Time to talk
Learn how Billie, a Peer Support Worker, uses her experience of mental ill health to help others.
Billie is a Peer Support Worker in our Mental Health Service. She uses her own experience to provide empathetic, non-judgemental support for the 200 people in our service.
Many of our Mental Health customers are referred from psychiatric hospitals and receive individualised support in our supported housing schemes. Billie and our other Peer Support Workers help them to develop their self-confidence and the vital skills they need to successfully manage their wellbeing. They support our customers through recovery and help them rebuild their independence, so they can live happy and healthy lives.
For Time to Talk Day, Billie explained how she started her journey towards recovery, and why she decided to help others.
Why should we talk about mental health?
Talking about your mental health is a personal choice. You can say nothing, and try to cope with it on your own, or you can choose to talk to someone. Talking seems like the hardest option, but in reality it’s a much easier path.
A silent struggle means lots of emotions are bottled up, and you will eventually explode from the pressure. It’s much better to get release, by talking about your problems.
You don’t need to talk to people you know either. Internet forums are a great place to anonymously vent, or helplines, or strangers at a support group. Even if you talk to a cat, that’s better than nothing.
Do you have any other advice for coping with mental ill health?
Everyone is different, and I would adapt my advice based on your personal needs and goals. But these tips helped me during my own recovery:
- Treat yourself how you wish you had been treated as a child: be kind to yourself, have fun, and when you make a mistake don’t be hard on yourself.
- Replace negative coping mechanisms with positive self-love rituals. Try replacing a bottle of wine with a hot bath, or treat yourself to a delicious meal instead of taking drugs.
- If you suffer from a trauma-related mental illness, then acceptance and forgiveness can help free you. You weren’t responsible for your trauma, but you are the only person who can be responsible for your healing. Sometimes we just need some support and encouragement to realise how this can be achieved.
Why did you ask for help with your mental health?
I’ve struggled with mental illness my whole life, due to childhood trauma. But because I was high-functioning, I did well at school and had a successful career, I didn’t receive support until I had a breakdown aged 26.
That’s when I was diagnosed with c-PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I also had serious substance and alcohol abuse issues and was plagued with intrusive and suicidal thoughts, anxiety and depression. I didn’t want to live anymore, and I knew that if I didn’t get help urgently, I would die.
My diagnosis meant I was deemed as ‘dangerous’ by the system, so many local services and therapists refused to see me until I was clean and sober. Instead, I paid privately for therapy, which got me into serious debt. I became so desperate for help that I even tried to get myself sectioned. Then, after years of struggling, I found an amazing recovery service. It saved my life.
Why did you become a Peer Support Worker?
I believe anyone can thrive with the right level of support and the right environment. I’ve managed it, and I want to help others do so too.
Understanding what they’re going through helps me connect with my customers on a meaningful level. Plus, our trauma-informed approach means we don’t judge anyone: we focus on their strengths and what they can do, rather than their weaknesses. We look beyond their diagnosis - something I struggled with in the mental health system, when I was rejected by certain services.
Having a safe environment, with space to recover, makes an immense difference too. Our step-down supported housing is an amazing transition between hospital and independent living for over 200 people. Everyone has a different journey, and they can move on at their own pace.
My personal experience with mental illness has also shown me how great support can save people’s lives, and bad support can be totally destructive. I experienced racism and misogyny in the mental health system. One psychiatrist assumed I was a sex worker because I had enough money to buy drugs – when I actually worked for one of Britain’s leading law firms. My mental health spiralled because I felt so worthless. I want to ensure no one I support ever feels like that.
Whatever you’re going through, it’s okay to talk about your feelings. You can call the Samaritans at any time of day or night for free on 116 123.