The college offers an array of free courses that are available for anyone with interest in mental health and wellbeing, including service users, families, carers, and staff/professionals. Creating and delivering courses together using the combined expertise of mental health professionals and peer trainers with real-life experience. Thus, the recovery college approach supports people with mental health conditions to take some control of their own lives. It enables the individual to manage their condition and to overcome the self-criticisms and discrimination that many services users face.
The co-production opportunities at the college have been in evidence throughout my time at the college. Designing and implementing the courses with lived and other expert experience incorporated in the educational process meant that people with professional and personal expertise work alongside with equivalent value and attributed to both.
I had been attending around 5/6 courses and then I started to work with Helen. And as a result, she become my individual mental health coach and I in turn started a more structured placement with the college and Belfast Trust, of which I’m currently enjoying and completing.
Helen has a very caring, considerate, and friendly manner. I've used various talk therapies over the years (with varying degrees of success), so I wasn't sure about coaching. I didn't even know what coaching was. I soon found out it was not anything like football coaching (put the football boots away) or work coaching (no 7.30 am fruit & veg on a Saturday starts). It was a meeting, a conversation, an opportunity to move things forward to what had become stuck in my life and NOT another psychological therapy session. Helen, my coach, enabled me to become unstuck.
As I arrived at the building on the first day, I nearly didn't go in, though how glad I was two hours later that I did indeed go into the room and meet such friendly and awe-inspiring people—a fantastic start to my introduction of the educational classes. The particular course that I feel I best connected with was the OCN in Mental Health Advocacy.
“Completing the advocacy course and learning that I could channel some of my more negative experiences in personal life and in the mental health system to something constructive meant that I now understand there is a place of positivity and respect where I can engage and help others who are living with poor mental health”
We all know how frustrating it can be when people aren't listening to us. Unfortunately, having a mental health condition can be seen as a problem, and this can sometimes mean it's even harder to have your opinions and ideas taken seriously by others. This can be difficult to deal with, especially when you need to communicate often with health and social care professionals. You might find they don't always offer you all the opportunities and choices you would like or involve you fully in decisions about your care. Advocacy means getting support from another person to help you express your views and wishes, and help you assert your rights through enhanced communication and negotiation skills – advocacy skills. Someone who helps you in this way is called your advocate. The course was spread over three days, and I got a lot out of it.
Completing the advocacy course and learning that I could channel some of my more negative experiences in personal life and in the mental health system to something constructive meant that I now understand there is a place of positivity and respect where I can engage and help others who are living with poor mental health. To realise that by self- advocacy I could make change suddenly gives a sense of purpose.
As I have said, my life had become stuck in one negative place. I had hospital admissions coupled with medication changes (and the rest). Then the opportunity to talk with Helen and discover what this Recovery College was could not have come at a better time. I was able to undertake a placement even though there were restrictions in place due to Covid-19. One of my tasks was to speak by telephone to students of the recovery college about their experience on the WRAP course (which I also attended as a student) and to hear the learner voice at this time of crisis. I got clever suggestions and positive feedback from these unique conversations which in turn will help the team at the college learn and advance further co-produced courses in a virtual way. That voice-to-voice contact and opportunity was powerful especially when Mental Health Practitioners were being re-deployed to the front line. We are educational, not therapists but as a Peer I knew how important it was to be heard at this time when you are even more isolated. And I spoke to a range of learners – service users, carers, staff, friends and family. They wanted to know when we were back and told us how much they missed the College.
“Remind yourself, seeking help and confiding in someone is a courageous step”
It's been a challenging year. I've made it this far so I must be doing something right. My advice to anyone experiencing mental distress is to talk. It will change your current situation, indeed your life. People won't have all the answers but sharing a problem or experience takes some of the blunt raw feels of that distress away. Remind yourself, seeking help and confiding in someone is a courageous step. Ask yourself what you would say to a mate of they came with an issue of stress? There's help and hope out there. The Recovery College has been that place of hope. I will continue my student placement and attend more courses. A goal for me is to advance my knowledge and experience of advocacy through to the next stage higher-level course and to be involved in co- producing an educational course. These are big challenges for me, but not only the ethos of the college but importantly the people that create that ethos enables me and many others with similar backgrounds and experiences to simply grow and achieve. I have been given feedback about my capacity and strengths in writing and editing. I know I have a role in the College to play in this so this real Communications Strategy can ensure Diversity, Engagement and Social Inclusion of the community. I have also contributed and am part of a working group to produce an E- Book and Publication of our Journey together. I am travelling and now leading as a Peer. There is no destination point.
Thinking of returning to education as an adult? You may find the following resources helpful:
One Step Up: https://www.onestepup.ie/
Fetch Courses: https://www.fetchcourses.ie/
Belfast Recovery College https://belfasttrust.hscni.net/service/belfast-recovery-college/