Justine Howard, Independent Mental Health Advocate at Wish, reflects on using human rights in her work

Wish provides a gender specific advocacy service for women.  It is well recognised that social inequalities play a key role in women’s mental health difficulties. Wish has almost thirty years’ experience working in the field of women’s health, having worked with some of the most vulnerable women with the most complex needs in society. Early life experiences including violence, abuse and disrupted emotional attachment frequently result in low self-esteem, trust issues and repeated patterns of re-traumatization and destructive coping mechanisms. Wish has developed a model of working which aims to address the relational needs of women whilst also providing a safe space to work through issues. 

Wish’s involvement with BIHR has resulted in positive changes for both the women we work with and changes within our organisation.

Organisational change

As an organisation we positively promote human rights. We capture human rights issues on our monitoring form.  We use the stats we record for writing our quarterly reports which are sent to Hospital Directors/Hospital Governance and NHS England. We have also updated our Record Sheet for internal supervision so that advocates are now specifically asked about their human rights work. Our supervision record sheet includes casework supervision; following the human rights programme with BIHR we now actively ask for human rights casework examples.

The advocates have gained confidence in raising human rights issues and we have been collecting examples of the impact this has had on the women we support. For example, an advocate decided to produce a leaflet for women detained in a mental health hospital about their right to take part in an upcoming general election. The advocate produced a leaflet about the rights of the women on the ward (detained under section 3 of the Mental Health Act) to take part in elections, protected by Article 3, Protocol 1 of the Human Rights Act. The hospital staff were supportive of this information being circulated and as a result several of the women decided to register to vote for the general election.

“Both the women we work with and the Wish advocates have valued being involved with the BIHR project.” 

Support for women using services

As part of the project BIHR provided learning session for women using mental health services. We ran sessions at three of the secure hospitals where Wish provide advocacy services. The feedback from the women has been positive:

“It’s thanks to BIHR and Wish that I know my human rights. I am finally getting to meet with my boyfriend now”.

“The training has been great, it was a lot of fun and I make sure that I remind people of my human rights now”