I have had a severe mental illness (diagnosed Schizoaffective disorder) for a number of years. I started getting involved with the charity Rethink Mental Illness in the autumn of 2015 after a very severe depressive episode which required me to have ECT in hospital throughout the summer. The local Rethink Recovery service commissioned by the NHS in my area supported me in a course in managing depression and another in building confidence. They signposted me to their Employment service where a special lady named Jo began supporting me into part time volunteering and employment – though she has gone beyond that and has helped in my wellbeing as well. I have also made use of the new Rethink Advocacy service when I had a short period in hospital this year.
In 2016 I was aware that Rethink did a lot of other great things in mental health that didn’t get government funding so I wanted to give something back. Having lost 35KG to become more healthy I set my heart in running my first 10KM race in the October. Unfortunately my mother had suddenly passed away which affected my mental state thus I couldn’t do it. However, I eventually did the London Winter Run 10K in February 2017 in her memory wearing my new Rethink Running vest. I went on to run a further two 10K races and a Half Marathon in my home town of Southend. Some of the Rethink team in Southend even came out in their Rethink T-shirts to cheer me on! In that year I raised £395 for Rethink.
It was during 2017 I began a dialogue with the Rethink’s Involvement team to begin a volunteer led peer support group for people with Mental Illness in Southend (Rethink has over 130+ groups nationally at present). We found other individuals to co-ordinate the group with me and the group began monthly meetings from November. The group still meets today and I have made friends from it. We have done all kinds of things together with speakers from the community such as the police, arts & crafts, creative writing, sometimes just talking over tea and coffee, Time to Talk day and a post social Christmas party with food and a raffle.
Keeping the group going though hasn’t been ‘plain sailing’ for me. The group requires me to fundraise for our activities, pay for items such as venue, refreshments and any materials and promote the group whether thats giving talks in the community, social media, answering email from new members or on the phone. I applied for a grant in 2018 which was successful to fund our groups activities for a year. I felt empowered to complete a 2 day Adult Mental Health First Aid Course and do a Photoshop course in Autumn 2018 to polish up our group posters and social media promotions. I then used my Photoshop skills to aid my VLOGS when training for my first Marathon in 2019. I raised close to £500 for our group by running the Manchester Marathon last April.
I have found Rethink’s vision for those us of us with mental illness so empowering that I have got involved in other areas of the charity. I joined the Physical Activity Steering Group in September 2018 with it’s aim to get Rethink groups like mine across the nation physically active. Me and my fellow co-ordinators of the group have since March began scheduling different ‘active’ activities every fortnight. Thus far we have done Rounders and Ping Pong. We will be walking as a group this month and we hope to do many other activities the group wishes to do.
In December 2018 I joined the Rethink Lived Experience Advisory Board thats provides a strong voice of those with mental illness to the heart of everything Rethink does. More recently I have helped with ideas for the Members day in November this year and I have been fortunate enough to volunteer in the office helping the Trust & Grants team with the important work they do for the charity. It has been fantastic to meet the staff in Rethink this year, some of whom I have exchanged emails with for many months and years. As well as a informative process perhaps sometimes sobering of the challenges the charity faces in helping people like me.
As a service user and volunteer of Rethink I have undergone huge personal growth that I’m not sure would have happened without this very special charity. I’m set to start a MSc in Mental Health Recovery and Social Inclusion later this year and I have my sights on doing a 100KM Ultra Marathon in May next year.