Meg who spent five years in a mental health hospital, told an audience of MPs, Ministers and people involved in Shared Lives that we need to see people with mental ill health as “people with a future”, not as a risk or a case to be managed. Shared Lives was her route to feeling human again, “With the support of my clinician, I moved in with my Shared Lives carer in a new town. I was so scared, I didn’t know how to live in the community, but she taught me and she stood by my side. It’s been 22 months since I left hospital and I have achieved so much. I work three days a week, I run a self-harm support group in my town, I’ve been on adventures and made new friends. In January this year, I moved into my own house and my Shared Lives carer still supports me a few days a week.”
Meg’s journey from not being confident crossing a road to speaking in parliament was dramatic. Ali told us that she reads “all the inspirational stories about the amazing things that people in Shared Lives have achieved. And every time I think to myself ‘well me and Chris haven’t done anything like that’ and I feel like a bit of a fraud.” But Chris’ journey to living somewhere he could just be himself, after 19 years in residential care, is inspiring: “It was an excellent home. But there were staff. And there were residents. And there were lots of boundaries, and when Chris wanted to go for a drink in the pub he had to complete a risk assessment.”
“Well I’m not staff. I’m not even sure I am particularly a carer – I’m just me. And Chris is not a resident or a client or a service user, he’s just Chris. And we live together and learn from each other and drive each other mad and maybe, just maybe – though we’d both be far too embarrassed to admit it- we even love each other a tiny little bit.” Chris and Ali’s full speech is here.
Meg asked us to think about all the most embarrassing things we’d ever done; the things we really regretted. And then to imagine they were all written down in a record we carried with us and had to show to every new person we met, with none of the good things we’d done included. That was what it was like to be within the system for her: never being able to grow beyond her past. Darren told us that he couldn’t remember much about his many years in nursing care: mainly just watching TV. Now he has a busy life with less medication, more exercise and activities, and most importantly, friends, in a household where he felt he fitted in.
We need services which care for people, but which think hard about all the impacts of that care, good and bad. As Ali put it, “I am learning all the time. In particular about how to tread that very fine line between ‘support’ and ‘control’ and how to just let Chris be himself.”
Our thanks to Liz Kendall MP for hosting our event, with speakers Norman Lamb MP and Kit Malthouse MP, all of whom pledged to help make sure our members are valued and celebrated as we try to bring Shared Lives to many more people.