Connor's story

I am a Mental Health and Wellbeing Peer Practitioner, which means that I basically help people with their mental health when they struggle and help to improve their everyday lives. The peer bit lets people know that I have had mental health struggles in the past. The service I work for, WELL Aberdeen works to reduce mental health distress for the people of Aberdeen. We do this through phone calls to people who are going through a difficult time. We do this 7 days a week, because mental health distress doesn’t always fit neatly into a 9-5 Monday to Friday pattern.  

Ever since the age of 16 I have had a fascination with psychology. I had friends who struggled with the mental health, just like some of you might right now. It could be you know exactly why this is such an important thing already. I had friends in high school and college who self-harmed and really struggled. What makes people do the things they do, and feel the ways they feel has been a question that I wanted to know more about, so I went to find out.  

I went to uni and learned all I could. I went to Abertay Dundee to get my Psychology degree When you have this knowledge, and you also want to help people, I decided to do help as a career. Unfortunately, I went through some serious trauma and abuse when studying at uni; the kind of thing that made living my everyday life difficult. I ended up having a severe depression that left me sick and exhausted and hollow on the inside that lasted years untreated. Still, I graduated and I went and became a teacher so I could spread my learning as I always planned. However, I was also still struggling at the same time. I couldn’t take it, and quit teaching. I was burnt out, i felt like a failure. I ended up working in a kitchen to just take some time to work with my hands and heal my head. I then found the advert for my current role, and jumped on it, and I am loving my career again!  

A day in the life 

My job has me doing a variety of different things over a typical day. Saying that a “typical day” for me is always different so I’m not sure if I have a “typical” day. I can end up working with the police up to 3 days a week, and work from a variety of settings; sometimes working at home, the WELL Aberdeen office, out and about in town, and even right inside the police custody suites! 

When I support people with WELL, it doesn’t matter whether we are referred to by either the police, your gp or even through a direct email from the general public, we help the person through their distress. Depending on the setting or situation this is done either over to phone or in person. You’d be surprised how much a single phone call can make to someone’s wellbeing. We offer 3 calls on average that are about an hour or so in length. We help to create a space for people to explain what is going on and exploring what they can do to support themselves going forwards. This can be through teaching breathing techniques that can help you centre and ground yourself when feeling stressed or anxious, to helping create individual tools and techniques that someone can use when they feel that distress rising in the future. This has included helping people set goals for the next few days, starting focused journals or creating reminders to focus during an anxious moment.  

I’d like to share a breathing tool with you now, that is super simple to remember, and I would recommend making a note of.  Before telling you what it is, it’s always best to explain why it’s worth doing in the first place. It’s a technique that physically slows down your heart rate and your body and helps clear your mind so that you can ground yourself in the moment. Stress is a physical reaction and process just as much as a mental one, so physical responses can help reduce it. It’s called the 4-7-8 breathing technique and you can find out more about it online too. To do it follow these steps:  

Find somewhere comfortable to sit. If you can, close your eyes. 

Breathe in through your nose to the count of four. 

Hold the breath to the count of seven. 

Exhale through your mouth to the count of eight. 

The best part about it, is you can do it, and no one will need to know that you are doing it, and you can do it anywhere. Taking a few seconds to mentally prepare can make all the difference. At WELL we help people in distress, but we also want to work at preventing it, and that includes sharing techniques like this and other self-help tools that someone can learn to give them the power to help themselves! 

It is always a great feeling to help someone through that and be on the way to feeling better, or “recovery”. Since I am doing all sorts of different tasks and jobs and talking to different people I am never bored when working! I have helped other services in Aberdeen and met some amazing people and helped in the journeys of some remarkable people! This has included aiding our supporting living services and helping people with their mental health in their homes, and meeting the public and talking through our services so people know that help is out there when they need it. Working side by side with the Police and helping someone in the moment of crisis can be an intense experience but incredibly rewarding, knowing that you have actually helped someone through hardship and difficulty.

Working in mental health gave me that work environment where I can thrive in, where I am supported and feel valued

I have been offered the chance to move around Penumbra itself and explore my future in mental health, I feel like I can grow and expand in my current role, and if I’m ever unhappy I can find what works right for me. Knowing that is a great feeling, having a team that supports you and lifts you up is crucial for enjoying what you do; we have had members of the WELL team move to other services where they can put their specific skills to better use, and still see them all the time to trade advice and support. 

The rewards of the role 

I have met some incredible people going through incredible hardships, and just being there for them and making even a small impact in their lives is a heart-warming feeling. I once spoke on the phone to someone who felt they couldn’t face their job, that they weren’t good enough, and that they were worried that they might burn out. Over my time supporting them i helped them work through these feelings. I helped someone in the same position I was years ago, when I didn’t get the help I could have used and it was so humbling to know how much that small amount of support could change someone’s life. 

I have spoken to multiple people in stressful positions that I could never imagine myself in, and yet I am still able to help that person with my skills and experience. Nothing compares to the feeling of satisfaction knowing that you helped defuse a dire situation for someone. 

Working in mental health means that we are all aware of what is good, and what is bad for our mental health. So, all my colleagues know why it’s so important to look after ourselves. We look after each other, and our health, and penumbra has built in procedures that means i always have a manager or team member to talk through any difficulties, or frustrations. And if that is not enough, Penumbra even pay for a counselling service I can used whenever I want/need for free. I can even complain about my boss and they’ll have no way of knowing since its all confidential! 

Working in mental health gave me that work environment where I can thrive in, where I am supported and feel valued. I am living proof that you don’t need to have it all set to a plan when you leave high school, but it is good to have an idea what you are passionate about! 

Thanks so much for sharing your story with us, Connor, and thanks for being part of our team.

Connor is a Mental Health and Wellbeing Peer Practitioner in our WELL Aberdeen service. You can follow the team on Facebook.

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