Tuesday 28 August 2012

Normal Service

As this Blog approaches its 400th post I am giving it, me, and you a break but normal service will resume in mid September. Meanwhile, follow all Hafal’s exciting activities and read our trenchantly-expressed views using the "Key Links" over to the right...

Thursday 23 August 2012


The Movin' On Up microbus is on its final leg through North Wales starting today at its one offshore destination - Anglesey. Just in case anybody doesn't already know about it a banner has been placed on the Menai Bridge which should do the trick.

The Welsh Government’s new Strategy "Together for Mental Health" was a key topic of conversation today. Our local Practice Leader Heather Russell-Hughes reports: "Here on Anglesey we, like the rest of Wales, are keen to get behind the Mental Health Service User and Carer Panel response to the Strategy. Consultation events ended in July; nearly 400 service users and carers supported the Panel’s views which was a great response. We are now waiting to see what the Welsh Government will come up with. Service users don’t simply want a revised Strategy, what they’re looking for is a delivery plan. Patients and families won’t be satisfied with anything less than a set of concrete targets for improvements to secondary mental health services which will hold NHS and local authority managers to account."

The campaign will culminate in a climb of Wales’ highest peak, Snowdon, in September. Heather says: "The climb has generated a lot of interest. It will be symbolic: we want to demonstrate how service users and carers in Wales can lead the way forward and take services to a new level by maximising the opportunities provided by the Mental Health Measure, the Carers Measure and the new Strategy.

"The climb also provides an excellent opportunity to take part in a physical activity - so important for mental health recovery - and have some fun along the way!"

Indeed, and I'm looking forward to my second climb up there this year. Quite a privilege. Or am I a glutton for punishment? Of course not!


Somebody I've never heard of but described as "ex-Corrie star Helen Flanagan" is being taken to task in the social media for calling Swansea "boring". Apparently she had to move here because her footballer boyfriend Scott Sinclair plays for the Swans but there is a suspicion that she wants him to move to Manchester.

I don't believe in getting cross with people for Welsh-bashing - all that outcry about Anne Robinson's jokes was just embarrassing and I recollect the Western Mail published a letter from me suggesting people chill a little about it - so don't let's criticise young Helen but rather let us share with her the sybaritic delights of Wind Street, the smart Maritime Quarter, and the National Waterfront Museum (well, no, not the Waterfront Museum which is boring) and, er, any other ideas?

Swansea is an acquired taste and I suspect Helen won't be around long enough to acquire it. No doubt our loss as I am sure she is charming.

An Unlikely Role Model

Just caught up with this picture from the Newport event last week - could make an interesting screensaver it occurs to me...

Meanwhile guess what I am mostly eating at the moment in the vegetable department? Five portions a day of tomatoes is the answer. Notwithstanding the awful weather Mrs Blog's greenhouse has delivered very effectively again this summer with the bonus of lots of cucumbers.

Outside the salads have held up well too - indeed the rain is good for lettuce, rocket and so on and the cool temperature stops them bolting.

Last night I watched an interesting programme on BBC4 about the Queen's mother-in-law Princess Alice of Greece. I had heard of her as an eccentric with religious obsessions but did not know that she had colourful psychotic experiences and was diagnosed with schizophrenia, leading her unpleasant mother and husband (the disagreeable and silly Prince Andrew of Greece) to hide her away in a sanatorium against her will and clearly unnecessarily.

It is much to her credit that, in spite of having good cause to be cynical about humanity after the way she was treated, she went on to shelter Jewish refugees in Nazi-occupied Athens at great personal risk and later did charitable work to help a deprived neighbourhood in the Greek capital, evidently experiencing episodes of illness right into old age. An unlikely but genuine role model for what people with a serious mental illness can achieve in contrast to the many worthless, dilettante, and obnoxious members of European royalty.

Monday 20 August 2012

Take Control

Last week's Movin' On Up event in Newport was a resounding success with many visitors and excellent discussion about the campaign. I also enjoyed a good chat with Mohammad Asghar AM: because it was Ramadan he couldn't eat until nightfall but I pressed a couple of Hafal-branded cup-cakes into his hand so he could break his fast in style later.

The Mayor of Newport gave a fittingly enthusiastic speech to launch our Mental Health Foundation friends' new publication Take Control produced in partnership with Bipolar UK and Hafal. The publication focuses on the role self-management plays in achieving recovery from serious mental illness and complements Care and Treatment Planning: A step-by-step guide for secondary mental health service users which was published by Hafal (in collaboration with MHF and Bipolar UK) and aims to help service users get the most from the new Care and Treatment Plans which were introduced as part of the Mental Health (Wales) Measure in June.

Mel Cook, Project Co-ordinator at the Mental Health Foundation, said: "Take Control features people with a serious mental illness who have attended a Mental Health Foundation’s Self-Management Training course. It charts the progress they made before, during and after the course, how they became empowered during the process. It also offers advice on the eight areas in the new Care and Treatment Plans and how users can help themselves in these areas."

