Sociology student Carmen is putting her own experiences as a mental health carer to good use. Her input into three key Certitude mental health services in Lambeth is a demonstration of how joined-up thinking can move people along the road to mental health recovery.
This energetic 20-year old works for Solidarity in a Crisis (SiaC), which provides out of hours, over-the-phone and outreach support for people experiencing a mental health crisis, Community Connections, which helps people who have become isolated by their mental health problems to make friends locally and Travel Buddies which provides public transport travelling companions for people who find it difficult to travel on their own.
“I’ve been working for Solidarity in a Crisis for over a year now and the experience has taught me three important things; firstly that most of the people we speak to have had a negative experience with the mental health profession, secondly that they are in a crisis because they have no one else to turn to and thirdly that a lot of people we talk to find it difficult to get out of the house.
“People respond well when I explain about my own experiences – I think it helps people if they realise the person they are talking to has been through something similar. At SiaC it’s about making sure people can keep themselves safe in the short-term until we can meet with them in the community or link them to another service. Once the crisis has passed it’s good if we can address their isolation and loneliness.
“Some people have no friends or family locally and others can’t get themselves out of the house, this is where both Community Connections and Travel Buddies come in. As a Community Connector I work with people to find things they enjoy doing in the community so that they can make friends locally. I travel to groups with people and help introduce them to potential friends. As a Travel Buddy I can provide that little bit of extra support some people need to make a journey – sometimes this is on public transport and sometimes people prefer to walk and chat to wherever they need to be.
“We want to reach out to as many people as possible with these services so I have been working on social media opportunities for SiaC and Community Connections.”
You can follow SiaC on Twitter @siac_solidarity and Community Connections has a website www.connectanddo.org and a Twitter feed @ConnectAndDo.
Using personal experience to connect people
“Unless you are really at rock bottom it’s hard to appreciate how precious these ordinary experiences can be,” explains Rina Deans, a Community Connector for Certitude’s innovative Community Connections project in Lambeth.
Rina is describing the impact of getting out of the house to meet people and do things you enjoy if you have been affected by mental health problems. She is in a strong position to empathise because, like all Certitude Community Connectors, she has lived experience of mental health issues herself:
“After having each of my children I had very severe post natal depression and I couldn’t seem to get out of the house. My family were all back in Japan so I felt especially isolated. I made contact with my local Women’s Institute which was perfect for me because I love crafts and I met lots of people with shared interests. I still have friends now that I made at that time.”
Community Connections was established by Certitude last year with the clear objective of supporting people with mental health issues to make friends locally. By finding out what people like to do – their interests, hobbies and aspirations – Rina and her colleagues can link people up with local groups where they are more likely to meet people they get on with. However, Community Connections is unlike many traditional “Mental Health” services.
Rina explains: “We connect people up with ordinary groups – not ones designed for people with mental health problems – because we don’t think people should be labelled everywhere they go. We don’t use the vocabulary usually associated with mental health so people are “introduced” to us, not “referred” and we’re not “support workers”, we are “life coaches”. The person tells us what they want to do, not the other way around; we design the activity around them – tailored to their needs. It’s very flexible and not at all prescriptive.”
“After an initial meeting we will work with someone for an intensive 12 week period; finding out what they like to do, going with them to local groups, making introductions, gently encouraging them to take small steps on their own and providing telephone and text support. Within three months most people have developed enough confidence to go it alone but for those needing a little bit of extra support we have volunteers who can help.
“I love this job – it’s very satisfying to watch people make small changes to their lives which can make such a big difference. And I feel working here has helped me to fully recover from my own mental health issues.”
People can be introduced to Community Connections through the usual health and community channels or they can approach the organisation directly through the website www.connectanddo.org . The website, which is open to everyone, also provides lots of information about local activities with separate sections covering Arts and Culture, Community and Helping Out, Educations and Learning, Faith and Spiritual, Out and about, Sport and Exercise. Updates are also issued from the Community Connections twitter feed @ConnectAndDo.
Trevor works within Certitude – he supports people who have mental health needs and learning disabilities and he also leads a project going into secondary schools in London running gang awareness and prevention workshops. Trevor’s life used to be very different – he has spent over half of his adult life in prison and up until recently had never worked for a living.
In the following three films, Trevor explains what his life used to be like and how it has changed for the better.
Taking Peer Mentoring Back to School
Advising school leavers with learning disabilities about how to achieve their dream job has proved an enlightening experience for a peer mentoring team from Certitude.
