A mental health service-user who has been sectioned more than 30 times in the last 20 years has spoken of her shock at being recognised in the Queen’s birthday honours.
Jan Rogers, who receives an MBE, believes the award came as a result of her work on the expert reference group set up by the Department of Health for its review of the Mental Health Act code of practice.
She said her experience on the reference group was “brilliant” and contrasted with other organisations that ask service-users to take part in such work in order to just “tick a box”.
She said: “There were a few sections where we did make a difference. It was a huge journey for me, it was a part of my recovery that I will remember for the rest of my life.
“We were speaking to people who had the power to change things and they were there and they wanted to listen.”
Rogers, who has been married for more than 37 years – and has 10 children, including four step-children – volunteers with the Ponthafren Association, in Powys, mid Wales, which supports people with experience of mental distress.
Volunteering has played a significant part in coping with the voices and hallucinations she has experienced since she suddenly became ill in 1992 as a result of a past traumatic event.
Since then, she has been arrested and sectioned more than 30 times, and has described how she has been pepper sprayed, thrown in the back of a police van in a cage, held down in handcuffs over a wall, and stripped of her clothes in a police cell.
She said: “I have been arrested and chucked in a cell and they wouldn’t understand why I wouldn’t sit down, but it was because I thought there were 20 other people in the cell.”
She has spoken of how her treatment can be completely different with officers who know her, and therefore might allow her to pace backwards and forwards, instead of being held down, and will speak to her quietly and at a distance and even allow her a cigarette.
She has given many talks to frontline officers with Dyfed-Powys police about how the police treat mental health service-users.
Rogers said one of the reasons she volunteers is that it means she does not feel so guilty when she receives her benefits, even though she knows she cannot do paid work.
And now she says the government’s cuts and reforms to disability benefits are “knocking on my door and I just don’t know how to deal with it”, as she has an imminent reassessment for out-of-work benefits.
She fears that because she can pick up a two-litre carton, turn a page and take simple instructions, she will be found ineligible for employment and support allowance, even though when she’s taking instructions she needs to work out whether the person talking to her is real or imaginary.
She said: “I tend to joke a lot and smile a lot because I don’t see the point in walking round showing on the outside what I feel on the inside.
“I have won loads of awards, I am always smiling when I am in the paper, but apparently if you have mental health problems you’re not allowed to win awards or smile.
“I don’t mind putting hours in or working, but getting paid to do it is a whole different kettle of fish… It doesn’t make sense.”
She said she believes her experiences have proved that it is always worth speaking out.
She said: “A lot of people think it’s not worth saying anything because nothing will change. If you [think], ‘What’s the point, things will never change,’ then they never will.
“We should think the other way. We may not move a mountain but you can make a difference. It doesn’t matter how much.
“As long as one person listens, it’s one more person who understands.
“You should keep hoping that someone, somewhere, will listen and they will take it forward. That’s all you can do.”
Rogers hopes her experience with the code of practice and her other campaigning work will persuade the government that it needs to encourage disabled people to “carry on challenging things”.
And she says she hopes the government also realises that – in order to get a “360-degree view” – you need everyone around the table, including medical professionals, voluntary organisations and service-users.
She said: “The more people you have to sit round the table the better, because you can take everything into account.”