17 October 2022

Milton Keynes Mental Health Services hosted the second Think Family Conference at the Ridgeway Centre in Milton Keynes at the end of September.

Facilitated by Dr Stephanie Oldroyd, Clinical Director for Milton Keynes Mental Health Services, the event gave about 100 staff the opportunity to hear powerful and personal testimonies from patients and their families of their experiences of mental health services in Milton Keynes. Stephanie opened the Conference by reminding all you don’t always need to comment but you do need to listen – a recognised mantra that formed the basis of both conferences a one that many of the guests and attendees returned to throughout the day.

Speakers included a diverse range of staff, parents, grandparents and a young person, which was demonstrated some the great examples of Think Family in practice.

Ben Ayisi, Modern Matron for Campbell Centre Hazel Ward and TOPAS; Steph Pollard, Clinical Nurse Specialist for MK Perinatal Mental Health; Rachael Appleby, Senior Practitioner/Community Psychiatric Nurse for the Hub Assertive Outreach Team; Paula Spencer, Support, Time and Recovery Worker and Carers Champion for Early Intervention In Psychosis TIMG_8930.JPGeam (EIPT) and Tina Greene, Carers Champion, Counsellor for MK Talking Therapies, spoke passionately of the importance of keeping families involved in each step of the journey and also about being transparent when things go wrong.

They shared how crucial it is to be available to a patient’s family at the earliest possible opportunity; to offer the patient and their family (the significant others) that important space to share how they feel and the impact of looking after their distressed loved ones.

We celebrated the role of Carer’s Champion and the implementation of carers welcome packs, carers support groups, carer’s newsletter, carer training, carer one-to-one support, telephone assessments considering culture/language needs of carers/family; system referral labels (carer/cared for) and staff using the knowledge gained from carers awareness training to think about the needs of carers/family when considering treatment.  

Simon Warren, Service Manager Primary Care MK MH Services, reiterated the importance of involving families in incidents, emphasising that “the onus is on us to reach out to families when something has gone wrong. It’s up to us to reengage with families of those suffering with mental health issues.”

Guest speakers praised the services they joined on stage as they shared their journeys through MK Mental Health Services.

Patient names have been anonymised or ommitted:

A parent and her 15-year-old daughter spoke about how they managed the young person's mental health issues for a number of years. A brave and amazing advocate for the journey of recovery, she shared that when it comes to teenagers, feeling validated is key. She felt her experiences were never understood and used music, books and films to do so. According to her, the best thing about CAMHS is how she can open up without judgement.

“People shouldn’t feel like they’re being picked out and conformed,” she said. “It [CAMHS} allows me to voice my opinion, talk freely about myself and my thoughts, and why I’m feeling the way I feel.”

She shared how she “struggled at first” as she had no idea what to expect from CAMHS services. But she was lucky enough to have Bianca Vekaria, Clinical Psychologist as her psychologist.

“During the meeting I have with Bianca we always have fun,” she said. “She allows me to voice my opinions as a highly opiniated person and makes me feel comfortable showing my feelings and thoughts although I sometimes avoIMG_8935.JPGid them. She is patient and kind, I personally believe she truly cares about her patients.”

A parent, described the distress and “pain” she and her daughter went through before finally finding a place in CAMHS.

“Mental illness had come to stay, and showed no sign of leaving anytime soon. I felt like I had lost control as a parent. This was a truly frightening place to be,” she said.

She went on to praise the CAMHS team for their compassion and hard work once her daughter was settled into the system, singling out Alison Carr, the new Nurse Consultant in Milton Keynes at that time, who she said was an “angel” to her family.

and her husband became Kinship Carers for their granddaughter G (aged 11) when she was removed from her mother’s care. They gradually found themselves “dealing with self-harm, flashbacks, disassociation, emotional dysregulation, co-dependency, panic attacks and an inability to attend mainstream school.”

However, G is now a bright, mature 18 (almost 19)-year-old young woman with a 3-week-old baby who has needed the support of the perinatal team. W praised the team as being “professional, compassionate, kind and engaging”. “They are a breath of fresh air,” she added.

J shared how she had been parent/carer on a tiresome journey with her sons for 28 years but hugely supported by the “amazing Assertive Outreach Team.”  

T, a father to his son with “severe clinical depression” spoke highly of EIPT who came at a time when the family desperately needed help and for the first time, had the opportunity to meet and share experiences “with people that I felt understood not only what I said but what I felt.”

As a family, they met others involved in their son’s care; T felt his “opinions and frustrations were being listened to and taken seriously.” 

The information sessions provided by EIPT were welcomed as they helped to understand mental health; the local MK Recovery College’s timetable also has very useful subjects. The family was also introduced to the Triangle of Care and thanked the team for all their support.

In her closing message, Stephanie said the Conference “was more than she hoped it could be.” It celebrated the great work being implemented across MK Mental Health services around Think Family and reiterated the importance of listening to patients and Thinking Family:

  • Who is the person?
  • What is the family support network?
  • How are you involving their family?

The Conference provided another great platform for our service users, their carers and/or families to feel empowered to share their journeys to help staff learn and improve practice. Workshops generated useful discussions, comments and pledges offering assurance that the Think Family approach will continue to be embedded into daily practices.

Stephanie said “Hearing from people who are using our services, their family members and our staff about what’s so important about why we Think Family really crystallises it for me. We started off right at the beginning talking about listening – really listening – and being heard. And it all goes back to that statement ‘you don’t always need to say something, but you do need to listen.”


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