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Turning stigma into strength: Rachel’s Big Life journey

“I wanted to share my lived experience on a one to one basis and I thought volunteering with Peer Support would give me a good foundation for counselling.”

First as a Self Help service user, then as a volunteer and finally as a Peer Connect Worker, Rachel Stanway used her experience of mental ill-health to fuel her quest to take her life in a new direction.

“I’d suffered a breakdown after a rapid succession of redundancies and family issues off the back of that. When I met my bosses but I didn’t tell them fully what was happening with me because of the stigma. The doctor just gave me a bottle of tablets to go away with. But then I got talking to colleagues at work and one of them said ‘I was like you, you’d do great at CBT’. So I went back to the doctor and got a referral to a CBT therapist at Self Help. She was fabulous and over the next six months I immediately put the CBT tools she offered me into practice and felt instant results.”

Her therapist first mentioned volunteering as the end of their sessions approached.

“Because CBT had worked for me I was curious about doing counselling. I wanted to share my lived experience on a one to one basis and I thought volunteering with Peer Support would give me a good foundation for counselling. I volunteered with Peer Support for three years supporting people for one hour a week over four months while I worked in customer relations for the rest of the week.”

Her volunteering also lead to a part time job with Peer Support.

“I’d applied for a job as a Linkworker in Big Life’s new Be Well service. I didn’t get it but Andrea and Kate from Self Help were involved in the interview. They knew I was dedicated and passionate about my volunteering and offered me a Peer Connect Worker job for one day a week to give me more hands on experience. Now when jobs come up in The Big Life group in future I’ll be more equipped with my experience and be a stronger applicant.”