mental Health Forum, with more than (75) participants. These were organized by Dr. William Fulford and Alison Flynn at Princess Royal Hosptial.
Community Mental Health Forum in Melton
After attending the forum in Haywards Heath, Lorraine Anning together with Dr. Rosemary Shinkwin, determined to organize a similar forum and seminar in Melton. The forum in Melton took place in March 2002, with 150 people, sponsored by the People’s Forum, organized by Ms. Anning and Dr. Shinkwin.
Forum for Norwich Mental Health Trust and Follow up
In September 2002, a Forum was held (organized by Mick Collins) for the entire staff of the mental health Trust in Norwich. It took place with 145 staff members of the hospital. There was a follow up, as well, with a small group of management, professionals and people using services.
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Us in the System, The System in Us