The group at Northover Community Mental Health Centre in Lewisham has been helping members of the community for over 15 years. Attendees are caring for loved ones with mental health problems, and they are given support and advice as well as the chance to take part in other activities.
It is an informal drop-in group that gives carers the opportunity to listen to practical talks. Subjects range from supporting someone with drug and alcohol problems, to information from NHS staff that helps carers better understand the mental health care system.
A shoulder to lean on
Sharing experiences with each other is a core part of the group.
Cath Collins, the support development worker and group coordinator, believes this to be the most important part of the meetings.
‘A carer will be talking about her situation and another carer will offer some fantastic advice that could only really come from someone who has been in that situation. There have been some quite key moments in the group,’ says Cath.
Millie Reid, carer to her son, agrees that the best part of the group is meeting other carers.
‘We all talk and when I think I’m the only one going through what I’m going through with my son, I’ve got people there who have got the same thing, the same problem,’ Millie says. ‘It does help. We talk and it takes some of the stress off my mind as well.’
Time to relax
Millie and the rest of the group also enjoy the benefits of the other services on offer, such as group outings and massages.
‘It really takes the stress off me and helps me to forget about what I’m going through for that period of time,’ she says.
Though activities are always fun when resources permit, Cath is focused on providing emotional support and practical advice.
‘My priority is education for carers so they can learn about mental health. They can learn about the system, about looking after themselves, and learn from different professionals. This enables them to give better care and reduces stress.’
Groups like Northover carers are a big part of providing quality care for people with mental health problems.
More information about carers’ groups and services in the area can be found in the Trust Handbook for Carers and Families, available on the SLaM website.
You can also help carers, who provide such an important service within the mental health system. Learn how you can make a gift to support programmes like this.]]>
‘I love it – I absolutely love it! The social thing about it, I love the positive encouragement, the physicality- everything. It’s so incredibly satisfying to do.’
‘Before, I was having a really bad time of it, I was struggling a lot with self-confidence and self-belief. I was really doubting myself and my abilities- and I still do, but I’m surrounded by really positive people here.’
Watch the video below to find out more about how the project has made a difference to people's lives.
To help us keep funding projects like this, make a donation today.
The first of its kind
When South London and Maudsley Hospital agreed to be the subject of Channel 4’s Bedlam, a four-part documentary series depicting the reality of mental illness, their goal was to raise awareness of mental illness and change public perception.
Broadcast in October and November last year on Channel 4 and produced by The Garden Productions, each of the episodes featured a different angle on mental illness.
‘People who aren’t exposed to mental illness don’t see the realities of dealing with it,’ says Sarah Hall, Communications and Media Manager at Maudsley. ‘It was a major risk for us to take part. But we felt the time was right.’
Sarah’s instincts were on the mark. When the episodes were aired, the social media reaction was enormous. Use of the hashtag #Bedlam on Twitter overtook the number of tweets about Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. The web was awash with comments, personal experiences and arguments sparked by the programme.
‘We struggled to keep up with the thousands of comments, discussions and opinions on Twitter and are still analysing it all,’ says Sarah. ‘Overall, I would say the response is 95 per cent positive, which is far higher than we ever dared to imagine.’
A deeper look into the programme
The first episode, Anxiety, followed patients through Bethlem Royal Hospital’s 18-bed Anxiety and Disorders Residential Unit. Crisis covered Lambeth Hospital’s Triage ward – the Accident and Emergency of mental health – where patients are at their most unwell. Psychosis filmed a community mental health team, while Breakdown focused on older adults. This was the most extensive filming ever to take place at Maudsley Hospital.
‘When I was first asked to work on the programme, I jumped at the chance,’ says Simon Darnley, principal cognitive behavioural therapist at the Anxiety Disorders Residential Unit. He specialises in treating people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and was featured in Anxiety.
He believes that the programme has been an ideal way to educate people about what OCD really is, the anxieties that come with it and what happens on the specialist unit.
‘We care for people with some of the most severe cases of OCD in the country and many of them don’t feel they are understood,’ he explains. ‘So being in a film like this, I hope, will be affirming for them. I think it was really brave of people who took part to say, “Look, this is me, I am unwell and I am not ashamed.”’
Public reception of Bedlam
Guardian journalist Sam Wollaston wrote: ‘It's brave of Bethlem’s staff and patients to open its doors to the cameras. It also seems like a natural and sensible thing to do, going along with the idea that people with mental health problems shouldn’t be locked away from the world, as they used to be when they were called mad and Bethlem was called Bedlam.’
