Meet our Peer Support Workers
Helping others through their own experience of mental health services is the drving force for many people to become Peer Support Workers.
PSWs talk about the huge benefits for service users and carers in knowing that someone has been through a similar journey to them and that they have come out the other side.
Here, some of our Peer Support workers tell their stories . . .
Lucie joined the North Norfolk and Norwich Adult Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) in January 2018 after becoming interested in a career in healthcare while supporting people with learning disabilities.
Since then, she has used her own experiences of severe depression to help people with a range of mental health difficulties, and regularly carries out engagement with patients while working with them to develop basic recovery skills.
It was the best decision I’ve ever made
“When I first heard about the job, I was in two minds about it – I felt it had the potential to be something really great, but at the same time had doubts about whether it would be good for me or for others,” said Lucie. “It turned out that I had no reason to worry as it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
“I suffered with severe depression from an early age, and received services both in Kent and after moving to Norfolk. I had some really good experiences of care, as well as others which could’ve been better, and feel that has really helped me in this role.
“I spend a lot of time helping people to understand they have a choice and control over their care, as it is really important that they realise they are the boss of their own recovery. I’ve had some really nice feedback, with service users telling me they appreciate the fact that someone else understands where they are coming from. That’s really good to hear and shows them that what they are feeling is normal and OK.
“The role has also made a massive difference to my own recovery, and has helped me turn a negative experience into something more positive by helping others. I really enjoy being part of people’s cycle of hope, and am lucky enough to work as part of a really supportive and fantastic team where I am treated as an equal with something valuable to offer.
“I would encourage anyone with an experience of recovery to consider becoming a PSW. The beauty of the role is that each person brings something different to it, as everyone’s recovery is unique. In my view, that’s what makes it so valuable.”
Alison is one of our newest Peer Support Workers (PSWs). She joined the North Norfolk and Norwich Adult Community Mental Health Team earlier this summer to improve the support offered to people with personality disorders (PD).
As well as working with service users on a one-to-one basis, she is also setting up a group to give people with a PD the chance to meet others and share ideas for managing their condition.
“The job is going really well so far and I am loving every minute of it,” said Alison. “My team are a really supportive and passionate group of people and have made me feel incredibly welcome at NSFT.
I’m loving every minute of it
“Before joining the Trust, I was an employment support advisor with Mind and often found that I was using my lived experience in my day-to-day contact with clients. I really enjoyed that aspect of the work, so decided to pursue the PSW role when I saw it advertised.
“I suffered with depression and anxiety in my teens and was diagnosed with emotionally unstable personality disorder when I was 36. It was a double-edged sword as I felt the term ‘personality disorder’ had some negative connotations associated with it, but at the same time the diagnosis gave me the opportunity to read up and research things which could help. It also helped me to understand myself better, and gave me the chance to explore different approaches to managing my feelings.
“At the time I didn’t know anybody else with the same diagnosis, so it felt quite lonely – especially as many people don’t know or understand much about personality disorders. It would have been so helpful if I had been able to work with a PSW, as it would’ve given me someone to identify with while helping me understand the emotional pain I was experiencing.
“I am now working with my first client and am really enjoying using my own experiences to make suggestions as to things they could do to help.
“The role of PSW is definitely a job I would recommend. To to be able to help others towards their own recovery is really valuable and enjoyable at the same time.”
Terry joined our Early Intervention in Psychosis (EIP) team in Norwich three years ago. Since then, he has used his own experiences of psychosis to advise, inspire and guide others who are facing similar challenges while also showing them that recovery is possible.
“For many years, I didn’t know what to do with myself and self-destructed as I let my mental health condition get on top of me,” said Terry. “The turning point came when I changed my lifestyle and began doing some voluntary work, which led into part-time work.
“Although these roles came with some difficulties as I hadn’t worked for a good number of years, I started to make real progress and change the way I felt about myself and what I thought was possible for my life. I was still hugely embarrassed about my mental health history and felt I would be judged negatively if people knew. That began to change several years down the line when I got involved with the Time to Change campaign and the Human Library.
The PSW role gives you the opportunity to share positive messages
“It was a massive shift for me. Working with others with experience of mental ill health was really empowering and the shame and embarrassment I had carried with me for years disappeared. Before that, all I wanted to do was forget about my mental health, but those roles helped me to see it in a different and more positive light.
“When the PSW job came up, it seemed like a natural progression for me. I almost felt like I had a cause, and was something I was really passionate about.
“During my illness I made many mistakes which hindered my recovery,” added Terry. “I didn’t have anyone to talk to who understood what I was going through and had nobody to inspire me that recovery was possible.
“The role of PSW gives me the opportunity to have those conversations and connect with someone who is facing similar difficulties. Hopefully the client will go away feeling a little bit more positive than they did beforehand.
“There aren’t enough messages of hope out there to show people with psychosis that recovery is possible, or that you can move forwards even if you are still experiencing symptoms. The beauty of the PSW role is it give you the opportunity to share that positive message at what is probably a confusing and difficult time for people."
Di joined the Adult Community Mental Health Team in King’s Lynn in early 2019 after she was inspired to apply for the role while volunteering at the Recovery College.
She now works one-on-one with service users, supporting them to set goals which will help them progress with their own recovery.
“I am so passionate about peer support and enjoy every single aspect of my job,” said Di. “The core of my work is around helping people to identify what they value in life before setting goals based around those values.
