STAFF from a community enterprise in Lancashire are using their own experience of mental ill health to help others.
Both Adam Doyle and Simon Donnelly from Newground, part of Together Housing Group (THG), have suffered from depression and PTSD themselves. They are now putting their past experience into use by shaping services to help make a difference for others going through similar issues.
Doyle attempted suicide twice as a teenager, so he knows all too well the feelings of hopelessness and despair, and he is now helping others via a suicide prevention project called Compass.
Funded by the Lancashire & South Cumbria Suicide Prevention Fund, Compass aims to support middle-aged males, who are not known to services, to navigate their mental ill health and raise awareness of suicide within the community.
The project involves three phases:
- Working with Together Housing neighbourhood officers, schools and local businesses to raise awareness of male suicide, encouraging those at risk to seek help and support, and signposting them to organisations such as Samaritans and Calm
- Mental health first aid training for neighbourhood officers, school staff and local businesses, equipping them to be able to spot signs and symptoms of mental ill health including suicide risks and signposting them to appropriate support
- A weekly men’s group at Shadsworth Hub which will see group members taking part in a talking therapy session with a qualified psychotherapist
Doyle has suffered from depression, often referred to as “the black dog”, since he was a teenager.
Despite a troubled childhood, which led to two suicide attempts by the age of 16, he went on to work in the mental health field, managing services and travelling the country as a specialist trainer in challenging behaviour. But the death of his father, followed by a near death experience with meningitis, sent him back into depression.
He fought it and came back stronger but a few years later he went through some very difficult personal circumstances and the following year was made redundant.
“I found myself falling down a rabbit hole of depression. With the support of my partner I was able to seek help, start my own business and banish the black dog to the shadows,” he said. “In 2015 I started my first job at Newground, and with the support of some fantastic managers have been able to progress and develop into new roles.
“I currently lead a staff team who mentor and support young people and adults on a range of project’s including More Positive Together, Engaging Vulnerable Young People and Emotional Health and Wellbeing; working to overcome diverse barriers including mental illness.
“I am extremely proud of the work the team do, because they are not afraid of confronting difficult issues and ensuring clients of the programmes are able to talk and have a conversation about mental health.
“The staff team are special individuals who themselves have their own stories to tell, they have their own experiences and what is remarkable is how they use this to support and encourage others.
“I am not ashamed of my own struggles with mental health. Too often the stigma and taboo surrounding mental health conditions lead to the biggest killer of men in this country — suicide.”
Donnelly is also using his experience of depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance misuse and eating disorders to help vulnerable people.
Having previously worked at the James Street Project, a THG supported housing scheme, for nine years, he is instrumental in the Creative Engagement Programme. This takes referrals from supported accommodation and hostels and works with those furthest from the labour market. As part of the project, he delivers a “lived Experience” talk.
“The talk is about my younger life leading to where I am today,” Donnelly said. “This includes talking about my previous addiction to drugs, crime and homelessness, as well as the multiple mental health issues I have experienced throughout my life. It is aimed at engaging people, as they are able to see that I have been through a lot of what they are currently experiencing and have been able to turn it around and giving them hope for the future.
“It is nearly 20 years ago that I came out of rehab for heroin addiction and since then I have been committed to educating, mentoring and coaching people of all ages from 14 to 65 in how to move forward and be successful in whatever people choose to aim for.
“The thing that I enjoy most about my job is the challenge in engaging people and then seeing them grow. The real reward for me is when I see people years down the line and people remember me for being a positive factor in their life which enabled and supported them through the dark periods of their life to move forwards, that’s the real bonus.”
He added: “Until recently, the only person who knew I was experiencing mental health challenges was my manager, Adam. He has been a pillar of strength for me, he was able to recognise that I am better off in work and that although I have had mental health challenges, I am still able to function and deliver on my projects. It has been refreshing to be able to talk openly and honestly without fear of being judged.”
Doyle, who has previously volunteered helping street children and underground oppressed groups in the Ukraine, China and Africa, added: “Mental health has no cultural identity. It does not restrict itself to one language or group of people. Mental health affects everyone, of any race, background or class.
“More importantly it’s not a topic that should be whispered or hushed away. We all need to be brave enough to have that conversation, whether it’s a family member, a colleague or somebody whom we support.”