Take Control aims to help service users get the most from the Mental Health (Wales) Measure, a theme discussed by service users at the event. Hafal Newport service user and volunteer Lyn Cooper, who has experience of anxiety and depression, explained that it is crucial that the new law is maximised by service users and professionals. "Delivery is the key to the Measure," said Lyn. "We need it to be fully delivered so people know what kind of level of care and help they can expect to receive. It’s particularly crucial that service users’ Care and Treatment Plans are put in place so we know where we stand, what we’re working with and what’s being done to help us. Once all that’s in place then things will begin to happen!"

Monday 13 August 2012


Taking the plunge in Swansea Bay, Mumbles visible to the right

On Saturday afternoon I managed only my second swim in the sea this summer, this time half way around the Swansea corniche opposite the Patti Pavilion, a good spot with free parking on the other side of the road (you pay in the car-park on the seaward side) but make sure you walk 300 yards north-east back towards the town to avoid the disused sewage pipe which is hidden at high tide! The water was fairly warm but the breeze was quite insistent so I didn't hang around long.

I have always prided myself on being fairly philosophical about the weather - any other attitude is folly if you live in Wales - but I have to admit my patience has been sorely tried this summer.

However, last year after an almost equally pants high season we did get an Indian summer (I should say Haf Bach Mihangel - "St Michael's Little Summer" - the archangel's saint's day being 29 September) with record-breaking high temperatures and consequently pleasant swimming opportunities into early October (see the evidence here).

So don't put away your Speedos (or Peter Hahn bikini) - the best may yet be to come!

Friday 10 August 2012


Glorious pictures from the garden party held yesterday at Hafal's Trin Hyder project - congratulations to the planners for picking the nicest day of the year so far.

Meanwhile we have posted our response to the Welsh Government's draft mental health Strategy on-line. There was massive support for our User and Carer Panel's campaign on the Strategy and that forms the main message in our formal response presented jointly with the Mental Health Foundation and Bipolar UK: take a look here.

Two specific points made by patients and families are worth highlighting from the whole consultation process...

• We must protect resources for secondary mental health services which require major improvement and must remain the first priority.

• The Standards and actions detailed in the National Service Framework (NSF) and Action Plan for Wales published in 2005 provided clear instruction and direction to service planners and providers on the standard and type of services that needed to be delivered, and it is essential that this is not lost in the roll out of the new Strategy. A clear message needs to be given in the Strategy that the actions required in the NSF and Action Plan must continue and not be abandoned, except as and when specific new outcome-based targets are developed which equal or improve on each of the NSF standards. Such new targets cannot all be developed for inclusion in the Delivery Plan because of the likely tight timescale.

This last point is vital. The Strategy is a slight document for all that there is much good in it. We mustn't give the senior managers of mental health services a message that the Strategy - or even the Delivery Plan - tells them all they need to do! It will take time to replace the old NSF and Action Plan with something as detailed and robust (and, of course, better, we trust and expect).


I had decided to leave the Olympics alone rather than get caught up in the great tide of cynicism - sorry, I mean "patriotic fervour" - sweeping the nation. I haven't watched any of it so far but there are nuggets of interest to be found in the newspaper. I see that the UK Government is wondering how to use the Olympics to inspire a new generation of young people to take up sport, a tall order in view of all the hard work allegedly involved in becoming an elite athlete. The answer is to invite them to do the "Usain Bolt Olympic Quiz" as follows...

What is the right preparation on the night before defending your 200 metre Olympic championship? Is it:
(1) A bowl of wholemeal pasta, a glass of Lucozade, and an early night or
(2) Party until 3 a.m. with three members of the Swedish women's handball team

The correct answer is (2), ultracool Mr Bolt breezily reveals. Good gracious, even I would have taken sport more seriously if I'd known that...

Thursday 9 August 2012


While I'm schlepping around the Maes the Hafal microbus has arrived down the road in Barry bearing the Movin' On Up message.

The importance of early intervention in the treatment of serious mental illness - and the need for GPs to get up-to-speed in diagnosing mental illness - was one of the talking points.

Anne has been a full-time carer since giving up work for about two years. Speaking about her experiences of caring and mental health services in the Vale of Glamorgan Anne, who cares for her husband who has bipolar disorder, and her son, who has been given a diagnosis of psychosis, tells us: "My son's problems started six years ago when he was 16. Unfortunately his GP did not believe he had mental health problems, he thought it was simply a case of bad behaviour. I begged my GP to write to a psychiatrist but he refused. My son would go to the job centre for Jobseeker's Allowance and even they could see he had problems. Someone from the job centre phoned my son's GP and he said: ‘What's it got to do with you?'

"I tried to access support for my son via the local council. However, I was shocked to learn that he was too old for CAMHS services and too young to receive adult services. I could not believe that a loophole like this existed. I was batted back and for between child and adult services, I became very stressed and confused and almost fell ill myself. Since then I have had to fight to get services for my son. I had, for example, to push hard to get a Support Worker in place for him.

