Voice of Experience

It is very hard to imagine what it was like to be a mental health patient at the start of the NHS.

People were still labelled "lunatics" and were shut away in asylums. There was repressive social control where patients had practically no rights, and the resulting institutionalism led many into lethargy and apathy with no aspirations of recovery.

It's still shocking to think that in past history, asylums were used to house single women who had fallen pregnant, or where aversion therapy for homosexuality was administered.

Voices of Experience (VOX) is a new, user-led national mental health service organisation. We aim to support people who have, or have had, a mental health problem to play a full part in society and to ensure that their voices can be heard and influence developments within mental health.

The contrast with the past could not be starker.

Of course it was believed at the time that removing people from stressful environments to places of refuge – asylums – and placing them in country settings was helpful.

The reality, however, was that people would hardly ever see family and friends, they had access to few, if any, effective treatments and would tend to stay for a long time, unlikely to be released.

Things started to change in the 1950s and 1960s with the rise in the patients' rights movement, tied to civil rights campaigns and the emerging shift towards care in the community.

This era saw a drastic decline in the number of residents and long-term hospital care ceased to be the norm. But there is still a need to ensure that the rights and views of those with mental health problems are heard, and we are not yet at the stage where we have equality.

VOX traces its origins back to a conference in Dundee, in 2004, when 102 service users came together from across Scotland.

A lot of hard work was put in to set up an organisation to represent mental health service users in designing and delivering services at a national level. Funding was secured from the Scottish Government and VOX was born in December 2006.

Unfortunately there is still widespread systemic discrimination. But there is now a national voice to make a positive contribution at all levels.

Currently VOX is involved in a number of bodies like the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the cross-party mental health group and the Towards a Mentally Flourishing Scotland Group.

Times have changed but there is now much greater understanding and a real commitment to listening to individuals with real experience of mental health problems and working with them as equal partners to develop mental health services for the future.

Wendy McAuslan, VOX Development Coordinator
Joyce Mouriki, VOX Chairperson

Voice of Experience