Building the strength to cope
“Tell me some of your success stories,” I ask.
“There was one resident who was so nervous about meeting new people, that the thought itself would trigger a panic attack. She was looking for work but would only apply for jobs where she thought she could avoid people, like cleaning an empty office. She was struggling to apply for enough jobs that suited her and looked as if she might get sanctioned by the Jobcentre.”
“And you were able to help?”
“I worked with her for a number of weeks and by challenging some of the triggers we were able to get her anxiety under control. It had a big impact and has opened a lot of doors for her. She told me recently that she was now applying for customer service jobs.”
“That’s brilliant. And that’s just with weekly half-hour sessions?”
“I tend to see people fortnightly, typically for about six sessions,” she says.
Jade is a psychological wellbeing practitioner in the Think Positive service paid for by the Council and part of a community public health team. She’s at the UCAN every Wednesday morning.
“We help people who suffer from the very common issues that can affect us all from time to time: stress, anxiety, low mood, panic attacks. We can all get a bit stuck sometimes, and it’s about building positive coping strategies and letting people be hopeful about the future again.”
“Do people living in low income areas like Breightmet suffer from these issues more?” I ask.
“We know that people living in deprived areas are more likely to experience these problems, although anyone can experience them at some point in their life, whatever their situation. I see people with a lot of pressure on them: from the Jobcentre, from family or neighbours. It’s a very close-knit community, which has many positives, but that brings pressures too.
“I see a lot of people here at the UCAN suffering from panic attacks,” says Jade. “It’s unbelievably common and yet, if you’re a sufferer, you don’t realise how common it is. It’s not something people chat about.”
Oh, the stigma of mental health. It’s been some time now but I can still remember the relief when you realise you’re not the first person to feel that way. “It’s about knowledge isn’t it?” I say, “knowing you are not the only one, understanding a little of what’s going on in your mind.”
“Just having the right information can make a big difference,” says Jade. “I see people who have had a lot of knock backs and are struggling with the get-up and go. My role is to give people ways to problem solve, to build their motivation and find out what interests them.”
“And the welfare reforms,” I ask, “have they had an impact?”
“It’s another thing to deal with, isn’t it?” says Jade. “Additional pressures like the Bedroom Tax are making existing problems more difficult. But, on a positive note, by being here at the UCAN I can help people better by telling them about the other services – Money Matters, the CAB, the credit union – who can help with the housing and financial issues.”
“So you signpost clients on?”
“Yes, and it’s very easy to do here at the UCAN because there’s a holistic approach here where we can offer solutions on the doorstep, in a place people are already comfortable with.”
Jade and I were meant to meet up in a couple of weeks but one of her clients is a ‘no-show’ this morning and so I’ve nipped in. I ask her whether she gets a lot of that.
“It’s not that bad,” she says, “obviously it’s not great if people don’t turn up, especially if there are other people waiting to see me, but there are many reasons why people might miss an appointment and a lot of services will drop you if you don’t turn up. We felt it was really important that we didn’t do that.”
“It’s almost a sign that your service is needed more,” I suggest.
“Exactly. People might be struggling that morning because of anxiety, they might not be able to leave the house. But we don’t give up on them. We try and call them, send a follow-up letter and invite them to get back in touch.”
Her next appointment has arrived downstairs and so I take a quick snap and leave her to it.