The power of peer mentoring

    In this challenging time, it is more important than ever to look after your own mental health, as well as look out for the people around you. Here, we are highlighting the incredible work of our volunteers. During lockdown they have adapted how they work to carry on supporting our vulnerable clients with their mental health.

    Physical or mental health problems can be both a cause and consequence of homelessness. At St Mungo’s we take a holistic approach to mental and physical health, addressing these issues alongside each other. We run mental health dedicated services in Bath and our Building Bridges to Wellbeing programme empowers people to use their experience of managing their mental health to help others.

    Building Bridges to Wellbeing has a peer mentoring service where volunteers use their own experience of living with mental health challenges to help and support clients to improve their wellbeing, confidence and mental health. These volunteers, known as Peer Mentors, work on a one-to-one basis with their clients. They support them to explore how to make small changes, look at their interests and options available, hopefully enabling them to link with their community by joining groups or courses, planning and supporting them to make small steps towards this goal. Mentors use their own experience of living with mental health challenges to build this relationship and share useful tools and resources.

    However, due to safety guidance and Government restrictions relating to Covid-19 pandemic, this was no longer possible. Our peer mentors have adapted quickly to the Government’s measures and put in place a new way to support clients remotely. Our clients are now being supported by regular wellbeing phone conversations with their peer mentor, some have even started using video link calls, to share resources and encourage positivity in regards to exploring things they can engage with. We are working with local partners, to distribute wellbeing packs that include activities, puzzles and techniques to help with any mental health difficulties arising during lockdown.

    What is it like being a part of the programme?

    Two of our mentors, Zoe and Dena share why they got involved with the Building Bridges to Wellbeing programme and what it means to them.

    Mentoring has given me back a purpose.

    Zoe wanted to get involved with peer mentoring following her own personal battle with mental illness after the breakdown of her marriage and working long hours at a job in social care. Through various drug treatments, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and the support of her family and friends, she’s been feeling stronger and felt that she wanted to give something back.

    I absolutely love what I do and I like to think I’m making a difference to those during the various stages of their journeys.

    After weeks of training, Zoe was matched with first mentee and has since been a peer mentor for five different people, supporting them with their own stories. She feels lucky to be able to support those in need during this difficult time, especially through uncertainty and loneliness in isolation. She hopes that her mentoring will lead to permanent position in a mental health setting.

    In these current times, everyone is prone to be feeling unsettled, scared and, at times, lonely, and this particularly true for vulnerable and isolated people.

    Dena, a fellow peer mentor wanted to help because she believes that mentoring and helping others is one of the key wellness techniques.

    I think the real power of peer mentoring is empathy.

    Following access to excellent resources and training through St Mungo’s, Zoe works with our clients, having a weekly a non-judgemental chat and providing support and information on the different kinds of self-care methods available that could make a difference to the client’s mental health.

    People can gain such reassurance and peace from simply hearing “I understand” from someone that they know really does.

    Mental Health Awareness Week

    Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from 10-16 May 2021. The theme is Connect with Nature.

    Having difficult conversations about death

    Andy Knee from our Palliative Care team writes about having difficult conversations about death and provides a few ways that may help having them a little easier.

    Though death happens to everyone, many of us have not spoken to anyone about our concerns, fears or wishes when it comes to our end of life. This may be because we don’t want to. Or it may be that we haven’t thought about discussing it before. Or we don’t know who we could talk to. It may be that we prefer to just focus on the here and now, or have suffered so much that we cannot face talking about it.

    The nature of homelessness itself presents many barriers: complex needs, trauma, substance misuse, living on the streets and multiple health conditions. As a result many individuals live for the moment, prioritising needs in the present rather than focussing on what care they might hope for in the future. It maybe the fear of facing our own mortality. Perhaps our fears could be turned around? Instead of fear, maybe we could focus on what we want. For example, what would living well look like?

    Maybe we can turn fear into hope? Talking about hope when someone is approaching the end of their life may seem like a strange concept, but in having these conversations it enables us to have discussions that identify a person’s wishes and preferences. Those who are homeless are no different and we all deserve to die with dignity and respect.

    Someone once told me that by accepting death they were able to embrace life. Some might say this is a strange thing to say. But death is a natural part of life.

    What can we do?

    This is a difficult question to ask. We may think to ourselves “I don’t have the skills. I’m not an expert” or “I don’t know what to say. I might make things worse!” and this is perfectly natural. So here are a few things that may help.

    • We shouldn’t be afraid to talk. We don’t need to wait until we are sick, before we talk about dying. We may all chose to speak to different people about our fears, concerns, wishes and what’s important to us, be it friends or health professionals. Talking about what would happen should our health get worse, will not make it happen – it may make us feel more in control.
    • Parallel Planning: Hoping for the best, but planning for the worst. By using parallel planning we are maintaining hope, but are ready for the worst case scenarios. We have those difficult conversations, but always maintain hope.
    • Our life, our choices: To try and ensure we are treated as we chose towards the end of our lives, we may choose to have our wishes written down (for example: What music we like? How we would like to be remembered?)
    • Making our voice heard: we can decide how we want to be cared for including refusing treatment if we wish.

    Dying Matters Week 2021

    This year’s Dying Matters Week is 10-16 May and will focus on the importance of being in a good place to die. More information on the week here. 

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