Helping others through your own experience can be a valued skill

Dog walker on beach

Esther Waring says: 'I know what it’s like to lose yourself, to live in turmoil, to be fearful, angry and alone' - Credit: Foundry

Peer support in mental health encourages those who have lived experience of mental ill health to offer this experience as a way of helping others to navigate the ups and downs of their own mental health journey.
Support from someone who knows at least a little about what you’re going through has the great advantage of being able to offer empathy, understanding, without judgement or criticism. This breaks some of the barriers which those with mental health difficulties might experience when seeking help. 
My role, as a peer trainer for DRLC, has felt like it’s been a long time in the making, and almost something that was ‘meant to be’. Mental ill health has dogged me since I was a teenager. I know what it’s like to lose yourself, to live in turmoil, to be fearful, angry and alone. I have gone through many rounds of medication and therapy for depression and anxiety, and yet nothing really seemed to stick. Despite the help I was lucky to receive, I found lasting change hard to hold onto. My self confidence, self esteem and my ability to trust myself were badly shaken by not feeling I could rely on myself to get well and stay well. 
When I first became ill with depression I was offered therapy and medication, and this set up a repetitive treatment pattern for the next 20+ years. This cycle of recovery and relapse, like the recurrent lockdowns of the last year, though frustrating and not without side effects, served a purpose. Each cycle taught me more about my condition, what my triggers are, how to offset the worst symptoms, how to help myself and when to ask for help from others. Little by little I began to return to my own ‘new normal’. This process was dramatically improved when I got involved with DRLC.
DRLC is a recovery college provided by Devon Partnership NHS Trust to support mental health and well-being. We run Devon-wide courses and drop-ins, with tuition provided by qualified staff and volunteers. I first came to DRLC as a student, finding out, first hand, how much difference a safe space to be with others who knew what I’d been though was.
I soon started work as a DRLC peer trainer, co-tutoring mindfulness classes with the wonderful Heike Hollerung, and got involved setting up and running the Honiton Recovery Library and Creative Drop-in. Here we offer access to books supporting mental health recovery, and a friendly place to explore creativity for well-being. We are really lucky to be hosted at the Thelma Hulbert Gallery in central Honiton, which has a calm and creative vibe that is a constant source of inspiration.
Through my work, I have developed my self confidence, and begun to trust myself again. I love helping others and making a contribution. I have realised my experiences have not been for nothing. It now feels like I am where I was always meant to be, using the trials I have been through to make a difference. I have found my niche, and my voice, as part of an incredible team, and I’m so grateful!
Being part of DRLC, alongside my amazing colleagues, and linked to the Mental Health Network, I am well placed to help others through the hard times. There’s no going back; I can’t reclaim the years I lost in mental illness, but I can ensure that the years ahead of me are meaningful and that I’m giving back to a community that helped get me grow to be who I am today. I hope others will join me, and discover there’s hope for living well, together.
If you’d like to join our friendly and supportive drop-in, please see https://devonrlc.co.uk/ for further details. Due to coronavirus, in person services are beginning to resume slowly, as it becomes safer to do so. 
The Mental Health Network is run by Parental Minds CIC, based in Honiton. https://www.facebook.com/MentalHealthNetworkHoniton
 

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