Certitude was approached by arts charity Shape to run a series of sessions on career options for 16-18 year olds in main stream and specialist schools last autumn. Shape had heard about Certitude’s Travel Buddies Scheme which employs people with learning disabilities to help others get out and about on public transport. Two such Travel Buddies – Rachel and Lincoln – were natural choices to peer mentor the schools project team.
Although this was slightly new territory for Managers Gianluca and Glen, they were confident that their person-centred approach combined with the experiences of their peer mentors and their own job-hunting know-how would stand them in good stead to help these young people in transition. They developed a graphic pathway approach inspired by the “Getting a Life” website and worked closely with Rachel and Lincoln to ensure the sessions were well-designed for the target audiences.
Over three months the Certitude team visited young people from schools in Hammersmith, Bromley, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Kent and found themselves on a steep learning curve.
“Each group was different,” explains Gianluca. “They had different needs, different personalities and different ideas so we had to be flexible with our approach and adaptable with the techniques we used.”
Peer mentors, Rachel and Lincoln had to overcome their fears about talking in front of an audience while Glen and Gianluca realised they needed a number of different pathway options to tailor each session appropriately.
Regardless of the group dynamics, the Certitude team soon discovered the importance of a good ice breaker to set the tone of each session. Glen explains:
“We found throwing a ball around the group with everyone introducing themselves was the most successful approach. One day we found ourselves playing a form of wheelchair basket ball in a school gym and it really brought the group together. Once that trust was established everyone found it easier to open up about their hopes and dreams for the future.”
With the ice broken a general discussion was followed by smaller breakout groups lead by peer mentors Rachel and Lincoln.“At first I found it a challenge to not just look at one person when I was speaking,” explains Lincoln. “But I realised it was important to make everyone feel included. I also understood that I needed to speak quite slowly – and remember what to say!”
For Rachel the prospect of talking in front of the group was daunting, “It was a bit scary at first but I surprised myself with how much I grew in confidence,” she says. “I learned I needed to speak more loudly and that I didn’t need to keep checking with Gianluca and Glen that I was doing OK.”
While the Certitude team were keen to encourage the participants to share their dream jobs for the future, they were also mindful of the need to offer solid, practical and realistic advice. They worked with the groups on job hunting, how to fill in an application form and even ran mock interviews.
Lincoln and Rachel were able to talk about their own experiences looking for work and to show that although it could be hard to find a job, good preparation would pay dividends. They were also able to share their first-hand knowledge about the benefits of finding a job from gaining independence and learning new skills to meeting people and making friends.
Gianluca believes that while the schools and teachers were doing a good job to support the young people in transition, there was a benefit to being outsiders coming into the schools.
He says: “I think the sessions were quite liberating for the participants; they were able to talk to us about their fears and anxieties as well as their hopes. We met some amazing young people; some had wonderful creative business ideas while others had more straightforward aspirations such as working in shops, banks, offices, cafes and as cleaners; and some – like teenagers everywhere – were planning on becoming footballers and singers. I hope in all cases we offered a good platform for discussion as well sound practical advice about how to get on the right path to achieve their dreams.”
Getting to know my sister again
A new outlook and some positive support from Certitude is enabling Shelia to connect with her sister Aileen for the first time in decades.
Shelia says: “Quite some time ago I stopped visiting my sister because I felt uncomfortable being around her. I was only going out of duty and it felt phoney. In fact most of the family had stopped having any contact with her. Then a couple of years ago I took some time out to reassess my life and as part of this process I came to realise that perhaps I had been scared of her when we were growing up. As a child she had to wear a crash helmet and big boots and her behaviour could be intimidating.
“I decided to go back to visit Aileen and suddenly I could see her in a completely new light. Her support worker, Isha, helped me to communicate with Aileen and showed me how to be comfortable around her.
“Isha has an amazing ability to be with people just the way they are. She is inclusive, inviting and accepting and she makes everyone around her feel relaxed. I think it’s a gift. Isha, and Certitude’s Intensive Interaction Worker, Lucy, showed me some incredible non-verbal methods to communicate with my sister and how to interpret how she communicates back.
“Before when I used to visit I felt sorrow being with my sister, now I love it. She holds my hand the whole time we are together and I feel very happy. Sometimes she’s in a good mood and sometimes she isn’t but it doesn’t matter – she’s my sister and it’s wonderful to be with her.
“I remember quite early on going with Isha and Aileen to a local shopping centre. I was pushing Aileen’s wheelchair and I realised for the first time that I felt so proud to be her sister.
“Now I regularly take my friends to see Aileen and my daughter Natasha recently came to Aileen’s 50th birthday – which was the first time she had visited in many years. She is a planning to bring her daughter soon and we are hoping that my dad will be the next to join the family party.
