Support Worker Versus Friend

I have spoken to people in the past who got support from mental health organisations. Some of this help is brilliant, but some common complaints are:

  • Huge waiting list – had to wait a long time for support
  • Support came to an end because it’s time-limited
  • I didn’t click with the person who helped me

Our support groups are completely organic with no professionals dictating how they run. For example no topic of conversation is off limits. If the group want to change venue they can, as long as they help make it happen. If they want to change the time the group runs they can. If they want to be friends outside the group they can (some counselling groups discourage meeting up outside). If people want the time to be shorter or longer, that is up to them. The whole organisation runs like this. If people wanted us to have a building, then why not? We could then look for funding or whatever strategy people wanted to use.

So our support groups are really just people meeting up who happen to have mental health issues. However if someone wanted to join who didn’t have a mental health issue, then obviously they are welcome too if they feel the need to come along. There really are no limits. Obviously our aim is to help people with mental health issues.

What I have found is that people with mental health issues have a wealth of knowledge. I believe in group intelligence, a group of people coming together have more knowledge, wisdom and resources than an individual.

People often become friends in our groups. This is not forced. It is not like having a befriender who is a trained ‘friend’. A befriender will usually be time limited, and the person isn’t a real friend… they are being paid to do it!

I often feel that to an outside observer it looks like I don’t know what I’m doing. I set up MEN HEAL and I’m not telling people what to do or structuring it into an organisation that LOOKS like a standard mental health organisation. This can at times make it look unstructured or disorganised, however over time dynamic structures are formed by all the members. The great thing is that any structure that is formed was created by the group, it is what THEY wanted.

I used to get confused early on because after about 6 months after our first group, a couple of people said ‘This isn’t a support group. I don’t like it being called that. We are just friends’. I eventually realised that that is the ultimate success story for a ‘support group’.

It IS a support group in some ways, but not in others. We are a group of people supporting each other, but we aren’t a support group in the classical sense of having a counsellor, or a particular length of time we are allowed to talk etc. People know instinctively how to support each other.

The other day somebody needed support. They didn’t need a support worker. Instead the friends they had made from the support groups helped them. I don’t think the people realised that this is exactly what I want to happen. It didn’t feel like being helped by a mental health organisation.

I have to label us as a mental health organisation so people know what we are. We attract people with mental health issues, which are the people we are wanting to help. However as soon as people arrive, from that time onwards we are just people meeting people. I also have to call the support group a mental health support group so we attract the right people, however once they’ve arrived the metaphorical neon sign entitled support group is no longer needed, and from that point on we are just people meeting each other.

I did lots of training in counselling, and I studied psychology and mental health for years, and had lots of lived experienced of mental health too. I had to go full circle to arrive at where I am now. Now I just want the organisation to be about people meeting people.

MEN HEAL becomes a fully transparent framework that is so non-directive and non-forceful that the organisation almost doesn’t exist. We have to have a sign over the door just to get the right people in, but once you’re arrive that’s where mental health ends and being human begins.

Knock on our door and talk to us… if that’s what you feel you want to do.

Take care


Copyright MEN HEAL 2015

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