Supporting service users
The Four in Ten Project
Donations have enabled us to support the Four in Ten peer support group which provides a safe place where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people with mental health problems can socialise, share experiences and support one another.
Four in ten LGBT people will have mental health problems in their lives and many will experience dual stigma both for being LGBT and for having mental health issues. So, four years ago, three service users set up the Four in Ten Peer Support Group as a space for people to share their experiences and be accepted for who they are.
‘I thought it would be nice for there to be a group where people could be open about their mental health problems but also open about their sexuality,’ says Denise, who is one of the founders of the group.
There are about ten core members of the group who have been coming regularly for years, but around 40 service users have benefited from the group since it started. They meet every Tuesday evening to socialise in a supportive, non-judgemental space that helps them come to terms with experiences of homophobia and discrimination.
‘People who are isolated feel that there's somewhere they can go where they will be welcomed, where they feel safe, and nothing bad will happen to them,’ says Denise.
Improving LGBT services at SLaM
Denise felt it was important to hire someone to guide the group, so Peter Vittles, from equality charity The Metro Centre, was recruited to coordinate the project and act as a conduit between Four in Ten and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM).
‘My role is to work with the group, find out what their experience of the service is, and then find ways to feed that through the Trust,’ says Peter.
Peter is currently working with SLaM to design training that will support staff to work better with LGBT service users, by improving their knowledge and skills. He also organises a programme of creative and social activities for Four in Ten including picnics, gallery visits and trips to Hastings and Brighton. They recently had an exhibition of their photography displayed in the Sanctuary Gallery at Maudsley Hospital, and they’re now working on their second film exploring their experiences of being LGBT and having mental health issues.
‘Lots of service users can feel that there is nowhere for them to go to talk about the issues that are important to them,’ says Peter. ‘So, that's why we have this space for them to be able to talk about those sorts of things.’
A space without prejudice
Many LGBT people suffer abuse because of their sexuality and experience prejudice and discrimination in their daily lives. This can lead people to feel isolated and rejected by their family, friends and society as a whole.
Tom has experienced emotional and physical abuse from his family because he was gay.
‘My family told me I was bringing shame on the family. They told me that seven days a week, and I felt I was,’ he says.
‘I blamed myself for all the abuse and I blamed myself for being gay. I had a breakdown because of all the abuse and developed agoraphobia and bulimia when I was 17.’
Through counselling and the support of Four in Ten, Tom’s confidence has grown and he no longer blames himself for how his family treated him.
‘I let people accept me for who I am,’ he says. ‘And if they reject me on the basis of being gay then I won't know them anymore. That's how I see life now.’
‘I’ve never had closer friends’
Tom feels he’s benefited hugely from being part of the Four in Ten group and, since joining four years ago, he’s been able to talk openly about his experiences for the first time. But the biggest benefit has been the friends he has made.
‘I've never had closer friends than I have in the group,’ he says. ‘We've got each other's phone numbers and if we're depressed or down or fed up or whatever, we phone each other for a talk.’
Group members’ shared experiences and understanding have enabled a strong support network to grow and friendships to flourish, and everyone is in touch with each other outside of project meetings.
‘We can talk about anything really,’ says Tom. ‘We watch films, we play games. If we're down and depressed we can share that in the group as well. Whatever problems we've got, we can do it: it's open and it's brilliant.’
The group continues to thrive – supporting those who have been part of Four in Ten for years, and welcoming new members. It also has plans to offer services to even more people in the future.
Because of mental health problems and experiences of abuse, LGBT service users can feel too afraid to leave their homes. The group hopes to arrange home visits in the future, helping people to feel less isolated and more connected to others with shared experiences. Peter also plans to work more closely with LGBT young people, providing them with information and support, and training staff around working with younger LGBT service users.
‘It can be quite a difficult time for young people,’ he says. ‘They’re questioning their sexual orientation and gender identity and they have much more fluid concepts of identity, so we want to be able to support staff to support young people who are coming to terms with those sorts of issues.’
It’s thanks to generous donations that we can continue to support mental health services like the Four In Ten project. Please help us keep these projects running: make a donation today.