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Why it doesn’t need to be either/or in mental health

Category: charity, Mental Health, Wellcome, Trust, Museum of Lost and Found Potential, United for Global Mental Health

Mental Health.

Jazz Thornton at the Museum of Lost Found Potential. Four years ago, a tree branch saved her life Photograph: Jill Mead/The Guardian

Professor Miranda Wolpert

By Professor Miranda Wolpert

Head of Mental Health Priority Area Wellcome Trust & Professor at UCL

Yesterday, I joined the launch of the Museum of Lost and Found Potential. This pop-up exhibition was created by Elisha London and her team at United for Global Mental Health, curated by Andy Franzkowiak.The Museum shares objects and artefacts from the stories of sixteen people from around the world with mental health problems. Different people had chosen different things which represent their personal experiences of managing their mental health.

Paula Boyd from USA is one of the contributors. Paula has chosen medications as one of her artefacts, both for not helping and helping:

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As the museum notes in relation to the exhibit above:

“Paula laughs about the list of medication she was prescribed before being given the ones that she takes today, none of which worked for her due to being misdiagnosed. She lost years of her life trying to find what works for her and eventually found what does”.

Alberto Niestadt from Argentina has coffee cups to represent the social connection he found bonding over coffee and which he now uses to support others:

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The exhibition made me reflect on how we need to move away from some of the current binary divisions within which debates are framed in mental health. For me, the binary distinction between either “proper treatment” or other techniques, tactics or approaches that may affect mental health outcomes, risks us ending up in an unhelpful cul-de-sac.

The category “treatment” currently largely covers those things that professionals provide (generally medication or talking therapies). There is no overarching category for everything else, whether societal changes (e.g. greater income equality), self-care (from exercise to bubble baths) or social connection (with peers and others). There is an implicit hierarchy whereby professionally-led treatment is seen at the top.  In the museum, a wide range of events and approaches were highlighted by contributors, ranging from grandmotherly support to mindfulness groups at work. For many people coping or recovery involved a combination of things such as talking therapies and family support.

Last year at Wellcome, we announced our intention to invest £200 million to pursue our vision of a world in which no one is held back by mental health problems. We will be working with scientists, policy makers and, crucially, those with experience of mental health problems, to develop the next generation of approaches and treatments. To do this we need to consider the widest possible range of approaches to try to assess what are the active ingredients that help in any individual case. We need to move beyond narrow definitions and an either/or outlook to answer the key question of what works for whom in what contexts and why.

It’s a big task, but as the museum shows, we simply cannot sit back while so much potential is being held back.

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