The assets of individuals

Many times in trying to solve a problem, we start with a ‘needs assessment’. This will generally identify the problem that exists and will set about a way to finding a route for which to meet the identified needs. Using this approach means that there is a tendency to focus on the shortcomings of individuals, since it identifies the problems before the strengths.

A needs focus can sometimes make us feel overwhelmed, resigned, hopeless. Focusing on the positive – on people’s strengths can allow us to feel energised and hopeful, even.

Over the course of the project we’ve been speaking to people who have experienced mental health problems on a 1-1* basis – asking them what exisits in their lives that helps their well-being. We did this because we wanted to help them to map the assets that they had within themselves, and within their networks that might help them to keep well.

We did this using many of the same techniques described in previous posts for community asset mapping – but with a definite focus on the individual, their likes and dislikes, their friends and family and their situation overall. This links very much into the Wellness and Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) idea of creating a ‘wellness toolkit’.

I was quite weary of undertaking these exercises at first, because I was worried that people might not be able to see the positive things that they had in their life, and that going through the process might be upsetting. I was wrong.

Having conducted 10 of these discussions with a range of different people, the view is that people found it overwhelmingly positive. There was nothing new to the types of conversations that the practitioner and I were having with them, but mapping things out in a visual way that could be recorded and considered had some really encouraging effects.

Practitioners were able to tackle problems that they’d been discussing for quite some time in a new way and were able to identify factors/issues that they could work on with the individuals quite readily. Service users noted that the process was useful in really thinking about what is important and recording it so that it could be reflected upon at a later date when they were feeling less well (or indeed more well). They were also clear that the visual aspect of it was really good – to be able to literally see what they have (and how much they have) was really powerful.

Here are some examples of the maps we created (highlighting the different methods that we used):

 

Reflections

This type of planning won’t be suitable for everyone, all of the time. For the use of the tool/process to be effective, it will need to be done when the person is feeling well.
What worked best was when there was a good relationship with the practitioner and the service user – it meant that people really thought through the process, rather than coming up with superficial answers.

It also worked well when we tried out these approaches in a group – people were able to spark ideas off of one another and to think about different areas of their lives by being prompted by their peers. Some people were quite overwhelmed by the experience, though, and it is important to ensure that people are comfortable and made aware of what the activity is and how it can help them.

All thoughts welcome.

*1-1 basis isn’t strictly true, because many of the discussions we had for the project were helpfully facilitated by trained practitioners. Many thanks to the staff who helped facilitate these discussions!

Workshop 1: 18th July

Monday’s asset mapping session brought together people using services and practitioners, to collect and collate local knowledge in and around Kirkintilloch, on the subject of well-being and positive mental health. We were really keen to ensure that the workshop brought together a range of people on an equal footing so that they could share and learn from one another.

We had a great turnout with 7 people who use services and 8 practitioners from services such as health improvement, peer support, occupational therapy, social work, the Richmond Fellowship, Ceartas (Advocacy), Connections and Carer’s Link coming along.

What we did

The session lasted for 4 hours (with lunch). We split into 2 groups and thought about the little things that we all do everyday that help to keep us well.

The types of activities that people identified included:

