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Together on Paul O’Grady show

Posted on 21, October 2008

One in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point, yet there is still stigma surrounding mental health issues. That’s why Paul O’Grady and the team behind his Channel 4 show decided to tackle the problem with a number of features aimed at dispelling the preconceptions about people suffering from mental ill-health.

Together  was one of three charities chosen to get involved, and on Tuesday 21 October 2008 Paul invited Anne Beales on to his famous sofa to talk about Together’s work. Anne, who has personal experience of what it’s like to live through mental illness, is the Director of the Service User Involvement Directorate (SUID). She has been very unwell at times in her life, and so it might have surprised some of Paul’s viewers to learn that she recently received an MBE for services to healthcare, for supporting others with experience of mental ill health.

“Being treated with such respect by the production team and by Paul himself was uncanny when I compared it to how I’d been treated when using some services,” says Anne. “I think it was a good way to reduce misunderstanding and prejudice around who people are – who are these people with mental health problems? We are just everyday people.”

After mingling backstage with celebs like glamorous ‘wag’ Abi Clancy and of course Paul’s famous pooches Buster and Olga, Anne took to the sofa, sidling up to hunky Scott Maslen, otherwise known as Eastenders’ Jack Branning.

As her stage fright became a distant memory Anne told the audience about Together’s Wellbeing Approach to Involvement, and how when individual service users take an active role in supporting people, their own mental health significantly improves.

Anne’s most important point was that while mental distress might seem like a negative experience in a service user’s life, it can be turned in to a positive contribution. By helping others through similar periods they can improve their own wellbeing, and by informing professionals who come in to contact with those with mental health problems of what it is really like, this valuable knowledge can lead to better care.

“I couldn’t have done it without the brilliant support of the Service User Involvement Directorate,” she says. “I think my thanks in particular need to go to Claire Monger and Vicki Kington at the National Office for understanding the needs of a diva! And a big thank you to the service users and staff who came to cheer me on, as well as the volunteers who manned the phones to accept calls from the public after the show.”

The response Together fantastic, with an increase in calls and emails from the public and the press wanting to know more about the service user involvement work we deliver.

Anne proved that the voice of experience is key to educating people about issues surrounding mental health, and in sharing her own experiences with Paul and the rest of the country live on television she acted as a wonderful spokesperson for Together and people with experience of mental ill health.

Anne adds: “A service user once said to me that if you have a lot of little nightlights and join them together, it eventually becomes a bright shining beacon. My appearance on Paul O’Grady was just one little nightlight, but soon we’ll have a beacon – and that beacon can end stigma about mental health for good.”