Tag Archives: mental health

stigma conference poems

Dear Bill,

Your poems are wonderful. Prof Norman Sartorius and I lectured here in Gothenburg, Sweden for two days last week and I read your poems – four of them. I have read them at conferences and lectures, mostly for mental health staff and user organizations.

The poems capture the inner soul of mental illness as well as human longings and emotions, such as love, longing as well as rejection. I am very touched by your poems and so was my audience.

I am convinced that a larger audience would appreciate your work, at least in western Europe, where most people in the profession, and even a broader audience, know English quite well.

Good luck and, please, keep in touch.



PS: Sent 13 May 2009 – before my poems were published as ‘Loud Silence’.


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Praxis Care Befrienders and Volunteers 2014

Here are a few extracts from my address at the Praxis Care Volunteer Thank You Event held last night at the Glenavon House Hotel, Cookstown, NI.

“If I had had a befriender, a volunteer to meet with for a coffee and a chat, this would have become the highlight of my week. And maybe this is true for some of you Praxis Care members? For me, anticipation would have been building all week – waiting to meet my volunteer and having the pleasure of going out with a purpose and coming home feeling good because of the enjoyment of a meaningful relationship and a satisfying interaction. What a feeling of self-worth, self-respect, self-esteem I would have had because someone was willingly, freely giving of themselves to meet me. And I would have looked forward to the next encounter with much hope!

Using listening skills, perhaps personal experience, empathy, warmth, love and understanding Praxis Care befrienders and volunteers offer help and support through friendship. The confident, caring Volunteer brings hope and hope can spark recovery. Recovery is, I suggest, wellness – living with illness.

One volunteer is worth a hundred conscripts. The quality, passion and committment of the Praxis Care volunteers and befrienders and their routine, consistency and selfless giving adds immensely to the Praxis Care members’ quality of living.”

Praxis Care befrienders and volunteers give of time, of skills of energy. At last night’s Praxis Care Volunteers Thank You Event 2014 feedback was that Praxis Care members are encouraged socially, emotionally and psychologically through social support.

I think it fair to say that a good evening was had by all. And well done Winnie – 25 years as a Praxis Care Volunteer!

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NICON conference, La Mon Hotel, Belfast

I had the privilege to open and close this Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Conference on 5th & 6th March, 2014. The conference theme was ‘Better Together’. Using poetry I stated that providers of services and receivers of services are all service users and must work together and serve together in a professional and public capacity.

I shall not give my script in full but try to give a flavour of my short five minute addresses…

Day 1

A nation of islands?

Islands do not interact.
There’s no exchange of views.
And that’s just great
For visitors are not welcome –
I’ve no interest in you.
I sing my national anthem to an audience of one,
And please myself on my desert isle –
Robinson Crusoe never had such fun!
My choice, my independence, are the order of the day.
I eat when I want.
I sleep when I want.
I don’t do any harm.
I don’t need any favours.
I don’t take any ‘stick’.
Autonomy’s all very well for a while,
But what happens
When I’m sick?

Self-help books didn’t work!

Positive thinking (gone pear-shaped).

I’m beautiful.
I’m clever.
I’m able.
I’m talented.
I’m witty.
I’m great.
Gee. I’m a pain!

I looked to psychiatry for help. Hope hoped for…

Mind’s eye.

Doctor, my mind is out of focus.
Like wearing glasses
That have a wrong prescription.
Will medication mend the blur
And give me back my vision?

A rather rude awakening. Hope dented…

Dr. Who.
I disclose to you.
You don’t disclose to me.
In this power imbalance lies an inequality.
Dr. Who, if such a relationship is to your credit
I simply don’t get it.

One day, whilst walking to work, a solitary seagull was crying out overhead. I felt uneasy, as if being laughed at. I mentioned this matter to a young psychiatrist. Hope dashed!


I told a doctor, “The seagulls are laughing at me.”
The doctor laughed, too!
(Who says laughter is the best medicine?)

Psychiatrists say that physical exercise is good for one’s mood. I say…

Keeping fit at 51?
I think I’ll take the car out for a run.

