Care Opinion aims to be a place where you can share your experience of health or care services, and help make them better for everyone. But how might you benefit yourself if you post your story on Care Opinion?
Dr Chris Blackmore, university teacher and researcher in mental health at Sheffield University with a particular interest in the role that stories play in the lives of people with mental health problems, reflects on this question.
Even a brief look through some of the rich and varied stories on Care Opinion reveals that the emotional transactions involved in sharing feedback about health and care services on a public forum are complex. For many authors on Care Opinion, the idea of coming forward and speaking up may be a challenge. Can I work out how to post my message? Will I be taken seriously? Can I write in a way that people will understand? I don’t want to be disloyal or make a complaint, but at the same time, I want my story to be heard – should I speak up?
For those who do speak up, and post their story, there are a number of benefits that might follow. Perhaps the most fundamental, which this dialogue and many others exhibit, is the sense that they have been listened to. A message has found the relevant people, been heard, and some change has come about as a result.
Sometimes change happens for writers during the dialogue
There may be a sense of satisfaction in bringing about a positive change, either for the author’s own care or for that of others. Authors can take comfort from the feeling that others will receive good care; perhaps better than the care they themselves received.
Sometimes change happens for writers during the dialogue. Positive interactions with healthcare staff may resolve some of the negative feelings around an individual’s care, and people may report feeling relieved that their pain, confusion or resentment have lessened. This is sometimes facilitated by face-to-face meetings, such as in this instance where the author feels genuinely listened to and understood. The face-to-face meeting would likely never have happened were it not for them posting their story online.
There are also benefits to be found in the act of writing. The American Psychologist James Pennebaker’s work shows the benefits of expressing emotion via writing, through a variety of means including letters and diaries. There are significant benefits to both mental and physical health for people who are able to write about emotional trauma. This may relate in part to the process of externalizing a problem, something which is a component of narrative therapy, where a problem is described or depicted as an external issue rather than an inherent characteristic, which is more likely to lead to self-blame and low self-esteem.
In addition, the process of writing enables the author to solidify a narrative, to clarify the sequence of events, to reflect and potentially reassess it. It may be possible to assert a sense of control over events that were previously confused or disturbing.
In some stories, there is a sense of relief that someone is able to get something off their chest
There may be other, less obvious benefits to people posting their stories. Some authors report a sense of support and solidarity when they realise how many others have read their story. It is not uncommon for stories to be read by dozens or hundreds of people, and for many authors, the awareness that their message has been read by many people unknown to them is significant. In some stories, there is a sense of relief that someone is able to get something off their chest, or describe something painful. And the public disclosure of a health condition may also be important. It is possible that some Care Opinion stories have been posted in part to convey information to others, or acknowledge things that were unspoken or unshared.
In situations where things have gone wrong with someone’s care, admitting, describing and sharing this perspective can be an important step on the road to acceptance and healing. Towards the end of a long and in places painful dialogue one author reflects on how their use of Care Opinion ended in constructive conversations where, the author says, “I felt empowered and understood and believed and respected… which is all I ever needed in the first place from my crisis care.”
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