First published on Vanilla Ventures
The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day, celebrated on October 10th, was dignity. Dignity, according to the World Health Organisation ‘refers to an individual’s inherent value and worth and is strongly linked to respect, recognition, self-worth and the possibility to make choices.’ For anyone, the knowledge that your voice is being heard and you have the ability and resources to make choices about your life is valuable and inspiring, and will enhance your experience. For individuals who may be used to being excluded and marginalised, it can be life changing.
Through their work on the Charityworks programme, trainees and graduates have explored ways for organisations in the third sector to provide services whilst enhancing one’s own sense of worth, with service user inclusion and personalisation being a recurring theme. This can take a variety of formats, including co-production, personal budgets, peer support, and user involvement.
Providing community based services that inspire and support individuals to achieve their goals, delivering the services with respect, and enabling real and long lasting change, is crucial to effective support of those with mental health issues. This approach of empowerment is a shift from user inclusion to user leadership, the latter as an approach that recognises  ‘users as experts in their own mental health journeys and enables them as partners in shaping and leading services and the organisation.’
However, institutional practices, company culture, resources and staff skills can limit how far this theory translates into practice, with organisations needing to be ‘fearless and honest’ in their practices and focus on involving users. Organisations may acknowledge the importance of having a ‘culture and strategy [that] emphasises co-production, working as equal partners with the people using the service’ but they need ethos, and deliver upon their articulated promises.
With a broad service user base and limited resources providing a personal service for everyone is tough, but technology could prove to be a hugely beneficial resource. Embracing the changing environment and challenging established practices is not easy, but when done fully and wholeheartedly represents a real commitment to treating individuals with dignity. Digital inclusion is a focus for some organisations as they aim to empower individuals to access tools, communicate with professionals and stay connected. Those who have access to information about their mental health are often able to gain greater independence, access support for early intervention and continue their own recovery as they start to move away from services. What people choose to share or engage with via digital platforms can offer insight into what matters to them and this where organisations should focus.
Exploring the role of peer supporters it was found that an effective peer support programme was ‘a vital part of our commitment to service users leading on their own recovery and support.’ A shared personal experience with a focus on recovery and the future can be a hugely valuable relationship for individuals seeking support for their condition. The trainee at this mental health support organisation recommended a framework for delivering peer support that benefits everyone – the user, volunteer and organisation – and stressed the importance of an effective measurement system to demonstrate the value for everyone involved. Again, practical and tangible measures are crucial to make lasting impactful change.
One suggestion is that McKinsey’s 7S model would facilitate an organisational cultural change. The Hard S’s are areas which can be directed by management, namely: strategy, structure and systems. However, for these areas to have any real impact, the Soft S’s, which are cultural, must be understood as a pre-requisite for success. These areas include: skills, staff, style and shared values. Having the structure in place to include service users, and the staff with training and skills to include them is necessary to facilitate real change.
Harnessing the possibility of digital tools, peer support and user leadership is far from easy, as it will require a change in practice and a change of focus from everyone in both areas of governance and leadership to on the ground delivery. It will be a challenge for organisations to deliver against the objective.
However if the process of sharing power and listening to users can not only boost self confidence, result in a more streamlined and effective delivery of services, and allow resources to be directed towards the outcomes of most value, but enable service users to become agents of their own recovery, making decisions about their wellbeing and working towards a meaningful and fulfilling life – a life of dignity – it’s a challenge worth accepting.
Charityworks is the UK non-profit sector’s graduate programme. Graduates undertake a 12 month placement with an organisation in the sector, delivering a full time job and taking part in an acclaimed leadership programme. As part of their placement with an organisation operating in this sector trainees undertake research and assignments, the insight from which has informed this article. Charityworks is managed by Vanilla Ventures.

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