As with all our Community Front Room Peer Specialists, Chris Stickels has personal experience of mental health issues.
Here, Chris, 30, tells how a breakdown seemed to shatter his world, but actually led to a ‘reset’, and a truly fulfilling role helping others.
“During lockdown I was working in accountancy. It was intense – long hours and a lot of pressure. Then I had some family issues to deal with on top of this and one day my body simply crashed. I had a complete mental and physical breakdown which left me unable to even talk, let alone function.
“Luckily I was helped in a BCHA Recovery Centre and it was actually there that I realised I had a passion for helping people. There was a resident who wouldn’t even talk when I met him, but over the course of two weeks I started to engage with him about the music he listened to on his earphones. I suggested we both recommend a song that made us smile each day and from there we went to three or more songs a day.
“By the time I left he was chatting to me. I still have his playlist and I feel a huge privilege to have perhaps played a small part in his recovery journey.
“It was at the Recovery Centre that I also met Wendy Thompson, the manager of Weymouth Community Front Room. We talked about how I wanted to find a job that was geared towards my wellbeing, which was fulfilling and used my skills. She said she had something which would be perfect, and here I am – a Peer Specialist at Weymouth CFR.
“The CFR is very homely, very relaxed and working here is genuinely like being part of a family.
“When I first started, I wondered whether I would be able to really help people. I have autism which affects my social skills and I have to push myself out of my comfort zone to even talk to people. But I do, because I want to.
“It’s a challenging job in that people come in and you know they need help, but mostly they don’t know what to say and you have to work with them to enable them to open up to you. But we are here to listen and we see people making real progress, which is such a privilege.
“It seems funny to think about it this way, but if I hadn’t had a breakdown I don’t think I would have had the guts to change my career in this way and leave what I would have seen as a ‘stable’ career.
“I now think of what happened to me not as an ending of something, but the chance to ‘reset’ my life.
“I work less hours and earn less, but I come to work eager and every day I go home feeling I have made a difference to someone’s life. What could be better than that?”
Community Front Rooms (CFRs) are provided by BCHA in Wareham and in Weymouth and working in partnership with local charities Hope, which runs the Shaftesbury CFR and The Burrough Harmony Centre, which delivers the Bridport CFR.
The CFRs provide a welcoming, safe space where people can virtually (at present) discuss problems and work towards possible solutions. Open 3.15pm-10.45pm, Thursday to Sunday.
Individuals do not need to be referred by their GP or other health professional, they can just reach out for help and walk in when they feel the need.
Staffed by both mental health professionals and trained peer specialists (people with personal experience of mental health issues), CFRs and the Retreats offer an alternative to the clinical, medicalised approach many will be familiar with. Staff are there to help those in crisis find their own strengths and resources, to give advice or guidance and, crucially, to offer an empathetic ear.
Links to all the Community Front Rooms and the Retreats can be found on the Dorset HealthCare website: www.dorsethealthcare.nhs.uk/access-mental-health