Meet Laura, Peer Support Coordinator at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. In this blog, she shares her lived experience and how she embarked on a career in the mental health sector after losing her sister to suicide.
I have suffered and struggled with my mental health on and off for over 20 years. I have had several different diagnoses throughout that time, which currently sits at Severe Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I have been in very dark places at times, and my mental health conditions had worsened through several situational circumstances such as losing my sister to suicide eight years ago, which led to some unhealthy coping techniques and several attempts to end my own life.
When using services, I felt supported, less alone, and had a safe space to talk, open up without judgement, and was provided the opportunity to put in place a safety and recovery plan as well as help to guide me through different services that were available to me and learn that recovery is possible. Through group sessions, I also met other like-minded people who had gone through similar situations, which in turn helped me realised that I was not alone and provided opportunity to offer each other support, build connections with each other knowing we all truly understood or could empathise with what each other was going through, which peer support is all about.
Since losing my sister to suicide, I have embarked in a career in the mental health sector, working for mental health charities in a non-clinical setting as well as volunteering for the Crisis text service SHOUT. I wanted to be part of the movement to help end the stigma around mental health, support those who needed it, and to promote hope in recovery as I had a level of understanding having lived experience myself. Throughout my employment in the mental health sector, I really felt and could see the value and benefit first hand of using lived experience to support others in a holistic and person-centred way; helping others to not feel isolated, drawing on my own live experience to be empathetic, connect, and have a level of understanding.
I was also able to support, promote and advocate hope in recovery to others through a medium of non-clinical interventions, for example through art, music, and physical activity which have all personally helped me. When I saw the post of a Peer Support Coordinator advertised, I felt it was an ideal opportunity to be part of the NHS Long Term Transformation Plan to be part of the infrastructure to help develop new and integrated models of care within primary and secondary settings and really make a difference to how services are being delivered, which is something I truly feel passionately about.
I have drawn on my own lived experience to ensure others know they are not alone through mutual empathy, compassion, and understanding in one-on-one and group communications offering emotional support – providing a safe non-judgemental space to openly talk and discuss personal experiences from a humanistic viewpoint rather than being completely diagnostic, by being an active listener to ensure people’s experiences feel heard, listened to, and valued.
Advice I would give to someone struggling with their mental health would be:
Firstly, know it is okay, not to be okay. Secondly, how, or what emotions you are feeling in this moment in time are completely valid, but not all feelings are permanent and how you are feeling right now can and will pass. Thirdly, reach out and talk to someone – whether that be a professional, a friend, family member or someone you trust, a support helpline or even a stranger.
Even if you are not ready to go through everything in great detail, reaching out to someone to let them know you are struggling can be a great starting point and can be beneficial in creating a support network, generate a feeling of connection, provide you with a place to turn to when needed or even help implement a recovery plan to use techniques that have helped in the past. Fourthly, know that there is hope, recovery is possible, and YOU are deserving and worthy of this.
Recovery looks different to everyone, so it is important to remember to not compare yourself to others, you are unique, do not fit in a box, and you are not your diagnosis.