Last week, people across the globe celebrated World Mental Health Day and this year’s theme concentrated on young people and mental health in a changing world.
I am a peer support worker within the mental health service for children and young people and I use my own personal experience of mental health difficulties to help promote hope and recovery in the young people whom I work with.
As a teenager, I struggled significantly with various mental health difficulties, and often found it hard to see any hope for my own future, let alone my career.
After gradually working alongside mental health services, I was able to be discharged and completed my education to A Level standard. When it came to leaving school, I was unsure what I wanted to do, but I knew that I had a passion for mental health and helping people.
When I saw the peer support worker role advertised, I was very excited as I knew this was a role that would suit my interest in mental health, and also give me an opportunity to use the experiences that I had from my own difficulties to help others.
I have now been in the post for just under a year, and have found that I am still learning and picking up new things from my colleagues around me. The team I work in has been great at adapting to my role. This gives me the opportunity to share my knowledge, and work alongside my colleagues with young people.
At the moment I’m working with a young person who is having difficulties around school and their peer group. This has understandably created some anxiety and difficulties with their mood, so I support them by meeting with them after school and we get a coffee and chat. The young person can unwind from what may be a challenging week, and we have conversations about different things including school, music and other interests they may have.
The differences in the work that I do, compared to other clinicians, is firstly the flexibility I can offer the young person, where they can often decide what activity we do. Also, by using my own lived experience of mental health, and the experience of accessing Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), I can talk to the young person in a non-judgemental way about things which we both understand because we’ve both been through them.
As much as my professional boundaries are still the same as any other clinician, I will sometimes act as an advocate, or the step between ‘professional and patient’, due to my age and experiences. These things are key to what we refer to as the ‘core principles’ of peer support, which are the basis to the work that we do.
I believe that I would have benefited from peer support myself when I accessed mental health services. Although I knew that other people had difficulties with their mental health, I was not able to talk to anyone who was further along in their own journey. I think this would have given me hope that I may one day be able to manage my symptoms, and still live a successful life, as this was a concept I struggled to believe when I was at my lowest points. The peer support worker role allows people to see the positive ways that individuals can use their own difficulties to help others.
Having peer support workers within mental health services offers a new therapeutic opportunity, providing support for people at their most difficult times. I hope to continue developing in my role to try and help more young people who are also struggling like I did, and to see that there is a future for them and there should be no limits to what they can achieve.
Becky Sampson is a Peer Support Worker for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service at Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.