Jodie Wallis, Advocacy Service Manager for Mind in Brighton and Hove shares her thoughts on using human rights in mental health advocacy

I’m one of the Advocacy service managers for Mind in Brighton and Hove (MiBH) and human rights lead for our most recent partnership project with the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) ‘Care and Support: A Human Rights Approach to Advocacy’.

MiBH exists to empower and support people who have experience of mental health issues living in Brighton and Hove, East Sussex and West Sussex.  We provide a range of services which provide support and help to enable people to make choices about the services they use and treatment they receive. As a rights based organisation, advocacy has always been a key part of what we do. We provide Independent Mental Health Advocacy, Community Advocacy and Independent Advocacy under the Care Act.

We’ve been working with BIHR for 6 years now on 2 projects which have both aimed to empower advocates, clients and other organisations to use human rights to achieve positive outcomes. As part of our most recent 3 year partnership project with BIHR we have been able to benefit from training provided by BIHR for both our advocates and our clients. This has significantly increased our confidence in using human rights language as a way to challenge decisions and protect people’s rights.

‘I have found human rights to be a powerful tool which make me feel empowered as well as to help my clients feel empowered. Having knowledge of human rights can help to validate wishes or the concerns of someone and give a sense of confidence to take action.’

We have also been involved in creating some powerful, effective resources for advocates, other service providers and clients which have not only enhanced our work but helped to raise awareness of the issue with a wider audience:

‘BIHR has done a really good job with the resources. Everyone we have shared them with – advocacy partners, commissioners and other local organisations – have been really positive.’

We’ve learnt a lot from BIHR and the other partner organisations involved, and continue to develop our knowledge and confidence in this area. As a rights based organisation, we’ve always embedded human rights in the work we do, but BIHR have given us more ideas about how to make it part of our everyday work and not take its power for granted. Many of our advocates have said that it’s reinforced what they thought they knew and given them more confidence to use the language and ‘put it on the table’ with key professionals and decision makers.

‘Since attending training on human rights I have been able to use them as a grounding to challenge decisions made by health care professionals and local authorities on behalf of my clients. They have also been a great tool to initiate action and to help professionals consider the impact restricting them can have on a person.’

As an organisation we are exploring further ways of embedding human rights into our processes and systems such as including it as a standalone agenda item in staff/volunteer inductions, supervisions and team meetings.  One common barrier we face to using human rights is the fear from clients that by raising human rights as an issue might have a negative impact on the care they receive. We continue to help clients to overcome this fear by providing information and raising awareness whilst ensuring we remain a person centred, client led service.

We look forward to continuing to work with BIHR in the future so that MiBH can provide clients with as many tools as possible to ensure their rights are protected and feel more in control of their own care and treatment.