  • having contact with groups of friends and a support network
  • cycling in good weather (including keeping yourself organised for this and getting everything packed)
  • dog walking (for someone to talk to, who doesn’t answer back)
  • walking by the canal and expanding your routes
  • setting up breakfast dishes the night before – so that the day is easy to step into
  • going to the gym (helps with energy levels)
  • running (with people) – good for you, but you might feel the benefit more afterwards
  • having some music playing to gradually get you into the swing of things in the morning (a soundtrack to your activity levels)
  • having a local, regular place to go to meet people who are going through similar experiences
  • gardening and looking at flowers – can be really therapeutic to take some time to yourself (in the summer).
We shared this with each other and thought about any similarities and differences.
We were able to pick out different themes from the range of activities people talked about. These were:
  • social – having contact with others
  • physical – keeping busy by doing things
  • senses – thinking outside of yourself and being aware of how things look, sound, smell etc.
Mapping community assets
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We all then looked at a range of different objects, photographs and leaflets that represented current service provision locally.
We identified the assets in the community that could be useful to encourage positive mental well-being. Some of these included:
  • Seagull Trust barges (and the canal) – feels like you’re in another world!
  • Church – good place to meet people and have some space to think
  • Citizens advice – very professional service
  • Ceartas – lots of positivity around this service
  • Charity shops – places where its easy to talk to others, great for volunteering
  • Food co-op – highly visible, good produce and good place to see volunteering in action
  • Ghilloni’s – much love and admiration for this place
  • Kirkintilloch Health and Care Centre – good that it is all under one roof, but some things about it could be better.
We also thought about those that were not so positive.
  • transport – really difficult to get around east Dunbartonshire which makes it hard to get groups together. Dial-a-bus is also difficult to organise
  • out-of-hours services were not viewed favourably
  • planning meetings – it can be really difficult to get your voice heard, even though people do make an effort to make you feel welcome.
  • costs of services
  • there are not many day activities available – something that gives your day structure would be good
As a group, we shared our experiences of some of these services.
This helped us get a picture of what living in the local community is like for people and gave everyone an opportunity to discuss the assets that could be used more, and those that might need some improvements to be used more often.
We then considered how the personal things that we do every day to keep well could be supported by the assets we had identified in the community. This was quite difficult to do in the time available and due to the fact that people were very keen to talk more about their current experiences. This is something that we will focus more on in the next workshop.
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Ideas
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The afternoon session focused on developing ideas for the sorts of things that might help support positive mental health and well-being within the local area.
We focused on the following issues:
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Meaningful engagement (planning meetings)
  • it may be necessary to have a pre-meeting to prepare
  • feedback the whole way through the process is vital
  • it should be open, honest and be true engagement
  • advertise meetings well, so that people know what to expect
  • ensure there are lots of ways for people to gather views i.e. through the post, online, in person, social media etc.
  • get rid of the jargon
  • use advocates to assist this process as much as possible.
More activities for older people
  • is over 60 the right bracket any more?
  • need to ensure people know how to access services
  • bus passes should continue
  • need to think about what is happening locally for older people (and how this links into national policies)
Central venue for meeting people
  • a central venue that people can access
  • gives people things to do, as well as developing skills and meeting others
  • a useful way to help people move on to other things
  • a community venue would be good
  • could charge a minimum amount to cover costs
Feedback for family carers
  • to have a meeting once a month to go over any problems which may arise (at the moment there is only one way to make enquiries, and it is often unavailable)
  • meetings could be advertised in local shops or libraries
  • a newsletter would be really good.
Support for those returning to work
One of the groups focused on this topic as a key issue throughout the workshop session.
  • very important to have continuity throughout the process – the same mentor and the same method of communication
  • softening of the environment so that you can take part in different types of conversations
  • one-to-one emotional support once a week is important
  • something to keep you occupied so that you are not worrying before an appointment
  • literature currently focused on absence, misconduct and discipline rather than health and well-being. It is important to ensure that the tone and language used in the paperwork is softened (as well as reducing the volume of correspondence!)
  • a back-to-work mentor is particularly useful for follow-up meetings and conversations.
What people thought of the workshop
At the end of the session, we handed out some evaluation forms to ask people what they thought of the workshop, and also to ask what we could do better next time.
Some of the things people found good about the session included: they felt safe and able to share, it was a relaxed atmosphere, they had been really inspired, it was good to get a chance to learn new tools for engagement, it was a good way to meet and share with other people and it was a good way to talk about some of the really good people and services, and to applaud them for the good work that they do.
do.
Some of the things that people did not think were so good about this session included: people would have liked to have more time for introductions (so they knew more about who was in the room), it could be difficult to raise an issue about a service when those providing the service were in the room, there were not enough breaks and that using the word ‘improvement’ implies that there is something wrong with what is currently being offered.
offered.
So, for the next session, we will make sure that there is an opportunity for people to feedback sensitive views in an anonymous way and will make more time for people to talk to one another and find out who everyone is (as well as move around a bit more!). We will also focus more on how the identified assets can be used to plug any gaps in service provision, rather than focusing on the services specifically.
specifically.
The next session will build on what we learned on Monday and we’ll think in greater detail about how we can encourage people to use the assets that we’ve identified in the community better.
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Reflections
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Some of my thoughts from the first workshop…
Many wider issues around service provision and engagement came to the fore at the first workshop, with people taking the opportunity to voice what has been concerning them most. What was really good about that, was having the chance to talk these through and to come up with some potential ideas that may resolve the issues. One of the aims of the project is to flatten any knowledge hierarchies so that the views and ideas that are expressed are considered as equally valuable. The ideas that we came up with will provide really useful recommendations for consideration.
consideration.
Having so much knowledge and experience in the room; be it experiential, service related or process related means that there are boundless opportunities to share and learn from one another. In itself, this is a huge asset, but it also brings with it some challenges around managing different perspectives and expectations about what can be done to promote well-being and positive mental health within the confines of this project.
project.
What is possible in the project, is to work together on how we can better use the positive assets identified and to consider how these can be shared with others who may not be involved in the project directly, so that they can use them too.
All comments welcome!