“One of the biggest things I really emphasise to my service users is that I am proof that recovery is possible. Showing people that it is within their reach too is vital as it gives them hope that things will get better.”
I’m so passionate about my job. It’s just so rewarding
Di was diagnosed with an eating disorder when she was 16 and has since received treatment from NSFT for bouts of depression and anxiety. During that time, she was supported by an “incredible” PSW, who helped to inspire her own recovery journey.
“Being able to share experiences with our service users is really important and we get some great feedback about the impact it has had on them,” added Di. “They appreciate the fact that they can say anything to a PSW, and we get it – we really get it. We have a true understanding of how they are feeling and where they are coming from. They can relate to us, which is so rewarding.
“The role has also given me that sense of purpose and structure which we all need in our lives. I would absolutely recommend it to other people with lived experience of mental ill health as its fantastic to feel like you’re making a difference.”
Emma, a former member of our Trust’s admin team, was inspired to become a Peer Support Worker (PSW) so that she could help others.
She became a PSW at the Wedgwood Unit in Bury St Edmunds last November and now works across the Northgate and Southgate Wards to support service users from the start of their admission until discharge.
She applied for the role after receiving support from the Trust’s Green Light Champions and now works one-to-one with patients, as well as arranging group sessions and contributing to standalone projects.
“Being a Peer Support Worker in an acute setting has its challenges, but is the most rewarding job I have ever had and has helped me grow as a person too,” said Emma. “I am constantly learning from my colleagues and from our service users, which is great.
It’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had
“I am on the autistic spectrum and wanted to become a PSW as having that support have made a big difference to me when I was younger. I really enjoy encouraging our patients to think about the tools which will help them while using my own experiences to make suggestions and give them reassurance. I also feel that PSWs play an important role in breaking down the barriers which may exist between service users and staff.
“I really enjoy seeing somebody come through the darkest times and get ready to make the transition back home so they can take on the next stage of their life. It is really rewarding to know you have played a part in that.
“I received a postcard created by a very talented service user thanking me for my support at a time when I was doubting myself. It helped me realise just how much impact PSWs can have on someone’s recovery journey and was so beautiful that it moved me to tears.
“I think one of the nicest compliments we receive is when service users tell us that we give them hope that things can get better and there is life beyond mental illness. That really means a lot and makes the job so worthwhile.”
I love my job – it gives me the chance to give back
Maxine took up her role as PSW with St Catherine's Day Treatment Service, in Great Yarmouth, just over a year ago. Since then, she has played a crucial role in arranging a wide variety of groups and activities for service users, such as upcycling and mindfulness, as well as creating a mini Recovery College course focusing on wellness planning.
“I love my job, as it gives me the chance to give back to say thank you for some of the support I received from my peers when I was studying at the Recovery College,” said Maxine. “When you have that connection with a service user and they turn round and tell you they can relate to you, it makes it so worthwhile.
“I think that a lot of the people I work with really appreciate the fact that I am able to communicate with them in a way they understand. It can make a real difference.”
Maxine was the first PSW employed at St Cath’s, where she works alongside colleagues to provide therapeutic support for people with enduring mental health problems. The team’s aim is to help service users develop effective coping strategies while encouraging them to take part in meaningful activities to reduce social isolation and potentially lead onto employment.
Maxine now uses her own experiences, which include losing her driving licence as a result of the medication she is taking for bipolar and OCD, to relate to service users and inspire them that recovery is possible.
“I liked St Cath’s immediately,” she added. “From the first time I visited, it felt like the sort of place where I could really put my own lived experience and recovery ideas to good use.
“Although I really enjoy the face-to-face work, we have been offering a lot of the support over the phone during COVID-19. This includes encouraging service users to continue working towards their goals while also reassuring them that its ok to feel apprehensive during such unprecedented times.
“I would definitely recommend the PSW role to others with lived experience as it gives you a real opportunity to make a difference. It has also helped in my own recovery and changed my thought processes. I used to see the glass as half empty and constantly look for negatives, but now it’s always half full.”
Georgie works on the same ward where she was treated as an inpatient and has spoken of the enjoyment she gets from her job and from being able to inspire hope in others.
She was admitted to the Wedgwood Unit in Bury St Edmunds in 2018 for treatment for psychosis, depression and anxiety and was appointed as a PSW a year later, returning to Southgate and Northgate wards.
“Obviously my admission wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows but the staff involved in my care were amazing,” said Georgie, who started work in November 2019. “They were so compassionate, kind and made such a massive difference to me that I wanted to join the team so that I could give something back.
“Without the support I received while on the ward and from the community team following my discharge, I wouldn’t be where I am today. They inspired me to grow as a person and change the trajectory of my life. Now I feel fulfilled and thoroughly enjoy both my work on the ward and my second part-time job as a florist.”
I wanted to give something back
Georgie starts each shift by joining a team meeting to discuss current patients and their individual needs before taking part in one-to-one activities with service users.
In addition, she runs group sessions to give patients the chance to find out more about the PSW role and the support which is available while also contributing to standalone projects on the ward, such as transforming a courtyard into a sensory garden.
“I love the variety the job brings,” said Georgie. “But the part I enjoy the most is developing a rapport with the patients and getting to know them. Coming onto a ward for the first time can be frightening but hearing that I was once a patient too can really help to build up trust.
“I’ve received some lovely feedback, with patients saying the PSW role inspires hope in them and helps them to realise that they can live a ‘normal’ life after discharge. As PSWs, we are living examples of the fact that you can move on, even if you are still experiencing symptoms."