Blackpool's Mental Health Crisis

13 September 2019

Googling ‘Blackpool’ and ‘mental health’ brings some quite stark results. A town in the throes of a seemingly intractable mental health crisis. Some of the highest suicide rates in the country and similar levels of depression, as well as a long list of other problems.

It was because of these problems that the campaigns and policy team at Rethink Mental Illness decided to offer our assistance in helping the town find a way though these difficulties. Our experiences in Blackpool show that although these issues are very real and with very human consequences, the results from an internet search don’t paint the whole picture.

Our event last month, made possible by Blackpool’s Pride of Place Partnership and Business in the Community, brought together a long list of people with an interest in Blackpool’s mental health. This included everyone from health commissioners and providers to local authority and police representatives, as well as local charities, service users and carers.

Such a wide variety of perspectives were necessary because the solutions to Blackpool’s mental health problems do not begin and end with the NHS. Our objective was clear: to arrive at shared priorities for action and to mobilise the resources in the community needed to achieve them.

There are undoubted risks in bringing a group of people with very different perspectives on acute problems and asking them to be collaborative. We had people who had tried unsuccessfully to get treatment, others who had to choose which services to fund with limited resources, and people whose capacity was help was limited by the staff they had available, in the same room.

The most striking thing about our event was how people respected the experiences and difficulties others had faced. Instead of focusing on what had gone wrong before, we asked attendees to focus on how things could be better in future. This request was taken on wholeheartedly.

We also heard, despite the problems that Blackpool has, of the enormous efforts being made to turn them around. There is huge value in bringing people working on different sides of the same problem together.

The new connections people made on the day were valuable by themselves. It is easy to presume, from the outside, that people and organisations involved in a ‘system’ are smoothly connected to one another, but this isn’t always the case.

That’s not because people set out to work in isolation or don’t see the value of collaboration, but because managing the problems they face every day often absorbs all of their time and more. This is particularly true in towns like Blackpool where the problems are more severe. Events like this give people the chance to pause, reflect and connect.

Aside from the innate worth in bringing people together, we heard enormous amounts of incredibly valuable information from the people who attended. We are in the process of analysing the findings and will be publishing a report with recommendations for action in the next few weeks.

Our hope is that the exercise will ultimately result in everyone with an interest in Blackpool’s mental health having a better understanding of what services and support are available and in the people who need them being able to move more easily from one to the other.

This is in everyone’s interests and an outcome that I’ve no doubt would be welcomed in many other parts of the country where mental health is a major issue.

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