Inspiring speakers' stories promote better mental health

We can all play a part in encouraging better mental health, according to the inspiring keynote speakers at a conference held in Folkestone.

MENTAL HEALTH

The event on Wednesday, 25 April at the Leas Cliff Hall, was organised by the Community Safety Partnership; representing Kent Police, Folkestone & Hythe District Council, Kent County Council and other agencies.

Delegates heard from expert speakers on substance abuse, psychosis, maternal mental health, self-harm, and dementia, as well as information on support available and strategies for keeping well.

Matthew Scott, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent and national lead for mental health and custody, gave one of the keynote speeches.

He said that on average, a third of police time was spent dealing with cases involving mental health issues, and recounted some of his personal experiences - including two occasions when he had to physically intervene to prevent someone from taking their own life.

Mr Scott said: "Mental health difficulties can affect anyone, at any time. We are all people, and people need people. Conversations have the power to change and we can all take responsibility for having those conversations."

He said it was important people received the right support at the right time, starting in primary schools, and revealed some of the ways experts around the globe were involving the whole community in supporting people struggling with their mental health.

Elaine Hanzak, mental health campaigner and author of Eyes Without Sparkle, was also a keynote speaker. She shared her personal experiences of post-natal illness, bereavement and the impact on her mental well-being and on her family.

Organisations working to promote good mental health were on hand during the conference to discuss their services and there were also scores of personal stories from individuals who have experienced difficulties with their mental health.

Susanna Howard, who chaired the event, said: "The main theme of the day has been bringing people together to share their work and their experiences.

"Through people hearing each other's stories and each other's words we are able to get rid of the fear factor and challenge the stigma and make us realise that we are all the same."

Cllr Jenny Hollingsbee, Cabinet Member for Communities at Folkestone & Hythe District Council, thanked everyone who had contributed to the conference.

She said: "This event has been about challenging the stigma of mental health. Mental health should be considered the same as physical illnesses.

"The conference has been amazing and very thought-provoking. It is the prevention in the early stages we need to be addressing."

The day, aimed at professionals working in the field, also included sessions on meditation and mindfulness led by Shepway Sports Trust as well as the opportunity to network with colleagues in other services. Lunch was provided by catering students from East Kent College.

Issues around mental health will be explored further in Normal? Festival of the Brain, which takes place in venues around Folkestone from Thursday 10 May to Sunday 13 May. For more information visit www.quarterhouse.co.uk