A client at Action Mental Health’s New Horizons in Lisburn said her unsung key worker literally saved her life during the pandemic.
Carol McGoran’s partner died shortly before the pandemic and when she most needed support, she found it, among staff and fellow clients at the charity.
Carol, a mother of two, found much more besides at the service, located at Railway Street in the city centre – namely a new zest for life and renewed hopes for the future, prospects she said had died when she lost her partner of ten years.
Carol, aged 60, is one of the almost 1500 adults aged 18 and over who are steered back to better mental health every year, with the support of the nine AMH New Horizons located across Northern Ireland.
AMH New Horizons support the recovery of adults experiencing mental ill health who are interested in progressing towards further education, training or employment. Clients take part in a range of courses, from therapeutic classes like arts and crafts, to accredited training and work placements through the “Working it Out” project. Working it Out is part funded through the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2014-2020, the Department for the Economy and the five NI Health & Social Care Trusts.
Carol was able to begin working it out for herself when she arrived at AMH New Horizons Lisburn.
“I was going through a lot of personal problems stemming back to when I was a child and the doctor referred me to AMH and then just after I joined the Lisburn service my partner died.
“I have a key worker called Mandy and when my partner died she was the first person I talked to. She has been a real life saver. When Covid struck she was really there for me, on the other end of the phone and she saved my life so many times when I felt suicidal. I still had her support when the lockdown meant AMH New Horizons had to close down to us coming in in person,” she said.
“When I first came here I was very nervous. When you come in everyone has their own problems, but I quickly made great friends and got great support from them. They have their own issues but you are able to help each other.
“Every day that I leave this place I am so happy, and I’m not only saying that, I really do feel that. I can’t wait for the next day and it encourages me to get out of bed and get on with things.
“When my partner died I couldn’t’ get up in the morning; there was just no point in trying anything at the time, but AMH New Horizons has been a life saver, 100%.
“Doctors and nurses in the hospitals are top of the ladder saving people’s lives but in my opinion the key workers in AMH New Horizons were certainly saving lives, just being on the end of the phone in the lockdown, dealing with people’s anxieties and uncertainties.
“They are the unsung silent saviours,” she said.
To date, Carol has been enjoying a number of courses available at AMH New Horizons and is engaging with the Employment Officer. She recently started to attend the Women’s Tech where she plans to volunteer in the near future.
Susanne Berrill first came to Action Mental Health New Horizons after what she described as a ‘so-called breakdown’. But she soon came to realise that her poor mental health was due to the impact of a difficult marriage which also had her seeking the support of Women’s Aid.
First a client at AMH New Horizons North Down & Ards, Susanne, a mother of two grown up boys, gleaned a great deal of comfort from her time there. But following a house move to the Lisburn area, a fire at her flat combined with a number of other personal issues had her reaching out for AMH’s support once again.
“I can’t say enough about AMH New Horizons. The support they give you on a one-to-one basis is so amazing, not just in improving your mood but for improving you overall. There’s so much empathy, but in a positive way. They allow you to be ill, when you feel ill – it’s OK to not be OK all the time and not every place allows you that. But they help you realise you will not always feel that way, and that you will get better,” she said.
“Very often, talking to other clients at break and during the courses, really does make a difference too. When you know you are not the only one it really does help.”
Looking back at my time with AMH New Horizons, Susanne recalls being apprehensive before taking that first step towards recovery.
“Before I started I was nervous, but I have always had the attitude that you have to try to help yourself, so I was willing to give it a go,” she said.
Like all clients who attend AMH New Horizons, Susanne has been able to supplement her education with the help of accredited courses she has undertaken.
“On top of all the courses I have done here, I was supported to go to Lisburn tech to do a course in counselling skills, and also an entry level degree in mental health. Though I don’t think I want to go down that route for a future career, it is a good thing to have done.”
A former hairdresser, Susanne now suffers health issues which prevent her from continuing in that field, but she remains optimistic of the future, nonetheless.
“My keyworker encouraged me to learn to do nails so I have another potential employment opportunity which I can pursue when I have fully recovered. I also engaged with the Employment Officer who supported me and set up a voluntary placement with the Atlas Centre. This gives me the opportunity to use my skills and help people.”
“I don’t know if I’ll ever work again but as long as I can do the volunteering, then that’s fine, because I love helping people.”
“I’ve done all the courses I wanted to and now I’m happy to move on to just the volunteering but I know that if I need them at Action Mental Health they are there for me and I can phone them or touch base if I feel I need it. It’s like a crutch, a lifeline and it’s great to have them in the background if I need them.
“It’s just such a great organisation.”
AMH New Horizons really does offer a lifeline to clients through routine, structure and hope, the new manager at AMH New Lisburn, Michelle Bolton reiterated.
“Mental health has increasingly come under the spotlight since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, but at Action Mental Health, the wellbeing of its clients has always been its number one priority,” she added.
Overseeing life at AMH New Horizons Lisburn, post-lockdown, Michelle explained how clients and staff adapted successfully through ‘hybrid working’.
“The teams of clients were split and came in on different days. The skills classes are offered online through Zoom and accredited and non-accredited courses, in a blended approach meaning that we can have people in the classes, while others at home can join in via zoom.
“The size of the room allows us to accommodate up to six people at a time, bearing in mind continuing social distancing and enabling us to observe continuing Covid measures.
She continued: ‘We are being more creative in the way in which we deliver our services and It’s smart to use the technological advances like Zoom which we have all had to adopt to from the beginning of the pandemic.
“This smart technology will, in future, allow clients who are feeling physically unwell or going through a period of poorer mental ill-health to still join the classes, rather than miss out all together as would have happened in the past if they weren’t able to physically attend.
“We continue to support clients to attend work and voluntary placements and to support them to achieve their individual, person-centred goals. AMH New Horizons offers clients realistic outcomes that they can see. That’s really important and so helpful. They are supported to achieve their own goals.”
AMH New Horizons continues to work to capacity in this hybrid mode, enabling clients to continue to glean the comfort of fellow clients and their staff key worker.
For more information on how to be referred to Action Mental Health New Horizons visit https://www.amh.org.uk/services/new-horizons/
The “Working it Out” project is part-funded through the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2014-2020, the Department for the Economy and the five NI Health & Social Care Trusts.