Why we need a campaigning alliance to improve women’s mental health care

The Women’s Mental Health Network is a partnership of voluntary organisations from across the sectors, that works to give women with mental health needs a voice and drive forward change within the system so that these voices are heard.

The Network is not about a quick fix, one-off campaign, but instead seeks to change the culture of the statutory sector so that vulnerable women will be supported in a range of settings. And to do that, it’s important to understand these women’s complex needs and how women can face severe and multiple disadvantage, including past trauma and abuse, little support, low confidence & self-esteem. These women then develop coping mechanisms including alcohol abuse and self-injury, and they are also repeatedly failed by inadequate and disjointed services, which stigmatise and label these women.

It’s important to remember that women’s experiences do not occur in isolation, for example a woman may become homeless due to being in domestically violent relationship, and this will understandably affect her mental health. Those shouldn’t be seen as three separate life circumstances, but the relationship between them needs to be understood to effectively help the woman. So we can more effectively address these complex needs, the Network is made up of a diverse group of organisations so we can implement a cross-sector approach. By having these organisations who have experience in difference sectors (such as homelessness and mental health) working together, we can build an evidence base to support women in the best way possible that genuinely reflects their experiences.

This evidence base can also inform cross-sector campaigns targeted at improving the mental health system. This is the only way to drive forward structural change as, at the moment, current campaigns by single organisations are limited to dealing with policy development in just one sector. We need to pool our knowledge and experience in order to have a lasting effect.

Clinks: Women, girls and criminal justice—A report on a consultation with the Voluntary Sector (September, 2013) recommended the sector establish a campaigning alliance, and that’s exactly what the Women’s Mental Health Network is. Organisations in the Network are from sectors including criminal justice; mental health, homelessness; drugs and alcohol, and all aspects of diversity, with our partners including NSUN, St. Mungo’s and People First.

The coalition of women’s, disability and 3rd sector organisations will improve the current campaigns as it will be more inclusive and will involve a range of expertise. It also means the WMHN can reach women with severe mental health needs in a range of settings, avoiding that stigmatisation that prevents women’s experiences from being validated and respected.

If you would like to be a member of the Network, you can join here. And we are also currently in the consultation stage of our Network, asking women with experience of the mental health and/or criminal justice system to identify the top three issues within service provision that need to change, and we will then be developing user-led campaigns to improve these issues. This will be done to implement gender-specific statutory services; and then we will take these campaigns forward at a national level.

To fill out our questionnaire, go to womensmentalhealthnetwork.com/consultation and help us ensure that the voices of women will finally be heard in the mental health system.

 

By Jennifer Richards