North Dorset is isolated and that can make accessing mental health support services difficult, especially if you don’t have a car. Finding people who understand what you have being going through can be problematic.
That’s why Amanda has started informal, monthly sessions at the Trinity Centre, for people who are bipolar or who have depression, anxiety, Asperger’s or PTSD. “It’s very hard in this area really, because of the lack of transport. It’s difficult to meet other people. There are very few groups that are easily accessible for people who might have anxiety,” Amanda said.
Amanda feels that she’s filling a gap by bringing together a group of people who can encourage each other, discuss their issues and share advice. The number of people attending Amanda’s sessions has steadily risen since the meetings began four months ago. Amanda thinks that’s because locals can’t find this kind of help anywhere else. “Not once you’ve been discharged from the community mental health team or the primary care’s ‘steps to wellbeing’. You’re pretty much on your own,” she said.
Amanda is keen to keep the meetings relaxed and informal. “There are no professionals. There is just a sharing of experiences, being more relaxed and free to talk about anything.” Amanda stressed the value of having a place where people can chat with others who might have faced the same challenges. They talk about anything that the group feels is important. “Topics can be related to mental health or we can discuss stuff going on in Shaftesbury or the weather,” she said.
Although the meetings are usually relaxed and unstructured, Amanda does direct the conversation and she has prepared talks on topics such as benefits. “If somebody asks for a particular subject to be discussed, I will bring it up at the next session. It’s nice to have something to talk about. I try and have something prepared in case there is a gap in conversation,” she said.
Sometimes the process of applying for financial support can be complicated and officials might not have much time to explain. That’s where Amanda’s group can help. “Although the information is out there, it can seem very daunting if somebody says ‘you should claim this’. It can seem overwhelming. Who do you go to? Sometimes it’s hard to get that information on the phone,” Amanda said.
Shaftesbury is geographically remote and it is a small town. Those factors can increase a sense of isolation. “It’s very easy to get lonely with mental illness. Quite a few of the older people have had problems for quite some time. They may not be very severe but they haven’t been able to make friends in the way that people normally would, so they have become very lonely. They have been very appreciative of the group,” Amanda said.
The group includes members of all ages, from teenagers to pensioners. “The youngest is 15 and the oldest is in their late 70s,” Amanda said. But despite the age range, she has found that the group members’ difficulties seem to cut across the generations. “They’re not so different when they can relate to each other,” she said.
Amanda is arranging these sessions as an unpaid volunteer and she admits it’s quite a lot to take on. “I sometimes wonder why I have,” she laughed. “When it goes well, I get a feeling that I have helped people and that’s helped my mental health. I’ve been on lots of committees and various groups in the past and I’ve undertaken similar things as a job. It’s just something I felt that I could do,” Amanda added.
It might seem unusual but Amanda says she was pleased when some group members called to say that they couldn’t make one of the meetings. “It meant that it was becoming a permanent thing. People felt that they had to apologise for missing a meeting. They are not seeing it as temporary. At the last meeting a couple of people said how much they appreciated it,” Amanda said.
Amanda’s next meeting takes place between 2pm and 4pm on Thursday 2nd August at the Trinity Centre on Bimport. It’s free and you can come for as much of the session as you would like.
If you would like to talk with Amanda beforehand, to find out whether it is right for you, her number is 07749 062327.