John’s first experience of mental health services was as an assistance art therapist in his late teens in one of our huge Psychiatric hospitals in the mid-seventies. There he witnessed the joy and power of creativity in recovery but was disturbed at the treatment, control and indignity on some of the patients he got to know. Little did he know that was to be his lived experience a few decades later and that the seeds of his own mental distress had already been sown?
He then went to Liverpool Art Collage gaining a degree in fine art sculpture his love and passion and spent the next 24 years teaching art design and technology in schools. He always felt art is a means for a child’s growth and confidence in life not just skills to in part and learn. In the workshop children would be busy developing their ideas from a huge oil painting to building a mock-up of an aircraft to play in or making a survival adventure kit for the den they are building in the copse.
This came to end when it came to light some of the children he taught had been sexually abuse and he was devastated he had not realised or known and protected them. His mental health unravelled and he ended up being admitted to psychiatric hospital and eventually retired on an ill health pension and mood stabilisers for life.
Sadly no one asked “What happened to you” they only told him what was wrong with him.
It would be another 10 years in and out of services trying to hint trying to say before he met a mental health work who he trusted made him feel safe enough to say. He gradually came to realise the shameful secret he had kept for decades was a description of his childhood sexual abuse and the devastating effect it had had on his life creating another world alongside his everyday life until it overwhelmed him and his means to cope went from helpful to destructive.
Things changed for John when he went on a group therapy programme for male survivors of childhood sexual abuse with mental health problems. He learnt he was not alone that other felt as he does and that he was not ill he was traumatised and healing is possible. Understanding trauma has given him a language for recovery.
After the therapy group John along with other survivors realised this was the beginning of recovery not the end and unable to get further help formed a support group for male survivors called moMENtum (07773 151080) six years on we have groups in Barnstaple and Exeter.
Not long ago a man in the group who had said nothing gave someone in the group a piece of paper and asked them to read it. It was his disclosure of sexual abuse as a young child silenced for over 50 years. He hoped he would get the help he had so long needed; now he is but so many do not.
John was also unable to disclose his abuse for many years but the support of the group and his understanding of trauma means he is now able to sit on committees bringing lived experience perspectives to commissioners and mental health services. Recently he has talked at an event for the independent inquiry into childhood sexual abuse- truth project (https://www.truthproject.org.uk/how-it-works and the British Psychological Society’s events on guidelines for disclosure of historic sexual abuse. https://www1.bps.org.uk/system/files/Public%20files/Policy/child_sex_abuse_web_2.pdf
Along with others he campaigns for better awareness of childhood sexual abuse and trauma informed understanding in practice and policy and the importance of survivors having the opportunity to meet other survivors as part of healing.
His own healing continues and he is still in long term trauma therapy his wish is that such support be available to all survivors of childhood abuse and deprivation.
“One thing that delayed my recovery by over a decade was not having an understanding of trauma. Thus my behaviours responses feeling in my nervous system etc. had no sense for me .In the absence of sense it was no sense “nonsense”. I grasped at how it appeared to others or was presented to me […]