Scott blogs about how his volunteering work has made him feel more valued and ultimately helped his recovery.
Hi all, my name is Scott Hillier. Around 14 years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar type 1 disorder and I was sectioned for the very first time under the Mental Health Act.
When I have what is called a 'manic episode,' I believe I tap into another state of consciousness which I can only describe as bliss like nirvana. It's the most beautiful euphoric feeling. I feel like I unlock all the mysteries of the universe. This feeling is so powerful that I have yet to master it and one of the pitfalls is that I don't sleep. This is when my mania turns into psychosis and this is the point when I become extremely unwell.
I have had 11 manic episodes and have consequently been sectioned 11 times. Unfortunately due to the laws of gravity, what goes up has to come down! When you have been so elevated, coming crashing down is devastating. The depression is crippling. The last time I was hospitalised was two years ago. Even though I still get highs and sometimes really bad lows, I would say that I'm on the road to recovery.
When I first came out of hospital, I thought my life was over. I would spend many a day doing things that I shouldn't be doing like going to the pub. I truly felt like I was resigned to the scrapheap. I have no education and no skills for work and if I don't like doing something I just won't do it!
An important part of my recovery has been keeping myself fit and healthy and active, but what has really helped me recover is getting involved in mental health work and having my experience as a service user recognised and valued.
My care coordinator recommend that I get in touch with a charity called Hear Us. I would say contacting this charity changed my life. I took part in what's called the Reachout challenge, an anti-stigma project where I would go along to various organisations, including the London Ambulance Service, the Fire Brigade and local council offices.
I would talk openly about my mental health to staff, helping to break down barriers and dispel all the myths around mental health problems. I found this very cathartic. This led to me being asked to go to the Hendon police academy to help the crisis and hostage negotiation unit with their training. The FBI were there too!
The Reachout challenge opened many other doors for me and I now do work for SLAM (the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust) through their involvement register. It’s a bit like being signed up to an agency so I get to vet and pick out the jobs which I want to do! To mention one, I have a been a place assessor where I turned up unannounced at various mental health wards and inspected them for cleanliness and tasted the food to see if it was up to scratch - this was great fun! I'm now training to be a link worker working with other service users on the wards and I'm going to be working on the very ward I was sectioned on all those times.
I'm also on the commission for the London street triage service - this is where specialist mental health workers work alongside the police and help people in a mental health crisis. I was featured in a film about it which was aired on the London Live television channel. And I'm now going to be a media volunteer for Mind!
Life really is great at the moment and my recovery is very important to me. I have so much energy but it's important I use it the right way and that means staying active and doing things that I love. That means eating healthily and exercising but most importantly it means helping others - because helping others helps me.
Would you be interested in volunteering, using your own experience of mental health problems like Scott?
One thing you can do is become a Mind Campaigner so that you can receive up to date information on the latest opportunities to shape services.