7th September 2017


Minutes of the meeting

In attendance:  Dick & Hazel L, Brian L, Tim & Francis W, John & Margaret I, Carolyn & Ian G, Brian U, Dianne W, Linda E, Geraldine M, Anne R, Rod C, Terry G.

  1. Apologies: Zib L, Angela D
  2. Minutes of last meetingThere were no minutes of the June (BBQ) or July (Visit to Wisley) meetings.
  3. Matters arising – There were no matters arising
  4. Guest speaker

Dick introduced Julian Eaton our guest speaker as a fellow member of his Church in Tring who has an interesting job in Mental Health and moreover was happy to tell us about it.

Julian began with a short biography starting with his living in Africa (the Congo) with his missionary parents. At the age of 12 He returned to the UK and after qualifying in Medicine and Psychiatry worked in the NHS for a while.

He now works for CBM “The overseas disability charity” and some 15 years ago he returned to Africa (Nigeria) to help with the treatment of severe Mental Illnesses (mainly schizophrenia) among the rural population.

His presentation was then focused on his experiences in several countries in Africa illustrating the often sad realities to be found there by sharing a few typical case histories highlighting some of the effects on the Carers.

He stressed that there were few safety nets like those we have in the UK via the NHS and the difficulties brought about by poverty, poor transport and the extreme distances from the nearest hospital were major issues.

Brian L asked was MH more or less prevalent in Africa Julian responded that people would have a similar diagnosis but would present quite differently as there is a cultural overlay in that people there are preoccupied with different things. In Africa their concerns are about religion and evil spirits where in the west we are not as spiritual and we think more about genetics and stress.

In the emerging science of Global Mental Health, how to address MH issues was dominated by a western view.  However, they are not so relevant in low income countries.

He went on to offer the statistic that 1 in 4 people would at some stage have MH issues and most of them (85%) are in poorer countries that is in part because most people live in poor countries.

The spectrum of MH issues runs from the most severe eg schizophrenia at one end to say mild depression at the other end.  At the most severe end, illness is biological, inherited, often treatable with medication and is therefore at very similar levels all over the world.

At the other end of the spectrum it is dependent on the cultural overlay ie., the environment, living styles which will be very different across the world. One example would be eating disorders and image issues do not exist in poor countries.

The availability of services, the quality of those services, where they are located and the wealth available to the individual and their families wanting to access them are the main issues to be address in Africa.

There are local “Traditional Healers” who are good at social problems but can’t handle severe MH or neurological issues.  They will all ways promise a cure and charge much for it but they do not produce a cure. Some conditions could be easily addressed with common medication were it available.  Julian gave an example of epilepsy where a young girl was given appropriate medication that controlled her seizures and transformed her life (no longer refused attendance at school)

In Africa there is much stigma, discrimination and human rights abuse around MH issues.  Some people are chained up for their own safety as their loved ones do not know what else to do for their safety and are heart broken in having to constrain them.

Parallels were drawn here by the group to our NHS where sectioning occurs and straightjackets may be used. However, it was agreed that we do have legal checks and balances to control these aspects.

Western life style stresses, homelessness/street dwellers are not evident in African communities.

How to address lack of MH support in Africa to increase coverage and access to services

  • In Sierra Leone they have recruited and trained, to a basic level, a team of nurses to act as a local resource beginning as an alternative to travelling to distant hospitals/centres
  • Increased awareness raising campaigns to change attitudes and reduce stigma. An example given by Julian here is where it is common to enquire about any MH issues in a family (even the extended family)  prior to agreeing a marriage
  • Awareness raising to get more Government spending in MH.  This is so severely under spent in poor countries who choose to spend on other priorities.
  • Encourage self- help groups – not unlike our carer groups who are similarly the least heard, least valued. Some groups are carers only, some are patients only and some are mixed and it is important to ask them what they want that would be helpful
  • Income generation is a priority.

There followed a short general discussion of our carer experiences, identification of parallels and priorities with our own services here in Herts. Anne asked would Julian write anybody off from getting well? Julian said no but recovery might mean the individual making the most of their circumstances and managing better ie discovering what works for them. Dick suggested that suicide would seem to reduce in times of war but could offer no real evidence of this. Julian believed this not to be the case preferring to believe that people are probably more prepared to work together to achieve a common greater purpose.

5 Upcoming events

Dick reported that since it is our group’s 25th Anniversary he would try to organise a Coffee morning celebration at the HPFT (possibly Waverley Road or if not at the Colonnades) in November. There would be other people there not just our group.

Dick also talked about his Quiz night in Tring on the 7th October.  He reminded the group that each year it has been run that it had been a major contribution to Group funds (£240 this year).  He was seeking for us to take two tables of 6 people.  (contact Dick if you wish to attend if you haven’t already done so)

6 Any Other Business – was preceded by drinks and nibbles

Terry reported that our Web Site has been down for about a month and has yet to find out why. The site went down at the same time as he was trying to make it more Google friendly ie by updating the search engine accessible data at the top of the pages.

Given that the purpose of the site is to attract New Members to the group, it needed to be easily found by people searching with Google which it certainly has not been.  It is clear that while having a Web Site demonstrates a degree of kudos and credibility, we have yet to get any new members via this route.

Currently the site is written to inform New Carers and signpost the main agencies and HPFT services which is perhaps, like a book, a once only read.  It contains some information about the group but, as yet, does not strongly sell the benefits of membership or seemingly provide information that existing group members want to access.

In support of this contention, Terry asked the group how many had ever visited the web site and how many times? There was very little positive response for more than one visit which included

  • Just to see what it looked like
  • To access the record of our minutes (these are sent anyway to members with email)

The site currently contains elements of:

  • fixed content (like a book) mainly aimed at carers new to mental health
  • semi fixed content as in the minutes of our meetings recorded after the event.

Before the site went down Terry had started to include information about upcoming meetings and the speakers involved. The aim being to attract members to attend but this is only possible when the information is available sufficiently in advance and there is time to prepare an interesting flyer.

The renewal date for our account with GoDaddy, our web site host, was 1st September which must be addressed before we can sort out the technical issues of getting it back up and running.

Questions to address:

  1. Do we put the site back up as it is, given that it has attracted no new members
  2. Do we put the site back up again – mainly as is but with some improvements eg selling membership
  3. Do we attempt a totally new design (a lighter less formal look) together with a new content approach but what should that content be?
  4. More interactive eg let people comment – more Blog like
  5. Sell the benefits of joining the group and attending meeting
  6. Include important campaign issues, news items and research reports magazine style (but who will gather and write these articles – will individual members contribute?

Whichever approach we take, there are many carers out there who have no access to the web and we should find other ways to attract them.

Suggestions from the group included a leaflet that we could distribute in key places that would also include our web site address for those who would want to find out more.

Dick agreed to produce a first draft of the leaflet and Hazel suggested we set up a small working party. If the leaflet promotes the benefits of membership and attendance at meetings we could also include it as a page on the web site.

As time was getting late no firm actions, other than producing a leaflet and putting the web site back up asap, were agreed.

7 Date of next meeting –will be the 5th October 2017. The guest speaker will be Dr Jane Padmore.