Tag Archives: peer support

Clare Knighton: The Power of Validation

Someone close to me asked me which psychiatric tablet that I take helps me the best. I thought for a few seconds and then replied that actually it wasn’t a pill that helped me the best, but a ‘thing’ – validation. They replied quite honestly that they didn’t know what validation was. So I told them………..

I have blogged before about my journey of mental health distress, about how I found peer support and became an accredited peer support worker. I have blogged about relapse and how that has shaped my journey – I have talked about some of the challenges I have encountered on my recovery road, but now it’s time to talk about things that really matter to me. The things that are forming the concrete foundations that I am building, tools that I can use in my own recovery but also tools I can use to help those I have the privilege of working with.

So, to validation, I could easily give you many a dictionary definition to peruse but in short, validation is making someone’s experience ‘valid’, ‘real’ and ‘true’. If you can do this for someone then you have the power to help them in greater ways than any medication, I believe. Let me give you some examples. I have recently experienced a rapid relapse, that was scary, full of visual and auditory disturbances and scary shadows that were everywhere. For those of you that have experienced such things you will know that telling someone who works in mental health services what you can see and hear is very hard – you worry what they will say, you worry they will call a mental health act assessment – you worry that they will take away your choices – but above all, for me anyway, you worry they won’t believe you! To share something so scary, to ask for help is something I find really hard, and sadly in the past, people have said things like ‘pull yourself together’, or they try to minimise your experience by saying ‘oh it’s all in your mind’ or ‘other people have it worse’.

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How wonderful and powerful it is then, to be with someone who will truly validate what is happening to you – they will say things like ‘that must feel so scary Clare’ or ‘I can’t imagine what that must feel like Clare’. Or even ‘I believe you, and I believe in you’. Thus acknowledging that they can’t take those experiences away but they can sit with you in your distress and help you find fresh avenues to reduce the intensity of your emotions. Validation, when truly experienced can help to safely minimise your distress and for me it creates strong bonds of trust that allow you to walk bravely in the darkness of your experience. How powerful is that?!

I love this quote by Danielle Bernock which says:

 “Trauma is not personal, it does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally, heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams, healing can begin.”

Validation is so important, so crucial to healing and recovery, yet many people jump to fix or dismiss the suffering being felt. This can be equally frustrating for both parties.

When I think of my own relapses, I can recall occasions where I felt unheard, yet was desperately screaming inside for help. I can also think of times more recently where someone has said ‘I hear you’ and the difference it makes is truly amazing.

Being a peer support worker, the reciprocity of sharing feelings and experiences is so powerful and I feel honoured to sit with someone in their distress – but as a person who has experienced trauma, I KNOW the wonderful feeling when I have really been heard.

Validation, it’s priceless.

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Clare Knighton is an accredited peer support worker based in Worcestershire.

@knightonstar

 

 

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Jo Higman – exhibition review: It’s Not The Baby Blues

Maternal or ‘perinatal’ mental health has been in the spotlight recently, following the inquest into the tragic case of Charlotte Bevan.  An exhibition currently on display at the Institute of Mental Health highlights the devastating effect perinatal mental illness can have on women and their families.  At the heart of this exhibition however, is a celebration of what can be achieved when communities come together to support one another on the path to recovery.  It’s Not The Baby Blues is a moving collaboration between local artist Debra Urbacz, photographer Paul Dale and Nottingham based peer support group Open House.

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Open House was founded in 2012 by two women who had both been in-patients in a specialist mother and baby unit.  Sarah and Geraldine were recovering from postnatal depression and found that there was little in the way of self-help in the community. Open House has gone from strength to strength and now meet weekly, offering support to those recovering from perinatal mental illness. They also aim to raise awareness of this condition and have recently secured a grant from Nottinghamshire County Council.

It’s Not the Baby Blues features women who have used Open House following a period of perinatal mental illness.  Their stories are told through beautiful photographs and delicately typewritten extracts of their personal illness narratives.

The idea for the exhibition emerged from a late night conversation between Debra and Geraldine, following the tragic death of actor, Robin Williams.  Concerned by what she saw on social media in the days that followed, Geraldine was keen to do something positive to raise awareness of mental illness and suicide.

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Debra contacted photographer Paul Dale, knowing he would approach the project with sensitivity.  He spoke of having to reconsider his original ideas for the project, stripping the concept ‘right back to basics’ in order to ‘represent the pain, the guilt, the dark hours of PND.’

I decided to work with the words they spoke and the stories they told me. We would chat for up to an hour before deciding on a space, usually in their home, and the props we would use to portray a moment in time when they were either at their lowest, or in the place where they felt safe.

Paul went on to say how grateful he is at having the opportunity to help raise awareness of this area of mental health.

I was humbled by the sitter’s stories, yet felt heartened by the hopes they had for the future and the coping strategies they had devised, often with family or friends. I would do this project again in a heartbeat.

Once she saw how powerful the images were, Debra felt that it was important to give each woman the opportunity to share their personal illness narratives.

033“I typed out their stories on my typewriter as I felt the idiosyncrasies in the type would add to the feelings of despair and hopelessness. I made them into little books, one for each of the ten women, and chose to bind them together with threads in blue tones to match the blue in their photographs. The covers were made of handmade paper so the books have a delicate, almost fragile appearance, this is so that the reader handles them with the care and sensitivity the stories within deserve.”

One of the ‘sitters’ Claire, talks about her experience of taking part in the project, and what she hopes it might achieve:

There’s a huge stigma attached to post and antenatal depression.  The media trend a stereotypical “yummy mummy” who can multitask with a huge smile, breast feed and have no red eyes or bags under her eyes; a mum who knows instantly what her baby needs or desires and doesn’t crumble or curl up due to the pain of hearing her crying baby.  When you expect to feel happy and all you feel is numb or anxiety it can be very hard to understand yourself never mind tell someone else.

We need to show that it’s ok to talk openly, that there is support and that women are not alone with the feelings they might have. We need to ensure that professionals understand the signs and that they don’t feel awkward in starting a conversation with women who might be having such feelings.  I really hope that the exhibition proves that through inner strength and courage, to seek help is ok.  It’s a persons right to be heard and acknowledged, brighter days will follow again.”

Sarah Brumpton, Open House co-founder describes being ‘blown away’ when she finally saw the exhibition, first shown at the Maltcross in Nottingham.
“This artwork is extremely powerful and beautiful.  It’s also worth recognising that the women who took part were very brave and courageous in sharing their stories of hope and recovery.  For me it’s really important to get across the message that recovery is possible; you do get better.”

Here is Sarah’s story:

It’s Not The Baby Blues is showing until October 23rd at the Institute of Mental Health: http://www.institutemh.org.uk/index.php

If you’d like to find out more about Open House, go to:
or visit their website:

If you’ve been affected by the issues raised in this article, or would like to learn more about perinatal mental health, click here to go to the Open House information and support page.

Jo Higman is a mental health nurse and health writer: Jo.higman@gmail.com

Photos reproduced with kind permission by Debra Urbacz

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