West Sussex Mind celebrates 50 years of supporting people with mental health issues

West Sussex Mind is celebrating the amazing strides it has taken in supporting people with mental health issues over the past 50 years.

The charity believes no one should have to face a mental health problem alone and for its golden jubilee year, it has set a target to raise £100,000 to mark the milestone, so it can reach more people, answer more calls and continue speaking out for everyone with mental health issues.

It all started in 1970 with just three people, working out of Worthing Hospital once a week, and now, West Sussex Mind has 80 employees, who last year supported around 3,500 people. It is a local charity, affiliated to national Mind but separate and independent, which is why it relies so heavily on fundraising and donations.

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Debbie Watkins, community fundraising and communications manager, said: “The main aim is to support people with mental health issues. We want everyone with a mental health problem to get support, and respect, and that is what drives our anti-stigma work. We are not crisis support.

West Sussex Mind staff and service users outside The Gateway, the charity's headquarters and Worthing support hub

“We have come a long way and to reach the number of people we want to reach and do all the extra things we want to do, we always rely on fundraising and donations.”

‘I am not looking back any more, I am going forwards’

Many who need support with their mental health find it difficult to take the first step, because they are worried about what it will be like.

They think they are going to be forced into a group of people, sitting in a circle, talking about their problems, but at West Sussex Mind, it is not like that at all.

Hunter Lake, community fundraising volunteer, right, with Alan and Chris

Far from it – the support hubs are a safe space where people can join in a whole range of activities and gain valuable peer support.

For 64-year-old Alan, it has been fantastic, helping him with his recovery after a breakdown in August.

Alan said: “I don’t know what I would have done without it. I struggled, and I am still struggling. In the months building up to Christmas, I was struggling to get out of the house.”

He was diagnosed with PTSD and referred to West Sussex Mind, where he has been attending sessions since mid-January.

Sarah Palmer and Rupert Murrell from West Sussex Mind playing table tennis, just one of many activities available at drop-in sessions

Alan added: “The support has been brilliant, it is what I needed. Everyone makes themselves available, so if you are having a rough day, people will come up and ask how you are, whether it be a member of staff or a volunteer. Everyone is lovely.

“I have met loads of people in similar circumstances and I have not looked back. There is a general fellowship in talking to people who have been through similar things and feeling you are not alone. Loneliness was a big deal for me.”

He now goes to the Worthing support hub, called The Gateway, three times a week and also attends a session at Methold House. He finds the mindfulness class particularly helpful and is able to use the techniques at home when he has difficulty sleeping.

Chris, 49, is pleased to be celebrating her 50th birthday in the same year as West Sussex Mind. She first came to the service about 10 years ago, when she was having difficulty with her employer.

At the time, the charity offered employment support but that service is now made available through a partnership with Citizens Advice.

Chris said: “I got support with putting together my CV and we did role play for interview skills.”

She was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, then, last year, she was told she had traits of personality disorder.

“That completely threw me off but once I understood the condition, it changed my life,” she said. “I use an app to write down my moods and since then, everything has been coming up roses. I am not looking back any more, I am going forwards.”

She has completed peer mentor training and now helps others who come to the drop-in sessions.

“Last year was a huge turning point in my life and I have been going forwards. I go to the gym and I do a lot of volunteering.

“I go to groups and I support people who have severe anxiety. I sit with them and help them get settled.

“So much of the time, all you hear is a lot of chatter and a lot of laughter. There is always a support worker if anyone does get upset.

“There is still stigma, mainly from the older generation, who sweep it under the carpet. They don’t understand. The younger generation gets it.”

Services West Sussex Mind offers

The charity is the primary mental health care provider for adults from Worthing to Southwick, in Littlehampton, the Chanctonbury area, Midhurst.

It also carries out anti-stigma work, relying on fundraising and donations, in order to challenge behaviours.

The Families in Mind project works with parents of young children in Worthing, Littlehampton, Adur and Bognor, providing support with issues such as postnatal depression, postpartum anxiety, struggling to cope and feeling isolated.

The charity also works with young people aged 16 to 25 in three location groups – Worthing, Adur and Chanctonbury; Littlehampton and Bognor Regis; and Chichester and Midhurst.

Across West Sussex, West Sussex Mind has been commissioned by the county council to train people working with children and young people.

Table tennis, art, badminton, singing, gardening, walking, book group, jigsaws, Scrabble and photography are just some of the activities available through West Sussex Mind’s support hubs. The drop-in sessions are available once people have registered and attended a one-to-one appointment.

Looking back over 50 years

The charity’s origins date back 50 years, starting in Worthing as Mind. This later merged with Arun Mind, then, in 2013, Worthing and Arun Mind joined with Chichester Mind, to become Coastal West Sussex Mind.

Last year, the charity expanded again by merging with The Corner House in Southwick and was renamed West Sussex Mind, based at The Gateway, in Durrington Lane, Worthing.

Hunter Lake, community fundraising volunteer, has been researching how attitudes about mental health have changed since 1970.

She said: “For the first time, those with mental illnesses were being moved from the asylums of Victorian England to community care. Meaning they would now no longer live in isolation from the rest of the world but be cared for by the community in new hospital psychiatric wards and by an emerging profession called social workers. It was the 1970s, man had walked on the moon and mental health was being looked at in a new, scientific way.

“How exciting this brave new world seemed but it was far from it. Society was afraid of the mentally ill who had previously been housed in Victorian asylums, never being spoken about or interacted with.

“To say there was a stigma around the mentally ill would be an understatement. Something had to give to help the transition from the private asylum treatment to the public, community-based treatment of mental illness.

“Mind started with a weekly group run by a husband and wife, where people could go and talk.”

Find out more

To find out more and make a donation, visit www.westsussexmind.org

To find out more about anniversary activities or the Open Minds anti-stigma project, email [email protected] or call 01903 277000.

As always, for mental health support, call the same number or email [email protected]