September 28, 2014

Face2Face project photoAlison is a Volunteer Coordinator for the Face2Face Dorset project. Face2Face Dorset is a Time to Change grant-funded project that uses creative activities to draw in members of the public and create opportunities for one-to-one conversations. Volunteers attend festivals, community venues and empty shops across Dorset and run simple arts based activities and workshops.

My story

I have suffered from mood swings since being a teenager however it wasn’t until about 10 years ago, following a breakdown, that I was diagnosed with Chronic Depression and then five years ago, with Bipolar Type 2. It’s been a long struggle but with the support of my wonderful family and close friends and from organisations such as Richmond Fellowship, I have learned to manage my condition very well.

Through my condition I came fully aware of the impact of stigma and discrimination

Having worked in both Health and Social Work environments I was aware of the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health, however it wasn’t until my condition overcame me that I became fully appreciative of how such attitudes effect and impact on daily living. Such discrimination has included being asked to leave a tenancy and the sudden absence of people I had regarded as friends.

I was told that given my mental health condition I was unlikely to be employed again

Employment has also been a key factor. Unfortunately just months prior to my breakdown I had started work at a new agency and given that I was still in a probationary period the employer felt that they could not provide any support and terminated my contract. I was told by my, then Disability advisor, that given my mental health condition I was unlikely to be employed again, despite my good employment history and degree level qualifications!

I made the decision to volunteer for the Face2Face Dorset project

It is given this background that I made the decision to volunteer for the Face2Face Dorset project. I had recently left The Richmond Fellowship as a service user when they asked me if I would like to volunteer on the project, an opportunity I looked forward to.

As a volunteer I attended a number of induction and training sessions. Given that I’m quite confident in talking to people anyway I decided to do some conversations! We attended a number of events throughout Poole and Dorset with very positive results.

I eventually transitioned into a paid role of Volunteer Coordinator

After having volunteered on the project for some time, I eventually transitioned into a paid role of Volunteer Coordinator!

In the short period of time I have been engaged as a Volunteer co-ordinator and the slightly longer time as a volunteer on the Face2Face Dorset project, I have gained so much. My confidence has increased. I am developing new skills and re-awakening old ones. This has had such a positive impact on me and my mental health.

The sense of personal achievement and empowerment I get when engaging people around mental health issues is a huge boost for my self esteem

Talking to complete strangers about mental health can at first seem very daunting but in the main the reactions have been quite astounding – people seem to gain an awareness and understanding of mental health issues and talking helps to break down the barriers . The sense of personal achievement and empowerment I get when engaging people around mental health issues is a huge boost for my self esteem, especially when people realise that they have been talking to someone with a mental health condition.

Even when discussions have become very challenging I rarely, if ever, feel that I haven’t made a small difference to someone’s attitude and that leaves me feeling so optimistic that I and the team at Face2Face Dorset , via Time to Change, are changing attitudes one conversation at a time.

As a result of my increased confidence and developing new skills, I am looking to find the right opportunity to get back into social care work and to develop my career.  

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