Last August, the UK Inquiry into Mental Health and Well-being in Later Life issued its final report, Improving Services and Support for Older People With Mental Health Problems.
According to the report, mental health problems in later life are not inevitable. Depression, for example, is preventable and treatable. But current services are often inadequate.
The report gave the "thumbs up" to Rushey Green Time Bank for work dealing with depression in older adults. The time bank is located in a general practice in Lewisham, south east London. It is the brainchild of Dr. Richard Byng.
We wanted to learn more, so AHB caught up with Dr. Byng in London.
Ruth Dempsey: What inspired your interest in time banks?
Richard Byng: My interest was sparked both by an immediate impulse and longstanding frustration, frustration at the few options open to physicians for assisting disadvantaged vulnerable people. And the immediate impulse came from hearing Edgar Cahn, founder of the time bank movement in the United States, talking on the radio.
That day, I was set to travel to Leeds for a meeting. But when I heard Cahn was speaking at a seminar in London, I decided to miss the dull Department of Health meeting and check out what time dollars could offer. I was especially interested in how the idea might work in the U.K.
Definitely, one of my best decisions!
RD: And Cahn convinced you time banking could work?
RB: I could see the possibilities. In our practice, we knew we were limited in the opportunities we could offer individuals to fulfill their potential. The time bank concept seemed to offer a win-win solution. Time banks allow people to amass time credits by participating in or providing a service that enriches the wider community. These credits are then deposited in a time bank and can be spent on a wide array of skills and services on offer from other bank members.
For me, the most important aspect of time dollars and time banks is that people are empowered through giving and doing rather than receiving and being done to. I knew that although many patients might be considered "heartsick" or vulnerable, they have much to offer society. But as Cahn says, "If you are constantly defining people by what they lack or need, it’s not difficult for people to lose sense of what they have to give."
RD: What did you do to get the project underway?
RB: I was lucky to have partners in the practice, who were extremely interested and supportive. After meeting Cahn, we decided to launch the first time bank in a health-care setting in the U.K.
RD: Did you talk to your patients in advance?
RB: Yes, we organized a small meeting with some patients and members of staff. And invited Edgar Cahn. He inspired us to continue with our plans.
RD: Were you able to get financial support?
RB: We obtained financial support from the King’s Fund, an independent charitable foundation in London, and we developed the project in partnership with the New Economics Foundation. We were able to employ a half-time coordinator to manage the project and recruit members.
RD: When did you actually launch the project?
RB: Early in 2001, we held a meeting in the waiting area of our practice and featured poetry, food and music. That evening, we recruited our first members.
RD: Reciprocity is as an important plus of time banking, especially for older people. Is that right?
RB: Yes, indeed. Everyone is assumed to have something they can offer whether it’s stuffing envelopes, giving somebody a lift to the shop or doctor’s office, making phone calls from home, participating in a mutual support group or checking up on people after hospital discharge.
RD: How are older people involved? Can you give me an example?
RB: They are involved in a number of ways from organizing to evaluating to participating in gardening groups, social events, baking cakes or just coming along to the group and singing a song.
Today, members run several activities such as walking groups, poetry workshops, drop-ins and Italian and Spanish classes.
RD: Are time banks more common today?
RB: Yes, time banks have sprung up all around the U.K., over the past decade, including in other health care settings where clinicians are able to refer or suggest patients become members.
RD: Finally, a project, like this one, demands energy and commitment on the part of many people. What rewards have you found?
RB: You are right. It has indeed required enormous energy and commitment from organizers as well as from the members who have continued to join and participate. Today, the Rushey Green Time Bank is a thriving independent charity with its own management committee, but it’s still located in the Rushey Green Group Practice.
The rewards are obvious. They mostly have to do with seeing people who felt written-off, now happily engaged and contributing to the community.
Editor’s Note: For more information about the Rushey Green Time Bank, contact Maria Meska at rusheygreen @ gmail.com.