Has Bedlam changed attitudes and perceptions?
‘It’s certainly generated debate, says Sarah, and that’s a great start. ‘Mental health found the platform it has deserved for so long,’ she says. ‘Bedlam has enabled us to open our doors to the public, to show them what we really do. It has allowed people a glimpse of the complex world of mental illness, one they may never have had the opportunity to see before.
‘I am not expecting perceptions to change overnight but I hope Bedlam has gone some way to altering mindsets and putting mental health very firmly in people’s minds.’
Your support can help people dealing with difficult mental illnesses. Read more about how your donations have helped service users at South London and Maudsley Hospital.]]>
Attending a mindfulness course has given service user Lorraine Gaughan a new approach to life.
'It has helped me move forwards and changed my whole outlook,' says Lorraine. 'Exploring new areas with people helps to get you out of your shell.'
'Its whole ethos is offering service users the hope, control and opportunity that have often been stripped from their lives by mental illness,' says Gabrielle Richards, head of occupational therapy and social inclusion at the hospital.
'An important feature is using people who have experiences of mental illness to design and teach the courses.'
Designed by service users, run by service users
Tony is the new operations manager and helped develop the college, and knows what it’s like to be the one in need of help.
'A few years ago I lost everything – my family, home and job - because of my alcohol addiction and I was living on benefits and under NHS care,' he says. 'But I had always been a foodie and decided that writing a food blog would give me back some control.'
After filling his blog with 200 recipes, Tony launched 'Skint Foodie' in January 2012. The witty hints and tips immediately won praise from followers on social media networks, and his appointment as operations manager in 2013 came shortly before receiving an Observer Food Magazine award for his blog.
'My work here and the blog have been the twin pillars of my recovery,' says Tony. 'I've even received offers for book publishing deals which is amazing, but for now I am focusing on my job and my recovery.'
Services on offer
There are many services available to users at the Recovery College. They offer a range of half-day workshops where people can gain an understanding of issues such as particular diagnoses, or practical issues such as the personal independence payment (PIP), which helps with the extra costs of long-term ill health. There are also some longer courses, including an Introduction to Mindfulness, that run over several weeks and allow people to develop their skills.
This spring, the college will launch a new programme with more courses, running at the ORTUS Learning Centre at the Maudsley Hospital site and at Bethlem Hospital. There are plans to expand the range of courses on offer and number of college sites.
'We've been able to grow quickly thanks to the generous funding from the Maudsley Charity,' says Gabrielle. 'I am so excited and enthused by this project – it feels very different to anything I've done before.'
If you've been inspired by stories like the Recovery College, visit our 'Get Involved' page to see how you can help.]]>
‘Another exciting year of creative inspiration lies ahead for everyone in our local community, especially those going through mental illness and recovery,’ says Declan McGill, Communications Manager at Mental Fight Club – the organisation that runs The Dragon Café.
The Dragon Café is based in Southwark and offers a uniquely vibrant, creative space for those seeking a safe and comfortable environment to socialise in where quick judgements are not the norm. It’s open every Monday from 12 – 8:30pm.
The Dragon Café offers a whole host of creative and well-being activities including writing, tai chi, photography, dancing, art exhibitions and mindfulness. Visitors have also been taking the opportunity to have massages, which can help to re-establish the connection between mind and body that can often be broken in times of mental illness.
And even when The Dragon Cafe is closed, the website provides an online forum for people to connect and share their experiences.
‘The Dragon Café started as a one-off twelve month project,’ says Declan.
‘Its popularity and its healing power proved so immense that we felt honour-bound to apply for further funding.’
Last year, 2500 people came through the doors to experience this safe, non-judgemental space.
“The Dragon Café is a fantastic place. It gives me a chance to meet like-minded people and make new friends. Very friendly people. May it last forever!”
“I always leave feeling better than when I arrived. I get to be around lovely and diverse people.”
“This café tackles something which no book or tablet ever could. I was lonely and isolated before. But since coming to The Dragon Café I feel happy.”
As well as continuing the well-being and creative activities that have made such a difference to people’s lives, The Dragon Café has big plans for 2014.
In June, it aims to become a creative hub in the Anxiety 2014 Festival run by the Mental Health Foundation. And throughout the year organisations will be invited to become Guest Curators at The Dragon Café for a month at a time, with Bethlem Museum & Art Gallery already on board to devise the creative programme for September.
