By Andrew Hudson
I first joined Headspace to assist me in completing a work-based learning module as part of my degree. The organisation run a variety of projects for individuals who have experienced mental health difficulties to help them develop and improve social and creative skills, and to interact with others with similar issues. As a sufferer of mental illness myself, I was eager to gain inside knowledge of not only the functioning of the group, but the atmosphere and environment in which sessions are conducted. Also, I wanted to develop skills of my own in areas of which I was severely lacking, including self-confidence, communication skills and an inability to engage myself in social activities. Opportunities for social interaction have arisen a number of times with the community mental health team under which I was receiving treatment, although a dearth of encouragement from organisers and ostracism from other patients prompted me to avoid further activities. So, understandably, these past experiences triggered my dubiousness as to what to expect from Headspace, and, prior to my arrival, I was somewhat very nervous as to how I would be regarded by fellow members. Sometimes my apprehension overwhelms me anyway whenever I am entering a social gathering where the attendance level is high, but with Headspace I was welcomed into the group and received no negative judgement or dismissal from anybody.
On my first day, it did require a short time to allow myself to settle, but the supportive and friendly environment facilitated my sense of comfort. The organisers, Lee and Ginny, are especially cordial, often presenting their sessions in a fun and light-hearted manner thus generating an element of security and non-judgement. We are frequently reminded that we will never be coerced into engaging in anything we are uncomfortable with. This has proved beneficial in my case because I tend to feel more at ease over time through familiarity and repeated attendance as opposed to being thrown in at the deep end. Not every establishment operates by these standards; some, in my experience, attempt to force members into participating. Headspace don’t, and I interpret this as the organisers demonstrating their understanding and acknowledgement of members’ difficulties.
The activities I have so far participated in are scriptwriting and photography. Writing has been a life-long passion of mine, so therefore I was excited to learn of sessions on the topic transpiring at Headspace. Again my fear of mockery delayed (slightly) my contribution of ideas and suggestions. The session was introduced on my first day, so I was still in the process of familiarising myself with the group to gain a sense of their character. This soon passed, however, when I realised their sincerity and my confidence started to build. As part of the scriptwriting course, I was asked to construct some scenes in my own time, which I was more than happy to do. I was initially a little concerned as to the group’s possible reaction to my work, i.e., will they ridicule it. This is just the mechanics of my mind at play here; I have a tendency to arrive at incorrect conclusions on the basis of misinterpretation and misperception. When I completed my scenes, Lee assured me that, again, I wouldn’t be forced into doing anything out of my comfort zone, and kindly offered to read my script to the group on my behalf. It received mere positive feedback, and this boosted my confidence a notch further. The support and encouragement I received from Lee, Ginny and the group was overwhelming and this made me more comfortable being in their presence.
Photography is not a subject I am familiar with, but again, the sessions proved enjoyable due to the fun and professional delivery from Steven Bailey, the tutor. He ensured satisfaction and engagement with all members and as a consequence I felt involved and derived pleasure from the activities set. Support among members and from organisers came in abundance and I rapidly became far more comfortable. Furthermore, I learned a lot about the mechanics of cameras of many varieties and gained substantial knowledge on the basics and intricacies of creating photographs.
I was glad to be asked of the possibilities of me continuing to work with Headspace following the expiry of my placement. This heightened my feeling of being welcome, and I was especially honoured to be asked to contribute regularly towards the Headspace blog. It suggests a belief in my writing abilities, which provided my confidence with a major boost.
I am happy at Headspace, because it excels the boundaries other mental health services fail to attain, in terms of support, encouragement and relationship building. I feel a great sense of security within the group, and there are some fantastic opportunities approaching Headspace which I am eager to become involved in. I owe it to the organisers and the group for their fantastic support.