Tuesday 5 April 2011


Today I attend the launch of Hafal's newly qualified team of Expert Patient Trainers (EPTs) at our National Resource Centre, St Fagans: some of them are in the pic above.

Hafal’s EPTs, supported by funding from Comic Relief, are people with experience of serious mental illness including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder who have made strides in their recovery and have now decided to become mental health trainers in order to share their expertise in managing illness and mental health recovery, planning and delivery of mental health services and a range of related issues so that others (patients, professionals and the general public) can learn from them.

Hafal's Dave Smith, himself an EPT who has led the training, says: “I have seen how others, like myself, who have experienced an enduring and serious mental illness, have developed their training skills and grown in confidence and I have seen the great benefits to those receiving training. After a recent session I was told by one mental health professional: ‘This is how training should be done, I have learnt so much more by being trained by Expert Patient Trainers'."

Hafal has pioneered training by patients, many of them qualified, over recent years but the time is right to build up a substantial, fully qualified team working to national standards in all parts of Wales. To become an EPT our trainers undertook Agored and City and Guilds 7300 training which enables them to deliver a dynamic curriculum covering a range of issues from the broad to the technical and which can assist mental health professionals and wider groups alike.

We really must overcome not just the habit of keeping patients right out of training but also that tokenism (almost worse than having no patient involvement) which sees patients wheeled out in training sessions to describe their life story without context and then leaving the "serious training" content to the "experts".

It is long overdue for mental health policy and services to be guided by people with personal experience. Hafal’s EPT initiative could help put Wales in the vanguard of progressive practice in patient leadership but we will have to overcome the many (mainly unconscious or unintentional) prejudices among practitioners, managers, and senior policy-makers (and, yes, including the third sector) which stand in the way.

After lunch we have a really valuable discussion about the decision which about half those present have taken to go public on their experience in order to promote change. The experience of each is different but there is a common factor in that reactions from acquaintances and the wider public were universally positive and the trainers concerned had evidently themselves experienced catharsis and a sense of "moving on by coming out".

I speculate that there might be a critical mass in realistic sight where it becomes normal to be "out" and not such a big deal to discuss mental illness openly. People seem to think this is possible.

Meanwhile it is moving and inspirational to work with this growing number of pioneers who have a dream and courageously mean to achieve it. But it is hard work and needs to be done well.

As Dr King said "All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence".