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“It’s reminded her that she is valuable and able to give back to society” – The impact of Zoe’s work with Rafsa

Zoe (pictured above) is a Think Ahead participant who has been training and working with the London Borough of Wandsworth since 2018. For around a year, she was working with Rafsa*, who has lived experience of mental health problems. Here we’re sharing Rafsa’s story and the impact that working with Zoe has had on her life and recovery.

*Rafsa’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

Rafsa’s story

Rafsa has lived experience of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. She worked with Think Ahead participant Zoe from 2018 until recently, and is also a member of Think Ahead’s Service User and Carer Reference Group.

“When I was first diagnosed with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder two years ago, I found it difficult to accept my diagnoses. I didn’t want to see myself as a mental health service user. I’d previously had a successful career working in human resources, but by the time I met Zoe – one year after receiving my diagnoses – I had been hospitalised twice. I was at a point of crisis: I’d had to stop working, I wasn’t sleeping and I often found myself unable to leave my house because my anxiety made me feel unsafe. I’d tried speaking to different professionals, but didn’t feel that my concerns were being taken seriously. As a result, I felt extremely hopeless and lacked motivation to even do simple things, such as cooking or going for a walk. I was starting to lose hope in finding professionals who were able to understand me and who I could trust.

That’s why I found it difficult to accept the help and engage with Zoe at first – but she never gave up on me. When I needed to find supported accommodation, Zoe accompanied me to viewings and communicated with the service providers on my behalf. She fully understood how important it was for me to find a place where I would feel comfortable and together we found a place where I feel happy and settled.

Feeling unwell had caused me to lack confidence and doubt myself, so we also worked together to build my self-esteem. Zoe’s patience and belief in me helped me to accept and believe in myself. Throughout our time working together, she was always consistent, caring and honest, which I really appreciate. She understood my needs and got to know me as an individual.

For example, I’ve always been very interested in fashion design, but when I was very unwell, I just didn’t feel able or motivated to get involved in it. So Zoe found a list of local courses in sewing and fashion design and encouraged me to try them out. I’m starting some classes soon, and I’m excited to tap into my creativity again.

Zoe was a great source of knowledge and realistic about what options were available to me, and together we came up with a long-term support plan that makes use of my experiences in a productive way. I’ve started volunteering for several mental health charities, and I’ve been using my experience to develop and present my own mental health radio programme at a local community radio station.

I’ve also joined Think Ahead’s Service User and Carer Reference Group, and been involved in shaping and delivering different aspects of the Think Ahead programme, such as assessing applicants and co-facilitating lectures. Being a member of the group has been a really positive experience for me – it’s been great to meet so many people who are passionate about mental health. All of this has given me the confidence to seek knowledge and personal development, and I’m now slowly working towards living independently again and finding a meaningful career that allows me to promote equality and diversity. It feels great to know that I can make real a contribution to the world.”

Zoe’s story

Zoe is a Think Ahead participant working for the London Borough of Wandsworth. She joined the Think Ahead programme in July 2018. 

“Before joining Think Ahead, I worked for a grant-giving charity and volunteered with refugees in the UK and in Germany. I’ve always had a strong commitment to social justice and equality, and I joined Think Ahead because I wanted to enter a frontline profession that would allow me to incorporate those values into my everyday work. Mental health social work is such a unique role – it allows you to support someone with aspects of their life that are often forgotten about, to advocate for them, and to make sure that their voice is heard.

When I first met Rafsa, she was having a very hard time. She was suspicious of professionals and saw the world as a threatening place.

One of the key things I was able to support Rafsa with was her search for supported accommodation. Other professionals had encouraged her to accept a flat that was located on the third floor of a building, but Rafsa was experiencing anxiety and panic attacks, so she wanted to be on the ground floor to easily be able to go outside. It’s important for anyone’s long-term wellbeing to live somewhere where they feel comfortable, so I liaised with service providers and other professionals to ensure we would find a placement that met Rafsa’s needs.

Rafsa was also struggling with low self-esteem and found it hard to come to terms with the fact that she was now using mental health services. So we worked to rebuild her sense of identity using the Recovery Model. This is a holistic, person-centred approach to recovery which aims to build a person’s resilience and support them to live a meaningful and fulfilling life, rather than exclusively focusing on reducing their symptoms.

Rafsa has a strong desire for human rights and equality, so I helped her find positive ways of channelling this desire. This meant encouraging her to keep volunteering with her local radio station and supporting her to request the practical changes she needed to stay involved. Presenting her own mental health radio programme has given her a sense of purpose and allowed her to support others with similar experiences. It’s also reminded her that she is valuable and able to give back to society – and she was even nominated for an award for it!

Rafsa also became a member of Think Ahead’s Service User and Carer Reference Group while working with me. She has many skills that are useful for the group and has been enthusiastic about getting involved in shaping the programme. It’s also helped her to connect with other service users who are contributing to positive change in mental health services and society as a whole.

I feel very positive about Rafsa’s prospects for the future – she’s made enormous progress and we have now been able to conclude our work together. Working with Rafsa was also a great learning experience for me. Recovery is never a linear progression, but Rafsa and I had a strong therapeutic relationship, which was key to our partnership and also to my development as a mental health social worker.”