Saturday, 13 December 2014

David's Story

I first met David in the spring of 2009. He was referred to me from the community mental health team and was one of my first clients in my role as a social inclusion bridge builder. I knew very little about him except that he enjoyed playing guitar. This was key information as it meant that David might benefit from the skills of an arts bridge builder like myself to help enable him to access music activities in the mainstream community.

The first meeting with David took place at the unit where he lived with five other people who had also had spells in mental hospitals. David was happy there and had no desire to move to independent living.

Our first meeting didn't look promising to begin with. David was clearly uneasy and anxious. He adopted an almost semi-foetal position on the living-room settee. He was prompted to give answers to my questions by a well-meaning but misguided home manager. Her blunt interjections did nothing to make him more forthcoming about himself nor about any areas he might wish to follow up in mainstream life. Thinking that not much progress had been made, I eventually made another appointment with David for us to meet together in a week's time at the nearby Costa’s.

Just as I was getting up to go, David said: 'Do you want to see my new guitar?' 'Yes’ I replied, speaking not only in my role as an arts bridge builder but also as a fellow-musician and enthusiast. David ushered me into his room, where I was immediately struck by a dazzling array of music-related gear.

Back in his secure personal world David became animated and talkative. He showed me round his collection of guitars, music effects, recording equipment, amplifiers, CDs, music and tech magazines. ‘Do you want to hear something I recorded?’ he asked. David’s playing was impressive - clearly no slouch he had obviously spent hour upon hour meticulously learning guitar and studying his mentors who included Carlos Santana, Steve Vai and David Gilmour.

I knew then that I would have a reasonably smooth ride signposting David to outlets that suited his own main choices and goals. Any difficulties would not arise from David but if anything, from the detailed red tape of sorting out arrangements through the mental health team.

As it turned out David’s clinical team were very helpful. I introduced David to the local recording studio where he chose to do a weekly two-hour rehearsal session, bringing his own guitar. This was deemed to be a key part of his care and recovery plan. Social services were initially difficult to work with but eventually agreed to fund it through the ‘direct payments’ or personal budgets system.

Five years on, David continues to make great progress. The recording studio remains one of his main lifelines into accessing mainstream life. He has teamed up with fellow musicians on a variety of projects and was a key contributor to the short animation film ‘Mr. Fox’s Night Out’, screened at the Wimbledon International ‘shorts’ festival.

Many other milestones have been achieved. David took a part-time job as an assistant at the recording studio. He continues to collaborate regularly with other musicians, many of them his peers - mental health survivors.

None of these milestones could have been achieved without the idea that lies behind it. Mental health recovery and care plans that incorporate the client’s goals, hopes, dreams and aspirations. Assessments that help the individual to identify personal aspirations. Above all, the individual must be permitted to operate in mainstream settings outside hospitals or day centres.

Every client who has been through mental health services will already have been appraised many times on the basis of his or her diagnoses and history. A different discussion with the client on the basis of goals, hopes and personal priorities enables a break away from purely clinical approaches. It also permits what can turn out to be highly successful transitions back into mainstream life and social inclusion without prejudice.

(Names changed where appropriate)

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