People with lived experience of mental ill health are playing a vital role in helping inspire, motivate and encourage others on their recovery journey as part of an innovative project designed to offer service users a different perspective on their care.
The team of peer support workers (PSWs) are working alongside Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust's clinicians to support, guide and help others going through treatment. They have all been recruited because of their own experiences of mental ill health so that they can share their knowledge and experience with others.
Among the PSWs working in Suffolk is former fitness instructor Jacqui Fairley, who secured a job with the Bury south integrated delivery team after completing her 13-week PSW training late last year. She now manages a caseload within the community, visiting service users in their own homes or meeting them at cafes or in town, depending on their individual needs.
"I support a really wide mix of adults with a variety of different conditions who are all at different stages of their recovery journey," said Jacqui, who has received treatment for bipolar disorder. "I absolutely love it and find it so, so rewarding.
"I cannot put the reaction I've had from the service users into words. When you tell them that you get where they are coming from, you see a glimmer of hope in their eyes. It's remarkable."
Jacqui was among the first cohort of peer support workers to take up a post at the Trust. She was over the moon when she secured the job, and is now making the most of every single day.
She added: "It's really nice to do something I really enjoy – I am so happy. It was like a dream come true to be offered the job, and that dream hasn't diminished since I started work – it's just got better and better.
"The role is so rewarding and is hopefully helping to bridge that gap between clinicians and service users, and encouraging everyone to work together more effectively.
"The job also brings something to my ongoing recovery. I look forward to going to work because I can concentrate on other people, share with them and learn from them. It is a reciprocal journey – I give to the client and they give inspiration back to me, which is great as it gives me something else to put into my own wellness toolbox."
The Trust currently employs 15 PSWs across both counties, with their numbers set to more than double by the end of the year, with three new posts recently confirmed in east Suffolk.
Justine Brown, peer support worker coordinator, said: "Our peer support workers are making a real difference to service users across both counties, and feedback so far has been very positive.
"They provide a different, yet complementary, aspect to the care our clinical teams provide, including vital emotional support and empathy, and our service users are really receptive to having those different conversations.
"They are recruited as a direct result of their own lived experience, which they then use to inspire and role model others. All talk about their recovery in a very positive way and are happy to explain to others what they have learnt on that journey.
"They can tell our service users 'I know what it's like and what you're going through' while showing them it is possible to live well during recovery. It doesn't mean you need to be symptom-free, but is about managing and reaching your individual goals.
"As well as bringing enormous benefits to those currently going through treatment, the role also plays a key part in the peer support worker's own ongoing recovery. It gives those who may have found getting a job difficult the opportunity to get into meaningful employment, which we know helps to keep people well, while also giving them the chance to give something back and use their experience in a positive way."
Anyone interested in finding out more or who would like further information about the three new posts in east Suffolk can contact Justine Brown, peer support worker coordinator, on 07876 476754 or visit www.nsft.nhs.uk/Get-involved/Pages/Peer-Support-Workers.aspx