Valued Lives marks one year of helping people in mental health crisis

Valued Lives

Louise, a practice coach for Valued Lives, and founder of Valued Lives Shoni Haswell. 

A crisis service set up to help people in distress because of poor mental health is saving lives.

Valued Lives crisis service, commissioned by NHS Kernow, was launched by Shoni Haswell and her team in December 2017.

The crisis service, which currently runs as a pilot project, offers emergency out of hours care and support for people in distress.

Since the service launched, the Redruth-based charity has seen approximately 400 people through the crisis service – that’s the equivalent of 13 people a day.

Nearly 100 of those that Valued Lives has helped said without it they would have taken their own life.

Shoni was introduced to health and social care as a young carer, and went on to work within a range of hospital and community settings as an adult. Alongside her professional skills gained whilst working with people affected by mental health difficulties, she has also struggled in the past with her own.

She said: “What really stood out for me professionally and personally was that there was support missing in the community, where people can access help at short notice. You only have to look at the number of emergency hospital admissions to see the huge numbers of people in severe distress - many of those people feel like there is no way out.

“Valued Lives is here to stop people reaching crisis point and requiring admission into hospital to keep them safe by responding to them out of hours, either in their own home, or at our crisis café.”

Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has had one of the highest suicide rates in the country, and a lot of work is going on behind the scenes to develop a suicide prevention strategy to address this.

Valued Lives, which provides additional support for people who need urgent help, is the type of service which is vital to tackling this.

Shoni said: “It has been a whirlwind of a year. When we opened our doors last December it was as if we had opened the floodgates – it was obvious there was a need for the service.

“While I expected setting up Valued Lives to be both challenging and rewarding, I was not expecting to experience such an overwhelming feeling of joy in seeing the difference we are making to people’s lives - the hard work put in by everybody involved has certainly been worth it.”

The Crisis Café, which is based at the top of Fore Street, is open from 5pm to midnight, seven days a week. People who are in distress and contact the service are invited to meet with a wellbeing practitioner for an initial one-to-one session, usually on the same day. 

People can also be referred to Valued Lives by their GP, health partners and other agencies, including the police, colleges, councils and voluntary and community sector organisations and charities.

“It’s not just people who are in crisis that have been thankful for the service,” Shoni said.

“GPs have been really supportive too – they see the very real value of being able to refer people in crisis to the service, which is free and easy to access.

“There are three stages to the crisis café, and people move through these stages at the pace which is personalised. The first stage is when the person meets a wellbeing support worker and together they will draw up an action plan to help address the stresses that are contributing to the crisis. We use a solution focussed model to help them become empowered, and take control.

“Stage two is about peer support and therapeutic activities. The first part of the session is quite structured, hosting workshops in topics such as confidence building or mindfulness, and the second session is a chance to relax and support each other.

“Stage three is for people who have used the service to progress and would like to become peer mentors. This is for a great way for people, to regain confidence and self-worth, and to build skills and new experiences, which could lead onto employment and educational opportunities. The peer mentors are also very important for those who have just started using the service, who have somebody who can inspire them to move through their own recovery journey.”

If anyone is unable to visit the crisis café in person, they can speak to a member of the team on the phone, or via video conferencing.

The service supports people with a wide range of problems such as depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug and alcohol problems to homelessness.

Many of the people presenting have a history of self-harming, with one in five of those contacting the service reporting being imminently suicidal, with a further half having thoughts of suicide.

Sessions are held for specific groups on different nights of the week. These include a LGBTQ+ group, separate women and men’s groups, a self-harm prevention group, a young person’s group, a hearing voices group and a general group.

Shoni added: “It’s about giving people the confidence to reclaim their lives and not feel they need to rely on services. It has been an incredible year, I’m humbled by the people we have helped and proud of what we have achieved.

“People who have used the service have described it as taking them out of a “dark place,” whilst others have said that having an army of people believe in me, was and is, amazing.”

Dr Paul Cook, NHS Kernow’s clinical lead for mental health, said: “This is the type of service we recognise can make a huge difference to people’s lives and prevent them reaching crisis point and take back control.

“The pilot will show how this type of service could have further benefits in the future.”