In Mind: Chief Executive Joe Rafferty's latest blog reflects on how important language is in discussing mental health

Blue Monday

For those of you who don’t know, today is regarded as ‘Blue Monday’ because it is traditionally the most depressing day of the year. That’s possibly because we’ve all returned to work from Christmas and New Year, bills have started to arrive and the weather at this time of the year can be cold, dark and wet.

It’s an important milestone because it gives us a chance to highlight mental health issues on a national stage. This year Mersey Care, as one of the founder members of the Zero Suicide Alliance (ZSA), has joined forces with Steve Rotheram, the Metro Mayor of Liverpool, and Luciana Berger MP, to highlight the damage stigmatising language can do in referencing mental health.

We have published an open letter today to all the UK’s broadcasters, which you can read in full here, asking them to reconsider the way they refer to mental health issues, which is particularly relevant at present because of a No 1 record by an artist called Ava Max, called ‘Sweet but Psycho.’

I have no problem with it as a record but the imagery it portrays – its lyrics and accompanying video show scenes of irrational aggression - suggest that anyone with mental ill health is likely to be violent, when in fact figures suggest that those with mental health issues are more likely to be victims of violence.

I’m not suggesting everything we listen to, read or watch should be censured by the politically correct police, but language is vitally important when considering mental health. By reinforcing misunderstandings about mental health it continues the stigma surrounding it and prevents those who need help from reaching out at one of the most vulnerable moments in their lives.

I am old enough to remember comedians and television programmes regularly using phrases and jokes that were littered with references that would now be considered racist, homophobic or sexist. Over time society has evolved and they are no longer regarded as acceptable and, in some cases, are against the law of the land.

If society no longer accepts that sort of behaviour, then why in 2019 are we still using derogatory language that isolates people with mental illness and may prevent them from seeking help from NHS services?

The letter states that by referencing the song it gives us a chance to provoke a debate about the language we use. For instance, I doubt many people would refer to someone with a serious physical illness in the same way as has been done on this track.

I have also extended an invitation to Ava to come and visit us next time she is in the UK and see what we do. I hope this letter and the start of today’s campaign is the start of pop culture and the media in general thinking more carefully about the language they use in relation to mental health.

If you would like to get involved in Blue Monday, there are three events around the Trust between 12.00 noon and 2.00pm today at V7, Life Rooms Bootle and Liverpool Innovation Park. You can get a cup of tea or coffee and, if you have 20 minutes spare, why not use them to take the ZSA’s brilliant online suicide prevention training – it might just save a life.

Congratulations

I’d like to offer my congratulations to Chris Lyons, who has now been appointed the Trust’s Director of Corporate Transformation. He will be responsible for improving efficiency and ensuring we maximise public funding so that resources go to wards, the community and patients.

Those of you who don’t know Chris should know he already has considerable NHS and health transformation experience and has worked with Mersey Care in its transactions to acquire two neighbouring trusts in recent years.

He will lead a review of services asking fundamental questions, starting with what services are essential to the Trust. In an organisation now with well over 80 locations, he will look to rationalise building use, see how IT can better enhance efficiencies and deliver cost savings. Chris will be working alongside our staffside colleagues and I wish him every success in his new role.

Professor Sidney Dekker

You’ll all be aware that this organisation took a major decision in April 2016 to formally declare our commitment to a Just and Learning Culture inspired by research by Professor Sidney Dekker.

Our specific Just and Learning objectives are developed by staff for staff and shaped by our ambassadors. This year, following the Trust’s acquisition of physical community health services, we want to seize new opportunities to learn and make safety improvements and work with Professor Dekker’s team who will use micro experiments to test our practices.

To make sure that these micro experiments are feasible and effective, the initial topics need to be chosen appropriately. To this end, the Professor and his team will return to Mersey Care during the week commencing 28 January.

They will meet Trust leaders on Monday. From Tuesday to Friday the team will conduct field visits to different operations, seeing as much as possible in the time available. Their aim is to identify the assumptions and critical conditions that contribute to everyday workplace challenges, as well as the solutions people rely on to adapt and overcome.

Joe Rafferty

Chief Executive