Late last year the VIK Project was approach by Careif (The Centre for Applied Research and Evaluation International Foundation). We were asked if we wanted to appear at an international conference on Cultural Psychiatry in London. Of course, never ones to turn down a challenge, we said yes immediately and began working on what we thought was important to present; especially knowing that we are usually one of very few if not the only service user voice at large conferences. It was exciting to be offered the opportunity to present at a conference of this size and to delegates from literally all over the world and we did not want to disappoint.
So several months including a couple of VIK days were spent carefully planning with ideas coming left, right and centre from a large steering group of VIKs and VIRs.
And then it came time for the conference itself..
3rd World Cultural Congress of Cultural Psychiatry
10-11th March 2012
Queen Mary, University of London
Firstly two VIKs including myself attended a symposia. Here several pieces of research from around the world were presented to us and we had to give our opinions and comments on the issues put forward. Luckily we had been given abstracts of the papers presented before the conference as there were some amazing pieces of research and a lot to get our head around.
We decided early on in the planning stages that as we had been given something akin to free reign over what we did and presented at the conference we decided we would trial an idea that had been buzzing around the group for awhile; a chill out zone.
Our chill out zone was located away from all the noise and commotion of the main conference and was a room, run by young people, for visitors to the conference to escape to for a cup of tea, some crafts and a conversation with young people about mental health services and psychiatry. As one of our VIKs said the chill out room is meant to be “a place of fun and relaxation whilst enabling us to share first hand our own personal experience and journeys of living with mental illness”.
We also met some very interesting people including an author called Bhanu Kapil who gave us a signed copy of her new book “Schizophrene”.
On Sunday we were back again although unfortunately i was not able to attend. Once again a team of VIKs ran a chill out zone and they also delivered a workshop on Participation for a small group of international delegates.
The workshop involved personal stories of young people’s experiences of participation or more often the lack of it in youth mental health services.
After sharing some of our experiences the professionals attending the workshop were asked to discuss what barriers young people might face in getting involved and participating.
We then went on to give a short “Participation 101” where we explained the YoungMinds 3D Participation model; a model of practice developed by young people for young people along with several other tips, thoughts and discussion points.
Overall we have received a huge amount of positive feedback about every aspect of our involvement in this event and i think i can safely say on behalf of all the VIKs that not only attended the conference but helped in the build up with, designing, developing, running and supporting us.
I will leave you with the same words that Annabelle, one of our VIKs, gave the delegates during the closing ceremony:
“I think I can speak on behalf of everyone that has represented Young Minds this weekend, when I say that if we can alter the life and care of one person somewhere in the world in a positive way by our involvement in shaping services and attitudes, by standing up and speaking out then it’s worth it. The VIK participation project has been for many of us a silver lining to the very black cloud that is mental illness; and I’m delighted to say on behalf of VIK thank you for inviting us, and on behalf of young people across the world thank you for showing you care”.