DIMH 2018 Awards

Creativityandinnovation in six areasshowcased

The Design in Mental Health Awards 2018, held at the National Motorcycle Museum on the evening of 15 May, celebrated excellence in six categories, and saw an impassioned after-dinner address by Dr Jacqui Dillon, a respected activist, writer, and speaker, who suffered childhood abuse herself, and has lectured and published worldwide on trauma, abuse, psychosis, dissociation, and healing. The Network’s editor, Jonathan Baillie, reports.

The 2018 Design in Mental Health Awards Dinner, and a preceding drinks reception, were held in the Imperial Suite at the National Motorcycle Museum near Solihull on the evening of the first day of Design in Mental Health 2018. After the guests were seated, DIMHN chair, Jenny Gill, gave a short welcome address, and introduced the night’s guest speaker, Jacqui Dillon, who described some of her own experiences of mental trauma as a child, before going on to explain how she had turned her profoundly negative early experiences in a positive direction later in life by working to help others who had suffered similar abuse.

SPEAKER’S EXTENSIVE EXPERIENCE Jenny Gill explained that Jacqui Dillon is the national chair of the Hearing Voices Network in England, an Honorary Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the University of East London,

a Visiting Research Fellow at The Centre for Community Mental Health at Birmingham City University, and a member of the Advisory Board at The Collaborating Centre for Values-Based Practice in Health and Social Care at St Catherine’s College, Oxford University. She has co-edited three books, and published numerous articles and papers. Her experiences of surviving childhood abuse and, subsequently, of using psychiatric services, inform her work. She is an outspoken advocate and campaigner for trauma-informed approaches ‘to madness and distress’, who in 2017 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Psychology in recognition of her services to mental health by the University of East London, ‘a fabulous honour’, since she had left school with no formal qualifications. She began: “What I’d like to focus on tonight is why it is really important to create sanctuary for people. As Jenny mentioned, I am chair of the

Hearing Voices Network, and I myself hear voices. Of course hearing voices is still very much ‘taboo’ in our culture – even sometimes when you are seeking therapy and treatment for the condition – which can be very problematic, and I plan to discuss this tonight.”


Dr Dillon moved at this point to talk about her own life, and particularly her early years, showing a slide of her as a five-year old in East London, where she grew up, and noting that by the time the photograph had been taken, ‘lots of horrible things’ had already happened to her. She had not only grown up amid considerable poverty, but had suffered childhood abuse, as had other children in her family and others in the local area. She added: “The consequences of such experiences – as you can imagine – are absolutely devastating, but one of the most profound things was to be betrayed by the very people meant to be protecting me. The core part of my own healing has thus been about trying to find faith, after all the neglect, the blame, and the threats.” The abuse had been compounded, she said, by the ‘very deprived surroundings’ she grew up in 1950s Hackney. She said: “I remember being quite cold and miserable, but one saving grace was that I loved art and beautiful things as a child. I used to visit the library and read books, and loved looking at art. For me the beauty of art and reading books, and my imagination and ability to imagine an alternative existence, were key. It’s important to remember that even when people have had devastating personal experiences, they may well enjoy a rich fantasy world. This is something we need to tap into.”

DIMHN chair, Jenny Gill (left), gave a short welcome, and introduced the night’s guest speaker, Jacqui Dillon, a respected activist, writer, and speaker, who suffered childhood abuse herself.


DIFFICULTY REGAINING TRUST At this point she emphasised how difficult it had been for her – and the same applied to others who had suffered similar emotional and physical abuse – to rebuild their lives and trust in the mental healthcare system, when, as she put it, staff within it had ‘failed them’, or indeed failed to believe their accounts of abuse. Renowned British psychologist, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst, John Bowlby, had talked much in his work of the importance to individuals of not only having secure relationships, but also ‘secure space’. For her, however, neither the secure relationships nor the safe space she had needed to develop as a happy, fulfilled child materialised; at times she entered a phase of self-denial, trying to convince herself that her ‘bad experiences’ were not actually happening.

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