A role for lived experience mental health leadership in the age of Covid-19

Louise Byrne

Editorial published on May 23, 2020 in the Journal of Mental Health by Louise Byrne and Til Wykes.
(Excerpt follows.)

In 2020 an invisible assassin has swept across the world, creating chaos, confusion and uncertainty. Covid 19 has taken many people’s health, some people’s lives and the lives of loved ones. It has destroyed livelihoods and put the financial futures of billions at risk. We are helpless, there is nothing to fight back with. We are trapped, we have to stay in our homes. We are physically isolated, our usual freedoms and way of life suspended. As a result, our ability to enact fight or flight is inhibited, increasing the likelihood of lasting impacts on mental wellbeing (van der Kolk, 2014). Life as we know it, at least for a time, has changed so significantly we are reimagining our futures in a variety of ways, with no idea what’s really in store for us. We are collectively holding our breath, fearing the worst and hoping for the best. Never has there been a greater opportunity to stop pathologising the emotional experiences of human beings and start connecting over commonality, sharing stories and strategies to collectively work our way forward. As a global community, we are all engaging with personal recovery on some level and trying to create a new life, with meaning and hope, beyond the effects of Covid 19. At a time when there is a global mental health crisis, the lived experience community has answers that are highly appropriate to the trauma induced situation we’re all facing.

As the prevalence of lived experience/service user/peer/survivor/Mad perspectives have grown in recent years, so recognition of the potential benefits of lived experience roles is growing. There are examples of lived experience work being embraced by organisations and enabled to contribute to systems transformation (Jackson & Fong, 2017). However, instead of welcoming the hands-on, been-there-done-that perspective lived experience brings, the established medical paradigm largely continues to resist the involvement of lived experience, with considerable push back and unwillingness to engage still occurring (Happell et al., 2015; Jones
et al., 2020). There are a number of misconceptions or beliefs underpinning this unwillingness.

(View full article on the Journal of Mental Health)

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