The mental health taskforce may not have a remit to fix society’s wider problems, but here are four issues it should address if we are to focus on recovery

The Mental Health Taskforce report is eagerly awaited, but by its nature it is almost bound to disappoint. We must manage our collective expectations for the sake of our wellbeing.

Message to others and self: let us remember the report has been commissioned by NHS England. It does not have a brief to fix the problems of the wider social, economic or housing systems.

In advance of publication, here are my four priorities.

Compassion and compliance

Compassion is not a compliance issue. It starts with how society views mental health and includes how it treats those who work within mental health care.

I am chairing the Time to Change mental health professionals working group where we are developing positive ways to engender compassion and make it integral to how these vital services are provided. This stuff is not in any way easy. Let us not do anything to make it harder.

Training and expertise

Mental and physical health are interlinked. This means all NHS staff need mental health expertise and training. But it does not mean we can do away altogether with specialist mental health services, cut more beds or take money from community or crisis services while expecting staff to respond to exponentially increasing demands. 

All NHS staff need mental health expertise and training

Watch Panorama or listen to All in the Mind that were broadcast late last month to understand the devastating consequences of insufficient investment on the people served by the NHS.

Funding services

If you do not measure, you cannot manage. Please get the work on mental health tariff back out of the too-difficult box. Services should either be paid for what they do or for the outcomes they achieve. Unless we forget commissioning and the whole NHS returns to block contracts, the current arrangement discriminates against mental health.

Recovery and intervention

Underpinning all of the above, please provide clear leadership about the importance of recovery, which must lie at the heart of everything that happens in the name of mental health treatment and care.

Recovery must lie at the heart of everything that happens 

Recovery means the earliest possible intervention (which sadly is the opposite of many people’s current experience); placing the individual at the centre of everything that happens to them; seeing each patient as a whole person with ambitions, hopes and fears; appreciating the devastating impact of deprivation, trauma and abuse; and recognising the potential for recovery in everyone, no matter how desperate their situation seems. 

Turning point

Let me tell you about Ian, who I first met a year ago. Like me, Ian was named as an HSJ Patient Leader earlier in 2015.

Ian has experienced serious mental illness for most of his adult life, and spent considerable time in hospital, including five years in a secure hospital.

He was discharged in 2012 and at 51, says he feels better than he ever has. He now leads a full life, living in his own home, working and helping others who use mental health services.

Ian says: “It was in the medium secure hospital that I really turned the corner, developed greater insight, resilience and compassion for myself.

“A nurse and a social worker stood by me through the worst times, held out hope for me, reassured me that things would get better (I didn’t believe them then, of course) and perhaps most importantly, they didn’t dismiss me when I was being most awkward and unpleasant.

‘We often laugh with fondness at how I used to be’

“Looking back, I now realise what professionalism together with real compassion they showed me.

“I still see the social worker when I go back to the hospital for meetings sometimes and we often laugh with fondness at how I used to be.” 

Overcoming trauma

And then there is my friend Odi, who I first met in 2005 when he was so unwell I found it hard to understand what he was saying. He was angry, having experienced trauma too terrible to describe.

Odi wanted to use Shamanism to help make sense of the disturbing voices he was hearing. His turning point came when he met Charles, a social worker who could see his potential and who stood by him through some very difficult times.

Ian and Odi are living proof of what recovery means

I have just finished reading Odi’s beautiful MA dissertation entitled ‘What can Shamanism offer Contemporary Understanding of Religion and Spirituality in Social Work Practice?’.

Odi will qualify as a social worker in April 2016. Anyone who is allocated to his care will be truly blessed.  

Ian and Odi are living proof of what recovery means. I am in awe and full of love for them.

I hope the much anticipated Mental Health Taskforce report encapsulates all four of my priorities, but most of all, focuses on recovery. That is the best I can ask.

Lisa Rodrigues, CBE, is a writer and mental health campaigner and can be contacted at