In the long-term, Declan and his team plan to build the café into a long-lasting model of creative and social support.
Projects like this are made possible because of your generous support. To help us continue our work, make a donation to SLaM today.
‘People have lots of preconceptions about what they might find at Acorn Lodge,’ says ward manager Gillene Thomas. ‘After all, it’s a psychiatric care unit for children. But when they come and see us, they’re usually pleasantly surprised.’
Situated at the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Bromley, Acorn Lodge is bright, airy and child-friendly. It provides local services, but also for children as far away as Cornwall.
‘We offer admission to a wide range of children, aged between five and 13,’ explains Gillene. ‘They might have emotional or behavioural problems, but we also have children with psychosis, anxiety, developmental disorders and children on the autistic spectrum.’
Children come to the Lodge for intensive treatment, usually involving psychological work, special education and sometimes medication.
‘We also work very closely with the families and communities to resolve some of the difficulties the children have and re-integrate them back into the community,’ says Dr Marios Kyriakopoulos, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist.
‘We want to identify their needs, improve their function, treat them as best we can and identify the type of intervention that would be most effective.’
Only 10 children stay at the lodge at any one time. Each child has his or her own room. During their stay, they attend the Bethlem and Maudsley Hospital School, working in small groups and following the national curriculum, which helps minimise any disruption to their education.
In their spare time, children have film nights, local excursions, cooking clubs and even a part-time pet with a Pets As Therapy dog visiting every Thursday.
The lodge has also introduced new ways of caring for its patients which, staff hope, will help make their treatment more effective.
‘We decided to try out emergency admissions, which were previously unheard of in child mental health,’ explains Gillene. ‘Historically, a child would only be admitted after a pre-admission assessment beforehand. But families were feeding back that they would benefit from a prompt response.’
It’s been a successful change, and recent evaluation found that families were happier with this way of doing things.
Acorn Lodge is also trialling community outreach work – for example, sending staff to directly support children while they are in school, or doing home visits. As Gillene says: ‘We’re constantly changing to be responsive to needs.’
Mental health affects people of all ages; you can help support life changing services like those provided at Acorn Lodge by calling 020 7848 7454 or getting involved in one of our events.]]>
Matthew McKenzie, who works in the Psychological Medicine Clinical Academic Group and is a carer, wrote a review of the night.
What’s The Point! Theatre Company
“They Don’t Look Ill...”
“I was slightly excited that I was going to watch a play for free, although had I noticed how well done the play was, I probably would have easily paid to view the performance. As a carer, sometimes I can be biased to what my mother is going through. My mother suffers from difficult mental health and this play at least highlighted mental health awareness and educated me on what I thought I may have known about mental wellbeing. I can only hope they continue to make more performances such as these. Society is badly lacking in awareness.
Some of my favourite scenes:
The upset daughter given hope:
The scene showed how difficult it is for a carer to talk to their loved one, especially younger people, who are not sure how to communicate their distress. It showed how trying to find out what the problem of someone suffering mental distress is like walking on eggshells.
The breaking plasticine film:
We were shown a video of different hands moulding plasticine figures, while different people talk as voice overs about the difficultly of mental illness. Some plasticine figures are stretched to breaking point, while other figures are shown doing an action like keeping fit. I kept thinking that perhaps the figure was a metaphor for failing to fight the illness.
The smiling fake boxes scene:
Every so often, the actors would come out with boxes on their heads with a smiling face drawn on the box. At first I was wondering why this was so and the scene seems strangely haunting as it reminded you that looking at a person who is suffering from mental difficulties, you just cannot fully tell what act they are putting on to hide their pain.
The play came to an end and each of the actors came up on stage holding a lantern. Each lantern was lighted and you could see the words of hope and healing appear on the lanterns as the actors began to take a paper aeroplane and throw them towards the audience.
I picked up one of the paper planes only to see a word written on the plane when I opened the paper up. The word written on the paper plane was "serenity" and from now on, I will take the word as a memento of the play, so when things become difficult for me, I will remember the play and the word.”
Projects like this would not be possible without your generous support.
You can donate to SLaM today and ensure we continue to support people with mental health issues, raise awareness and keep working to reduce stigma.
We couldn't have done it without you.
Thank you to our dedicated volunteers who allow us to do so much more as a team. They’ve cheered on our marathon runners, helped out at events and organised fundraising events of their own.
