Turning Lived Experience into Lived Expertise

Larry-Davidson-PhDThe International Leadership Academy Fund has been established at the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care. It aims to prepare persons with lived experiences of mental ill health and recovery to take on leadership roles within their own local, regional, and national systems of care across the globe. The idea for this fund, and the program it seeks to develop, emerged from a meeting of prominent system leaders and advocates with lived experience who came together at Yale University in May of 2014. The meeting was sponsored by the International Institute for Mental Health Leadership (IIMHL), directed by Foundation Chair Fran Silvestri, and was held to invite input from leaders with lived experience as to how the work of the IIMHL could benefit from the wisdom they and others had accrued through their own personal experiences of recovery and mental health system transformation efforts. The meeting was co-chaired by Larry Davidson, a professor of psychology at Yale and member of the Foundation Board, and Anthony Stratford of MIND Australia, and included lived experience leaders from Scotland, England, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and the U.S.

The premise of the meeting was that mental health systems of the future will be led increasingly by persons who have acquired expertise through their own life experiences (as well as from other sources). People with what one participant—Eduardo Vega from San Francisco—proposed be described as “lived expertise” in recovery have the requisite sense of urgency, as well as other untapped potential, to be effective in transforming mental health systems at all levels. Participants agreed that many of the competencies new leaders will need to do so are generic, but that leadership development alone does not equip them to bring their lived expertise effectively into their work. The development of leaders with lived expertise needs also to nurture a shared identity and collective narrative, critical thinking, recovery values, community development skills, and a vision for a humane, holistic, and coercion-free system of care. Development of leaders also needs to attract and be responsive to the needs of people as diverse as the countries from which they come, with a particular emphasis on cultivating future generations.

Initial funding by the IIMHL and MIND Australia will be used to undertake a 9-month scoping project to develop and test this idea with recovery and current system leaders in IIMHL countries and beyond and to present a full report and proposal at the IIMHL meeting in 2015. The group envisages that this international leadership academy would be accessible both through the internet and through courses on site at Yale University as well as at partner institutions. In addition to on-line and face-to-face courses, the academy could host seminars, research and produce theoretical papers, and collect and make available a wide variety of resources for leadership education and system transformation from around the world. The fundamental mission of the academy will be to transform the lived experiences of mental ill health and recovery into the lived expertise needed to achieve transformation of mental health services around the world. Initial priorities set by the group include identifying and recruiting persons with lived experience from developing countries and young adults to cultivate future generations.

The scoping review will include consulting with current system and recovery community leaders on the problems they experience with system transformation and their views on solving the problems through lived expertise leadership. It also will include reviewing current leadership development opportunities for persons with lived expertise and analyzing gaps in the market. The findings on the problems people experience and the gaps in the market will inform the development of a charter for the academy that describes the recovery values, a vision for system transformation, the rationale for the vision, and a strategy for leading change. The findings and the charter will in turn inform development of the role and functions of the academy. Once this is defined, a development plan, a sustainability plan, and an investment proposal for the academy to take to potential funders will be prepared.

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