Saturday, 24 July 2010

Mainstream - the Cascade Effect

As a social inclusion bridge builder I work with clients with severe and enduring mental health diagnoses. They are referred or they self-refer with the desire to access mainstream life domains.

Clients aspire to a variety of mainstream choices. It might be volunteering or befriending, it may be arts activities, it might be employment or running your own business. Client aspirations may include sports, faith, education, training or a selection from any or all of these.  All drawn from the life domains identified as key by the inclusion think-tanks of the late 90s and early 2000s.  Access to mainstream as a key component of the care pathway.

Enabling individuals with a 'severe and enduring' background is not always a straightforward process although it certainly can be sometimes. A client can be introduced to a mainstream outlet and it can work for him or her almost immediately. Other clients may be unready for mainstream for a variety of reasons. They may suffer a relapse before accessing the mainstream environment. They may visualise mainstream as another form of day service or statutory support system, which it isn't.

Equally, clients can sometimes express a wish to access mainstream out of a misplaced fear that not accessing it might in some way affect their payments and benefits. It can be a long process before the value and rewards of mainstream are understood.

What is true is that clients who successfully access or re-access mainstream in turn become examples of mainstream's effectiveness. Signposting to mainstream as part of the mental health recovery pathway is undoubtedly effective, even if it does not work for everyone straight away.

Mainstream also helps to sustain recovery in the individual and even better, it can propagate more success and recovery out of its own resources. An example of this would be the musician who successfully links up with a mainstream recording studio. After months of regular rehearsal the musician is invited by the studio manager to contribute to a recording session. I witness this kind of beautiful outcome and its benefits for the client in my work as an arts bridge builder.

Another example - again from music bridge building - is the guitarist client who uses a studio regularly and invites a friend to join him during the session. The friend may well be another mental health service user who has never successfully engaged with mainstream despite the best efforts of the bridge building service. Where services have been unsuccessful a friendship and peer network can do the job far more effectively.

Mainstream reaches the places other services cannot reach and in the process it is able to create a cascade effect - a continuing path of development, recovery and individual growth.

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