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Critical and Creative Approaches to Mental Health Practice

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This case study has been generated by a collaborative research study of community-university partnerships. Part of the ESRC-funded Imagine Project, the study was conducted jointly by Susanne Martikke, research officer at Greater Manchester Centre for Voluntary Organisation alongside Professors Angie Hart and Andrew Church of the University of Brighton

This project is lead by Jill Anderson, Bob Sapey and Will Park.

"I wish I had never read a book!" Bob received this email from a former social work student who, having recently started a job, found that much of her reading about social perspectives on mental health was difficult to apply in practice. It didn’t fit with the dominant ethos in mental health services. Her exclamation triggered the idea for what is now Critical and Creative Approaches to Mental Health Practice (CCrAMHP). Jill, Bob, the ex-student and a colleague involved in practice education decided that they would create a space where practitioners, people with experience of using services, academics, students, and others with an interest in mental health practice could come together for support and to learn together. The idea was that this could create a feedback loop that helped mental health workers to articulate perspectives outside the ‘mainstream’, kept all with an interest in mental health in touch with new ideas and perspectives and exposed those learning and teaching about mental health to the challenges of practice. 

They dipped their toes in the water by organising a one-off discussion event, at a community centre in Lancaster, in 2011. This was so successful that the group decided to meet every two months and, eventually, monthly. Since late 2012 there has also been an email discussion group for staying in touch in between meetings. Whilst being aware of other mental health and public engagement initiatives in the area, the group sets itself apart by its focus on learning together through conversation. As a community of practice it follows the principle that people who wear different (and sometimes multiple) hats within the community, and have different experiences of mental health services, can learn from each other and co-produce knowledge outside of a formal learning space.

The group has links with more than one university and a range of service settings (through students, academic staff and practitioners who are members). It is, however, independent. Advertised mainly by word of mouth, it keeps operating costs low (mainly room hire, refreshments, expenses for occasional speakers), thereby enhancing its sustainability. That ensures that the main focus of meetings is on learning, rather than discussions about funding. However, funding is still important and – having tapped in to some university funds to establish the network – there is now a need to consider ongoing sources. The conversations that have started at CCrAMHP have had tangible outcomes: both at an individual level, for example providing individuals with alternative ways of framing their own experience; and more broadly, impacting on what is taught in universities, and on what – and how – students learn. CCrAMHP has, for many of its members, fostered new links and connections: within Lancaster, across the country and even internationally. 


Jill Anderson, Bob Sapey, Will Park: