Storying Sheffield

Surviving, thriving, sinking.


Brendan Stone was interviewed by the University of Sheffield for Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 . This is cross-posted from here.


I’m Professor of Social Engagement and the Humanities. My home department is the School of English, and I work for the University as a Cross Cutting Director of Learning and Teaching, with responsibility for the ‘Outward Facing’ elements of our Learning and Teaching Strategy. These include looking after and supporting our work in Engaged Learning in which students learn with and alongside external partners, citizens and communities.

I’ve lived with mental health difficulties myself since I was a teenager. I’m not sure whether I’m good at looking after myself, but the things which help me include being with people I like and care about; taking time to rest and do very little; music, films, books – and bad TV! I should do more exercise, but I’m pretty active, I guess. I get a lot of satisfaction and fulfilment working with people who live with mental health problems, and also from teaching and working with students. Probably the thing I like best is having a couple of beers with a friend or friends after work and chewing the fat. Basically, I like being with people, and it does me good.

I do a lot of work in mental health, including with the Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Trust. I co-chair their Service User Engagement Group, and was responsible for developing their new strategy on engagement, co-production and inclusion. I also run the Storying Sheffield project at our University, which has developed several parallel strands including Storying initiatives in the NHS. I’m a Trustee of Sheffield Flourish (formerly Recovery Enterprises), a mental health charity which often works closely with the University and the NHS.

Sheffield Flourish is attempting to help build a more inclusive and ‘mental health friendly’ city by supporting the creation of peer support networks, facilitating diverse activities and groups, and trying to harness the expertise of people with experience of mental ill-health to influence and lead policy and practice.

If you live with a long term mental health condition then you may oscillate between (surviving and thriving), sometimes on a daily basis. And of course there’s another polarity which you might call ‘sinking’ – being completely overwhelmed. For me personally, it’s not about a journey towards thriving but trying to have the best life I can even while living with mental health problems.

“Often, of course, the things which prevent us ‘thriving’ aren’t in our control – people who are on various kinds of benefits because of their health are not having a good time at the moment, and the insecurity of losing vital money certainly doesn’t help mental health.

Everyone is different, and how best to cultivate good mental health will vary according to the person, their history, their situation, etc. I would say that the most important things are probably not medical as such, but rather having a secure place to live, having enough money to live on, having opportunities to build a life which you define as meaningful; being part of supportive networks; friendships. These won’t magically take away difficulty, of course. Plenty of people who have secure jobs etc still experience mental health problems, but on the whole it’s probably less hard if you have those things.

If I had to say one thing, I’d say work out what makes you happy or gives you a sense of fulfilment and try and find ways of doing more of that. But you may well need support in order to do that. So, look for allies – people who are on your side and can help you.”