I experienced anxiety from a young age and was labelled a ‘worrier’ growing up, but as I never learned to manage it as a child it worsened until eventually, I went through a period of time as a student where when I experienced anxiety I’d have chest pains, experience panic attacks, be unable to eat, or even sleep. It was exhausting but because I had always been known as a ‘worrier’ up until that time I thought that was just what anxiety was, so I didn’t seek any help before then. Luckily a good friend suggested I see student services who were able to help me seek treatment. Because services were so overwhelmed this took some time, but eventually I got access to a psychologist for CBT, who diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and helped me develop tools to manage the anxiety.
Because of my experiences I knew I wanted to go into a field where I could help others who could be experiencing something similar. While searching for roles that would allow me to do this, I came across an article written by a Peer Support Worker about his experience helping patients in an NHS mental health service. Up until then I had no idea a role like this, where you drew on your lived experiences to help patients in mental health services, existed. The more I read about Peer Support Work and the values underpinning it the more it seemed like the ideal role for me, so I started applying exclusively for Peer Support Worker roles until I got hired to work in the Mental Health Liaison Clinical Assessment Unit.
Having someone with lived experience available to support patients within a mental health service can make a huge difference. Leading with our lived experiences allows us to approach patients as equals which can break down some of the barriers that usually exist between service users and staff. Lived experience allows us to relate better to service users which in turn lets us better support them to improve their wellbeing and maintain this in the future. Part of this support is also being able to bring a patient’s perspective to the table which can help improve the service and support patients receive.
My advice to people struggling with their mental health is don’t be discouraged by the ‘dips’ and don’t be afraid to reach out when they occur. Mental health goes up and down based on so many different factors and it can be easy to put pressure on yourself to always be well, and beat yourself up when a dip comes around. This is completely normal and doesn’t mean you’ve failed or gone back to square one. Recovery is a process, and that’s okay.