I am a Counselling Psychologist and have been working in adult mental health for Sussex Partnership since 2001. Throughout this time I have been interested in approaches that have a community focus. When I first started working in Sussex I became involved in a service called 'Options' that drew on ideas from social constructionism, narrative therapy and community psychology. The service involved practitioners from voluntary services, as well as a range of professionals from statutory services, so as to give a variety of viewpoints. I left Options to take a sabbatical to volunteer with Medecins Sans Frontieres. As a Mental Health Officer in the field my role was to assess and determine what intervention might be most useful in areas affected by conflict. Working with local colleagues I learned about the needs of the population and what might reasonably be offered by local staff, and we agreed community groups would be the most helpful approach. Finally, since starting to work in Brighton I have become a passionate sea swimmer. This has allowed me to experience the importance that community groups can have for mental health from the inside. This passion for the benefits that sea swimming can offer led me, together with some friends, to work with Recovery College to run a couple of ‘Sea Swimming for Recovery’ courses. Subsequently I have also undertaken an MRes investigating the benefits of sea swimming.
My experience, both personal and professional, has shown me the importance of community in mental health and wellbeing. I think it is exciting that this potential is now becoming a focus in both the NHS Long Term Plan and within KSS PPN. Both ‘community’ and ‘wellbeing’ can, however, mean very different things to different people. Although there has been a significant amount of research and interest into wellbeing since Seligman (2000) called for a positive psychology, that explores what contributes to ‘the fulfilled individual and the thriving community’ (p5), agreed definitions have remained elusive. Belonging to a community is experienced by many to be positive, but for some people their experience is painful and excluding. There are also challenges for the NHS, and the psychologists and psychological therapists that work within it, to shift from a focus of treating ill health in individuals towards improving wellbeing in communities. I am looking forward to getting to grips with the complexity of this area, and to identify projects and ways of working that might influence our practice in the future.
Hannah Denton, Counselling Psychologist