Debs Taylor: Community services - making the most of our assets

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  • Posted:Tuesday 23 January 2018

At the launch of our report Reimagining Community Services, Debs Taylor draws on her experience as a service user and from her work at Creative Minds to reflect on what it would mean for service users if community services were more joined up and better co-ordinated.

This presentation was recorded at a breakfast event at The King's Fund on 23 January 2018. 


Thank you. I have been in the mental health system from the age of eight and having been used to being a mental health service user you pretty much learn to conform and do as you’re told and that was how my life was. 

Then, about seven and a half years ago, I ended up at crisis point, I took an overdose, I’d been told by the expert that I would always be ill, I would always be medicated and I would never work again. I was currently on 21 tablets a day, I was often bed-bound with my illness and my children were my carers. Telling somebody who has no hope, who is at rock-bottom, “This is the best your life is going to get,” to me there was only one way out. 

I was obviously found and part of being discharged from the hospital was I had to go see a psychologist and it was while I was sat in the psychologist’s waiting room that I saw a leaflet, Creative Minds: Art for Wellbeing. Never done art before and to this day I still don’t know why I picked that leaflet up, but I picked the leaflet up and started an art class. It was very close to my home, it was totally different to all the clinical services that I’d had been involved in and in seven years I’ve been off medication for six years, I've been out of services for two and a half years, I’m off benefits for the first time in fourteen and a half years, actually working in the same trust as that psychiatrist who told me I’d never work again, which is always interesting on the corridors, I’ve sold 119 paintings, I’ve had an exhibition a Canary Wharf in London. So I’ve gone from being an invisible service user with no voice, no aspirations and no hope to somebody who’s found a voice and who doesn’t shut up, but also the fact that that community has given me to me I’m now giving back to that community because I’ve done so well, my girls have seen the difference that something has made to me they’ve pushed themselves. Not last year the year before my eldest daughter qualified with a law degree. Now my children’s education had been on hold to look after mum, it had never been priority. So to now watch them aspire to things that I never dreamt were possible, never even thought, then it’s just incredible. 

I work with my community, I’ve worked with the local ambulance service around suicide prevention, I work passionately now about mental health and anti-stigma, mental health awareness, just to give back into the community because I felt whilst I was in the system that there was no hope, there was no aspirations and I think people need hope regardless of whether they’re in the mental health system or not, I think people need their aspirations. I pestered Creative Minds that much that they ended up employing me. 

Creative Minds looks at creative approaches to mental health, so we don’t just look at the clinical side of it we work alongside it, it’s a complementary service. We look at what people can do, let people try things, they might work they might not, but there’s no harm in trying and that’s what happened with me. Had I not done the art class I wouldn’t be stood here today. 

I’m really passionate about the community and how we work. The NHS is quite like a fortress, it is stuck in its own ways and it’s hard to manipulate that, Creative Minds is a charity within our NHS Trust, South West Yorkshire Trust, we work from the inside out. It’s hard for communities to get from the outside in and that’s what we need to address, that’s what we need to look at, that’s what we need to change. We need to make people more aware of the value of what the community can offer, the assets that the community can offer but we also need to be aware that we don’t saturate that community and make it die under its own success, we don’t want to keep putting heavily on the community so that ends up in the same position as our struggling NHS is. 

From the report I’ve read, from a different perspective to what the majority of people here will probably look at, I’m looking at it from a community perspective, and I think it’s a fantastic report. A lot of reports I’ve read go over my head and I don’t fully understand them, but this is really down to earth, plain sailing. The language is right because that’s another crucial thing within the NHS, if you’re wanting to work within communities you need to change your language, you need to get with the community language and speak normal, but it is a fantastic report and I’m really pleased it’s come out. I’m heavily involved in social prescribing, to me this community report is part of the social prescribing network and we need to make sure that we value what the community can offer and we value the people that are in it regardless of what level, where, who, what, why and I know we talk a lot about top down, bottom up, but I think we need to talk about teamwork. I think we all need to work as a team to make this as effective as we possibly can. Thank you.