Involving individuals and communities in mental health support and wellbeing

The Bigger Picture

The human paradigm 

“…In contrast, the emerging human paradigm regards mental health work and recovery from distress as embodied moral practice, grounded in material and cultural circumstances and personal histories and relationships. It therefore values context and meaning as crucial in understanding human distress and pays the utmost respect to how suffering people interpret and story their experiences of this.”

Alec Grant, independent scholar with stakes in critical mental health and related activism

Context, value and meaning

We believe that the human practice that arises from the human based perspective is subject to a number of processes and activities, such as an understanding of context and of the value and meaning attributed to personal experience. This can be significantly enhanced with the development of a range of humanistic meta-skills which support our critical and cultural analysis and understanding and from which meaning can be built.   Extensive research across a range of individuals, groups and approaches supports our case and we are now using these ideas and practices to develop better and more impactful services.

The social human: Communities

To better understand the application of this alternative, humanistic and multidisciplinary approach we need to reference the way we as individuals live and operate within our society and through community. Whether isolated, estranged or integrated we all operate within communities, whether they be micro- or macro-geographical communities, or communities of profession or interest.  Some of us are relatively limited and static in the communities of which we are members, some belong to multiple communities and move seamlessly between them.

We are not only advocating the need to understand this so that individuals are better able to understand themselves but also suggesting that (current and future) communities represent the places in which we live out and “practice” our current habits, tactics and strategies for living. We are convinced that these same communities, with support and education, could represent spaces in which individuals are much better able to help themselves and each other to live more fulfilled, less distressed and more meaningful lives.

In this new dialogue – or polylogue – between people inhabiting different communities of practice, regardless of type or location, individuals struggling with their mental health and differing levels of distress can bring the rich experience of their life to the conversation.  This can be shared as a story, bringing meaning and sense to their experience of life and that when combined with other, helpful narratives can create more positive and personally meaningful actions and activity.

Communities need to have a conversation that comprehensively connects all of the social, economic and political aspects of a life, that impact on the links between the public and the personal. This is just as important as dealing with embodied distress and/or living with poverty.

Within the current monologue-centric paradigm there exists an explicit and unhelpful power imbalance.  The “professionals” (GPs, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, etc.) take control of the situation with their dominant narrative. By contrast, within the dialogue paradigm, professionals have value and insight but their experience and understanding are explored in tandem with individuals’ personal narratives, contexts and their community of practice – i.e. the place in which they have developed, live and will continue to operate and hopefully thrive.

The dialogue paradigm has no prescribed “right” answers and no associated psychiatric labels. Rather, it requires the creation of ongoing personal plans and resolutions based on enquiry, reflection, discovery and sense making.

“Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced”

Soren Kierkegaard