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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Travelling and perceptions

Monday, 14 May

If you read this blog regularly, you’ll know I was in Philadelphia last week for the American Psychiatric Association congress. My predecessor, Dinesh Bhugra, has an amazing stamina for travel which I think I lack! There were many long waits in airports, but these were improved by chatting to international associates living across the world who hold fond memories of their time spent in training or on secondment in the UK. Their interest in what is happening in the UK is genuine, and I found their experiences of working in places like South America and Africa fascinating. We can learn a great deal from them.

On Friday morning, after an overnight flight, I arrived bleary-eyed at Paddington station to meet a very bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Clare Gerada, en route to Cardiff. It made me think that many of the royal colleges have a strong female leader – Clare at the GPs and Lindsay Davies at the Faculty of Public Health, and we’ll soon be joined by Hilary Cass who will take office at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health at their annual conference next week. I hope that we will all be able to make a strong alliance around helping families.

While I was away, I made quite a few taxi journeys. I often wonder how other psychiatrists deal with the “And what do you do?” question. Over the years, the silence that often used to follow my answer, “I’m a psychiatrist”, has lessened. And, no doubt like many of you, giving such an answer has meant I’ve listened to many taxi drivers’ woes, concerns about family members and, of course, a stock set of psychiatrist jokes.

But the response I had from a taxi driver the other week intrigued me. He said that 30 years previously, he’d “worked in submarines”. On the submarine, they had a psychiatrist observing the behavioural patterns of humans living in confined spaces under the sea. Apparently this psychiatrist honed in on the submarine’s engineer, who had a daily habit of washing and hanging up to dry one sock each day. The psychiatrist was totally fascinated and baffled by this – no one told him that the engineer only had three socks. So if this was your PhD (or that of someone you know!), please tell me!

On Saturday, I attended a UK meeting of the World Association for Psychosocial Rehabilitation, which was hosted by Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust. This meeting is always well attended by colleagues from across the UK, and we had a very interesting presentation from Scandinavia about models of rehabilitation. It was interesting to hear how cuts are being made in mental health even in countries which we may regard as being well-resourced.

The meeting was a good opportunity to catch up with colleagues and friends from the north west, including members who are very active in the work of the College. Over lunch, we had discussions about how staff grade psychiatrists would like to be more involved in the College, and how they would like their important work to be better recognised within the College, by colleagues and by government. I will follow through on this.

On Sunday morning, I enjoyed listening to Sheila Hollins on Desert Island Discs (if you missed it, you can listen again). She is the second female psychiatrist to appear on the programme recently – many of you will remember Gwen Adshead’s appearance in 2010.  It is fantastic for our specialty to have members appear on this iconic programme, sharing who they are, giving insight into how diverse and creative psychiatrists are, and what psychiatrists can contribute to society.

Rocket ship with Jedi WarrierIn the afternoon, we found some distraction activities while we waited for the football results. We visited the beautiful Tatton Park for their Biennial 2012, an exciting exhibition of contemporary art. The theme is ‘Flights of Fancy’ so there were lots of rockets and UFOs to be found throughout the gardens (see this photo of a rocket complete with our very own Jedi warrier).

I was of course delighted to hear the final scores, before hearing not very tuneful renditions of Blue Moon float across the streets of the city.

On a less positive note, the solution to the leaking roof did not work. I am now strangely resigned to the water feature in the corner of my living room. But, as I’m attempting to downsize, I don’t think the estate agent shares my perception.


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