My Time to Shine - SELF at Leeds Mind
Every month we focus on a project funded by Time to Shine to see how they support older people in Leeds. This month we hear about SELF, a Leeds Mind project that helps older people with mental health issues.
ELF is a social support service funded by Time to Shine and delivered by Leeds Mind. The project works with people aged 50+ in South and East Leeds who are experiencing low mood and high levels of social isolation. The project began in the summer of 2018, receiving its first referral on the 28th August. Since then, we have offered 1:1 befriending, monthly social groups, social support and signposting information to our clients. Due to Covid-19, we moved to telephone befriending in March 2020 and opened referrals citywide in June to support more people experiencing social isolation due to the pandemic.
It’s a safe space and
place to talk and
offload , we talk about all sorts of things
Our team started as just one paid member of staff but through support from three student interns, we have managed to expand the scope of the work we delivered. One of the interns, Amy Vibert, successfully secured
a paid position as a Befriending support worker shortly after completing her placement.
As a mental health charity, we have been working with some of the most marginalised members of the elderly community, people who have had a mental health diagnosis. Often, due to a combination of their mental ill health and the stigma and misunderstanding around conditions like Psychosis and Schizophrenia, people have been left with very little confidence and self-esteem to re-engage in social groups and one-to -one conversations with other people.
In the last two and a half years we have established over 55 successful befriending partnerships and delivered 40 social groups that attracted an additional 20 service users. Some of the service users have required additional support through external agencies due to risks around self-harm, suicidal thoughts and self-neglect, but we have managed to help them through some testing times.
This is what one of our befriendees had to say about befriending: “It’s a safe space and place to talk and offload – she feels like a friend even though I don’t know what she looks like. We talk about all sorts of things, including birds in the garden and children at the school I work at. I don’t feel like I have to talk to a script, I feel very relaxed talking to her – she has a very soothing voice.”
Our volunteer befrienders have been extremely important to the success of SELF—without them, the project simply wouldn’t work! Since the project started in August 2018, we have recruited, trained and matched 31 volunteer befrienders. The befrienders have all completed either a 9 month or
3-month befriending partnership and in some cases, the befrienders and befriendees have decided to keep in contact outside of the partnership!
During the Pandemic, we have started offering phone-based social groups that offer people a chance to speak to someone outside their normal social circle. We recently started a virtual group that is delivered over WhatsApp, to make video calls accessible to people who own a smart device and want to physically see other group members.
Although the SELF project will be ending at the end of March, as our funding comes to an end, we take great pride and comfort in knowing that we have made over 1000 contacts with vulnerable members of the community who have often reported an improvement in their self-confidence due to our support.
We spoke to two people who have been part of the SELF project. The first is a volunteer befriender, the second a member of the SELF group.
My supervisor at SELF did a superb job in the matching process. They paired me with ‘K’, whose own history and clear breadth of knowledge made for a befitting choice. And from here, a relationship of the mind emerged. Whether we go out for a coffee or stay in, stimulating (and I would go as far to suggest, invigorating) conversation is central when we meet.
Unfortunately, ‘K’ has spent a little time in hospital which has made his schedule unpredictable. However, I have been able to overcome this to some extent by paying visits to the hospital in place of our usual meetings. Times like these are when I can see the greatest value in befriending. In the most isolated moments of someone’s life a wholesome encounter with an enthusiastic befriender can make a real difference. I won’t forget K’s face lighting up upon my first unexpected visit at his hospital bed.
Deborah Fahey has been involved with the SELF project since before the pandemic. She initially started coming because she wanted to improve her mental health after a stroke. The stroke was 5 years ago.
“On 14th April 2016 I woke up early because my husband goes to work at 7. I was going to get my hair done. But I had a headache. A bad headache.
I was sat at the desk. I sent a message to my husband. He said, ‘Go to the doctor’. I did something really good. I rang 999. But I had a stroke, straight away. So, they were saying ‘hello, hello, hello?’ and I didn’t answer.
I was unconscious. Four ambulances came. Knocking on the door. I woke up. They got in. One ambulance lady rang my husband and said, ‘she’s had a stroke.’ I woke up, smiled, then went unconscious.”
Deborah had to go to Chapel Allerton Hospital for treatment. “I didn’t know what was happening”, she says. Deborah had to have an operation to remove a blood clot on her eye. “That was 4 hours,” she recalls. “I came out of the coma and when I woke up it was hell. Absolute hell. I woke up. I can’t speak. I can’t walk. The right hand was asleep. It was absolute hell.” Being in hospital wasn’t easy. “You wake up and think, ‘what’s happened? where am I?’ But I am a strong lady. Every day I get better.” Deborah stayed at Chapel Allerton Hospital for 6 months. “I wanted to go home,” she says. “But what can I do? I can’t do anything! It took so long.”
After coming home, life wasn’t easy for Deborah. Her stroke had affected her ability to use certain parts of her body. “When I came home it was October. I thought, ‘I’m at home – but where am I?’ My right hand wouldn’t do anything.” The stroke didn’t just have a physical impact; there was an emotional impact too. Deborah often struggles to contain her emotions. “When you’ve had a stroke your brain... you cry. When I watch TV, I cry. I cry all the time!” She has aphasia too, which makes talking and writing very difficult. “Like being a baby,” she says. “Having a stroke is bad, but when you can’t speak... it’s hell.”
As she improved, Deborah started to go out more. Someone she knew told her about the SELF Project at Leeds Mind. “I can’t remember who!” says Deborah.Her first experience of SELF was at an event in Beeston. “It was the first time for me,” says Deborah. “It was a party. I was there for two hours. There were different people. A lot of people were depressed.” Eventually Deborah started to go to the SELF Group regularly. “Before lockdown, we were doing every month,” she says. “I went to the Royal Armouries with Kabeer and Amy. It was lovely.”
The group would meet and go on trips out in Leeds and the local area. “I went with Amy to the market,” Deborah says. “And Emily. For a coffee.” For Deborah it was vital to have the support and friendship of the group. Even when the group when to a location further afield, they always kept in touch with Deborah to check she was ok. “I loved the people. They were lovely. Really nice. So nice! Everybody’s lovely.”
As time goes on, Deborah’s ability to talk, walk and be independent keeps improving. And her mental well-being too. “I keep going, going, going, going,” she says. “Four years ago, I was like a vegetable. Between then and now, I’m getting better.”
Being part of the SELF group is an integral part of Deborah’s recovery. Before March 2020, the group visited a lot of different interesting places. Covid restrictions mean the group no longer meet face-to- face to go on trips. “We do Zoom!” says Deborah. “There’s only me this week! I never miss it. I go every time.” Kabeer and Amy offer Deborah an important service in these isolated times. As well as her stroke recovery, Deborah is currently going through a divorce. She finds the SELF Zoom sessions really helpful. “We just talk,” she says. “And they listen. The stroke and the divorce. It’s not good. I tell them and they just listen.”
Whatever difficulties she comes across, Deborah remains upbeat. With the SELF group behind her, she feels that things can only improve. “I’m getting better, just getting better,” she says. “I’m getting there.”
For more information on Leeds Mind and SELF, please visit www.leedsmind.org.uk.