All in the Mind

I usually have a lot of time for All in the Mind on Radio 4 and its presenter Claudia Hammond, but I have become increasingly uneasy listening to the recent coverage of the All in The Mind awards. Over and over again I hear that these awards are being given to people – carers and professionals – who have ‘gone beyond the call of duty.’

As if uneasy themselves, they did tackle this in one programme discussing whether ‘going beyond the call of duty’ might conflict with professional boundaries. However, the focus was on how these kept clients safe, there was no mention of what they might mean for the carers/workers. Many people (including me) seek support for their mental health because of past or present issues within relationships. We search for a replacement relationship, one which is nurturing, with us at the centre. Often we find this replacement relationship with a mental health professional. Yet it can only be a temporary alternative. Professional boundaries are about making this temporary substitute safe for both people, without them the danger for the carer/worker is burn out.

I am very grateful to those professionals who have held me and nurtured me, when I have felt very vulnerable. I am also very grateful that they were clear about their own boundaries and kept themselves safe and well – otherwise we would have both sunk together.

People working in the mental health field are already loaded with responsibilities in an under-funded service over-burdened by targets and now we have to ‘go beyond the call of duty’ to gain recognition for what we do? That sets up, I believe, unrealistic expectations on all sides, but maybe especially for those seeking help. Of course, I support anything promoting good practice which must include treating people as individuals and not as a bag of symptoms, as well as treating everyone with respect. Yet what about respect for the worker/carer, for their needs to set limits? Furthermore, for professional staff to be able to treat those they care about considerately, the staff must also be treated with respect. This is sadly lacking in many working environments causing stress and distress. What purpose is there in adding to the load by acknowledging only those who ‘go beyond the call of duty’?

Many go into mental health jobs because of their own experience of mental distress and with a sense of wanting to help others. We often discover very quickly that the only person we can save is ourselves, the deck is stacked against saving anyone else. We fall short, we are vulnerable, we are fallible. Yet an important lesson for maintaining mental health is that it’s OK to be all these things. So let’s have an award for falling short, that’s what I say.

I do wish everyone who has been nominated for an All in the Mind award well and I hope they have the support they need to maintain their own mental health. I would ask, though, that in the future, the All in the Mind team have an award which celebrates the ordinary, the just getting by; because understanding that we are all limited and flawed and, even so extraordinary, is a valuable tool for maintaining our mental health and our humanity.

“And Some There Be” by Kate Evans, 2008
On the road to Cap del Pinar
a plaque reads: “Victorious engineers 1939”,
to those who
dug, blasted, pinned, tarmacked,
built this precipitous way.

And I thought

how often do we commemorate
the men and women who
quietly, gloriously,
create, not destroy?
The triumphant cleaner?
The undefeated carer?
The conquering call centre clerk?
The broadbacked brickie?

I wonder whether
in amongst the celebrity, the influential and the hero,
there’s room for the mediocre,
for the does their best,
for the not quite good enough?

Where indeed stands
the marble memorial
to the ordinary?

To the majority of us?

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