S57: Healing language that builds connection, trust and collaboration with individuals, families and the community.

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By September 11, 2019 No Comments

Authors: Maurice 'Mozzy' Wilkinson, Scott Gourlay, Fay Jackson, Grant Macphail, Kim Jones, Simon Swinson

Year: 2019

Event: 2019 TheMHS Conference

Subject: Healing language that builds connection, trust and collaboration with individuals, families and the community.

Type of resource: Conference Presentations and Papers



Grant Macphail, Flourish Australia’s Senior Policy and Planning Coordinator has worked in community/mental-health services since 2000. Grant’s thought-provoking presentations advocate improved service-delivery, system change, and innovative approaches. Qualifications: B Arts (Hons) Psychology, B Arts (Sociology/Anthropology), B Bus (HRM/IR), Grad.Cert Business Research, Grad.Cert Social Change, Grad.Dip Psychology (current: M Professional Psychology).

Kim Jones Project Officer, Inclusion, Flourish Australia and has worked in mental health for more than twelve years. She has worked in disability sectors with extensive experience working with people experiencing Autism. In her current role, Kim uses lived experience to enable her to further contribute to Community led organisations.

Maurice (Mozzy) Wilkinson is Chair for the Flourish Community Advisory Council, participates in the Parkes service and is a member of the Co-design Guidelines and Local Champions Group ToR Committee. Before retiring for medical reasons, he worked in building maintenance, raced speedway cars and was the president of a motorcycle enthusiast group.

Scott Gourlay had a career in IT and management positions, who now provides leadership and advocacy for those with lived experience of Mental Health Issues. Scott is the Deputy Chair of the Flourish Community Advisory Council, has served on various working groups including developing the Flourish Australia Co-Design policy and guidelines.

Simon Swinson is a Lived Experience expert and advocate of people with lived experience who has been active in this field for over a decade. He publicly speaks of his experiences living with Schizophrenia and has been involved in the Flourish Community Advisory Council and numerous policy design groups Research indicates services need to change and improve to meet the needs of people with mental-health issues, their families and the communities they contribute to. The dominant use of clinical and business languages and other related cultural symbolisms are two key protagonists of the continuing stigma/discrimination felt by people with mental-health issues. We know low numbers of persons experiencing mental-health issues seek supports that may assist them. Research indicates people avoid accessing services due to issues of stigma, discrimination and lack of understanding. Therefore, if mental-health service providers are to contribute to healthy and resilient people and communities, they must first offer a culture and space that help people overcome concerns they have regarding accessing services.

Language shapes culture and the way we engage in society; it influences our perceptions, both implicitly and explicitly. It is difficult to engage in meaningful ways when you don’t understand their language. Organisational policies-and-procedures, and everyday interactions in support settings, must utilise co-designed language to be more approachable, respectful and inclusive to encourage improved access and support. Flourish Australia intrinsically understands and utilises the voices of people we support to co-design our services.

Well-meaning words can have detrimental effects. Interpersonal and ideological power attached to phrases such as “you need to lower your expectations of what you can achieve in life” and the meanings these phrases may have to people, can adversely impact motivation for personal-growth and potential to contribute within communities. Words such as ‘schizophrenia’, ‘bipolar’, ‘psychosis’, ‘disorder’, ‘diagnosis’ may contribute to threat/fear surrounding mental-health, for those experiencing mental-health issues, their families and others. Likewise, categorisations, labelling ‘diagnosis’ and statements about ‘behaviours’ and ‘limited abilities’ further contribute to stigma and discrimination. Clinical terminology and business rhetoric say very little about any given person’s particular needs; they are ingrained in higher-level systems of power and threat with little relevance to particular individuals.

These forms and uses of language are far from person-centred, let alone person-led. They negate connection, hope, identity, meaningful engagement and empowerment; the recovery framework.

Adopting a culturally aware lens further emphasises these arguments. Many Indigenous and non-English speaking background cultures do not relate to clinical language and terms such as ‘mental-health’. We know the importance of engaging people in these communities to help decrease suicide and improve the wellbeing of individuals, families and communities. If we are to achieve this, we must change our language and in-turn, change the culture within our services to better meet the needs of people and communities.

Our workshop will critically explore specific examples with the audience to demonstrate how co-designing language for use in policies and the provision of support is a powerful tool for changing culture and promoting healthy, resilient people and communities. Small break-out group discussions and larger workshop activities will discuss the challenges involved followed by discussion about solutions and approaches to help overcome these challenges.

(25%) of workshop will be dedicated to discussion about a phrase that could be considered controversial to highlight our point. This phrase seeks to provide a brave, respectful, real-life, example of why language is so important. We will also discuss how truly inclusive/person-led language has been empowering for people involved in the co-design process, our Community Advisory Council and our service as a whole. 50% of the workshop will be allotted to discussions with the entire audience and small group discussion. 25% of the workshop time will be allotted for question and answer, at 3 different points throughout the workshop, and again at the end.

When developing our co-design policy/guidelines, co-designers regularly stated that clinical and business terminology was a key deterrent to confidently engaging with support services; it perpetuated the us-them divide being partly driven by language. It continues to be a key contributor to mental-health stigma and discrimination. It is the responsibility of service providers to design and build supportive services through the use of person-centred/led language in order for people to more readily access services.

This workshop offers reflective discussion and sharing of strengths-based-language that goes beyond the current common vernacular commonly used in mental-health services and communities. It will critically explore the inclusion/exclusion of particular words/phrases in Flourish Australia’s Strengths-Based-Language-Guide, Co-design Policy and Co-design Guidelines. Examples will be drawn from audience members to further highlight the importance of person-centred/led language.
The workshop will encourage greater understanding and awareness of service-providers role in promoting health, resilient persons and communities by avoiding clinical and business rhetoric when engaging with persons accessing services, including written materials, unless essential. We will show that there are very few instances where it is essential.
Delegates will gain a ‘next level’ appreciation of the power of language and its impact on stigma, discrimination and its propensity to hinder people from accessing supports. Delegates will have an applied understanding of inclusive language and its relationship to co-designed supportive environments.

Learning Objectives
Learning Objective 1: Delegates will learn about and take away:
• A greater appreciation for the power of language
• Usable examples of language changes
• An empowerment tool to improve culture, engagement of people who access services, and their families and carers.

Learning Objective 2: The topic is relevant to mental health services and issues because it will:
• Guide services to utilise new and respectful language that will be more inclusive and enable people with MH issues and their families to better engage with services.
• This will lead to breaking down barriers, stigma and discrimination
• Lead to greater opportunity for hope and recovery.

Corrigan, P. (2004). How stigma interferes with mental health care. American psychologist, 59(7), 614.
Flourish Australia , (2019a). Co-design policy. Sydney, Australia: Flourish Australia.
Flourish Australia, (2019b). Co-design guidelines. Sydney, Australia: Flourish Australia.
Flourish Australia, (2015). Strength Based Language Guide. Sydney, Australia: Flourish Australia.
(2018). Article title.Mental Health Information Strategy Standing Committee Experience of discrimination in adults with mental illness, 2018. Retrieved from https://meteor.aihw.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/683366
Thornicroft, G. (2008) MHISSC (2018). Stigma and discrimination limit access to mental health care. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, 17(1), 14-19.

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