Peter appears relaxed when we meet at the Dragon Cafe at Borough, south London.He’s much more laid back than I am expecting for a man whose life experiences have pushed him to the edge and seen him present at A&E in crisis more than 100 times.
The reasons for Peter’s life spiralling out of control and taking him into mental health issues are complex, but they began when he lost his father in 1985 at the age of 18.
For Peter now 47, until that time, “I had money in my pocket (he was working in theatre as part of a production crew) and everything was sweet.”
He recalls the experience as if it were yesterday. “I’d been talking to him just half-an-hour before,” he says of his dad Bill. “I went into the garden, when I came back the bathroom door was locked, I called and he didn’t answer. ” Peter discovered that his father had passed away.
“I was petrified… I just ran away from my life, that day,” he says. “At 18, it was at a time when I should have been getting to know my dad.”
The following years of supporting his mother following her breakdown, and her death in 1995 pushed him further into alcohol and drug dependency to cope. “I started drinking, I got in trouble with the police, I was ducking and diving,” he says. “I was in and out of a relationship and my partner had a miscarriage. I was in and out of rehab and homelessness and developed neuropathy.”
A recent cancer scare pushed him to the brink yet again: “I thought, ‘my life was a mess because of alcohol (he has been dry for four years), I feel like a burden and now I might have cancer’ . ” The reprieve from that is another corner turned.
Peter is not alone in his isolation. It is estimated that 50 per cent of people, already in mental health services present in crisis at A&E out of hours because they have nowhere else to go to feel safe.
“You feel very alone, alone in your mind… frightened at times,” says Peter, “you want someone to talk to and sometimes it’s hard to get through to people at A&E.”
Peter is testament to the human spirit that with the right support people can get through and find what they need to move forward.
This has included linking up with Solidarity in a Crisis (SiaC), (Certitude, part of the Lambeth Collaborative) an out-of-hours peer support service that’s been operating on the phone over the weekend. Once people have referred themselves, or been referred and met up with Peer Involvement Coordinator Patrick Nyikavaranda, they can meet up with peer supporters in the community over the weekend.
Seven days a week
The first time he phoned Peter says, “I was nervous, it was about 11.30pm on a Friday night… There was a voice there that could understand me and listened at the right time. I have found them so helpful, understanding,” he says. “I am not the sort of person to call the Samaritans, I’ve always panicked… I let out a lot of emotions that night.”
Peter sees the service offering something different because of the lived experience of the peer supporters (including carers). “They listen because they have their own experience, they understand about depression, feeling suicidal, being sectioned and being on a ward.”
Such is the success of the service it has gone seven days a week. “When we developed Solidarity in a Crisis our aim was to pilot it at weekends to learn more about the demand for peer led out-of-hours crisis support, ” says Nicholas Campbell-Watts, Certitude’s Director of Mental Health. “People using the service have told us that SiaC is definitely needed throughout the week, so in agreement with commissioners we are really excited to now extend the support available to people.”
As well as talking to someone on the phone, Peter welcomes the weekend contact with peer supporters. “Solidarity are amazing people. I have met up with them in the community, I know they are there,” he says. “I was making a lot of snap judgements and found simple things would light me up… they helped when I was getting frustrated and angry. Meeting at a cafe and having a cup of tea shows that people have similar human experiences and their approach is more holistic.”
Peter brings to the peer support relationship the experiences of his own recovery journey. As a last resort, he went into the Maytree, a sanctuary for those contemplating/ feeling suicidal. The house offers a four-day stay (you cannot return) with 24-hour support from volunteers and staff. “I left when it was snowing… It was the end of 2011. It was really emotional… I started crying.” The experience was so profound that Peter used his own experience to train as a befriender and he volunteers still; being able to give back has helped him.
What has also helped recently is a Reading Out Loud group, swimming and “toning up”. Solidarity has signposted him to Community Connecting (Certitude) which supports people to connect to activities they are interested in.
It has been a struggle but Peter feels he has found a prescription for living. “I know there are going to be good days and bad days but I am learning to deal with them knowing there is help out there.”
Photo: Young Adults project, Living Well Partnership
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