When I think about mental health, I naively think about some high profile celebrities going off the rails. Unfortunately that’s the kind of publicity we see surrounding that difficult subject of ‘mental health’. We took a trip to one of the city’s day centres to find out exactly what’s been done to help people with mental health problems and hopefully get rid of the stigmas attached.
To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week, we visited Stocks Hill Centre in Leeds – a service that helps people overcome their mental health issues by developing skills, running support groups and making new friends.
Stocks Hill Centre has been running the service in Armley for nearly thirty years. They currently have around 150 service users and a further 100 in the community. The centre runs numerous support groups and activities based around shared interests, which people with mental health issues can join to help with their recovery. The aim is that people then move on to activities in the community. People who are involved with a Community Mental Health Team or a Social Worker can self-refer or get their worker to refer them. The service is open five days a week and runs all kinds of activities, including leisure, arts, music and therapeutic groups, with a strong emphasis on Peer Support. There are also groups in the community on evenings and weekends. The staff at the centre want to give people the opportunity to build friendships and get their confidence back. All the staff we spoke to have lots of experience in mental health and supporting people to achieve their goals.
We had a chat with some of the staff and service users to find out what people can expect.
Gil, Deputy Manager at the centre, told us all about the work they do around social isolation and loneliness. He said:
“People come here because they feel there isn’t anywhere else to go, nothing to do and no one to see. The centre is a friendly and welcoming place for people to meet up and get to know each other, and also do something they enjoy. We find people with mental health issues are still very isolated and feel stigma is a big issue. They just need an opportunity to meet like-minded people and feel like everybody else”.
Nick, a Senior Support Worker who supports a music group and works with individuals over a period of time depending on their needs added: “Often when people join a group they feel very anxious, but through regular meetings and good support they can change over time.” Whilst at the centre, we were privileged to get a sneak preview of the band who were made up of service users, rehearsing for an event to mark Mental Health Awareness week. We were taken aback by their confidence and talent and saw first-hand the therapeutic benefits of music. We will definitely be on the front row at their next gig!
One of the classes at the centre works on building people’s confidence. This group is service user led and members decide how they want it to be run and set their own goals. It ranges from helping someone to gain the confidence to use the bus, or even walk down the high-street. It’s all about supporting each other to do things they may not otherwise do on their own.
The centre also runs various groups in the community. One group called ‘ Natural World’, a nature-focused walking group, supports members to access green spaces and the countryside which helps with their mental health problems. There is also a group for young people aged 16 to 35 which offers an opportunity to share their experiences and helps to reduce any social anxieties experienced in their community.
During our visit to Stocks Hill we found the staff to be warm and welcoming, and service users went out of their way to tell us how the centre has changed their lives. We also met Darren, who has been attending the centre on a regular basis for the last four years. He explained how the service helped him to ‘come out from behind closed doors’ into a better life. You can read his full interview below.
“In here there is no stigma, everyone gets on!”
So tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’ve been using Stocks Hill Centre now for four years. Prior to that I was “sat behind my door” for 30 years. I didn’t want to go out, I spent a lot of time in trouble, and I didn’t trust anyone. I was referred here by my psychiatrist and now I’m more sociable. Before I was quite a nasty piece of work but this place has changed me into a better person and helped me to become more social. So yeah things have improved a lot since being here.
Do you attend regularly?
I come three days a week, Mondays and Fridays for more of a social gathering with peer support. We all suffer from mental health issues, we all understand each other’s mental health needs and we don’t feel judged. On Wednesdays I come because I’m the singer in the band, so yeah, I come three days a week.
What kind of support do you get from the centre?
I’ve got peer support which is, support from the other members, we all understand each other. We also all have support from staff if we need them, I’ve got a very good worker who helps me a lot if I go through bad times. And it’s knowing that someone is safe….you don’t have to worry about people saying, ‘look at that nutter coming out of his house’. In here you don’t get any of that, you get very good support. Anything we don’t like we just talk to the management at the end of the month and get it changed.
Can you give us an example of how bad it was before you came here, let’s say you couldn’t get on a bus?
I still can’t get on a bus because I just panic and flip out. A year after coming here, I took driving lessons and passed my test so now I drive here. I feel safe in my own little bubble, I haven’t got people in my ear so that was quite an achievement at forty odd years old, passing my driving test. It was thanks to the sort of support I had here. They encouraged me to go for it. What harm could it do to me? I either fail or I pass. It turned out I passed.
Do you need anything more in terms of social support?
I’m happy with what I’ve got, I’ve got my own sort of circle now and my psychiatrist. It has made a big difference to me, as getting help in other parts of the country was absolutely ridiculous. I’ve been moving around from town to town and there are just no mental health services around anymore. I didn’t trust social services with being brought up in care and it took a big step for me to actually come here in the first place.
Was it easy for you to access Stocks Hill?
Through my psychiatrist, yes it was easy. It’s now easier to access services than when I came in with self-referrals but that was due to the service users input. When they started listening to what’s good for the service users and what isn’t, it started to get a lot better and we’re very happy with the management structure we’ve got in place now.
Do you think there is a positive attitude towards mental health?
Not in the public eye. I will say the stigma is there and it’s going to be hard to shift no matter what way you look at it. I still get kids shouting at my window ‘the nutter lives there’, that’s something I’ve been used to all my life. In here there is no stigma, everyone gets on, we know we all suffer and we know when someone is not feeling well, to back off. It runs a lot better that way.
Would you have known about these services if you hadn’t been referred by your psychiatrist?
No, I thought Adult Social Care was just for older people. You don’t realise that it also covers things like mental health.
So are you happy in Leeds?
Yes I am. Leeds is quite unusual when it comes to dealing with mental health. I think at the moment there’s a good bunch of people who you can talk to and support has got a lot better. But there are always improvements to be made which is why I’m part of the Better Lives Board providing support from the mental health side of it.
Has your involvement on the Better Lives Board made a difference?
Before staff thought they knew what was best for us,now they understand what’s best for us and it has improved a hell of a lot. It’s working now and hopefully it will continue like that.
Thanks to all the staff and Darren at Stocks Hill Centre for sharing their experiences with us.
For more information about the services available for people living with mental health needs in Leeds, please visit our Day and Community Support Services .
Stephen Danby, ASC Communications Team