Enhancing learning and teaching about mental health across the disciplines
The DUCIE network aims to:
See here for
Background to the Network
See also this longer extract from a recent book
In the summer of 2005, a small band of user and carer involvement development workers, based in Higher Education Institutions, met over two days in Nottingham. They had in common that they were fairly newly appointed to posts with the aim of facilitating user and carer involvement in education for health and social care. Lively discussion was accompanied by a shared sense of optimism and enjoyment in the possibilities of these new roles. They were seen to pose significant challenges too.
Some of the issues related to the cross-cutting nature of the work. Workers made reference to the need to ‘juggle too many balls' or ‘spin too many plates at once'. They spoke of ‘wearing lots of different hats' and the complexity of ‘working with different voices'. There was a real sense of people being pulled in a number of different and sometimes opposing directions; a set of challenges which will be familiar to anyone who might be considered a ‘boundary spanner' (Williams 2002).
Other key issues were around hidden agendas, lack of clarity in what is expected of the role and tokenism; with one worker describing ‘being parachuted in to rubber stamp things'. For some the role felt unstable, reflecting temporary or part-time contracts and ‘inadequate resources'. One worker felt they were precariously ‘standing on tip-toes'; another in a state where they felt they were ‘about to be rained on'. Most could identify with the ambient fear of getting things wrong.
Two statements from the meeting stand out for me. When asked to describe a picture they had drawn of themselves in role, one person said "I'm trying to push the main door open when it seems that service users and carers are only allowed in through a little door that is open at the side!'. Whatever progress may already have been made in involving service users and carers in education and engaging with communities, ‘pushing the main door open' can be a major task. The second image relates to tensions involved in work that breaks new ground. "It's a challenge" one worker said "not being a this or a that"; with colleagues always seeming able to assert much clearer, established and accepted role identities.
Supported by the Mental Health in Higher Education (mhhe) project, but with a remit that goes beyond mental health, the DUCIE network meets two to three times a year and has proved a means for the sharing of expertise and experience between those employed in development worker roles.