Buckinghamshire Mind is a local mental health charity that supports people across Buckinghamshire. Last year they created the Bucks Mind Guide, a fantastic resource with helpful links to all kinds of services that can support people with mental health problems.
So, in my bid to make a chatbot for everything, I started thinking about how I could take the masses of information in the guide and convert it into a conversational experience and build a chatbot. My first thought was that because there was so many options for users to ask about and the bot to provide answers for, it couldn’t use button like most of my other bots and would need to recognise keywords and respond accordingly. I considered using Dialogflow (I used used it a while ago when it was API.AI) to handle picking up the keywords, and may still do so later, but to keep it simple I started with using Labels to pick up the keyword entered by the user and jump to the section of the flow that could provide an answer related to that keyword.
Now, I just need to add to the number of keywords the bot can respond to, and make the messages more friendly.
When reviewing Bucks Mind’s strategy as part of a board meeting we questioned the phrase ‘mental health problems’ in our vision of “We won’t give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets both support and respect.”
The phrase comes from Mind. Their proposition is “We’re here to make sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone”. It makes sense that a mental health charity would frame poor mental health as a “problem” so they can be framed as being part of the solution.
But is calling it a problem negative, is it part of the stigma? Should we use phrases like ‘poor mental health’, ‘mental health issues’, or ‘illness’?
Often, having poor mental health is a problem for the person experiencing it, but as disability campaigners have often said that it is society that ‘disables’ people and prevents them from taking an active role in society, not that they have a physical limitation. Perhaps mental health is the same.
We’re experts: We bring focused mental health expertise to our partnerships and the services we provide.
We’re positive: We help people to take an active role in their recovery.
We work in partnership: In Buckinghamshire we know that bringing together different perspectives can help identify solutions to different problems.
We’re community focused: In Buckinghamshire we work with people in their communities. We believe in supporting people to live the lives they want, as fully as possible.
We’re inclusive: We support people so that they can be open about who they are, without worrying about discrimination, knowing they will be accepted.
I’ve been doing some data analysis work for Bucks Mind to look at deprivation factors across Buckinghamshire and how these factors might affect the mental health of residents who may then need the services of Bucks Mind.
There are 32,844 wards across the UK, each with it’s own Multiple Deprivation Index rank and ranking for factors that affect deprivation such as barriers to housing and services, education, skills & training, and employment.
This shows how wide the problem is with some of the areas surrounding the town as greatly affected as those in the town.
There is a very pronounced east/west split for Educational, Skills and Training, and some wards in Aylesbury Vale are in the 10% most deprived in the UK and the majority of Aylesbury is in the bottom 50%.
Employment also shows quite a divide between the east and west areas of Aylesbury and again the majority of the town is in the bottom 50%.
I attended a meeting of the Accommodation Subcommittee to consider how we can ensure the buildings used by Bucks Mind are fit for purpose for our current needs and what the future needs of the charity might be.
It also bought up some interesting questions around where our service users live compared to where our services are provided, where areas of need might be, and how we might be able to map all of this in a way that guides the future development of services.
As I was driving home I also thought about how it’s possible to take a ‘digital’ approach (using data to drive decision-making) using non-digitally obtained information (the location of current and possible service users).
This year’s Annual General Meeting of Buckinghamshire Mind included a really good overview of how the organisation has progressed over the past year and all the new services and partnerships that have been developed.
We were also privileged to have the rt Hon John Bercow, the speaker for the house of commons, as our guest speaker. John talked about how mental health issues can affect anyone, from any area of the country, and any age. He also talked about how the demand for mental health support will always exceed what is available from the NHS, and how important it is that charities like Bucks Mind are there for people who need support.
We had some difficult discussions at today’s board meeting, and had to make decisions that feel like a compromise between what is best for the service users and what might be better for the organisation in the long run.
Having to make these kinds of decisions is exactly why a charity needs a board of trustees with a diverse range of skills and broad experience, to bring different opinions to the discussion, and a good chair to ensure that all opinions are heard and considered, and that a clearly understood decision is reached.
As Bucks Mind’s board of trustees grows in size with each new recruit and each board member gets to know each other with every meeting, I think we are becoming a board that can balance complicated and conflicting discussion and reach decisions that are as good as they can be for all concerned.