An interview with Debora Mo

Local resident Debora Mo was appointed to work with Greenwich CCG's mental health commissioning team in December 2017. She talks about fighting the stigma around mental health and breaking taboos.

What do you do in your role?

My role is essentially to make sure the experience of people using local mental health services is never too far removed from the mind of commissioners. But it's a two-way process: commissioners learn about what works and what doesn't, and of any gaps in services. Residents can benefit by improving their awareness of what help is available to them, but also by knowing someone is actually listening to their concerns.

How does your personal experience help you in your role?

Fighting the stigma and fear associated with poor mental health is another fundamental aspect of my job. I'm a Greenwich resident who has suffered periods of poor mental health. By being open about my own experiences I'm able to create a space in which conversations on the often taboo subject of mental ill health can more easily take place.

So, for example, last December I spoke at a Greenwich BME Forum meeting about my own experience of growing up in a different country and at a different time, where depression was neither spoken of nor properly understood. This led to a lively conversation on how different communities deal with this subject, and what challenges there might be to overcoming stigma and fear. It also led to further invitations to meet with various local groups.

I am conscious of agreeing to be a symbol locally for something that is actually very widespread. In any room I walk into where ten people are gathered, whether colleagues or members of Joe public, on average four are likely to be experiencing or have personal experience of poor mental health. It's a fact of life and one we need to be much more open about.

What are some of the ways you reach out to people?

Social media provides a fantastic way to reach a huge audience, but there are still plenty of individuals we cannot communicate with this way, and they are often amongst the most vulnerable. I am always looking for opportunities to meet members of the public in person.

Events designed to encourage the elderly out of social isolation for example can be invaluable in identifying local and specific barriers to a fulfilling social life. The devil often lies in the detail, and it can be something as small as a change in bus service or the lack of available public toilets along a route that contributes to social isolation and depression. This is also where you find out what individual GP practices are providing or not providing and what information is actually reaching people.

How do you see your role developing?

A constant source of surprise to me is how rich the borough is in organisations, charities big and small, community groups and individual initiatives. There's so much partnership work going on already and it's a culture destined to continue to grow, especially where resources are scarce but needs are great and ever increasing. Strengthening local support for people with mental illness of all ages is one of four priorities in the CCG's strategy 2018-2022, and it requires strong partnerships and co-operation. So I see my role as building on those principles and I am happy to play my part, however small.