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I recently organised a Fellows event in Norwich to debate declining mental health levels, and it attracted some unexpected attention

I’ve always been out about my own wavering mental health and have a family history of depression, breakdown and suicide.

And so with some enthusiasm I organised a debate and invited local RSA Fellows to come along. My goal was to encourage people to start thinking about how increasingly unrealistic societal expectations are creating mental health problems. Particularly worrying is that increasing numbers of children are becoming ill. A general concern that the education system is not sufficiently recognising individuality could be a contributing – or at least unhelpful – factor. Conformity with national standards is the name of that game.

Bookings quickly came in and it became clear that the mediaeval church I’d booked as a tranquil venue was going to be full on the night.

And then I had a rather unexpected email from the ‘Campaign to Save Mental Health Services in Norfolk & Suffolk.’ They felt I was wrong to invite speakers from organisations that provide mental health services without including them, so I explained that my intention was to stage an event that addressed the causes and not the potential treatments or care.  

We agreed to disagree and their website announced that they planned a protest outside the venue on the evening of the debate. This rattled me somewhat and I turned to the team at the RSA for advice. We decided to continue with the event and everyone who’d booked was emailed and encouraged to speak with the protesters as they arrived. In true RSA spirit, we did just this. I also offered them drinks and when it was time to start, invited them in to take part.

Our speaker line up included the Chair of our local mental health NHS Trust and the CEO of the local Mind but as well as providers of mental health services, we also heard from RSA Research Assistant Tom Harrison (who blogged recently about an innovative new approach to mental health support here in Norwich). The CEO of the local Community Foundation also spoke, as his organisation has created a new mental health fund which already has raised more than £300,000 to fund grassroots projects.

Early intervention was a key message, with real concern expressed about the need to help schools combat poor mental health, both in the classroom and staffroom.

As the debate drew to a close, an audience member who worked in the education system stepped forwards and admitted that a recent breakdown had forced him to change his career path. He offered to work with other Fellows to do something practical to help schools deal with this growing problem. Others volunteered to help and the conversation continues.

He tells me he didn’t come along with a project in mind, but simply because the theme of the evening appealed to him. I’ve connected him with a few other key people and next month the group he’s formed are meeting to formulate a plan.

That illustrates to me more than anything, the strength of the RSA network and the power of the brand to connect and inspire. If you’d like to know more about the group and their follow up activity let me know and I’ll put you in touch.

Robert Ashton FRSA

Thinking about running your own event? Have a look at our online guide for tips and advice from the team here at the RSA.






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