"They saved my life"

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What frightens a lot of people is first walking through the door – but actually people embrace and welcome you! Those first little steps can lead to such positive outcomes.

Southdown gave me the space to be and do. Their Employment Support service and Wellbeing Centres are like a warm blanket. They feel like coming home. They saved my life.

I initially attended Southdown’s Wellbeing Centre because I needed support in managing my severe anxiety at the time. It was a way to meet other clients and find ways to manage my anxiety and depression.

They ran a weekly anxiety support group. I found it really helpful because it was a way of sharing stories and different experiences and making sense of it all. For me, the biggest thing was learning I was not alone.

My background is in nursing. I was under immense pressure at work and my mental health really deteriorated and I was really struggling to function on a day-to-day basis. It was horrendous. I also have Fragile X Syndrome which has had a massive impact on my life. I now know nursing was the wrong job for me.

I decided to resign from my nursing role and concentrate on my recovery and mental health. At the peak of my anxiety I was feeling suicidal and so I engaged with the Staying Well service in the evenings and went to the Wellbeing Centre.

It was a safe haven for me. It was like a lifeline. It’s an evening service where you can just go in and speak to one of the Support Workers there, have a cup of tea and talk through your anxieties.

The idea of the service is that it prevents a crisis and people going to A&E. Evenings were worse – that’s when I would have all these negative thoughts and worries. The Staying Well service stopped me from killing myself. I think it’s an invaluable service.

Whilst I was attending the weekly anxiety support group, one of the facilitators told me about the Employment Support Service. It was getting to the point where six or seven months down the line, I wanted to start looking for a job but I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know what transferable skills I had.

I never thought I would get a job. I was like a muddled ball of wool that the Employment Specialist helped to untangle. She was an angel. She helped me see what was possible and what skills I do have. She was really kind and supportive and caring. She would reinforce the positives and tell me I was employable and that I had so many skills. It was a question of finding the right role for me in the right supportive working environment. She was so encouraging.

At first we would meet every week. She was always available. She helped me with job searches, filling out CVs, and helping me with application forms.

It was in June that year that my Employment Specialist found a job vacancy at a wellbeing drop-in centre based in Hastings. It’s an open-access centre where people who are predominantly homeless can engage with Support Workers. They can also meet with are Recovery Workers, Employment Coaches, and Housing Workers.

I started in July! It is a Support Worker role engaging with service users who need support with things like benefit issues and their housing situations, signposting people to relevant services, and chatting and listening to their stories and what’s led them to where they are.

My Employment Specialist came to the wellbeing centre with me where I met with the Manager who was understanding, explained the role, and encouraged me to apply. They had a lot of insight into mental health and what it entails and my wellbeing as an employee was as important as a client’s. They just got it.

For me having this job is an absolute miracle! I’m so grateful that it’s been possible and I’m over the moon that someone had faith in me to give me a job. If it hadn’t been for the Employment Service, I wouldn’t have had the enthusiasm.

I couldn’t have done it without Southdown’s support. It’s been very grounding and it’s given me a perspective that things are possible and not to give up at the first fence. My Employment Specialist helped me see the bigger picture. She gave me encouragement and drive and so I thought, “what have I got to lose?” I haven’t looked back since.

She has given me the confidence to run with the job and see where it leads. Even though I have a job, I can still access support from her. That was important because I don’t feel abandoned and I didn’t know what getting back into work would be like.

My Employment Specialist’s support was instrumental to my recovery. This is a new beginning. I’ve realised that I’ve achieved what I wanted in nursing and now it’s time to start a new chapter. I now feel I’m contributing something and it’s led to a positive journey and outcome. I feel like I’m giving something back.

I need to look after my wellbeing and mental health. I’ve been looking at the stresses I had and trying to reduce them to the point I won’t be affected. It’s been important and useful. I go to the gym regularly, I swim, I practice mindfulness. I’ve also done a mental health first aid course which has given me insight into how to manage mental health and what signs to look for in someone else. I also did a confidence and self-esteem course with Health in Mind.

I’m amazed at what’s out there in Hastings and it’s through attending Southdown services that I became aware of what’s available. Having anxiety and depression is nothing to be ashamed of. So many people suffer with it to varying degrees. I found it very therapeutic listening to other people.

What frightens a lot of people is first walking through the door – but actually people embrace and welcome you! Those first little steps can lead to such positive outcomes. I want to highlight to people to not feel ashamed to seek help. The bravest thing can sometimes be to say, “I need to be seen, I need you to hold my hand through this.” Embrace what’s out there. No-one will judge you. They will welcome you.

Our specialist Employment Support service helps people access and retain paid work, complete education and training and get involved in volunteering. Employment Specialists work in partnership with Mental Health Recovery Teams in East Sussex, West Sussex and Brighton and Hove to provide support tailored to individual needs, goals and aspirations.