Emily Oliver writes about the WHOLE-SMI project
Based in the North East of England, the WHOLE-SMI project gets its name from its focus on how we can support wellbeing and holistic health for individuals living with severe mental illness. Here, two peer researchers involved in the project, Sue Webster and Keith Thompson, talk about their hopes for the study.
“Holistic care incorporating mind, body and soul”
Sue: My interest stems from my experience of being a carer for my sister who has had bipolar for over 30 years and also my lived experience of depression. Following this, I became involved in patient and public involvement with TEWV Mental Health Trust which provided me with many opportunities to help with research.
My background is in nursing, in both primary and secondary care. As a Practice Nurse working in surgeries, my job involved health promotion clinics and also mental health checks which incorporated physical health. I’m a firm believer in “no health without mental health” and that the two go hand in hand. This led me to undertake a degree in counselling which further grew interest in mental health and research.
I believe in holistic care incorporating mind, body and soul and have a desire to promote health and wellbeing. I am interested in bridging the gaps between physical and mental health care in the North East of England and Integrated Care Systems. Having always been an active person, I am fully aware of the benefits of exercise on both physical and mental health, particularly during an episode of depression. I love walking and getting out into the great outdoors and belong to a couple of walking groups. I am a member of the gym and enjoy swimming, spinning and Pilates too.
I am interested in what helps and what hinders physical health service delivery and how we can best deliver physical health support. I want to use my own experiences to help make a difference and empower others.
“Research shapes the future”
Keith: I have suffered from bipolar disorder since 1990. In that time, I ran my own Civil Structural Engineering business and have also been involved with the University of York, TEWV NHS Foundation Trust, and the McPin Foundation.
My friend Rich’s story below has inspired me to promote well-being as Rich is a keen footballer and has previously played football with me in an organised group of people sponsored by the West Ring County FA. This programme was focused on reducing discrimination to allow young people to come together and enjoy a social activity in safe surroundings.
Rich’s story: “For the past two years, we’ve been under the dark cloud of COVID-19. It has changed the way we work, live our daily lives, and interact with each other. As a person living with schizophrenia, I know all too well the struggle of having to adjust to a world that I don’t recognize anymore. In that struggle, it is how we cope that makes us stronger.
In May 2020, with all my accomplishments and obstacles I had overcome, I still felt like I wasn’t where I should be financially, socially, and physically. As the self-doubt set in, my symptoms became heightened and my auditory hallucination became pronounced, so I was already not in a good place.
I am thankful that I was not alone and living with my mother. Her support and continuing to keep my appointments with my psychiatrist and therapist are what kept me from having another bout with psychosis. Limiting what I watched on TV helped tremendously. I was relieved that I wasn’t let go from my job, and after adjusting to working from home, I started to relax and be able to manage my symptoms better. Even though I was unable to leave my home, I still felt connected to my work and our participants in the community virtually.
It took time to adjust, but by the end of 2020, I was beginning to feel like myself again. I’m fortunate that I had my support system, coping skills, and my job. I realized that being alive and mentally and physically healthy are the most important things in life. We all need care and compassion for ourselves and each other in order to survive.”
The main factors that we can learn from Rich’s story are to understand that he needs support and help with his mental and physical health, and at times he needs the support of family and friends around him. I hope to take these ideas into this research project.
For me, research is exciting because it helps us find answers to questions. Research shapes the future; it teaches us new things and helps us adapt and evolve. The most exciting thing about the project is working within a superb team. I want the project to come together over the next two years and make a difference to people in the North East.
Interested in learning more?
We’ve just held our first community advisory group, hearing from people with lived experience of severe mental illness from across Northumberland, Cumbria, Durham, and the wider northeast region. Interviews with practice and clinical stakeholders are being scheduled, and we plan to hold a series of online and in-person workshops for those living with SMI, in a range of community venues, over the coming months. If you’re interested in the research, in telling us about your own experiences, or in hearing more about the study as it progresses, do please get in touch via: Emily.firstname.lastname@example.org