People are always asking me how I find out about things. How do I sign up for courses etc. My answer is simple….I read! My main source of information is to do a Google Search but my other one is simply to be aware of my surroundings. If I’m standing in a queue I’m mindful to what’s around me. If I walk past a notice board I stop to look what’s on it and write down any numbers that catch my eye. Actually, that’s a good point. Try to keep a pen and paper on you at all times because you never know when you’re going to come across helpful information and it’s not helpful if we get home and forget what it was. Sometimes I see an advert on a bus or in a hospital waiting room. Everywhere around us there is information….we just have to open our eyes and look.

I’ve done a lot of courses as a result of noting information and I’ll share a few of them with you. Every region offers courses and it might be worthwhile doing some research. I’m going to include the contact details for my own personal region which is West Lothian in Scotland but remember, wherever you are located there will be similar services so please do some investigating.

Health Improvement Team
01506 775626
hit@westlothian.gov.uk

Mood Project
01501 749974
moodproject@tiscali.co.uk

Mental Health Advocacy Project
01506 857230
admin@mhap.org.uk
mhapwl.org

Stress control
0131 225 8508
contactus@health-in-mind.org.uk

If you don’t feel confident enough to research things further maybe you could have someone else call on your behalf or ask a Health Professional if they would make a referral for you. In my own experience the waiting lists for NHS referrals is ridiculous so I sought out a lot of things I could self-refer for. I wanted to get better NOW, not in 12 months time!  When I first started going to courses I had a friend or a Support Worker come along with me where now as a result of doing the courses I am able to help facilitate some of them. Baby steps first though…

HEALTH IMPROVEMENT TEAM:
This is the service offered by my local council. Check yours out to see any courses and events you could sign yourself up for. Everything from self-help things to training to help other people.

WELLNESS RECOVERY ACTION PLAN:
This course is amazing! It’s run all over the world and in my eyes personally, it’s been the most helpful course I’ve ever done. It’s individual to each person because it recognises what helps or hinders one person may not be the same as the next. It keeps my thoughts/emotions/behaviour in check and helps me to identify triggers which in turn allows me to have a plan of action to keep myself safe and well. It’s something that can be updated as I go through life as it acknowledges life can change which can bring about changes in what I need to keep me healthy.

STRESS CONTROL/ANXIETY MANAGEMENT:
This course was perfect for when I didn’t feel up to interacting with others on a more personal basis. Sometimes we go through phases when we just need our own space but that doesn’t mean that we can’t still work towards maintaining good mental health. It doesn’t involve discussion which meant that was a great course to do when I felt uncomfortable about talking in front of others. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has signed up to do an Anxiety Management course then felt too anxious to go!  It uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to teach better coping strategies and addresses a variety of problems such as anxiety, low mood, lack of confidence, insomnia, substance abuse etc. I’m happy to say that my anxiety has decreased a lot and although I still have days when I’m overwhelmed with panic at the sheer thought of getting out of bed, on the whole my confidence has increased and I’m learning that the world isn’t going to crash down if I need a day out and that doing what’s best for me isn’t necessarily selfish….it’s essential!

MOOD PROJECT:
Mental Health does not discriminate in age or gender which is why I found activities run by this group so helpful. It’s primarily aimed at the over 55’s but although I’m not quite there yet (lol) they welcomed me regardless. It’s a great way to meet other like-minded people, enjoy activities which in turn has an impact on your self-esteem and confidence. They offer courses for self-development and also opened opportunities for me to help facilitate a few with them. While many professionals learn from a textbook it’s being recognised more that people with lived experience are a valuable source of support to other people. We can offer an empathy and understanding that perhaps many of them cannot.

LIVING LIFE TO THE FULL:
Does it sound familiar when I say that I spent a lot of my time running round in circles? No sooner on my feet then off we go again! This course taught me how to reverse the “vicious circle” and reminds me of the impact a single thought can have on my whole being. What starts off as a thought progresses to a feeling…which progresses to a physical reaction…which then results in behaviour. Sometimes the behaviour is self-defeating so this course taught me how to stop it at one of these stages and reverse it back to the beginning. It offers practical solutions and an understanding of why I feel the way I do.

MINDFULNESS:
This word has been the bane of my life for so many years! During the more severe times of my illness it’s safe to say that my attention span was that of a kangaroo as in it bounced from one thought to another and then back again! Staying in the moment seemed impossible to me but as time went on and with lots of practice, Mindfulness taught me the importance of being in that present moment. No need to think about tomorrow and no need to think about yesterday. I learned to also understand that my mind may indeed have 3000 thoughts but it was about allowing the thought to pass on through as the more I obsessed I was about feeling so much frustration then the less chance I had of being present in that precise moment. Some people get this idea confused with Relaxation but the concepts are actually entirely different although the clue is in the terms themselves. Quite simply, mindfulness is about awareness where relaxation is about trying to shut that awareness out.

SUPPORT GROUPS:
This sort of thing isn’t for everyone. To be honest, you wouldn’t have got me anywhere near one until the last few years. However, I know a lot of people who find this the most effective and helpful way of finding support and understanding.

MENTAL HEALTH ADVOCACY:
When I lost my voice this service stepped in on many occasions. Sometimes if I needed support going to an appointment and sometimes even arranging the appointment for me. Their services are so much more than people realise and in my eyes it’s one that is often forgotten and not given the recognition they deserve. Every region will have their own Advocacy Project and they are an independent service which offers confidential, reassuring advice.