One day, walking along a road in Somerset looking at flowers that had broken through the tarmac, Julie Mathews, founder of the Watch Project in Chard, began to wonder how a little daisy could push its way through such dark heavy tarmac. At the time she was struggling with clinical depression.
As she thought about the effort and eventual success of the daisy, it became a metaphor for Julie who was trying to find a way to push herself out of the blackness that had engulfed her. She was already accessing mental health day centres and an opportunity came along for her to learn about Intentional Peer Support, where people who have experience of mental distress offer mutual support to help each other. This collaborative support helps to develop a mutually beneficial relationship. The seven-day course in Bovey Tracey was the starting point of a dramatic change for her, as well as the many that she has since helped. ‘I was totally inspired’ she said. ‘Here I was with 35 other people experiencing difficulties and learning about peer support.’ She learned much that helped her. ‘Actually talking just makes a great difference’ she said. ‘And I started to feel less stuck. I felt like people understood where I was, and I think that breaks down isolation for a start.’ She came back after the training and started the Chard Intentional Peer Support Group which was the beginning of her journey to where she is today at the Watch Project in Chard.
Many organisations exist across our region specifically to assist those with mental health issues and it is these organisations that help people from all walks of life and of all ages, with support and advice.
As part of his series of audio and video interviews for the Marshwood Vale Magazine Seth Dellow visited the Watch Project in Chard to talk with Julie Mathews.
‘Interviewing Julie Matthews gave me a broader understanding of the structure of local mental health initiatives, such as The Watch Project’ said Seth. ‘It is operating at an exciting time, with the potential for growth from further funding opportunities, facilitating more extensive practical assistance at a ground level for its members.’
More information about the Watch Project can be found at its newly redesigned website, www.watchproject.org.uk, which has a dedicated section regarding how to become involved. It outlines the organisations which are closely linked to the Project in our area, and ways in which you can, as an individual, help with fundraising. It is also interesting to note that there is further information about the partners the Watch Project work alongside, such as the Somerset Recovery and Wellbeing Alliance and the Well Wessex Group. ‘What is clearly evident’ said Seth ‘is that the translation of mental health policy into practical assistance locally, such as seen in the Watch Project, is highly valued. These lifelines support some of the most vulnerable in society, and it is important that we encourage and continue to support such inspiring community initiatives.’
Seth also interviewed mother and daughter Joan and Sarah who have both benefitted from the Watch Project. Joan’s daughter Sarah, who has lived in Chard for most of her life, suffered from manic depression about eight years ago. ‘It was that bad I completely shut myself off from the world’ explained Sarah. ‘I wouldn’t leave the house for any reason.’ She suffered so badly that she wouldn’t even talk to family or friends and couldn’t even answer the door. When a friend suggested she go to the Watch Project her first thought was that meeting strangers and sitting down for a chat and a cup of tea was her ‘worst nightmare’. Now she says it is ‘the highlight of my week. It’s a place where I can come where I am accepted for who I am.’ Sarah describes it as her ‘lifeline’. ‘My only regret’ she says ‘is not coming in sooner.’ Sarah says it’s like having a second family.
‘From my interview with Joan and Sarah’ said Seth, ‘I was struck by their honesty surrounding their own personal challenges with mental health. It is evident that both have experienced a real transformation since their involvement as members, something that will continue even despite the current situation.’
The Watch Project is a proud member of Open Mental Health, an alliance of local voluntary organisations and the NHS. It is working in partnership to ensure residents of Somerset get the support they need when they need it by providing 24/7 support to adults. Open Mental Health supports people to live a full life by enabling access to specialist mental health support, debt and employment advice, volunteering opportunities, community activities and exercise. The organisations in the alliance form part of a wider ecosystem of mental health and wellbeing support across Somerset. Anyone who is need of mental health support can call Mindline Somerset 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on 01823 276892 or email email@example.com.
Listen to Seth’s interviews via the following links:
Julie Mathews 1: https://bit.ly/33D6USx
Julie Mathews 2: https://bit.ly/3cew5yP
Sarah and Joan: https://bit.ly/3cbkEIm