Light at the end of the Tunnel: Problem Solving on the Piccadilly Line

Sunscreen. Thermals. A good umbrella. A magnum Sharpie (or big, black marker pen for those not in the know). Some old bits of cardboard. String. Scissors. A permit and a big role of gaffa tape.

These are some of the things I have reeled off when asked recently by budding psychology students and graduates what it takes to change mental health policy. They are the key ingredients for a Problem Solving Booth, something I’ve been working on with others since November 2016.

Problem Solving Booths started on a freezing cold day at Camden Lock. They involve two chairs and a will to help someone else, or to be helped. And they’re starting to scale across London. But that’s really only half of the story.

You might think that running Problem Solving Booths on the Piccadilly line and actually getting Londoners to talk is exciting (perhaps even unbelievable), but for me, the most exciting thing of all was the team who ran them. We were Clinical Psychologists, young people, community members, Police Officers, a Psychiatrist, designers, students and a team from ThriveLDN to name but a few. And who led us and made it happen do you think? Surely the mental health staff? This is a mental health initiative, right? No, it was the MET Police in Hounslow!

For years when I worked with young offenders, I came up against the hard interface of policing and metal health. I saw cops on the frontline dealing with impossibly challenging situations and getting terrible press. I heard young people blaming the cops for all of their woes. I saw police officers needing to be mental health workers, without the training or clinical supervision and I saw a culture where this couldn’t be talked about. I also saw one of my closest and most impressive Police Colleagues, Chief Superintendent John Sutherland, have a mental health breakdown after 20 years of policing London’s toughest streets.

It seemed to me that mental health and policing were inextricably linked but that we weren’t close to knowing what to do about it. Working in our silos as a cop on the beat and a clinical psychologist in the clinic surely wasn’t the solution. And yet this is what happened every day, until a crisis, such as the atrocity of a young person’s murder, brought us together.

So, as I stood on that Piccadilly line platform at Mansion House, surrounded by Police Officers leading a new mental health initiative, I had goose bumps. This was what excited me. Without being too dramatic, it really, really made the last ten years of my professional life. I had been part of something that had enabled this to happen.

The police get bad press and sometimes deservedly so, just like any profession or organisation. But sometimes, there’s a happy story to tell and it’s one of community, partnership and change. We had some great conversations on the tube that day through Problem Solving Booths. And it seems Londoners want more. And so do we. One Police Officer told me about the time he got PTSD from a gun being held to his head. And we had a pretty useful conversation. Or I hope we did. It’s certainly one that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Dr Charlie Howard, Clinical Psychologist and Director the

Owls Organisation

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