Improving Bristol’s Mental Health

    For over three years, St Mungo’s has been running the Assertive Contact and Engagement Project (ACE), providing mental health services in Bristol. Paul Sargent, manager at ACE, explains how his team have been reaching out to people who face complex barriers accessing services.

    ‘Services tailored to the needs of people’

    We provide a variety of services tailored to the needs of people who may be mistrustful of treatment, may lead chaotic lifestyles or who have had poor experiences with services in the past. Our 26 staff work closely with the LGBTQI community, asylum seekers and refugees, rough sleepers, parents, and those with risky drug and alcohol use. Our specialised services include outreach, drop-ins, one-to-one support, groups and therapy. We work flexibly until the people we support have accessed the services they need or feel able to do so more easily on their own.

    Over the past three years, ACE has worked with approximately 882 people and assisted them to access mental health support. Approximately 45% of our clients seen on a one-to-one basis are or were rough sleepers.

    ‘Close working relationship with local services and community groups’

    ACE provides training for community groups and services on how to work with individuals with mental health issues. We have delivered 450 group and outreach sessions including a wellbeing group at North Bristol Advice Centre, a breakfast club for isolated men, women’s mornings, Somali yoga sessions, and a weekly sewing group for South Asian women.

    Our links with businesses and community groups have enabled us to run a wide range of initiatives so people we support can enjoy activities such as fishing trips, yoga sessions and trips to the farm. Corporate volunteers from Lloyds Bank got together to give our Filwood hub a much-needed lick of paint.

    We work closely with local services and community groups so we can all support people who are struggling with their mental health. Our first forum devoted to engagement approaches and strategies takes place on 11 October 2017 and we are proud that over 50 partners will be joining us for this special event. The day will consist of a series of workshops led by staff and partners with client involvement sharing our learning and experience over the last three years.

    ‘We are evolving’

    The ACE team are amazing, they know what their jobs are and are aware of the hurdles and challenges facing a mental health engagement service. We continue to provide training so our staff can support clients who need our help. We are developing our psychological interventions offer and ran our first dialectical behaviour therapy course this year. A talking therapy based on cognitive behavioural therapy, this meets the particular needs of people who experience emotions very intensely.

    Mental health outreach worker, Ritchie recently joined our team and goes out five times a week to meet people who are rough sleeping and have been identified as needing mental health support. Currently, seventeen rough sleepers are receiving one-to-one support from Ritchie.

    We have learnt that engaging and building relationships with clients is the priority, closely followed by doing the same with other services, partners and stakeholders.

    It’s tough times for our clients, and supportive services are struggling to manage. Here at St Mungo’s we know this possibly better than anyone and hold on to hope for a better future. Building key partnerships with the services our clients need the most takes patience, belief and assertiveness.

    So what does the future hold? We aim to provide a path to a bright future for our clients, work closely with our partners to increase our influence within the community and change perceptions of mental health services, all whilst enjoying the work that we do.

    To find out more about the Bristol ACE project, please get in touch:

    Telephone: 0117 239 8969 (Mon – Fri 8:00am – 8:00pm)
    Facebook: @ACEBristolMentalHealth
    Twitter: @ACE_BMH



    ‘The Sanctuary were able to reach me’

    “I thought the pain I was suffering mentally couldn’t be alleviated and so the only way out was to take my life.”  – as a new campaign ‘We Hear You’ is launched to get Bristol talking about mental health, Shaun shares his experience at The Bristol Sanctuary, a unique service run by St Mungo’s for people who experience severe emotional distress.

    The Bristol Sanctuary is a welcoming safe space available for anyone feeling they can’t cope or are feeling desperate over the weekends. We help people find some stability and a plan to stay safe. People can spend time talking through their situation with a trained worker, or just take some breathing time.

    ‘Encouraging people to access the help they need’

    Three out of four people who visit The Sanctuary are considering suicide or serious self-harm. Over each weekend, an average of 20 people visit seeking support. Staff want to ensure others know about the service and are launching the ‘We Hear You’ campaign to encourage more people to access the help they need.

    According to the latest statistics from Public Health England, the rate of death by suicide in Bristol is above the three year average for the south west and for England. The City Council’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment states there were 137 suicides in Bristol between 2012 and 2014.

    “I had taken two serious attempts to end my life. I was at my lowest.”

    We asked Shaun, who has used the service to share his experience with us. Shaun, 58, tells us in his own words just how vital it was in saving his life:

    “I was in crisis. I had taken two serious attempts to end my life. I was at my lowest. It was my daughter who phoned for help. I think she called the police. It’s all a blur, but the lady who came with the police, told me about The Sanctuary.

    “It was just before Christmas 2016. The crisis team called round daily to check on my welfare. They were great and talked me out of taking an overdose but they couldn’t offer me the company I needed. I needed to talk, not just in a psychological way, but to talk and for someone to listen. If I talked I got a break from my suicidal thoughts. I didn’t want to be here anymore, my marriage had broken down after 37 years and I was lost.

    “I left feeling okay.”

    “I thought the pain I was suffering mentally couldn’t be alleviated and so the only way out was to take my life. I thought if nothing could stop the pain there’d be no point in seeking help. It was relentless, I could only sleep for an hour or two, and sleep was the only break I got from my dark and painful thoughts.

    “It was wonderful to come to The Sanctuary, to stay as long as I needed to and meet friendly people; with the combination of talking to people and counselling. I left feeling ‘ok’ and with a realisation that there was something that could alleviate the pain. I lost my suicidal thoughts and had, now, a little bit of hope from which I could build my recovery.

    “I have suffered depression for 27 years following an accident at work, which left me with disabilities, and I had to leave my job. Usually for me, when I am in crisis I am unreachable and more to the point I don’t want to be reached. But they were able to reach me, the moment I walked through the door I felt a great relief. That first weekend I came every night they were open, and again the following weekend. My normal coping methods, like talking to my wife were no longer there. I felt I had no future and all I had was this terrible, terrible pain.

    “If I hadn’t come to The Sanctuary I wouldn’t be alive.”

    “The Sanctuary has such a lovely atmosphere, I was greeted with a smiling face – it was right – not over the top – just the right kind of smile. There was no pressure just an acceptance, you don’t have to talk, but you can if you want to. They helped me to see I did have a future and I could be independent. They raised my confidence and my visits improved my social interactions, they were positive experiences. Up until that point I had never left the house without my wife. I was isolated. I began to feel my future was bearable. If I hadn’t come to The Sanctuary I wouldn’t be alive. I am so grateful that the strength of my suicidal thoughts have gone, I still get flashes but its sufficient for me to know that it is there and I can come back any time, and I have.

    “I was as desperate as I think it’s possible to be. To meet people who have compassion and others who are in a similar place helped me get through; I’m often amazed, at how good fellow sufferers are at knowing when to be quiet, or to ask how you are.

    “I have built resilience. I would say to anyone who is going through a crisis, or even before it reaches crisis point to visit, it’s got to be worth giving it a try.”

    Shaun is currently studying for a distance learning degree.

    How to get in touch

    Open Thursday – Monday. Phone lines open from 4pm.
    In person appointments available 5 till 11pm.
    Phone support 5pm till midnight.
    Call us on 07709 295 661 or email to book a place or for more information.


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