Thank you to all our inspiring runners who have taken part in the Virgin London Marathon, Brighton Marathon, Bupa 10K and the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon; our intrepid cyclists who took part in the 100km Nightrider challenge and our fearless abseilers who dropped 100 feet down the Golden Jubilee Wing of King’s College Hospital this summer!
And thank you to everyone who has shared their stories with us. The dedication, bravery, generosity and compassion of South London and Maudsley’s staff, patients, friends and family and volunteers continues to inspire us and motivate us to do more.
We’re proud to be in this together. We wish you all the best for 2014.
Find out how you can support SLaM next year.
‘I wanted a new challenge, a goal to aim for when running, and also a stepping stone towards running a full marathon,’ says Tim.
This was Tim’s first half marathon, while Helen is a seasoned runner and has run several half marathons and two marathons before. She even has a daily routine of running home after work along the River Thames.
Tim’s decision to fundraise for SLaM came about when he worked part time for the SLaM fundraising team whilst studying at King’s College London.
‘It showed me how worthwhile the charity’s work is,’ he says. ‘I wanted to support the research being done by SLaM in the area of mental health.’
Tim and Helen supported each other as they trained and kept one another motivated.
‘My sister has been a very strong runner for a long time and had inspired me to train for the half marathon and hopefully a full marathon in 2015. We have run together during training a few times which has always made the run a lot easier and motivated me to carry on when it gets tough.’
For Helen, too, having her sibling’s support made a real difference to her training.
‘I have found it so enjoyable to be able to run with my brother!’ she says. ‘I am used to running long distances on my own and was astonished at how much easier it is to run with a companion and how much quicker time seems to go by!’
Tim suffered an injury less than 8 weeks before the race, and had to spend time recovering. But fortunately, when race day came around on 6 October, he was ready to run.
‘I didn’t know what to expect as it was the first organised running event I have been in, but I was really pleased to finish the course and really exhausted,’ he says.
‘It was tough but, as me and my sister ran together, it was a lot easier with her support and motivation.’
For Helen, it was an exhilarating experience.
‘The atmosphere along the course was fantastic with so much of the route lined with cheering supporters,’ says Helen. ‘Our family came to cheer at the cheering stations which was a great motivator and gave us points to look forward to.’
‘We were both exhausted immediately afterwards but that was quickly replaced with elation as we realised what we had achieved and looked forward to the together we can… tent of food!’
Together, Tim and Helen raised almost £900. Helen continues to run home every day from work and Tim is planning to run more half marathons next year and a full marathon in 2015.
• Always stretch fully and rest fully if you get injured.
• Don’t over think it. For your first half marathon, your goal should be just to complete the race with your time being unimportant.
• Keep to a pace you know and have trained with and stick to it.
If you're interested in running the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon for SLaM next year, please get in touch.
Becky Mumford is The Switch Project Co-ordinator.
'Adolescence can be a difficult time for anyone,' she says, 'But many of our young people will also be dealing with problems at school or at home, while living with mental health issues like depression or self-harming.'
'Our volunteers spend one-to-one time with them. They are impartial but supportive and provide a vital listening ear as well as a friendly companion they can go out with – whether it's enjoying a hobby or just having a coffee.'
The service users are referred by Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) teams in Southwark, Lambeth, Lewisham and Croydon. Becky has made 22 successful matches since The Switch launched last year with support from Maudsley Charity. The results are impressive.
'After spending around nine months on the scheme, the mentees leave with increased self-esteem, confidence and emotional resilience,' she says.
The experience for mentors is just as positive. They reap the rewards of supporting someone who is vulnerable.
'I'm really enjoying it,' says volunteer Hayley Tomkinson. She is helping her mentee with practical career-related things like writing her CV, looking at college courses and filling in application forms.
'I'm also trying to build her social skills — sometimes we'll travel together on the train to visit new places like Covent Garden,' she adds. 'It has certainly helped me develop my own communication skills and patience.'
Becky believes the project's success relies on the special relationship between mentor and mentee. 'What the young people value most is their mentors choosing to spend time with them – it boosts their confidence,' she says.
A female mentee from Lambeth says: 'Now I can get on public transport; I now know what I need to do when I feel panicky. I'm a little more independent, but there's still more to do.’
The Switch is run by TimeBank, a national volunteering charity. For more details visit the TimeBank website, call: 020 3111 0712 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
To make sure projects like this keep running, we need your support. Find out today how you can fundraise for SLaM.