As a mental health crisis sweeps Britain, it is down to charities to plug the gap in NHS services and provide vital support for people who need it most.
Changes Bristol has been running peer support meetings across the city for adults since 2004 and offers anyone suffering from mental distress a chance to talk in a safe, confidential environment and take the first steps towards improving their lives.
Project manager Jason Washbourne knows first-hand the extent to which this support network can work to help people turn their lives around.
“I suffered from anxiety and depression,” he said.
“I had a real crisis in my early 30s and became completely dysfunctional and I could not work. I recovered, but then started to have a downward spiral and it was hard to access support.
“The only service I could access was Changes. I did not speak at the first meeting, I was too nervous and anxious but then I kept going back and listened to other people’s stories. I had these thoughts in my head and had thought it was me going mad or strange but hearing other people’s stories really helped.”
The charity that helped him and many others is entirely reliant on the goodwill and generosity of others and unlike most services, users do not require a referral from their GP to attend and there are currently 10 weekly meetings that take place in locations around Bristol.
Bristol24/7’s sister company, Wildfire Comms Ltd, is supporting Changes as its charity of the month in a bid to raise money and awareness of the vital work it carries out.
Changes trustee Alison McDougall, said: “We’ve already enabled so many people throughout Bristol to overcome their personal battles with mental health in all of its forms, but we know there’s so much more that can be done.
“There’s certainly a mental health crisis in the UK at the moment, with many services being severely underfunded. It’s only from the kindness of others and, in particular, from businesses like Wildfire that charities like ours can survive and reach the people that need us.”
During Mental Health Awareness Week, the charity is hosting its own art exhibition, Survive or Thrive, an immersive collection of work produced by Changes members that depicts the struggle to survive with a mental illness in today’s world, through to the positive achievements gained through peer support.
Survive or Thrive takes place from May 8 – 12, from 12.30pm – 5.30pm, in the Park Street Vestibule in City Hall.
Bristol24/7 will be featuring a series of articles throughout Mental Health Awareness Week.
Read more: Bristol to mark Mental Health Awareness Week