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Hope to beleaguered mental health services and its patients

Lucky to be alive champion brings hope to beleaguered mental health services and people using those services

Media Release 1st November 2016

By any standard Ron Coleman is lucky to be alive. He has survived juvenile sexual abuse, 13 years of severe mental illness, early onset type 2 diabetes, heart by-pass surgery 11 years ago, and two heart attacks this year alone. But the tenacious Scot refuses to become another of the survivors of mental illness who succumb long before their time. He has work to do and yesterday began a tour of New Zealand delivering the seven Hearing Voices training sessions he and his wife Karen Taylor have been planning during his recovery from his last heart attack.

It is an unacceptable fact that people who experience serious mental illness have a much lower life expectancy than those who don’t. A prime cause of the physical ravages that shorten those lives is the potent anti-psychotic medication that is prescribed with the intention of suppressing the audible hallucinations or voices that people experience. For 25 years Ron Coleman has been educating people that it doesn’t have to be like this. His approach, which is now shared by thousands of voice hearers around the world, involves accepting the voices, questioning them, understanding where they come from and learning to manage and live with them. He acknowledges that medication can help but it is not the only answer and it brings serious side effects with it which he knows too well.

Ron Coleman is a respected leader of the international hearing voices movement that has burgeoned in Europe, Australia and the United States in recent years. It is also attracting recognition in mainstream mental health services in New Zealand with a number of DHBs in New Zealand now introducing voices awareness training to their staff. In 2002 Ron and Karen formed their own company, Working to Recovery, and since then have travelled the world delivering highly effective training to both people who hear voices and professionals who work with them. In recent years they have developed recovery houses in the UK, Italy and Australia, with plans to establish one in New Zealand soon. Recovery houses enable people to spend a longer period of time in a safe and supportive environment focussing on their own recovery using the skills and techniques that are taught in the Working with Voices workshops.

This is not Ron and Karen’s first visit to New Zealand – the last was in 2011 – but organisers of this tour, Adrienne Giacon of Hearing Voices Network Aotearoa and Lisa Archibald of Kapiti’s Te Ara Korowai peer advocacy and support service, believe that the nationwide training will provide the opportunity to effect a long anticipated step forward for mental health services here.

Says Adrienne, “We have block bookings on this tour for staff from regional branches of large mental health NGO providers. With an increasing number of professionals learning these skills we really hope there will be a lasting effect of improved service for voice hearers.” Lisa adds, “The uniqueness of this training is that in most of the workshops, people who hear voices will be learning alongside professionals that work with them. This will help break down the “us and them” demarcation that has for too long existed in mental health services.”

With continued good luck (!) Ron and Karen will be available for interviews during their tour which started in Whangarei yesterday with a sold out attendance. They are presently in Auckland, then travel to Christchurch, Palmerston North and Wellington before returning to Auckland for a final workshop on 18th November.

© Scoop Media

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