Top quality mental health care

MHAW24: Cat Convey

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, an annual campaign created in 2001 to raise awareness of mental health issues and decrease the stigma surrounding them. Here, Cat Convey, our Complex Needs Lead, discusses how Advance works with customers in need of mental health support and how she thinks support can be developed to better fulfil the needs of individuals.

I’ve been working across adult mental health services in the NHS for the past 20 years and joined Advance around 18 months ago. The role of Complex Needs Lead was created to develop staff familiarity and organisational competency surrounding mental health in supported living services.

During my time here so far, I have worked alongside our support and housing teams to develop strategies and ways of working with the aim of managing risk and supporting our customers to have an excellent quality of life. I have also created and delivered a mental health training strategy for Advance that goes across our whole organisation including our Support and Housing colleagues.

At Advance, we want to deliver “gold standard” support for all our mental health customers that is recognised across the sector as industry leading. We all know that there is a shortage of resources from the NHS due to mental health services being incredibly stretched so, as a result, we need to make sure we provide the best quality services possible to our customers. A key part of this is seeing customers as equal partners in their wellbeing journey and giving them ownership over their mental health.

One of our main purposes is to empower individuals with learning disabilities and mental health conditions by offering and facilitating the tools they need to live independently.  This might be practical things such as supporting customers with their personal and domestic activities of daily living. However, we also want our support services to help customers reach their full state of wellbeing and improve their quality of life.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs describes the aspects of life that are important to all humans – from meeting basic physiological needs through to self-actualisation. Supporting customers to achieve these stages is part and parcel of what we aim to achieve but, due to our commissioning models,  provision often focuses more on the fundamental needs such as food, water, safety and shelter.

As part of my role, I’d like to promote our customer’s wellbeing by pushing for more social inclusion - helping our customers to feel like they belong and they are valued members in their local communities. We can achieve this by supporting our customers to find employment or education opportunities, attend arts and crafts groups, gardening or exercise classes. This will help customers to feel empowered and support them along their journey to leading meaningful and fulfilled lives.

We need to look at how we can support local services to establish these groups, despite a backdrop of stretched provision and funding cuts. It is no easy challenge, but the outcome and change in lives undoubtedly would make the effort worthwhile. Working collaboratively with local Recovery Colleges, Social Prescribers, Community Hubs and 3rd sector partners such as Mind is a good way to do this.

While there is less stigma around mental health in society today, and more people are recognising and seeking help with their struggles, we recognise that dedicated training and development work is needed for our staff team to be well equipped with mental health skills and awareness so we can fully support customers with their recovery and that’s what we’re investing in.

We want Advance to be recognised for going beyond supporting people’s day to day practical needs, and working with customers to offer high quality mental health support which engages them in activities to ensure they consistently enjoy and find meaning in their day-to-day life. Prioritising those aspects of their wellbeing will help us achieve the best outcomes for our customers and provide meaningful and rewarding job roles for our employees. 

Top tips

The theme for this years’ Mental Health Awareness Week is movement. Research has shown exercise is great for improving our mental health, so try one of the following:

  • Many areas offer exercise on prescription via GPs – free gym membership for a limited period of time (criteria varies depending on the area)
  • If you want something slower, try yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi or chair exercises (the NHS has some great beginner videos).
  • Practice some mindfulness – maybe take a walk outside and take notice of the world around you. What can you smell, see, hear, touch?
  • Consider connecting with loved ones to get your movement in – take a walk to see your friend or family member instead of driving or catching a bus. Or why not arrange an activity together like a bike ride or going swimming?
  • Put your favourite songs on and have a boogie and a sing along!
  • Challenge yourself to get more steps in each day using a step counter.
  • Why not go on the hunt for hidden treasures using a free geocache app?
  • Meet new people and make friends by joining a local group such as an exercise class or a walking group.

Print and display this poster

As part of our 50th Year Anniversary, Advance is raising money for our three chosen charities: Cancer Research, Mind and AFK Disability Charity. 

Our May STEP CHALLENGE is a great way to get active, while also raising money for these three brilliant causes.  There’s still time to sign up – get in touch for more information and how to get involved.