A network for anyone with an interest in
adult education and mental health

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My Work With MHFE

I first saw a link to the MHFE virtual secondees project on the NSUN (that’s National Survivor User Network) mailing and was really interested. I am a mental health service user, but had 6 years experience teaching in FE and HE. Funnily enough, I think it was the stress of this work that pushed me to breaking point! I became ill with stress and then after I lost my job my condition deteriorated. As part of my own recovery I completed an MA and then just last year finished an NVQ in Beauty therapy. I had had some interesting encounters with staff with regards to my OCD. (its not really a mental health condition is it, to ..I’ve got that – I’m a clean freak etc etc )!!” 

I was supported by the disability advisor after I had a mini freak out when police (as part of  the college’s annual anti knife crime campaign) were doing random searches and frisks on site and I was picked out and they went through all of my personal things. I mean do I look like I carry a knife?

Anyway, I was interested to know how students with mental health problems are supported and how I might be able to add to the discussion and thinking. On top of that, I had been invited to take a more active role in the Recovery Hub that is part of West London Mental Health Trust and I was intrigued to understand how peer support workers with no pedagogic back ground or support based qualifications would be supporting students to stay engaged and wondered if there could be some shared learning. I felt that the recovery college model would have something to offer FE.

The joining involved meeting with the Recovery Hub co ordinator and explaining the project – and he is a very, very busy man who is very difficult to pin down. But I got him and he signed my application! That was a good sign!


Day 1

I was delighted to find that I had a place and was very excited to go to Barnsley – although the weather was grim.  I was struggling financially at the time and so it was difficult for me to pay my train fare but I found a fixed advance fare. I was also finishing an editing course and the first day clashed with my last day of term so I was late. I felt a bit lost when I arrived as every one seemed to know each other and I felt very  alone and a little anxious in my little room on the first night.  When I get anxious I begin to catastrophise and I ran a number of chilling murderous scenarios through my mind's eye before I got to sleep that night. Once I imagine being murdered in my bed it usually means I'm tired or nervous!!

See you never know what people  with mental health issues are thinking/seeing/hearing!! It's mostly an invisible condition… LOL!!

Day 2

Murderous scenario’s were quickly put aside as I began to get to know those around the table. I must say that I found the joining part a little tedious as I had already done it as we had been asked to in our joining pack. I had also done the virtual ice breaker but not got anything back…

Meeting the Website!

Lost lost lost! That’s not necessarily a reflection of the site but about how my mind struggled to navigate it. I think I was very tired and had about 1,000 other things on my mind and was hoping to turn on, tune in and drop out and glide through. It absolutely needed my undivided attention – which is not too much to ask for secondees who are being paid to attend a training day. But I found it a little overwhelming to familiarise myself with the interface in a way that I would remember functionality that applied to what I was being asked to do in the future.  I followed as much as I could and posted as requested but felt like painting by numbers.  How would I do this on my own….? I was feeling fired up by the end of the day and presumed that that passion would carry me over as the project ticked on. Suddenly the day was over and a day had been made for a Skype chat that I knew I could not meet as I would be working in India

I left having made a couple of connections, I remember the man who came from the recovery college at Rampton, a lady who wanted to learn more about recovery colleges and a lovely lady from Birmigham..a man from Barnsley  College. I wondered going home how I would remember the others who seemed lovely but I just didn’t have time to get to know them and where they worked and why they were there.


Then I became completely immersed in my trip to India. I had won a Winston Churchill Bursary and had spent much of that on essential film making equipment while waiting for other funds to come in.. they were not coming, nor was my Govt film permit and I was now told I needed to pay for a rep in Delhi to push through my application. I was offered the chance to make a film for Broadmoor hospital at a very very discounted rate but I had to take it  and turn it around over the Xmas Holiday. It exhausted me and I ended up in A&E. After Xmas my permit came through and I posted on the MHFE website. But I didn’t get to see Yolas reponse. I don’t know why.

By 21st Jan I was in India. MHFE seemed a million miles away….

