My experience as a mental health service user is invaluable to my role

Former mental health service user Naz Islam recalls his journey from diagnosis to recovery and how this informs his work with carers. He is part of the winning team in the Commitment to Carers category at RCNi Nurse Awards 2018

Seven years ago, Naz Islam was admitted to a mental health ward, diagnosed with psychosis. Now he is a peer support worker at the Carers Hub, supporting the carers of people with mental illness

As a former mental health service user my role as a peer support worker involves listening to and sharing my lived experience with people who have been or are going through a similar experience.

I help support them in moving forward and have been trained to provide a different type of support, focusing on holistic recovery, emotional and practical aspects.

Naz Islam brings a service user’s perspective to the work of the Carers Hub. Picture: Nathan Clarke

In 2011, I was admitted to a psychiatric ward and diagnosed with psychosis (paranoid schizophrenia). It was a traumatic experience and my whole life turned upside down. Voices were invading my mind and I felt as if the world had ended for me.

Social isolation

I was confused and didn’t understand what was happening to me. My family and friends were supportive, however some believed I was spiritually possessed and that it was a punishment from god.

My family turned against me and I lost many friends. The mental health professionals seemed to understand my illness better and with their help and support I managed to make a good recovery.

‘For the first time in my life I felt ever so lonely and had no one to talk to’

Before falling ill I was happily working and getting on with my life but that all changed after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. As well as facing stigma from my own family and community I was facing stigma at work too. I had difficulty returning to work because of this so I decided to take time off. For the first time in my life I felt ever so lonely and really had no one to talk to in depth.

I was on antipsychotic medication and under the care of the community mental health team, where I began attending social and therapy groups. These played a big part in my journey to recovery. It was through the service that I started to understand and learn more about my diagnosis.

It’s through them I got the opportunity to meet many others who were going through what I was and they became my close friends. The loneliness in me began to disappear and I felt confident to face reality again.

Mental health team empowered me

A year or so later I put my head up and returned to work with the help from my care coordinator and my manager at work. My manager and the HR team were very supportive and welcomed me back.

I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the support from the mental health team. They empowered and inspired me to re-build myself and begin life again.

It was through them I became a peer support worker and I can happily say I see life in a more positive way now and perhaps most of all I see hope and live with it.

After all the challenges and obstacles I had to face, hope was shown to me again and it is hope that I bring to my role and give to others.

‘It’s nice to give my feedback to carers about what worked for me and what didn’t’

Living with a mental illness can be very complex, as I have experienced, and my mother who was caring for me at the time pretty much stopped her life, packed her bags and joined me on the journey to my recovery.

I see my mother’s journey through the carers and it’s nice to be part of this hub and give my feedback to carers about what worked for me and what didn’t. I always hope they too can learn from me and I could be an inspiration to them to strengthen the support they provide to the person they care for.

All-consuming challenges

Carers work hard, around the clock – suddenly their life is now focused on the person they look after. Some give up their jobs while others work as well as caring.

Life now for them can seem closed, with not many people to talk to because few people understand mental illness. They don’t get the opportunity to take some time out for themselves.

‘Carers Hub is inspirational. Support for carers is important in the recovery of the person with mental health issues’

Our Carers Hub is an escape from all the stress and pressure, giving carers a break and helping them to keep going. It gives them a space to meet people, talk, share feelings and experiences, learn more about mental health and services. Carers can have a laugh and leave with some hope, which I think is the most valuable thing.

The Carers Hub is an inspirational place, and I believe support and respite for carers has an important role in the recovery or stability of the person with mental health issues.

As a former service user who also understands the needs of carers I would recommend other areas start Carers Hubs like ours. A little chat can spark happiness and make a difference to people’s lives.

Naz Islam is a peer support worker at East London NHS Foundation Trust

 The RCNi Commitment to Carers award is sponsored by NHS England

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