CaptureWITH ONE IN FOUR PEOPLE likely to have mental health issues (www.mind.org.uk) at some point in their lives, a piIot scheme in Sunderland is encouraging people to come forward for help and support.

The ‘Live and Learn’ project provides people with the opportunity to get involved with a range of social and learning activities in informal, community settings to improve their mental well-being and find out more about the specialist advice available should they want and need it.

Sunderland is one of more than 60 pilot areas facing particular social and mental health challenges, to receive a grant from the Skills Funding Agency. The money will be used to help people address personal issues with mild to moderate mental health issues such as stress, depression and anxiety.

The Government has announced plans to invest £ 1 billion pounds in mental health provision over the next five years, to help vulnerable groups such as expectant mothers, young people with eating disorders and those facing social isolation and loneliness to seek help or referral.

Lessons learnt in Sunderland and other pilot areas will help formulate national policy based on community based individual support and personal development. The aim is to help improve people’s self-confidence and ability to cope, and therefore reduce their need to see the doctor and lessen the impact on their personal and working lives.

The project is led by Sunderland City Council’s Family, Adult and Community Learning (FACL) and delivered through mental health and wellbeing  service providers Washington Mind, Aspire Learning, Support and Wellbeing and I.M.P.A.C.T North East. It provides a range of activities people can get involved with to increase their confidence, self-esteem and improve physical/mental well-being.

Held at community venues across the city, the programme of indoor and outdoor activities is designed to appeal to as wide a range of people as possible with everything from dog walking and social groups to learning creative and practical skills.

Sunderland City Council Portfolio Holder for Responsive Services and Customer Care, Councillor Cecilia Gofton, said: “It is surprising that such a social stigma still surrounds mental health, but even more surprising when you realise how much that it affects us all individually.

“Lack of sleep, anxiety and depression are all symptoms, but we are all either embarrassed or unsure to ask about how or where to seek help to treat the symptoms.

“The aim of ‘Live and Learn’ is  to provide people experiencing mild to moderate stress, anxiety or depression with the chance to take that difficult first step to doing something about it.

Councillor Gofton added: “The programme provides an opportunity to get involved in community based activities where they can enjoy themselves and socialise at the same time as increasing their self-esteem, confidence and knowledge of what help and support is available.”

“We hope that this community based project will encourage more people to come forward to become involved in activities, and feel comfortable as part of the network which provides access to other services which they might need to address what mental health issues they are dealing with.”

The Live and Learn programme not only provides people with information around self-help strategies but also advice and referrals to mental health services provided locally. It also offers access to shared training opportunities for practitioners and employers which include;

– How to spot the first signs of mental health problems and provide help with the workplace / Mental Health Awareness

– Mental Health / Well-being assessment tools

– Awareness of Anxiety and Depression

– Mental Health First Aid

– General well-being advice on simple steps to become physically fitter and socially involved which can make a real difference to mental health; Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning, Givehttp://wellbeinginfo.org      

Services Manager at Washington Mind, Jacqui Reeves said:  “Therapy is not the only option for improving mental health and wellbeing.

“Some people are better served by access to training or education in all its forms, and this is what the Community Learning Mental Health Pilot is all about.

“If we can combine Education and Mental Health as a way of removing barriers to both learning and seeking help and advice, then this has got to be good thing.”

One of the 175 people to have signed up for one of the courses is Bev Metters-Brook, 32, from Washington who gained so much self-confidence studying alongside her friends and neighbours on the Pet therapy and Reel therapy sessions that she became a volunteer and is now supporting tutors on the Creative Minds courses.

She said: “It’s all about taking that first step to realising that you need to get out of the houses or out of a depressing routine, and get involved with something to help change your everyday life.

“I’ve met lots of people just like myself who needed a new challenge, and the opportunity to meet new friends and learn new skills.

“I’ve enjoyed it so much that I wanted to help others ‘live and learn’ and use my own re-discovered skills and enthusiasm to teach others and support the learners who are working with Washington Mind.”