Surviving or thriving? Focus on mental health

We asked Paul Francis, Senior Mental Health Recovery Officer, about awareness and services in the Swale area.

Paul explained that raising awareness of mental health to the general public through campaigns provides a valuable focus for people to recognise their own, and others’ value as human beings. This year’s mental health week back in May, focused on the theme ‘Surviving or Thriving’ and asking why too few of us are thriving with good mental health.

Paul explained that members from the Swale User Representation Forum (SURF)have been sharing their thoughts to help answer that question. It is a recognised fact that face to face social contact is something we all need, and that to boost our own mental health we need to acknowledge that we are each at the centre of our health.

Paul added: “We live in a time of great social and technological change. Face to face humane social contacts are shrinking, at the same time, expectations driven by information technologies are increasing. More is being expected of people whilst the human support we all need is fragmenting for may people.

“Increasing population changes, combined with newly emerging communities, increase the risk of social isolation – where people feel distanced from others living near them and society as a whole. With social isolation being a significant mental health issue, people need to find ways of establishing healthy social connections. Healthy social connections make us feel human.”

Rethink Mental Illness is the largest voluntary sector provider of mental health services with over 200 services in England. Founded 40 years ago through voluntary groups for people affected by mental illness, with more than 100 groups in England – they also deploy a recovery professional to facilitate the Swale User Representation Forum(SURF).

SURF provides a space for people who need mental health support to have a voice across services through:

  • Actively engaging service users and people in need of mental health support via regular communications and meetings in community venues
  • Sharing information about local services and support
  • Challenging stigma and discrimination
  • Promoting the development of self-help and self-advocacy
  • Ensuring service user views are supported and considered by service providers and commissioners. This includes involvement with the Swale Patient Liaison Group (SPLG), the Mental Health Action Group and the Community Mental Health Team.

SURF’s approach aims for service user independence and confidentiality, whilst forming a non-intrusive bridge between service users and providers. In this way support to people is extended, with potential crisis being observed earlier, and timely appropriate signposting made.

For people to have a sense of being actively engaged in improving their own mental health, and their community, SURF provides a safe fortnightly, confidential space, with positive links to information and advice from local service providers.

Membership is free and geared towards people living in Swale and having a mental health condition from; mild depression to more serious diagnosed long term conditions. Rethink Mental Illness recommends that people with mental health needs are referred to, and encouraged, to join SURF.

Members meet fortnightly at 2pm on the second Thursday of each month in Sheppey, and 2pm on the last Thursday of each month in Sittingbourne. Regular contact can be made with members through emails, texts and telephone which also ensures those people unable to attend meetings are still engaged, and can still make an input.

People can get in touch and make referrals by either contacting Paul on 01474 330282 or emailing