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Interview with Peter Beresford, March 2009

Peter Beresford

Peter Beresford is Professor of Social Policy and Director of the Centre for Citizen Participation at Brunel University. He is a long term user of mental health services and active in psychiatric system survivor organisations. He is Chair of Shaping Our Lives, the independent national service user controlled organisation and network. He has a longstanding involvement in issues of participation and empowerment as an activist, educator, writer and researcher. He is a Trustee of the Social Care Institute for Excellence in England, which has the responsibility to develop the knowledge base of social care and also a member of the Advisory Board of the government's National Institute for Health Research. He is co‐editor of the forthcoming book, This is Survivor Research. [Ed: this book was published in 2009]

Our Consumer Place: Has the heyday of progress in consumer participation and initiatives come and gone?

Peter Beresford: Definitely not but it is always under attack and threat. Strong efforts are made to reduce it to individualized consumerism and ignore its democratizing and empowering impulse. Its future will be down to us as survivors and that is a big responsibility.

OCP: Is there a place for activism in mental health? What top three areas would you target?

PB: Of course, it is crucial.

The Neddy-Cation Queue

OCP:What would you expect to be different if we lived in a community that embraced people who have mental health problems?

PB: A lot more fun. A lot less internalized oppression. A lot less divisive. A lot less conflict. Perhaps some of the very powerful people who are clearly unhappy and distressed would be able to do something about it, would feel comfortable to work through it, rather than working it out on the rest of us through their greed, ambition and aggression so we live in such a conflictful, violent and damaging world.

OCP: If you were asked to give state government advice on how to spend $500 million for mental health, what would you spend the money on? What about if you have $10,000 to spend?

PB: It would be no better me being in charge of the money than anyone else. I have seen what happens when large sums are made available without an infrastructure of involvement in place to put it to good use. So the key thing is to get a group of survivors with such experience together to set up an inclusive process of involvement to work out how best to use that money. It would be a one off chance. We must do it right, ethically and practically.

If there was a small one off sum, then I would try through a transparent and fair process to let survivors and survivors' organisations know about it so they could bid for a good idea to be taken forward and this would be decided by a group of survivors whom people would have confidence in.

OCP: What are some things that could happen in one day that would give you a really good night's sleep where you woke up feeling hopeful and ready to take on the world?

  1. One would be to know that the organisation I am part of - Shaping Our Lives - had secure funding for the future and was really sustainable with lots of good new people coming through to take it forward.
  2. Number two would be that there would be a network of service user controlled organisations in place with adequate and secure funding.
  3. The other for me personally, as I am someone who doesn't sleep well, would be a really nice relaxing day - including definitely some time in tea and coffee shops - that would help me personally get a better night's sleep.

OCP: Which is more important to you, the outcome or how you get there? Can you give an example?

PB: You just can't separate the two. That is what involvement is all about. Without that being central to the process the outcome won't be right. It's what service users say about the stress on outcome measures in health and social care services. Workers can come in and do tasks and then they can tick all the boxes they like but without warmth, empathy, respect and equality little will be achieved.