Refocus on Recovery Conference 2017 – report from James

Refocus on Recovery 2017 is the largest regular scientific conference in the world on recovery for people with mental health problems. This truly international conference presented world-leading research about how people can live well with illness.

There was a healthy Devon contingent at this three day conference hosted by Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with The Institute of Mental Health, Making Waves, ImROC, The University of Nottingham and The Mental Health Foundation.Glenn Roberts, Judith Belam, James Wooldridge and Ian Henwood were flying the Recovery Devon flag and we were delighted to see Mary Ryan also taking part.

The aim of the conference was both to advance the field of recovery research and to create an international community of influence.

The conference brought together leading researchers and people who use mental health services, their carers and informal supporters, mental health workers and professionals, and policy-makers and other stake-holders from across mental health services and wider systems.Following a welcome from the Sherriff of Nottingham, the conference got underway with Mike Slade giving a keynote speech full of hope for change at the end of the day.

The Conference had four themes with Ian and James presenting on the work of LEAP and the Recovery Development Fund respectively.

Theme 1: Recovery for different groups

The meaning of, and support for, recovery in long-term conditions (physical and mental). Recovery in marginalised groups, e.g. culturally-sensitive services. Understanding and supporting recovery in mental health systems, e.g. Open Dialogue, REFOCUS, Individual Placement and Support. Organisational and individual influences on Peer Support Workers, including the meaning of ‘peer’.

Theme 2: Re-situating recovery

Engaging with culture and community to make recovery a reality. Mainstreaming recovery, and links with other community initiatives, e.g. dementia-friendly communities. The role of family and supporters – what is a family in recovery? Improving access, e.g. digital interventions. Recovery Colleges as a bridge between mental health system and community. Insights from Mad Studies about recovery.

Theme 3: Prevention of mental ill-health

Supporting the development of resilience in individuals and communities. Creating inclusive communities. Inter-sectoral understandings of stigma and discrimination. National and local anti-stigma campaigns. Supporting self-management, including peer-led approaches. The role of inter-dependence. The impact of language and embedded assumptions. Developing new narratives, e.g. Mad lit, Photovoice.

Theme 4: Allocating resources

How money is spent and with what effect. Service models and structures which foster or hinder recovery. Co-production and co-development approaches. The role of volunteers. Providing services in resource-poor settings. The contribution of health and social policy to recovery. The impact of legislation and commissioning arrangements.

Ian and I had our sessions scheduled towards the end of day two. Our presentations were very well received and several people approached us on the final day to say how much they enjoyed our contributions.

Entertainment was provided by the Nottingham People’s Choir and a particularly energetic ‘Boomwhacker’ session where the whole conference joined in an orchestrated musical performance.

There was also The Mad Space where one could take some time out away from the relentless powerpoint. Hosting this space was Julie Gosling, a survivor of childhood trauma, research fellow to the Institute of Mental Health and someone committed to gaining recognition for MAD studies and MAD activism. Julie gave an interesting workshop titled: ‘Lived experience is more than service user porn’.

On the final day, Glenn Roberts chaired a debate: ‘This house believes that peer support should be an accredited mental health profession.’

A vote in favour of the motion was recorded prior to the debate and following each side’s contributions together with a summary, another vote was taken. There was a definite swing and the result was that the conference felt peer support should not be an accredited mental health profession, though, as Glenn acknowledged, this is just the start of an ongoing conversation.

The four of us from Recovery Devon all tried to attend different workshops and there are far too many to give details of each, but for me the overwhelming sense was one of hope and optimism – the feeling that a change to the established way of providing services was in the air.