Introducing the Women’s Mental Health Network

Guest Post by Joyce Kallevik, Director of Wish

Setting up and launching the Women’s Mental Health Network has been a long term aim of Wish, and we are almost there!!!

Wish, is the only national, user-led charity working with women with mental health needs in prison, hospital and the community. For 30 years we have been at the fore of providing long-term, gender-sensitive services, and supported women to have their voices heard at policy level.

I have been associated with Wish for 15 of those 30 years, and as a researcher, I could see the fragmented and circular journey women experienced in and through the system; and quite frankly what an unfair deal they were getting, especially considering the billions that are ploughed into mental health, and other associated statutory services, each year.

Most statutory services do not meet women’s needs in a gender-specific way, the multi-strand services that women come into contact with: mental health services, social services, prison, drugs and alcohol, the police and the courts … are not on the same page, in any way, about the gender-specific needs of women.

And frustratingly, although the policies are in place directing services to better meet the needs of women, it is just not happening, as there have never been resources allocated to make change happen; instead there is more research and more policy but very little happening on the ground to improve women’s experience of services. In fact many say that most statutory services undermine women’s recovery through neglect and mistreatment. There are many shocking stories to back this up, including:

  • A woman being allowed to lie in her own urine as a punishment for incontinence and being scared to speak up in case she was punished further
  • A women divulging the most heart rending story which triggered her self-harm – and being given a different cocktail of drugs
  • A woman being refused respite when she felt unsafe, and ending up in prison … again

The list is endless …

Many of the women with complex needs that Wish and other partner organisations work with have had traumatic and abusive beginnings, and lives with few opportunities. They have received little support to address the issues that they have experienced, which has resulted in them developing a range of self-harming behaviours.

And of course, the less women are listened to the more they are silenced by the system.  The Women’s Mental Health Network, a partnership of organisations from a range of sectors, aims to break that cycle of silence for these women who are unable to make their voices heard at an individual level, by giving them a collective voice across sectors. The network will provide a platform for them to speak out and to drive forward change.

It is a long, hard journey for women who have to tell their stories time and time again to services that do not listen to them.  For many women, Wish and similar third sector organisations have been the only solid support that they have been able to rely on.

Third sector organisations work hard to enable and empower women, and support them to turn their lives around. Unfortunately, these organisations are not only poorly funded, and not recognised for the services they deliver or the value they bring, they are also undermined by statutory services. It is therefore crucial that statutory services improve.

The Women’s Mental Health Network have held 5 focus groups with 30 women from diverse backgrounds and they have identified 10 areas that are key campaigning issues, including inappropriate physical restraint by male staff, which acts to re-traumatise women; services and professionals not taking reports of domestic violence seriously putting women at risk; across the system staff lacking understanding of and respect for women’s distress; and not being treated in a humane way.

The next step is to consult with at least 5,000 women so that they can confirm the top 3 priority areas in which to drive forward and effect change.


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