A pilot of a new mental health scheme called the Live and Learn project has been launched in Sunderland to support and improve people’s mental wellbeing.
The scheme is encouraging people to come forward for help and support.
It provides people with the opportunity to get involved with a range of social and learning activities in informal, community settings across the city.
The Live and Learn project will see a programme of indoor and outdoor activities designed to appeal to as wide a range of people.
People from across the city will be able to get involved in activities from dog walking and social groups to learning creative and practical skills, to increase their confidence, self-esteem and improve their physical and mental wellbeing.
They will also be able to find out more about the specialist advice available should they want and need it.
Additionally, it provides people with information and advice around self-help strategies and referrals to mental health services provided locally.
There is also access to shared training opportunities for practitioners and employers which include how to spot the first signs of mental health problems and provide help with the workplace, mental health awareness, mental health and wellbeing assessment tools, awareness of anxiety and depression, as well as mental health first aid and general well-being advice on simple steps to become physically fitter and socially involved.
Sunderland City Council’s Family, Adult and Community Learning (FACL) are leading the project.
Sunderland City Council Portfolio Holder for Responsive Services and Customer Care, Councillor Cecilia Gofton, said: “It is surprising that such a social stigma still surrounds mental health, but even more surprising when you realise how much that it affects us all individually.
“Lack of sleep, anxiety and depression are all symptoms, but we are all either embarrassed or unsure to ask about how or where to seek help to treat the symptoms.
“The aim of Live and Learn is to provide people experiencing mild to moderate stress, anxiety or depression with the chance to take that difficult first step to doing something about it.
Councillor Gofton, added: “The programme provides an opportunity to get involved in community based activities where they can enjoy themselves and socialise at the same time as increasing their self-esteem, confidence and knowledge of what help and support is available.
“We hope that this community based project will encourage more people to come forward to become involved in activities, and feel comfortable as part of the network which provides access to other services which they might need to address what mental health issues they are dealing with.”
Washington Mind, Aspire Learning, Support and Wellbeing and I.M.P.A.C.T North East are delivering it.
Services Manager at Washington Mind, Jacqui Reeves said: “Therapy is not the only option for improving mental health and wellbeing.
“Some people are better served by access to training or education in all its forms, and this is what the community learning mental health pilot is all about.
“If we can combine education and mental health as a way of removing barriers to both learning and seeking help and advice, then this has got to be good thing.”
A spokesperson from Aspire Learning, said: “Aspire recognises the value of learning to support individuals with mild to moderate mental health issues in their recovery.
“We are delighted to have contributed to this pilot that has made a difference to so many individuals, may of who are now trained to support others in their recovery journey.”
A spokesperson from I.M.P.A.C.T North East, added: “We are one of three delivery partners selected by Sunderland City Councils Community Learning team to deliver the Sunderland Mental Health Pilot.
“We have been delivering Awareness of Anxiety & Depression as part of the educational mental health pilot. This course was designed to give people the knowledge and tools at an accessible level to understand and make the changes they need.
“This course has proven to be very popular with our learners, at I.M.P.A.C.T Northeast.
“We have really enjoyed the opportunity this has given us to engage with a wider field of learners.”
A 34-year-old female who was part in the awareness of anxiety and depression course, said: “Doing this course put me out of my comfort zone, I couldn’t even put a post it note on the wall.
“It made me realise what I need to do for me, and that I can do it.
“It gave the resources, tools and knowledge to understand that my anxieties are my unchecked feelings and emotions that I ignore.
“I am going to take better self care and deal with my worries head on.
“This course should be available to everyone, it’s the best course I have been on, I have never had my anxieties, feeling or emotions explained this way.
“I wish I had done this course 10 years ago.”
Bev Metters-Brook, from Washington was one of the 175 people to have signed up for one of the courses.
The 32-year-old studied on the pet therapy and reel therapy sessions and is now a volunteer and is now supporting tutors on the Creative Minds courses.
Ms Metters-Brook, said: “It’s all about taking that first step to realising that you need to get out of the house or out of a depressing routine, and get involved with something to help change your everyday life.
“I’ve met lots of people just like myself who needed a new challenge, and the opportunity to meet new friends and learn new skills.
“I’ve enjoyed it so much that I wanted to help others “live and learn” and use my own re-discovered skills and enthusiasm to teach others and support the learners who are working with Washington Mind.”
The city of Sunderland has been given a grant from the Skills Funding Agency, which will be used to help people address personal issues with mild to moderate mental health issues such as stress, depression and anxiety.
Sunderland is one of more than 60 pilot areas facing particular social and mental health challenges.
The project in Sunderland and other pilot areas across the country will help formulate national policy based on community based individual support and personal development.
From this, the aim is to improve people’s self-confidence and ability to cope, and therefore reduce their need to see the doctor and lessen the impact on their personal and working lives.
It comes as the Government has announced plans to invest £1billion in mental health provision over the next five years, to help vulnerable groups such as expectant mothers, young people with eating disorders and those facing social isolation and loneliness to seek help or referral.