Bloom are channeling lived experience into helping others

As Birkenhead bathes in the low March sun, broken liners await repair in the adjacent Cammell Laird shipyard. These sleeping giants are a fitting symbol of restoration as I near Bloom, the new home to Wirral mental health charity The Open Door Centre. Opened in February, following seven years in Liscard, the charity’s new home […]

Bloom are channeling lived experience into helping others

By Phil Bridges

As Birkenhead bathes in the low March sun, broken liners await repair in the adjacent Cammell Laird shipyard. These sleeping giants are a fitting symbol of restoration as I near Bloom, the new home to Wirral mental health charity The Open Door Centre.

Opened in February, following seven years in Liscard, the charity’s new home is a cocoon of wellbeing. On entering the muralled building, muted dream-pop soundtracks bubbling curry and a wood burner crackles in a communal cafe area. Breakout spaces and therapy sheds are accessible towards the back of the tastefully renovated warehouse space. It’s the antithesis to sterile offices under flyovers and suburban clinics you might normally associate with therapy. It is 11am and the venue has just opened for a day of delivering mental health support to its 15-30 year old members. Gathered on a bench are Adele, Joel and Greg, three amiable 20 somethings, who channel their respective mental health experiences into full time roles at the charity. Over the course of our interview, The Open Door’s mantra of being a charity by young people for young people is clear.

Before we delve into a serious discussion around lived experience, the challenges young people face and therapy, I ask the interviewees to confirm their names. Joel deadpans “Joel Dipple. Nipple with a D” – propelling his colleagues into a collective belly laugh. “I genuinely never made that connection,” Greg chortles. The exchange is emblematic of how The Open Door houses vital conversations in accessible surrounds. It’s a Russian doll of depth – therapy punctuated with humour and warmth. Working on a free membership format, the charity supports young people feeling down, low, stressed or anxious, through its Computerised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CCBT) tool ‘Bazaar: A Marketplace For The Mind’. Visitors are guided through the eight week training with someone of a similar age and character – providing a perfect blend of human interaction and accessible online intervention.

Adele Iddison, 25, Wirral, centre co-ordinator

PB: What are your own experiences around mental health

AI: It probably all started when I was in my early teens – a bit of anxiety and depression around my brother going to the army. It wasn’t taken seriously though. It was just seen as something to kind of shake off. But it developed into this horrible depression that I tried to ignore at first until I went to uni and it all came to a head. I dropped out of uni and just felt really low with no direction. The pressure of getting work added to it.

PB: What has helped you?

AI: I think just talking to people about it, because that was my main issue – I just never spoke to anyone about it, I think because of that experience when I was younger and it not being taken seriously. It kind of shut me up as I got older. Once I did speak out about it, how I actually really felt, which was worse than what people thought, that’s when I was taken seriously.

This job keeps me well. Helping other people has really helped me.

It’s helped with my confidence as well. Also, just making sure that I’m with people. Making sure that I’m at least doing something that I enjoy at least once a week – having that balance and making sure that I have structure.

PB: What challenges do you think young people face?

AI: I think the main challenge is not being taken seriously, and that worry of “If I do tell people, will I be taken seriously? Will people want to help or will they just think I’m weird?” You know, all the stigma around it as well – I think that’s one of the main challenges. And again, finding that support. There is a lot out there but it’s more about trying to find the right kind of support. It’s very clinical, which can work for some people but a lot of people need that feeling of being able to approach people. I think that’s a challenge for young people as well.

PB: How can The Open Door Centre help young people?

AI: We’re a non-clinical service. We have the volunteer programme, so we allow people to be paired with people that have that relatability factor to them. All the volunteers have had their own experiences too, including staff too. I think that’s a really big factor that comes into it at the centre. The course that we do as well is bespoke – there’s no course out there like it. It’s unique to the centre as well, and the building with the culture side I think is presented in a way that’s accessible and creative.

Greg Edwards, 29, Wirral, operations manager

PB: What are your own experiences around mental health

GE: I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in my early twenties. It’s something I’ve always had but it became worse as I got older. Thankfully, I got treatment and support when I was living in London and my recovery started from there, and it’s been pretty good since.

PB: What has helped you?

GE: In terms of keeping well, I think with a lot of mental health issues it’s about the journey you go through. So, learning a lot about yourself, learning about your own resilience, your own trigger points. I think that’s quite important. Keeping well to me is all about self awareness and sort of trying to nip things in the bud before they become a big problem again or blow out of proportion. Living quite a busy, active life suits me and my personality. I do a lot of endurance sport events and things like that to keep me busy and keep my mind healthy. I also do a lot of music and other creative things outside of work which stops me from having too much time to worry about other things, which seems to work.

PB: What challenges do you think young people face?

GE: I would probably say the digital age has caused problems in the sense people are always able to communicate and not necessarily in a healthy way. We see a lot of issues around things like cyber bullying. You know, in the past, if you were bullied at school and you went home, the bullying stopped. Now, if you’re experiencing bullying, it can continue online, in Whats App groups for example.

There’s a lot more acceptance around mental health issues now, which is a really positive thing but I don’t think the support networks, these statutory services, have caught up with the demand, and I think the expectation of young people being able to access support immediately isn’t there. That’s a real obstacle, and I think it causes quite a lot of tension for young people.

PB: How can The Open Door Centre help young people?

GE: One of our key ambitions, and something we’ve always met, is to have no waiting lists.

Offering immediate and effective support in a creative, innovative environment is kind of central to what we do.

It doesn’t have to be complicated – it’s not anything secretive. It’s all about having a person-centred approach to working with people where we respond to their individualism and help them through their journey in a way that’s compassionate and supportive. Using clinical tools but in a way that’s engaged with other people. It hasn’t got the same formal approach as in some clinical services.

What we’re trying to do really is offer that choice and that opportunity to people if they want to, or they’re not feeling great. They can just come along, sign up with us, and get involved. We’ve been gradually able to support more people each year. Now, moving to the Bloom Building, we’re able to more than triple our support, which is a great step for the charity but hopefully it will help the local area more and help young people more as we see more people.

Joel Dipple, 24, Stafford, venue co-ordinator

PB: What are your own experiences around mental health?

JD: My mental health deteriorated after the death of my best mate. I don’t think it was anything you could see as long term depression or anxiety, but the grief from that was something I bottled up for probably around six months and it came to a head in a series of panic attacks. I then sought grief counselling – for a little while, which helped. I always found for me personally, the art of conversation helped me get through that stage and helps me to this day in terms of coming to terms with what happened.

What I thought would have been great for me at the time was if there was a space like this where I was, where there was a more welcoming environment than something that was clinical. I probably would have sought help far earlier than I did. Now being able to work in an environment which is so welcoming and supportive of others is something that I am quite proud to be in this environment, hopefully helping folk. Even if it is, for me, just being on the coffee shop side of things and making it a welcoming experience for people. It’s great.

PB: What challenges do you think young people face?

JD: From my own experiences, knowing where and who to talk to. I think as young people, we are far more aware of the conversation of mental health and it is far more open, but there is still always the struggle of not wanting to maybe burden friendship groups or close people with mental health issues and not knowing where a conversation can actually take place around it.

PB: How can The Open Door Centre help young people?

JD: Having a space like this where, as Greg was saying, there’s no waiting list and a conversation can happen with someone who’s trained and relatable is an amazing thing.

bloombuilding.co.uk

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