As I discussed in the first blogs, I visited other groups both within the city and more widely. During these visits, I took photos to share with our group members when we talked about what we could learn from other groups. These photos were also included in reports I made about the visits, which were uploaded to the Staffnet site discussed in the previous post. They made the reports more interesting, and also made my service users more likely to connect with the reports, when I printed them out to share with them a little like magazine articles.
Service users wanted to be involved. They wanted reports like these relating to their project. In response to service users asking if we could take photos of our progress, and to enable the participants in the group to share this progress as they wished, I took photos with my smartphone. Initially, we only shared the photographs during the tea break with each other, but then I considered the use of a photo sharing social networking site in order to share the photos more widely with family and friends of group members. We talked about how to do this, and settled on using FlickR, a free social media tool for sharing photographs. This would mean they could share their progress with others, all that was required was internet access.
As health service employees we have a duty of care for everybody that uses our services, including protecting their data. Mindful of our Information Governance issues, this was cleared by our IG department, and clear boundaries set for the use of cameras to record progress. Consent forms were developed to capture informed consent from service users before they were photographed. Part of gaining the informed consent was to discuss what we could do with the pictures and what kind of boundaries I was operating under in terms of what information would be photographed. We made sure that the majority of the photos we took didn’t have “patient identifiable information” on them (faces, distinctive tattoos) because this made the Information Governance issues much easier to handle, and it made our service users comfortable with the process. Of course, if people didn’t wish to be photographed, we would respect their wishes.
We started to take more pictures, uploading them to the FlickR site we had set up.
As we developed the project and they became more comfortable with what was happening, they did ask to be photographed on occasion. One particularly memorable photo was of a young man holding a crop of onions he was proud of harvesting! Because of our informed consent proceedure, the subjects of the photos (if identifiabe) got a second chance to decline their permission for publication on FlickR, but if they agreed, my clinical reasoning was that it was okay to publish.
Disabled people and people with mental health issues are often socially excluded, and I felt that including the photos within the larger social network was a way to combat some of that exclusion, in our own small way. We had set up a group that was non-stigmatising- it didn’t carry “health” branding, and our group members had as much right to occupy the virtual space as any other community group. Had we encountered any adverse comments or increase in social difficulty for the group members as a result of this, we could have taken alternative action. But we didn’t.
Sometimes, the things which matter in a therapeutic group are not the things we carefully plan for. Within this group, the wildlife that we saw around us became a real hot topic of conversation, and this was another great opportunity to take pictures to share.
We also had a regular visitor in the form of our Allotment cat.
Many people with disabilities and mental health issues don’t have pets because they fear they either cannot afford to look after them, or they have lifestyles which mean they wouldn’t be able to offer the care they feel the animals need. This was the case for several of our group participants. However, they all felt very affectionate about the Allotment cat, and he seemed to return their affection. He would visit during every group, and was inevitably fed and offered a saucer of milk by the group. He would then make his way from knee to knee, offering every group member the opportunity to give him a stroke or two. Who knows what effect this affection has on a person with limited social skills?
At this point, I felt I needed to learn more about Social Media, in order to really maximise how we used it within the group; so I attended a local Social Media Surgery. I am immensely grateful for the help I received there. I felt encouraged to venture further into the realms of social media.
What are your views about using photo sharing social media with mental health service users? Please share in the comments.
To find out our next steps, watch out for my next post.