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 Writing:

   IAN Conference by Elaine Maxwell (with Joan, Trish and Maria).

Feed back from:

The Irish Advocacy Network Talk back...Take back... Conference

Jackson's Hotel, Ballybofey, Co Donegal 13th - 14th and 15th October 2003

Ethos:

'The Irish Advocacy network is an organization wholly run by and with People with Mental ill health or survivors of Mental ill health'.

The aim of the conference was to explore our needs and assert our rights in order to control our pathway to recovery and to examine the practice of peer advocacy, island wide.

The first two days of the conference were for service users/survivors only and the 3rd day was open to every one, service providers, service professional, etc..... .The conference was totally service user/survivor led and had many different speakers and workshops. The various workshops going on were on Medication, Homelessness, From Hospital to Community.

Martha McClelland of Mind Yourself facilitated the workshop on medication! She explained about the different medications for mental health problems, what they are, how they work and what their side effects are. She gave us a fascinating easy-to-understand insight into how these pills interact with our brain chemistry to keep us well. Another workshop was titled: "What supports we would like to see for people discharged from hospital." They wanted patients to be given relevant telephone numbers of the different voluntary bodies and support groups, which could help them on discharge. Basic support is needed when patients return home and help to ensure they get the necessities for every day living. These included food, electricity, heating, getting their benefits sorted out and making sure that they had somewhere to go on discharge.

The workshop on smoking was particularly timeful as this is a big issue in the Republic of Ireland. The government has brought in a ban on smoking in public areas. This will be particularly problematic for psychiatric inpatients.

Some of the workshops were information gathering, all that was gathered will be passed on to the Mental Health Legislation Review Board along with info gathered at our own service user-led conference which was held during Mental Health Awareness week (Lagan Valley Hospital 9th Oct 2003).

One of the speakers was Karen Taylor who is Director of Development for the Irish Advocacy Network in N.I. She is pioneering IAN services in isolated rural districts in the West of our province, and hopes that it will develop outwards from there.

One speaker stands out in mind more than any other and that was Dr. Rufus May, Clinical Psychologist/ex psychiatric patient. He spoke emotively of when his illness began, his entry into hospital where he was diagnosed and of his taking control of his own recovery and then finally putting himself through university without declaring his mental health. He knew that obstacles would have been put in his way had he declared this.

It was so refreshing to hear someone speak who knew what they were talking about, his knowledge and professionalism didn't come from any text book, it is first hand experience (The Experience Expert).

Discrimination...What?

We were told by one of the I.A.N chairpersons of the difficulties of finding a venue to accommodate the conference. When various hoteliers found out that the conference was for mental health service users, the price went sky high or there was no room at the inn...I think they thought that we would be flipping out all over the place but how wrong they were, it was so professionally run and so calming and so full of lovely people like ourselves who have had difficulties in their lives and who only want to be treated and cared for with respect and dignity.

The hotel where we were staying is built on the bank of a river, which followed through a forest ablaze with autumn colours. On the day that we arrived some of us took a long walk through the forest. In the evenings we had plenty of time to socialize and there was live music in the bar. On the last night we had a three-course dinner followed by dancing into the wee small hours.

We thoroughly enjoyed the conference and it's really good to feel that we are part of the wider User Movement. IAN has a high profile in the Republic of Ireland and unlike their partners here in the North they receive funding from the health boards but are independent. ROI peer advocates are given keys to every ward in the psychiatric hospitals and have 24 hour/7 days a week access. There is an equivalent of our Mental Health Commission in the South, which works, in close partnership with the I.A.N. This partnership has made full use of the legal powers to protect and enforce the rights of detained patients. It therefore uses them to great effect.

IAN needs more service users to get involved with their network, they can offer peer advocacy training courses. The main aim of the Irish Advocacy Network is to be a provider of information and support to our fellow friends availing of the mental health services today. To empower them to speak up, speak out and take control of their own lives again.

'A Civilization is measured by its treatment of its most vulnerable citizens. Citizens in care are no less citizens. Their voices should be heard, their views respected and their interests defended'
(Edna Conlon, 1990)

By Elaine Maxwell (with Joan, Trish and Maria).