I am proud to announce my first and very special guest post on here. Claire recently took some clients for a week of Outward Bound adventures at the outdoor centre in Howtown, on the shores of Ullswater. Take it away Claire....
I suppose it's important to begin by saying that I manage a mental health service for young people (aged 14-35) who have experienced a first episode of psychosis (our offical title is Early Intervention in Psychosis). I could go on forever about what psychosis is but it's basically a loss of sense of reality and often means hearing voices, seeing things and believing really strange and frightening stuff. Psychosis is a major mental disorder which can completely destroy the life of a young person - those who experience psychosis are far more likely to be unemployed, end up in prison or die by suicide than the general population. With the right help though, people can and do recover.
We're always looking for new ways to support the young people we see and often ask our service users what they think would help them. A popular request was for more organised outdoor activity.
In October 2010 our team raised over £3000 to take a group of 8 of our young people for a week with the Outward Bound Trust in Howtown. This was a real experiment as we had no idea how the week would go but it was a complete success! On the back of this, we were able to get more money from our NHS Trust and in April 2011 we took another 10 people to Howtown. I was lucky enough to be one of the members of staff accompanying the group.
I have read a fair bit about the positive impact of exercise and outdoor activity on mental health but I really didn't expect to witness such powerful results! The young people in our group were chosen for the benefit we felt they would gain from the week, in terms of having crippling low self-esteem and high levels of anxiety. Although very quiet at the start of the week they quickly bonded as a group, helping those who were nervous and encouraging those who were downright scared. Each and every one took part in every activity, from canoeing to crawling through tunnels, from hill walking to overnight camping, from climbing to raft building, and much much more.
We laughed, cried and swore at each other but overall had a fantastic time and since coming home, all of the group have said how very much they got out of the experience and how much they would love to go back. All have expressed an interest in helping other people whether it be by keeping in touch with the rest of the group or by pursuing careers in mental health.
Sometimes I really love my job.
Here are some links for further reading.