Ipswich woman says charities like Suffolk Mind are ‘essential’ when mental health services are overstretched

Emma, who has benefitted from the Get Up and Grow project in Hadleigh. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Emma, who has benefitted from the Get Up and Grow project in Hadleigh. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

A woman living with mental illness has spoken about how a charity gardening project helped lift her out of a dark hole after she attempted suicide.

Emma, who has benefitted from the Get Up and Grow project in Hadleigh. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Emma, who has benefitted from the Get Up and Grow project in Hadleigh. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

Emma, who did not want to give her last name, is a regular visitor to an allotment plot in Hadleigh run by Suffolk Mind as part of its Get Up and Grow initiative.

The 48-year-old, from Ipswich, was referred to the scheme last summer after she tried to take her own life in April 2016.

“When I first came I was really ill and it was so difficult but they were so welcoming and it’s the perfect environment if you have mental health problems as it’s so peaceful,” she said. “You are out in the fresh air, you have the birds and frogs and squirrels.

“It’s a calming environment. If you come you can be as involved or not as you want, if you’re not feeling up to it you can just have a cup of tea.”

Emma, who has benefitted from the Get Up and Grow project in Hadleigh. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Emma, who has benefitted from the Get Up and Grow project in Hadleigh. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

Suffolk Mind is calling it “ecotherapy”, and the aim is to improve people’s physical and mental wellbeing by gently increasing their activity levels and enabling them to socialise with others who have been through similar struggles and experiences.

The charity also has plots in Haverhill, Bury St Edmunds and Newmarket, and this spring it is launching sites in Felixstowe and Ipswich due to the project’s growing success. The Ipswich plot will be managed in partnership with charity, Turning Point.

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For Emma, who has had to give up her job as a social worker due to her health, going to the allotment is sometimes the only social interaction she gets all week.

“It’s one of the worst aspects of being mentally ill, you are alone a lot of the time,” she said.

Emma, who has benefitted from the Get Up and Grow project in Hadleigh. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Emma, who has benefitted from the Get Up and Grow project in Hadleigh. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

“My mental health has been variable since last summer, so I have had my highs and lows but I think whatever is happening outside of the allotment, whether I’m in a good place or a bad place, I know I can come here.

“I wouldn’t say coming here is a cure for my mental health problems but it’s a constant positive thing in my life that I can access every week if I want and however my mental health is this is something that’s good for me.”

Emma, of Bramford Road, said charity projects like Get Up and Grow were “essential” at a time when mental health services were so stretched.

“In terms of NHS funding, mental health services have always been a poor cousin to physical health services,” she said.

Emma, who has benefitted from the Get Up and Grow project in Hadleigh. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Emma, who has benefitted from the Get Up and Grow project in Hadleigh. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

“Mind is brilliant, it’s an independent charity and it mops up and takes responsibility for all those people who really the NHS should be looking after.

“There isn’t the statutory mental health, it’s a joke.”

Sam Clifford has volunteered with Get Up and Grow in Suffolk since it started three years ago.

He said there was a great “sense of community” at the Hadleigh plot, with participants finding their own roles within the dynamic.

“We don’t put pressure on people to do gardening if they don’t want to,” Sam said. “They can just chill out and use the space and take time to themselves.

“Some people come here and are quite nervous to begin with, they might be dealing with anxiety, so it can be quite a big thing for them. We have got quite a welcoming team and make people feel at home.”

Stuart Lucas, support worker for the adult community mental health team at Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, attends the weekly sessions in Hadleigh and often brings patients who have received treatment.

He said: “We find that, in addition to the NHS services we offer, that these social projects are incredibly helpful in aiding people’s mental health recovery.”

Christina Perea, volunteer and ecotherapy service manager at Suffolk Mind, said Get Up and Grow provided participants with “peer support”, which is help given and received on an equal basis by people who share something in common - in this case, mental illness.

Currently there are around 40 people, including volunteers, involved in the initiative, and Christina said it was funded by grants.

The team gave thanks to Hadleigh-based organisations, including QD, Buildbase and Plant Parts Ltd, for donations of cash or materials to help with the allotment.