Day 2

A message to professionals – service users know who cares and who doesn’t care…

Mentally ill (but not stupid).

Squirrel Nutkin’s schizophrenic.
Some people say she’s bonkers.
But Squirrel Nutkin differentiates
‘tween hazelnuts and conkers!

But service users must remember that even staff can be depressed…


Monday morning’s come around.
Even the bloody computers are ‘down’!

Education. Education. Education.
There’s change in this nation?
What’s the latest blog?
Long John Silver has been superseded
By Sonic the hedgehog!

And even Sonic is last year’s thing. Change is supersonic! Let’s rise to the occasion. We are living in difficult times….Personally, I’m learning that hope is forged amidst trials – not before; not afterwards…


It is said
That the darkest hour
Is just before dawn.
In a similar vein
Growth and change
Can be gained
At the moments of greatest pain.

Mountain summit

It is too frightening to make a mistake.
And the mountain ahead is so high.

It is too frightening to say what I think.
And the mountain ahead is so high.

It is too frightening to let my anger out.
And the mountain ahead is so high.

It is too frightening to trust.
And the mountain ahead is so high.

It is too frightening to take a risk.
And the mountain ahead is so high.

It is too frightening to love.
And the mountain ahead is so high.

It is too frightening to live.
And the mountain ahead is so high.

Aaargh!! It’s too frightening to be frightened.

And the valley below,
Oh! the valley below
Is splendid to the eye.


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NICON event

The Northern Ireland Confederation For Health And Social Services – NICON 2014 Conference is to be held on Wednesday 5th/Thursday 6th March at La Mon Hotel, Belfast.

I’m thrilled and honoured to be invited to open and close the NICON 2014 conference with poems from my book, ‘Loud Silence’.  This invitation is an opportunity to share personal experience of mental illness, stigma and recovery and as a ‘professional’ working in psychiatric services within the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust.

The NICON event is entitled, “Better Together”.  It’s about partnership, ie. Comm – unity  Care.

I shall post my two addresses on my blog after the NICON conference.  May these be of use to you.

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Community Mental Health – Belfast 2013

Mental illness knows no borders and crosses all divides. Whether you are a Protestant from the Shankill Road or a Catholic from the Falls Road, mental illness doesn’t discriminate.

Mental and emotional ‘defence mechanisms’ do not prevent psychiatric illness from happening and peace walls don’t protect from mental illness.

Mental illness is an unseen enemy because of the stigma that plagues sufferers. Mental illness is like a cancer in our communities. Depression, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder (to name but a few) are our hidden ‘troubles’. People who are mentally unwell, their families, their loved ones, carers, friends, psychiatric professionals, are battling against a society that still wants to brush mental health issues under the carpet. Rich, poor; young, old; educated, uneducated; employed, unemployed; all can be affected by mental illness and stigma (or know someone who is afflicted).

So what can be done to fight this blight that is affecting one in four people in the North, South, East and West of this city? Help is available. If you feel that life is not worth living or the pain you experience feels unbearable; if you are constantly weepy and weary and don’t know what is happening to you, or you’re at the end of your tether and you can’t cope, then it’s crucial to speak to someone you can trust. You may wish to visit your G.P. Whatever you do don’t let things drag on. Seek helpful, informed advice from reliable sources. Chances are someone you know can direct you to those who give specialised help.

Mental illness ought not to be the ‘end of the road’ – whether you’re from the Shankill Road or the Falls Road.

May a common humanity, common sense and common concern prevail.

And remember: there is no shame in having a mental illness. Recovery is possible. (The writer of this article has a serious mental illness but is in full-time, permanent employment and enjoys friendships, hobbies, etc).

There is hope. Look forward. There is hope for you. Asking for help may be a good place to start…

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Stigma is like ‘being off the guest list’! Here are a few more poems about stigma…

(and bear it!)

Stigma smiles
like a crocodile.


Stigma is in the eye
of the beholder.


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Poetry Mad Human

Paul Hamilton created this video for me. Thanks Paul.

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