Suzanne from Rayleigh

Before Suzanne joined HeadsUp she had been unemployed for two years, she was not looking for work due to her mental health as she suffered with social anxiety and depression. She was also trying to cope with personal losses and was “terrified” about where to start. Whilst online Suzanne came across some information about HeadsUp and she felt it was a “light-bulb moment of it might work”, she was of the mindset that if she didn’t take the step now, she never would.

Suzanne made the brave decision to take the first step, she felt sick as she waited for her appointment, she felt as if she “couldn’t be helped” and also questioned if she was not “ill enough for services” as she had only heard of support for those that had had severe mental health experiences and was worried she may not be offered support. As time went by in the lead up to her first meeting, Suzanne started to look forward to “finding [her] way back into the world”. She didn’t know what to expect, but all she knew is that it was worth a try.

At her first meeting Suzanne wanted to run away, she felt uncomfortable and did not look at her Peer Support Worker, she could feel herself physically shaking. However, the more she meet with her PSW, the more she could feel her confidence slowly start to grow. Suzanne reflected on this moment and explained “I am a 1000 miles from what I was”. Others started to notice her confidence grow and Suzanne felt that it was a result of the time spent with her PSW “She believed in me, she didn’t give up, she didn’t talk to me like I was worthless”. Suzanne started to feel like “that I wasn’t completely useless and worthless” and could feel the differences the support was making.

Suzanne’s confidence has grown, and she is now volunteering as a receptionist and has a Saturday job in a Barbers, which involves meeting and greeting people. She is quite rightly proud of these achievements as she has come a long way from where she was, she is now able to talk to people face to face and make conversation, accomplishments that are “pretty special”.
“If it wasn’t for [support from my PSW] I wouldn’t be where I am, I have so much respect and admiration for her… finding someone that has been through similar situations gives you hope… and a glimmer at the end of a very long tunnel” – Suzanne explained how hearing about someone’s lived experiences and challenges and then seeing their career and achievements gives those in similar situations hope. Suzanne went on to explain how those that have not had a personal experience of mental health problems can empathise but can never truly understand, whereas our HeadsUp Peer Support Workers can both empathise and understand.

Suzanne “would recommend [HeadsUp] to everyone” and has already recommended it to those she knows and shares information through her Facebook. Suzanne’s last words to HeadsUp are “Keep doing what you guys do, you are amazing, well needed and a massive thank you”.

The comfort of seeing a face…

Working from home has had its advantages, not having to worry about getting to the bus stop on time, or what clothes to put on in the morning, but I have really missed the face to face interactions, particularly when meeting new participants (via a phone call) who are understandably nervous.

I’m quite phone phobic myself and have to just jump in and make myself sound confident “Hi my name is Clare and its good to meet you, (even if it’s over the phone”). I have experienced Zoom meetings so I’m learning and adjusting to Video Calls but my thoughts are that I don’t really like them but they are necessary and I just have to get on with it

When I’m meeting a new Participant on the phone I have an appreciation of the courage it has taken for them to speak to me but I miss the social interaction/non-verbal cues such as facial expression and their body movements which show how they feel without using words that you get when meeting someone face to face

Since the last week in July we have managed to put in place limited pre booked face to face meetings in a risk assessed COVID aware environment and it has been so nice to be able to meet Participants I have only spoken to on the phone, or catch up with Participants I would have (pre COVID) met face to face with on a regular basis.

Every Participant I’ve been able to meet face to face since, whether I first met them on the phone during Lockdown or were existing Participants before Lockdown have said how they have appreciated that face to face experience. They feel they are being supported to be productive and constructive in their journey into work and / or training, particularly in these ever changing times of employment/training opportunities due to COVID.

Barriers are there to overcome

When a particularly anxious participant came onto the project wanting employability support, turning up for the first appointment with [me] his Peer Support Worker was a real challenge. He didn’t feel comfortable going out on his own and the thought of using public transport filled him with terror, so he relied on family members to escort him.

He lived in a very small world.

We took things slowly, working together to identify skills & qualities he didn’t realise he possessed at a pace that he felt comfortable with. Focusing on his strengths, he started to recognise that he had capabilities he hadn’t even began to understand. This knowledge helped him gain the courage to gradually attempt new challenges, ones that were well within his grasp, even if he wasn’t quite sure he believed that!

He took gradual steps to take short local journeys on his own, steadily increasing the distances as his confidence grew. Eventually he progressed to taking journeys on the bus to appointments, happy that as his confidence grew, his world expanded. Now he regularly volunteers at a charity shop where he has made several friends and has even started to attend social events with them, something that was completely unimaginable to him several months before.

The lockdown forced the shop to close temporarily which upset him as he missed volunteering with his newfound friends, and he couldn’t wait to return.

He has grown in confidence and self-belief during his time on the project and it all started with his decision to try HeadsUp.

Curve ball moments …..

Each participant is different, bringing their own unique experience and it’s really important that this is at the base of our support, what works well for some does not with others. And what works for an individual also might change over time often depending on an array of factors.

This scenario is demonstrated really well by the experience of one of our participants; she had been working with us for a year and had come such a long way from the anxious person who signed up with HeadsUp. She was keen to move forward in life, but her social anxiety was causing difficulties. With support from her Peer Support Worker (PSW) and her own determination, she managed to progress to a point where she felt able to sign up for an Adult Community Learning course to build on self-confidence and to learn new skills to manage her anxieties. She also attended our HeadsUp workshops and engaged with others in the group with ease and with that determined mind-set she started a land-based course – her great ideas were coming to fruition!

On the arrival of the pandemic our participant felt that she didn’t need support for a while and she was even offering her own support to others, but over time this changed and she contacted her PSW explaining that she did not feel great and didn’t want to engage. Now one of the fantastic things about the relationship that our PSW’s build with their participants is that they often know them well enough to give a friendly nudge if a ‘wobble’ rears its head! This was certainly one of those occasions as when a job appeared that our PSW knew she was perfect for, she sent it over and it was the encouragement that was needed as in a short space of time members of the team had helped to tailor her CV and an application was sent.

Sometimes things appear that help us to take a different turn and as a PSW it’s a privilege to be a part of a curve ball moment like this.

The harsh truth about job hunting right now!

Being unemployed right now is difficult with such a competitive job market due to fewer jobs and a high number of applicants – it’s often difficult to keep motivated.
Working with participants to build their resilience is one of the most important things we can do at this stage. Some may find that they are losing hope, but at HeadsUp we will help keep you motivated reminding you of the reasons why finding work really is beneficial for so many reasons.

Some of these are:
 Contributing to a workforce improves your self-esteem and self-worth
 Once you get in to work you get to meet new people and even make friends
 learning new skills has a positive impact on your mental wellbeing, a new job is the perfect way to learn new skills and develop existing ones
 You may not get the ‘job of your dreams’ right now but think of your next job as a steppingstone, learn new skills and then move on to your ‘dream job’ when you are ready
 Being employed is good for your mental wellbeing in general, due to; feeling included, having a routine, giving you self-worth, teaching new skills, as well as lots of other things
 Money is a great motivator for most, work out how much better off you will be once you get back into paid employment and what you could buy to treat yourself on your first pay day
 You can be your biggest motivation! You have more to give than you realise, an employer would be lucky to have you, you have a lot to give and skills that will benefit a place of work

These are only some of the reasons not to give up and keep resilient, keep searching for roles and applying and once you get the role that suites you, you’ll be glad you did!