"I strongly believe that early intervention is crucial in the treatment of serious mental illness, that there should be an easy transition between children's and adult mental health services and that GPs should be brought up-to-speed on mental health issues, and that they are fully trained to see the signs and symptoms. It's crucial that GPs are au fait with mental illness as they are the first port of call for most people."

Thanks, Anne, that's a disturbing story and your suggested solutions make very good sense. Let me also point carers towards our Ten Point Plan here.

Alter Ego

Time to Change activist Elin Jones educates the First Minister, only the "Hafal blue" highlights in her coiffure betraying her corporate provenance

A very brief visit this morning to the Eisteddfod where it is unseasonably hot and sunny. "Unseasonably"? Yes, both in the sense that it usually buckets down during the Eisteddfod and, besides, the normal temperature this summer has been below 60F.

This year we are present jointly with our Time to Change Wales colleagues: I bump into several people looking for the Hafal tent and explain this - we should probably have informed our people better.

Hafal Chair Elin Jones is relishing her alter ego as a Time to Change Wales Educator and in that capacity set about educating the First Minister and got the picture to prove it alongside TtoCW trainer Gail Silver.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Completely Pointless

R.I.P. art critic Robert Hughes who died yesterday. Hughes performed the invaluable task of permitting us to distinguish good quality modern art from all the rubbish which pretends to be clever, sneers at people who don't "understand" it, but is in reality distinguished only by the fact that rich patsies pay good money for it. He was particularly ascerbic about Jeff Koons whose stuff really is just nonsense (see one example of his "iconic" - actually completely pointless - balloon dog sculptures above). And Damien Hirst's minders wouldn't let Hughes reproduce his stuff in a review for fear of exposure - actually Hughes didn't think the sharks-in-formaldehyde man all that bad but would certainly have had sharp things to say.

Hughes also wrote the definitive history of early (European) Australia The Fatal Shore which is strongly recommended summer reading - I flagged it two years ago here in a piece about the Welsh Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. I don't know if Hughes was Welsh by origin (sounds like it) but we should definitely claim him.

Monday 6 August 2012

A Real Shift

Mel Cook, our tireless friend and colleague from the Mental Health Foundation, blitzes the smoothies at the Monmouth event

Once again I am catching up having been away from a decent broadband signal (for a long weekend in Pembrokeshire)...

Reports wing their way west of an air of celebration at last week's Movin’ On Up event at Chepstow Castle.

And not without good cause: Monmouthshire service users and carers were delighted that 382 people across Wales supported the Mental Health Service User and Carer Panel’s views on how the Government’s forthcoming Mental Health Strategy for Wales, "Together for Mental Health", could be improved.

One of the Panel’s main concerns was how to broaden the engagement of service users and carers – both in the delivery of their own Care and Treatment Plans and in the wider planning and delivery of services.

Carolyn Potter, a volunteer at Hafal’s Monmouthshire project, said: "The ground-breaking new Care and Treatment Plans will really benefit service users like myself providing they are used properly. I am passionate about person-centred planning after becoming involved in it while campaigning for better transition services for disabled young people. Person-centred planning done properly – it will require intensive training and a real shift in attitude - together with the new Care and Treatment Plans could revolutionise mental health care in Wales.

"I can now see a brighter future where my skills, qualifications and experiences can be used to help not just my own recovery but also help improve mental health services in Wales. I hope to be actively involved in training and advocating for Care and Treatment Planning. It’s not the career path I set out on long ago but will possibly be very much more fulfilling!"

Thanks, Carolyn, that's a heartening reminder of how involvement has the "win-win" potential both to improve services and assist individual service users by offering opportunities for them to use their skills.

Wednesday 1 August 2012


As promised full details of the Snowdon Challenge are now on-line so get booking! Find the links at the bottom of the campaign page here.

So can you do the climb? The important thing is to follow carefully the guidance and application form (which incorporates a health questionnaire) on the above link - anything I say shouldn't be seen as over-riding that of course.

The health questionnaire will direct some people to get the all clear from their doctor but if you are in doubt there's nothing to stop you getting their advice anyway, especially if you aren't used to exercise. If you think you can do it but are not quite sure then you will enjoy the day more if you have first got reassurance from your doctor.

Aged 53, carrying quite a lot of extra weight (and I'm not talking about the ruck-sack!), but with moderate fitness from going to the gym occasionally and doing some hill-walking, I found the walk demanding but not very hard last week but you shouldn't underestimate what is a long climb (9 miles altogether there and back) which will test anyone's cardiac fitness ("puff") and your joints and muscles too.

Definite Snowdon Fact:

∙  Being the 57th highest mountain in the UK (all the higher ones are in Scotland) at 3,560 feet doesn't sound that impressive but actually Ben Nevis is only 849 feet taller so our highest point is no mole-hill.

Unproven Snowdon Facts:

∙ Glaslyn, the remote lake below the summit, is the home of a fresh-water monster or "afanc" which terrorised the neighbourhood until the locals got fed up and shoved it in the lake.

∙ If two people sleep by the lake one will awake as a poet and the other will become insane. As a mental health charity we will eschew any unethical experiments in this direction - there are no plans to spend the night anywhere on the mountain.