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New project, new course: Managing Your Mental Health

Chrissy's booklet

Sheffield Flourish have been working with Sheffield Health and Social Care and SUN:RISE to create a new project: The Learning Space. We are thrilled to announce The Learning Space has teamed up with psycho-educator Chrissy Bonham to deliver an online course focusing on managing your mental health. Here Chrissy tells us a little about herself and gives an introduction to the course.

Psycho-education is a passion of mine and I’m really excited to have partnered with Sheffield Flourish and The Learning Space to deliver this course. I spent six years developing and facilitating mental health workshops for Sheffield Health and Social Care and loved every minute of it. I stepped back from this role a couple of years ago to focus on my work around narrative and mental health which is still my primary calling, however, I found that I really missed my teaching sessions. In January 2020 I had no projects on and a lot of free time on my hands so decided to trial running my own course on managing your mental health. This was partly fuelled by my desire to help people, but was also something to help me as I was having a pretty horrific time with my own mental health. I’d always been curious to see how successful a course would be which was delivered solely by somebody with lived experience, and outside of the traditional clinical settings I’d worked in before. This was my perfect opportunity to try it out!

I’ve struggled with my own mental health for over two decades. For me, the only way to move beyond a life dominated by illness, has been to learn skills that help me to cope and help to ease things when I’m going through a difficult time. It took me a long time to get to this point, I was always very resistant to accepting the fact that my mental illness was not going to go away. I got by as best I could fuelled by numerous unhealthy coping mechanisms until I became very ill and had a breakdown ten years ago. This was the point when I realised I had to find some way of managing my mental health in order to have a life that was worth living. 

I accessed several psycho-educational courses through mental health services but found it difficult to connect with a lot of the material and the way it was presented. I actually found that I learnt more from the other group participants, listening to their stories and learning from their experiences. Back then there weren’t many Experts by Experience working in this area and I think they were the people I needed to be hearing from.  Giving up on the groups I went away and taught myself everything I could about ways to look after my own mental health. I found ways to make things work for me, adapting concepts so they fit with the way my mind worked and actually interested me. I had many successes and several failures – I’ll never be somebody who can wax lyrical about the joys of mindfully eating a raisin, why oh why anyone would wish to do that is beyond me!

It was all this experimenting that led me to realise that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to psycho-education. Different things will work for different people and we’ll all get on with this stuff better if we are given the space to put our own spin on the basic theories.  These experiences set me upon my path into teaching, I wanted to use my stories to help people and find ways to make learning fun and engaging. Valuing and learning from stories and keeping things interesting are to this day the two key principles of my work.

I’m pleased to say the course I developed in January was an absolute success! I constructed a syllabus that introduced people to the basic fundamentals of wellbeing and mental health management. My aim was that by the end of the six weeks everybody would walk away with skills that would be immediately helpful to them. I was truly thrilled when the feedback I received from all the participants showed that I had managed to achieve this. To be able to replicate this process with Sheffield Flourish is an honour, having an avenue to help people across our city is quite honestly a dream come true for me.

The course centres upon creating a personal wellness plan which is developed alongside learning about the basics of wellbeing, stress management and coping with anxiety. We’ll be learning how to recognise signs that we may be becoming unwell and figuring out what action we can take. For those occasions when nothing seems to help, we’ll be looking at how to make those bad days more bearable. Putting plans in place to make getting through it a little bit easier. We’ll also be trying out different relaxation techniques each week such as breathing and grounding exercises. There will be plenty of time allowed for people to share stories from their lives and learn from one another. In a nutshell it will be fun, interesting material that actually does help!

An extra source of excitement for me is that Kim Gosling, a community mental health nurse, has offered her support to the sessions. Kim has been a mental health nurse for over forty years and is one of the most passionate people I’ve ever met when it comes to finding ways to help people feel better. Kim was actually my CPN for six years and it’s wonderful to be working together and bringing her knowledge and expertise to people accessing the course. Kim and myself can’t wait to get started and are looking forward to many more courses to come!

The first Managing Your Mental Health Course will start on Thursday 11th June at 10:30 – 12:30 via Zoom and the course will last for six weeks. If you would like to book a place or have any questions please e-mail: [email protected]

You can follow Chrissy on Twitter on @MixedupMindful and Sheffield Flourish on @ShefFlourish.

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