“Isha and Lucy have helped us all understand how to enjoy being with Aileen. Visiting isn’t about a sense of duty any more; it’s about having a good time.”
My Breaks: Giving life-enhancing opportunities
Fikret has made new friends and broadened his horizons with the activities he has undertaken with Certitude service, My Breaks. Meanwhile his mum, Musteyde, enjoys the time he spends away from her, secure in the knowledge that he is having a good time.
“My Breaks usually runs courses in ten week blocks,” explains Musteyde, “And Fikret is just completing his second one. The first one he did was an introduction to lots of different sports activities so he went swimming one week and then tried volleyball, football and so on. He gets picked up around 10am and is back about 4pm so it’s a good day out.
“At the moment he is coming to the end of an Art and Textiles course which has been fantastic. As well as trying different kinds of art techniques, such as lino cutting, print making and water colours, the group has been to the Royal Academy and are planning a trip to the seaside to paint. At the end of the course there is going to be an exhibition and I’m looking forward to seeing more of what he’s been up to.”
The My Breaks carers also take people on holiday and Fikret has been away several years running. His mum explains why it’s such as an important opportunity for her son:
“Fikret is very able and sociable but he still needs guidance so it’s great that – as an adult – he can go away without me and have fun while I have the reassurance of knowing that there are people with him to guide him on his way. In May he went to Bodrum in Turkey with a group who have become friends. They stayed in a hotel, went swimming, went out in the evenings, did day trips; a regular holiday really.”
My Time has been really good for Tom’s transition
Tom Shah is 24 and has been using Certitude’s My Time Service on week days ever since he left school six years ago. His Mum was apprehensive about Tom leaving the security of the statutory education system but has been pleasantly surprised by how well Tom has adjusted and how much knowledge he appears to have gained.
My Time is a person-centred service provided by Certitude which aims to support people with learning disabilities to live the kind of life they want to lead. Based in Ealing it offers a range of activities on site at the Activity and Resource Centre (ARC) in Greenford as well plenty of opportunities to get and about.
Mrs Shah says:
“Tom’s learning disability means that he didn’t really conform to the national curriculum during his school years. The fairly rigid nature of the system didn’t really suit him. With My Time he gets to do things that he is interested in and, perhaps most importantly, gets a choice about when he does things.
A Certitude My Time carer picks Tom up every day and they travel to the ARC on public transport which Tom enjoys. The team seem to have found a good balance between letting him choose what he wants to do as well as understanding that sometimes you have to work with a group. Tom likes to be doing things and keeping busy, he enjoys being outside, going for walks and having picnics. The My Time approach seems to suit him and my husband and I have been really pleased with how much he seems to have developed over the last few years.
Friends and relatives who visit us from abroad, and only see Tom once or twice a year, have really noticed a difference in his confidence and independence. We feel happy because we know that Tom is happy – and of course it’s lovely to have a break. Tom has requires a lot of our time so when he’s at My Time I can get on with things so that we are all set for when he comes home.”
Ben and Manjoula’s journey of discovery
Having recently undergone intensive person-centred training, Support Worker Ben is making good use of his new skills to find out what makes Manjoula tick.
“Manjoula has been living at Van Gogh house for several years and more recently it seems as though her life has contracted. She no longer wants to go out on her own – something she was happy to do when we first knew her – and she isn’t really interested in any of the activities we offer her,” explains Ben.
Manjoula’s reluctance to communicate or join in with activities was starting to leave her isolated. Ben applied his person-centred training and spent time with her to try and discover new ways to support her.
“Person-centred tools such as Perfect Week and Circle of Support helped us confirm that Manjoula’s Mum is very important to her, that she enjoys shopping and that she doesn’t like classroom based activities,” says Ben. “But I soon realised that person-centred thinking required a complete change in the way I think and work – aside from these processes. It made it essential for me to take a step back and to stop making assumptions. I think I learned most about Manjoula by taking the time to get to know her better, by observing her and by giving her time to make her own choices.
“For example, it became obvious from our shopping trips that Manjoula loves make up and nails– so now we are in the process of setting up a nail painting group. Similarly, Manjoula has stuck to a rigid and restrictive diet, but by taking the time to let her show us what she likes by letting her sort through the food cupboards we have been able to expand her menus. Breakfast was always tricky but now we have found out she loves Weetabix – quite a discovery!”
