Vital mental health support line gearing up for another battle to secure funding

Norwich MIND. Jason Moores. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Norwich MIND. Jason Moores. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

As part of our ongoing Mental Health Watch campaign, access has been granted to the work carried out by the Norwich and Central Norfolk branch of the charity Mind. Today, investigations editor David Powles meets the people behind two of its key services.

Norwich MIND. Paola Colombo, left, and Allison Guymer. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Norwich MIND. Paola Colombo, left, and Allison Guymer. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

Imagine being on the phone and the person at the other end says they are going to harm themselves - or something worse.

Imagine knowing that what you say or do next could be the difference between life and death.

That is the reality of life for staff working within the charity's Support Line Services team.

The team operates from 2pm to midnight in the week and 24 hours a day at the weekend.


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It is perhaps best described as a safety net. It's there for people when regular support might not be.

Someone might call it when their regular support worker is off-shift, which is why they operate around the clock on weekends.

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And call it people do, with the service receiving about 1,000 calls a month.

Yet despite this, it faces a constant battle for survival.

It was only last year the service hit the headlines when it was announced funding was to cease, until the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) stepped in to pick up the tab.

That battle has begun once more, with the current funding due to finish at the end of March.

Jason Moores, service manager, said: 'We know what happened last time and that does cause some anxiety not just for staff, but service users as well. 'But we got together two months ago and said we need to start the process soon and get the right people talking, because if this service was to stop the impact would be huge. It's people's lives.

'We might take five calls a night from someone. What happens to them if we are not there?'

Mr Moores is keen to stress, however, it's no time for panic and its business as usual for its dedicated staff.

The number is available free-of-charge to anyone over 18 and who has received treatment from NSFT in the past year. Each call that comes in is given a grading of either red (serious and urgent), amber or green.

Mr Moores explained: 'If someone rings up and is classed as a red, we would get in touch with the crisis team and keep that person talking while they respond.

'Ambers might need some psychiatric intervention, but not necessarily as an emergency. The greens just need someone to talk to.'

Louise Nightingale, 32, from Wymondham, says the service's staff saved her by staying on the phone for five hours and talking her out of an overdose.

She added: 'Every single one of them is fantastic. I self harm and feel worse at night, but they are always there at the end of the phone to talk to me.

'Having Mind to call really makes a difference because they know what I'm going through and don't judge.

'If it wasn't for them I wouldn't be here and if it was no longer here I would be absolutely devastated as I would not be able to cope. They are the only thing available at 2am.'

She is organising a craft stall to raise money for Mind at the Wymondham Pampering and Craft Fair on Saturday, March 19 at Central Hall.

SMASHING THE STIGMA

We are sat in a warm and welcoming room at Norwich Mind, in Sale Road, watching a poignant Youtube video of Allison Guymer in which she talks about her battle with depression.

Next to me, both Allison and Paola Colombo, who works for the charity, are welling up with pride.

A few years ago the 44-year-old would not have had the confidence to face the cameras in such a way.

Allison, from Norwich city centre, has suffered from depression for much of her life. At its worst she had to stay for a few days at Hellesdon Hospital, after which she faced the type of stigmatisation which is sadly all too common for those suffering like her.

She lost friends, fell out with family members and it even cost her jobs, until in 2012 she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from being in an abusive relationship.

It was around that time she began to receive help from Mind and took part in its project called Bigger Picture. The project, part of the national Time to Change campaign, sees those with a mental health condition face their problems head on by talking about them on camera and with the public at events around Norfolk.

In her video, shown on the big screen at The Forum in Norwich, Allison is shot at various spots in the city talking about her condition and how it makes her feel.

She said: 'I wanted it to be very raw and to be open so people know these things do happen and do affect people every day, but they are not going through it alone.'

'My Mum and brother had always been my rocks, but after being shown the video my Dad came up to me and said he was starting to understand what I'm going through. That has improved our relationship ten-fold.'

Allison felt confident enough to take part in another Bigger Picture project which saw her and others head out to the community to run workshops at events in Norfolk.

She added: 'I was in a good place and wanted to spread the word. To have this community of people to work with has helped me to feel less alone.'

She now runs her own peer group for Mind and has recently completed a sociology and psychology degree with hopes of becoming a support worker herself.

Paola Colombo, who runs the project and has worked at Mind since 2011, says its aim is not only to help sufferers, but confront some of the stigma and lack of awareness around mental health in society.

She said: 'Fighting the prejudice is so very important because people who have to manage this condition can feel a lot worse because of the stigma and being seen as someone who is miserable or not reliable.

'I see it as similar to making a wave. If we can start with the small ripples, all of a sudden the wave will come.

'I have lived with depression myself since I was a teenager, but I certainly feel very lucky to work with a lot of very brave people.'

TOMORROW: Face to face with a service user and his support worker.

HELPFUL NUMBERS

Norwich and Central Norfolk Mind can be contacted on 01603 432457 or log on to www.norwichmind.org.uk for more information.

For West Norfolk Mind call 01553 776966 or www.westnorfolkmind.org.uk.

For Great Yarmouth and Waveney Mind call 01493 842129 or www.gywmind.org.uk.

For Suffolk Mind call 0300 111 6000 or www.suffolkmind.org.uk

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