Paul joined the first Mental Welfare
Commission Board as the board member with lived experience as a
carer almost eight years ago.
As he nears completion of his term of office, and recruitment
for his replacement begins, Paul reflected on his experience.
How did you find out about the role and what made you
My wife spotted it advertised. I am a carer for a family member
with learning disabilities, so I know some of the ups and downs of
what that means and wanted to share my experience.
How was that first Board?
I was very pleased to see that the legislation stated there must
be a person who was a 'carer' and had this perspective, and also
someone with lived experience, on that first Board.
One early contribution of the new board was getting the
Commission to move on from sticking with medical and legal language
in its publications. For example, I think most people would dispute
they had a mental 'disorder'. It made the Commission seem very
unfriendly towards people and their families, because people and
their families don't think of themselves as disordered.
What about the word 'carer'?
I think particularly in the mental health word, it has become
confused with care workers, paid staff. I don't think it's a
terribly useful term, although as it is more frequently used, that
confusion is perhaps lessening. "Friends and families" is
still the term most people would understand and not confuse with
Over your term, how has the Board influenced the
In this time we appointed the Commission's first chief executive
who was not a doctor. That was a major change. The commitment to a
less medical and more human rights approach has been like night and
Another influence was the Board's recommendation that the
Commission create two new permanent staff posts, one for a person
with lived experience of mental illness, and one for a family
member/carer. It is quite radical; I can't think of any other
organisation that has been as positive in making those changes.
A lot more effort has also been put into the advisory group,
which has carer representation on it and is listened to more.
Greater effort is put into making it work, and being a group we
take advice from, instead of us informing them.
Overall I see a real difference in the Commission, the kicking
around of ideas can be done quite openly now.
One factor that has not been for the better is the budget, which
has not changed in the eight years since I joined. It puts pressure
on staff and has an impact on what they can do.
What would you say to a potential
I'd certainly encourage them. There are a lot of
opportunities to learn new things and there are lots of
opportunities to really influence the Commission.
For people who don't have Board experience, don't be put off -
you will be supported in learning about financial and other
management issues, either within the Commission, through CIPFA
workshops and courses, or through Scottish Government training.
There have been a number of Board appointments recently, and the
changeovers have all been smooth; people have taken up their new
roles effectively. The real change will come with the Chair post
(which is also being advertised now). It has been one of the
pleasures of being on the board to have worked with Graham
Stepping back from the Commission and looking more
generally at the position of family carers, have you seen
improvements in that time?
I suppose the honest answer is yes, in the sense that there's
new legislation and it's been recognised better in the Commission.
But I'm not sure that the experience of carers on the ground is
hugely better, because the support services are not hugely better.
It depends who they are caring for, and from my experience of
people with learning disabilities coming through school and coming
into adult services, I don't think they've got it any easier now.
It's probably just as hard to get a meaningful life for a young
adult. Just as much falls on families to get the information, take
the action, co-ordinate it.
The Commission is doing things differently. I've been really
pleased to see attempts to "visit" homeless people for example, not
just visiting wards. It is going further to try to access people
who are not in the system but perhaps ought to be. That's been
another positive change.
It's been a good experience, and I'd recommend it.