While in India, I attempted with terrible internet connection speeds to access the site. Its was almost impossible with my pay as you go dongle! But I posted what I could when I could. I contacted Yola about payment and was told I needed a work plan. My head started to spin.. how would I do that.. from here?? I felt very isolated form the project and was finding the website difficult to navigate. I just couldn’t see where I could post and who would see it.

India was hot and stressful and very demanding, nothing was easy. When poor Yola wrote asking for feedback on the site I told her what I thought. (Sorry Yola) I think my description of my navigation problems and isolation was a much a reflection of my physical and mental reality than it was a reflection of site design. But I had pointed out that I was not getting notifications.

But saying that – people are busy, people are stressed – if something doesn’t come into my mail box I generally don’t go looking for it sorry – wouldn’t a Face book site be easier?? I can do that easily and I'm on it every day….  I get easy updates/messages. 

So many sites to navigate…so little time… So I tried to get things sorted from India but it was impossible – but I did post as soon as I got back!! Again looking at those posts now there are responses but I didn’t get notification of these. Just to be sure I am now going to do a search and will honestly post if I find these…no nothing!!

What could be wrong… I guess I was too busy to be chasing and fixing. I'm not saying that is right but life just took over.. I had a major event to organise etc., etc., etc.

 Suddenly I was beginning to feel GUILTY and BAD.

Engaging with the project

This I thought has got to be addressed. The project is finishing and I haven’t contributed enough nor have I taken all that I can – time for action. First, I posted an article about recovery colleges questioning the use of the word hub and put a question to the group. Do we move from the ImROC Model or do we stay true?  I also attached some literature from ImROC explaining recovery colleges in detail. I have been very involved with the ImROC Recovery project. I discussed the concept of recovery colleges and the pedagogic impact on service users – does “college put people off or switch them on?” I love the word college! But I have great experience of school and college.

Online webinar meeting

I then took part in an online webinar which I found brilliant. There was a really instructive presentation about using the webinar and why and I really felt that I was beginning (technical issues aside) to build relationships with people. It seemed so friendly and I felt part of the group. I decided that I really needed to chase my work plan sign off – the man in charge of the Recovery Hub had changed roles and it was very difficult to get the new person to understand that she had to sign off for work I had already done and that money would be paid that she would have to pay me.. but eventually I got it sorted. That took a lot of work!!

I then took part in another webinar and posted another post, to do that I contacted Alastair and learnt how to post a film from Youtube – lesson learnt! YAAAY!!

Again during that webinar I felt like I was really getting to know and like very much the other people in the group and really excited about sharing knowledge. I had mentioned putting together a field trip to the recovery college in Nottingham and I contacted them and got some dates and sent them to the group.

At the moment we have a field trip planned for 31st July . And four members have expressed an interest. This is great. I'm pretty sure that after this we will all know each other even better. I hope that we stay in touch as a group as I just feel that I'm in the swing of this now. Such a shame that it's officially over –just as it started for me… ;-(

Looking back – this perhaps wasn’t the best time for me as I was going away and struggling with finances etc., but I think from looking at the site that the group took a while to gel and I'm not that alone in feeling it was coming together towards the end. I guess for me the project could have been for 12 months – it would have yielded better results that could have been evaluated and been used to argue for more funding for this wonderful project.

I do also think that I'm not very good at proactively chasing information unless I need it for the task that Im doing in the moment. But the webinars were invaluable. As was Barnsley.

I think a simple facebook site for virtual secondees would have helped me rather than a stand alone website! I still don’t know why I haven’t received notifications but I'm guilty for not chasing and sorting out. (More guilt). I hate feeling bad about work I'm supposed to do but haven’t.

My most effective and engaged work is done through an NHS email group – stuff comes straight into my box – I can ignore if I'm busy or get stuck in if I’m interested and have time….

So for now I'm engaged and loving the space to post updates and look forward to our trip and continuing as part of the group.

Thanks every one for bearing with me! 

 Jane McGrath