“The idea of the Mental Health Collective crystallised for me in early 2018, about a year after I had made the decision to refocus my career within the mental health sector.
For nearly twenty years I had built a career in the not-for-profit sector with a specialism in power, voice and accountability. I had been quite successful and had a track record of leading well-regarded and influential work at a senior level. I wrote a PhD in social anthropology (University of Cambridge, 2009) which focused on new ways of understanding power, and I taught social theory and research methodology.
My research was published in international journals and included in reading lists at the University of Cambridge, LSE and King’s College London. I then worked in an international development charity where I originated and led a major campaign to bring the voices of vulnerable people into the Sustainable Development Goals debate. I worked as an Advisor to the UK government on power and accountability, and then became the Deputy Director of a charity focused on deepening democracy.
Over this period I also experienced and recovered from a number of episodes of mental ill health. I have a bipolar diagnosis and have had some really tough years.
After my first major episode, I just wanted to put the experience behind me. Once I was well again I picked up my career where I had left off, got back on the horse and took pride in not having been derailed by a bad experience.
After my second major episode I took stock of my lifestyle and working patterns. I started looking after myself carefully and paid a lot of attention to my work-life balance. I saw being unwell as something that got in the way of my career and that I wanted to overcome – but not something that needed to change the course of my life.
When I had my third major episode, in 2016, I reevaluated this. Rather than pushing my experience ‘away’ from my career, I decided to see how I could use it to contribute within the mental health sector. In my mind, this meant turning away from the professional expertise I had already built up. As far as I knew, “the professions” in mental health meant things like psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers – each of which had their own specific training pathway. I got a job in policy, expecting to spend the next phase of my career learning new knowledge and skills and largely discarding the knowledge and skills I had built up already.
As I explored the sector, I started to see that my skills as a social scientist, facilitator and policy analyst can add distinctive value. Issues of power, voice and accountability are, in fact, key to unlocking innovation relating to the social and collective dimensions of mental health. I’m now working to combine my professional expertise with my lived experience, and believe that I’m not the only one who could contribute more by bringing these things together.
There is an untapped reservoir of knowledge, understanding and skills relating to the social and collective dimensions of mental health, which need to be catalysed into a new set of approaches. Brought together thoughtfully, the skills from across the professions, experts by experience and broader society can spark valuable innovation. My conviction is that a new set of social and collective approaches can play a crucial role in helping people to live happier, healthier lives.”
Dr Amy Pollard, Founder