Amanda is a peer supporter in the ambulance service. Here she shares why.
In 2012 I suffered a mental breakdown. I felt there was little point talking to anyone as they couldn’t possibly understand how I was feeling. I fell into a deep despair and attempted to take my own life.
Afterwards I became a peer supporter to be that person I never had. Talking is the best way forward and I wanted to help people do that without fear of being shamed or ridiculed.
"I find it so rewarding to help people just by listening and helping them find the support they need to get through difficult times."
It’s great to be able to show people in crisis that there is a way through their situation. I’m living proof of that. Each ‘thank you’ means everything to me. It’s a great feeling to see someone who was on the brink of despair get back to being their old self again.
Mental health is relentless, and it’s most often in the small hours when people feel most vulnerable and isolated. So as much as possible I make myself available around the clock – but you have to set yourself boundaries when supporting colleagues so you don’t become unwell yourself.
"Helping others gives me a great sense of achievement and it formed part of my own recovery."
I still suffer with depression and anxiety, and knowing I am helping someone else really lifts my mood. Being a peer supporter also makes me a better clinician. I have more empathy with mental health patients and a better understanding of their problems.
If I’m feeling overwhelmed then I take a step back. It helps me refocus and recharge my batteries. I try not to be too hard on myself if I have a bad day, or if I feel I haven’t coped as well as I should have. If I am having difficulty in coping, I know I can count on my trusted friends for support if I need it.
The most important thing is to look after yourself as well as others, and to have someone you can talk to about how you are feeling if you need it.
"Recently my ambulance service had to deal with the Manchester Arena bomb attack, and I have supported ambulance service staff who were involved."
Listening to what they witnessed that night has been emotionally draining, and I felt exhausted after a couple of weeks. But I’m very lucky to have an amazing team around me, and while we have all been providing that support to the staff who needed it, we have also been looking out for each other too. Even something as simple as checking in with a text message makes a huge difference.
"My core team are the ones who get me through any bad days."
And we have had great support from our chief executive and head of organisational development. They recognise how important peer supporters are for the wellbeing of our staff. At our recent annual staff awards, the Chief Executive gave his Special Commendation Award to the Mental Health & Wellbeing Champions and I was very proud to have accepted it alongside some of my other peer support colleagues. It just goes to prove the support we have had from above.
It’s important to look after yourself and to ask for support if you start to feel a little overwhelmed. Always have a trusted someone you can speak to when you need it. Being a peer supporter is a very rewarding thing to do, but it’s crucial that you look after yourself first and foremost.
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