Nick SmithNick Smith, a Governor at Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust has lived experience of mental health crisis and had his first suicidal thought at the age of nine.  Nearly thirty years on, Nick now helps to support vulnerable people that have suffered emotionally or experienced a mental health crisis through his peer support group.  Nick has been running the group through the Care Trust’s Champions Show the Way programme for two years.  Such has been the success of the group that there are now plans in the pipeline to extend the provision across the Bradford District using the techniques developed by Nick in his sessions.

Nick explained: “I tell those that attend the group that I’m not an expert, this is what happened to me and I’m not going to shy away from telling my story if it helps other people.”

Elaborating further, Nick said: “I planned my suicide at the age of nine because I didn’t want to be alive anymore because of my home life and the neglect and abuse. I was placed into foster care at the age of 13 as my mum tried to kill my brother when she was drunk. She later went on to kill her boyfriend, she stabbed him and went to prison for that.”

“Throughout my life I was made to feel by my parents that I wouldn’t amount to much and that anything I ever did was mediocre.  The fact that my mum and dad didn’t treat us properly, resulted in me  growing up thinking it was my fault and that there was something wrong with me because other mums and dads were loving and affectionate towards their children. I always knew there was something inside of me that was positive, but my mental health wouldn’t let me see that.”

By the age of 17 Nick had started to self-harm, he had always been quite violent towards himself, punching and slapping, but the violence had progressed to severe cutting. Nick also developed a serious drink addition. Nick said: “I was seven when my mum used to give a drop of whiskey in my tea and a bottle of cider for Christmas. That fuzzy feeling that I used to get from the drinking helped me to forget and my twenties were a bit of a blur as I was constantly topping up from the night before.”

Nick credits the support he received from his long-term partner Emma with contributing to him finding the help he needed to stop drinking and self-harming.

“Emma was the first person to ever back me up, however I did get worse for a while; I had a breakdown and went into the Care Trust’s Lynfield Mount Hospital for ten weeks.  I was just at the point when I thought I do not want to live anymore and people would be better off without me.”

Through his experience at Lynfield Mount, Nick became involved with the Care Trust, giving feedback on what worked for him and what could have been done to improve services.

“I became involved with the Trust to make a difference and last year became a public governor, which was great.”

“If I am able to tell someone that I took a massive overdose, was ten minutes away from dying, and that I’ve cut my wrists and I’m covered in self-harm scars – and if that one person then says, well actually if he’s managed to stop and set this group up, and he’s managed to be happy and cope with his past, then maybe I can too. If I can help other people by sharing what happened to me, then I’m glad it happened because it has also made me into the person that I am today. More and more people are attending my groups and they’re seeing me sat there and I’m saying to them, I am not a professional, I can’t give you all the answer, but what I can do it share with you what I have done and maybe it might work for you.”

Nick has welcomed the opening of Haven, which alongside trained professionals will have peer support workers and volunteers working at the centre with lived expertise of mental health crisis.

As a service user representative on the Haven Steering Group, Nick has played a vital role in helping to shape the service. His recommendations and suggestions have led to the design of a café/lounge style environment to help people feel more at ease in non-clinical surroundings and a Mindfulnesss room, which recognising that individuals may benefit from a calming space to help reduce distress on arrival.

The Haven service will play a vital role in identifying crisis triggers early and preventing a crisis from escalating. People in the local area, when they reach out to services for help and support, will receive the right help, with kind and compassionate staff at the times when they need them most, without having to attend A&E.

Nick said: “When I hear things about Haven I’m all for it because Bradford District Care Trust and the Cellar Trust already have a distinctive reputation in the community for helping people with mental health problems.  When they then said that they wanted to set up a service for people in a crisis and they wouldn’t need to go to A&E, because if you are in a crisis – which I have been many, many times, that’s where you go, I thought it was a brilliant idea.

“The service is available seven days a week, and when you’re in crisis, you phone the Trust’s First Response service and they can refer you to the Haven.  It is manned by staff and also volunteers that have experienced mental health problems.  It’s also a non-clinical environment where you can just escape. They will be offering relaxation sessions, mindfulness sessions, peer support groups and other therapies, as well as signposting to services and making people realise they are not on their own.”

To find out more about Nick’s Peer Support Group, which takes place every Thursday from 11 am to 1 pm at Central Hall, Keighley, contact the Care Trust’s Champions Show the Way programme on: 01274 321911.