MHAW2024 – Benefitting from group support and looking to help others in the community with your lived experience – Jake’s story

Next in our Mental Health Awareness Week 2024 community theme we hear from Jake who first used Together's Norfolk Integrated Housing and Community Support Service (NIHCSS) 5 years ago and now uses his own lived experience to support people experiencing mental distress today.

MHAW2024 – Benefitting from group support and looking to help others in the community with your lived experience – Jake’s story

Jake explains how having been isolated and lacking confidence to interact with others after experiencing mental distress, group sessions and speaking with others that had been through similar things helped him. He outlines how having not thought it possible initially he then became a peer supporter himself and gave back to a community that had helped him previously.

Jake responded to interview questions to tell his story and those are set out below:

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to use the NIHCSS service and then volunteer within it?

I had been discharged from seeing a psychiatrist and referred to NIHCSS, that was five years ago now and I was a service user for a couple of years. Firstly, I had a Peer Support Worker offering one to one support, they encouraged me to attend Peer Support groups within the service. There was a social group and pool group, both peer-led by peer support worker with lived experience of mental distress.

I was really nervous to attend at first, but the Peer Support Workers and other service users made me feel very welcome. I had been quite socially isolated because I wasn’t well, and the groups supported me to get back into a pattern of socialising. They were somewhere safe and supportive to go to on a regular basis, and that helped me to regain my confidence to be around people, I felt part of a community after I had basically been isolating myself.

After a while of attending groups, my Peer Support Worker suggested the idea of becoming a Peer Support Volunteer. Initially, I didn’t think it would happen, I guess I didn’t have enough confidence but as time went on, I realised how beneficial the groups and Peer Support had been for me, I wanted to give something back to others. The groups definitely supported my recovery, feeling part of a community and belonging is important, I believe my recovery journey would have been much slower without them.

Peer Support and group sessions are a part of the service in NIHCSS, how have you found taking part in those and how has that been for your mental wellbeing?

I really feel the group enhanced my recovery and made a massive difference to how I was feeling. I guess they helped me to reset myself with regards to being around people, and then as a volunteer, I continued to find the groups very useful for myself as well as hopefully enabling others to benefit from them as well, through my volunteering.

The theme of mental health awareness week is community, can you tell us what this means to you?

When I attended the groups, I then felt part of a wider community of service users. Additionally, there were events that were held by the service at Boudicca Court, a supported living service run by NIHCSS, which also bolstered a sense of belonging to something wider than just the groups. When I wasn’t feeling very well, I had become very socially isolated, I had lost all sense of being part of a community, attending groups helped to restore this.

I gained confidence enough to apply for a paid Peer Support Worker job and felt able to engage with the wider community again, through employment. I was successful at interview, and I have been in post for a year and a half now.

The progression from service user to peer support volunteer to peer support worker is quite important to highlight. At one point I didn’t see myself as employable, I didn’t think I would ever work again. Therefore, the sense of community I felt as a service user has continued on and developed, I now feel part of a team and part of the workforce.

Together’s core principle is around valuing lived experience, how do you feel your role as peer support worker might support others?

I feel that having lived experience supports me to have a different level of understanding, that hopefully can and does support others to feel that an experience of mental distress doesn’t have to define you, it is a journey, and you can progress through it.

If people know my background and can see I have moved forward, hopefully this offers some hope that the way they are feeling right now isn’t set or permanent. There are people who wish to move forwards or feel better, but they don’t believe they can, hopefully my story/experiences might encourage someone into believing things can change. There were certainly points in my life where I felt stuck, that nothing would change but I have progressed forward from a place of social isolation, to feeling part of the community again.

Together would like to thank Jake for taking the time to share his lived experiences for this piece.