In this guest blog, Jo Wootton, a service user at Cygnet Hospital Kewstoke, talks about the programme she devised that allows patients to take control of their own recovery.

Jo created My Awareness and Action Plan (MAAP), which, as well as helping service users to take the initiative in their recovery, provides staff with a helpful summary of how best to support a service user in times of crisis. 

MAAP recently won the Innovations in My Shared Pathway and Recovery category at the National Service User Awards, which were hosted by Cygnet Health Care, an independent provider of specialist mental health services. The event was driven by Cygnet’s Service User Events team, which did everything from choosing the menu to designing the room.

“My name is Jo, and I am a service user at Cygnet Hospital Kewstoke. This is not my first time in hospital. My journey through mental health services started when I was 15. I was struggling with anxiety and bereavement issues at the time, and received support from a community team. 

“When I was 17, I started working for a healthcare company where I coordinated care packages for a variety of service user groups. I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder around the same time but, despite daily struggles with anxiety and difficult relationships, I continued to work until I was 21, at which point my anxiety and agoraphobia became so severe I had to leave work as I had become more or less housebound. I continued to receive community support until my first hospital admission in 2012. Since then, I have moved between several placements, struggling with self-harm, depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety and agoraphobia.

“In previous placements it has been difficult to communicate my ideas, as I felt they were often not listened to. At Cygnet Hospital Kewstoke, though, I have good relationships with the staff, and I feel more able to offer my opinions and share my ideas, knowing they are being taken seriously and appreciated. Being listened to definitely helps me trust the staff.

“Sometime towards the end of last year I came up with the idea for MAAP during a community meeting with other service users and staff. We were having a discussion about 1:1 sessions with nursing staff, and how these can sometimes be difficult when staff are not familiar with what can help a service user and what triggers can make a situation worse. I came up with the idea of having a flashcard, which could be kept in a service user’s folder, to set this out clearly. 

“We then continued to talk about other things that would be useful on such a flashcard, for both staff and service users. For example, it is good to know your own early warning signs and triggers, and also how you can take action and help yourself. The key to this flashcard idea was that service users would complete it in their own time, and would take the lead on doing so.

“After discussing the concept during the meeting, I worked with staff to help finalise the idea and, hence, MAAP was created. Since MAAP has been in use, I have noticed that staff members now acknowledge my ideas on what helps during 1:1 sessions. For example, I have asked that staff try to engage me in more games when I am distressed, which has been happening. I have also been helping other service users fill in their MAAP and, whilst doing this, they have expressed that they find it useful to remind themselves about what is helpful and what is not. Other feedback I’ve received has included how MAAP is easy to fill out, is clearly presented and not time pressured. 

“I consider myself to still be on my recovery journey. Being nominated and winning this award has given me a huge boost in confidence to continue onwards. It is a great feeling to be seen as someone whose voice counts and who has good, sensible and useful ideas. For me it helps to decrease the stigma of being in a mental health unit, as people still trust and believe in me. 

“From a young age I have always enjoyed problem solving and have always been a logical thinker. I have plans to return to work, and winning this award has helped to boost my faith in my ability to follow my plans, and reminds me that I have still got what it takes to succeed!”