HereAllYear: Shaun's Story
Digital team's blog
Shaun is a group coordinator and treasurer for our Southend Rethink Mental Illness support group. He was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in 2012 but is now focusing on supporting others this festive season, organising a Christmas party for the group on 28 December.
Christmas can be a challenging time for people living with mental illness. There’s a lot of pressure to feel like you should be having a brilliant time, and for people who don’t have a big family, or much going on, it can increase the sense of anxiety that you are missing out.
Another challenge is that many mental health services are closed over the holiday period, so if you do need help its difficult to know where to go. A&E will still be open and Samaritans, but for many people its about having someone to talk to rather than a crisis.
As one of three coordinators of the Southend Group, it can be a bit of work, but it really provides a sense of fulfilment. And organising the Christmas party is definitely giving me a bit of extra stress, but its good stress! I really want to give people something they can look forward to over Christmas. And its nice as a group we’ve all had a role in helping to plan it – suggesting party food or deciding who’s going to bring different board games. It gives us all something to focus on and plan.
It’s a mixed group, with people from 18 upwards. Some people are living with depression and anxiety, some have borderline personality disorder and others are living with OCD. We’ve tried to factor this in when planning the party. For example, we’re doing lots of wrapped foods (such as crisps in packets rather than in a bowl) and induvial fruit pies rather than a whole one. We’re also got mindful drawing going on too, if people want a bit of time and space by themselves.
I think attitudes to mental illness have changed over the years, although there still work to do. I still sometimes tell people that I’ve got bipolar disorder, which was my original diagnosis, because I think they’ll have heard of that, while there are still some negative attitudes towards schizophrenia.
It’s come a long way though, and celebrities talking about it has helped. We’ve got a raffle of books at the Xmas party - I approached people like Ruby Wax, Matt Haig and Johnny Benjamin to donate theirs as prizes. They all did, and some of them even sent signed copies! It gives the group a big boost to know we’ve got that kind of support.
I don’t know exactly how many people are coming to the party as members come and go. One of the reasons I originally set the group up is that I wanted somewhere that people could go without having to get a referral. Somewhere they can just drop in and have a chat and we try and keep things positive. Not just at Christmas, but through the whole year.
We know, from our vast experience, that people severely affected by mental illness can have a good quality of life. With your support, we can make that possible. Large or small, please donate today.