It also became clear that Manjoula’s circle of support – both paid and unpaid – could be expanded. Her apparent reluctance to “join in” had left her with a limited number of acquaintances and Ben was keen to find some more activities which Manjoula would enjoy and where she could make new friends.
“We were all surprised to find out that Manjoula enjoyed drama. She was given the opportunity to visit a local drama group with someone else from the house and she hasn’t looked back since. She goes once a week from 10 – 4pm and seems to particularly enjoy the improvisation.”
Manjoula has also found a local weekly church group which she likes to visit and is planning to try her hand at bird watching in the Spring. Manjoulas’s enjoyment of a night out at the pub has inspired the Van Gogh support team to set up a Monthly Pub Group with people from other Certitude houses locally. The group plan to try out a number of local pubs and will be reviewing the service, accessibility and welcome of each hostelry after every visit!
With Ben’s support Manjoula’s life is expanding, her weekly routine is taking on a new shape and her circle of support is growingAnd according to Ben the change in Manjoula has inspired the entire Van Gogh team to work more closely together.
“I’ve really enjoyed this last six months, learning more about person-centred practices and getting to know Manjoula,” says Ben. “I’m looking forward to sharing more of what I’ve learned with everyone else at Van Gogh. If I had a top tip it would be to stay determined, encouraging the person you are supporting to take centre stage in their own lives can be challenging, but the results are definitely worth the effort.”
Achieving true control
“This Individual Service Fund pilot has pushed us all to be more focused, risk-taking and person-centred. We have supported David for several years during which time, his life was hampered by his diabetes. We were amazed that with just two sessions with the community nurse David could manage his own insulin injections. Now he is in control of his own medication and doors have opened up all over his life.
Looking at David’s Perfect Week and the results of his Planning Live session it was clear that David was frustrated by the unchanging routine of his life which involved weekdays spent at a day centre and every weekend with his parents. He wanted to get out and about more, meet people, and get a job. David is fun and sociable and wanted to live more like any other young man in his thirties.
Once David was in control of his own diabetes – and he now takes his own blood sugar readings as well as managing his injections – we could explore so many more options together. In a matter of six months his life has completely changed. He cut down his day centre visits and they will probably go completely in September when he hopes to start a college course. He has a job at a cafe at Ealing Hospital which is supported at the moment but we expect him to go alone in the next few months. He travels there on the bus but only needs “shadowing support” so he’ll soon be doing that on his own too.
During the day David works out at a general keep fit class at a local church, enjoys urban tours with the Ealing Mencap Bike Hub and goes on lots of trips with Out and About. He hits the dance floor in search of a girlfriend on the last Friday of every month at The Bass. He’s met a few nice girls, there’s no one serious so far – he has made a lot of new friends though.
We’re planning a holiday to Tenerife in September where David might slow down a bit. He loves the sun and enjoys lazing the days away on the sun loungers. I might need the rest too! David’s new life is pretty hectic and demanding but the positive nature of the change has brought all the Support Workers at Uneeda together as a team. It’s invigorating to watch his transformation and his progress is so fast-moving we’ve started writing a blog to exchange news about how he’s getting on. It’s more fun and informative than writing notes and it means we’re all up to date with what’s changing.
Before it was like David was living the life others wanted for him – now he is living his own life. He’s getting to know himself and is happy to tell us what he wants. He is making friends and contacts wherever he goes and it feels like there are so many opportunities for him to explore; I’m looking forward to what comes next.”
Steve Penfold, Support Worker, Uneeda Drive
Laureta is a Certitude Volunteer. When things went very badly wrong in her previous job, Laureta thought she had ruined her chances of getting decent position again. She is very happy that Certitude has given her a second chance. Laureta explains:
“I realised that I needed to find a position which was less pressurised than my previous role in accounts with a private company and the opportunity for an interview came up at the Fanon Resource Centre. Everyone was very understanding and no one judged me on what had happened before. People here seem to have accepted my circumstances and it’s a really supportive environment.”
Laureta works a few days a week as a volunteer undertaking a variety of administrative roles from data inputting to creating spreadsheets. She is comfortable with the level of responsibility and the coaching and training she is receiving is helping her to regain her confidence. She continues:
“This feels like my kind of job; it’s quite relaxed and I am not being rushed so I’m not worrying about making mistakes. I work to a step by step work plan which feels comfortable for me and there are always plenty of people in the office to help out if I get stuck.”
With some good work experience under her belt Laureta is looking to the future – which could be within Certitude.
“I am really interested to find out more about the Beyond Prison project. I feel the experience I have had could be put to good use. I know what it’s like to feel desperate and how much better its feels once you have found the right support. I feel I could help with that.”