Mental health centres 10 years

A SPELL of unemployment can be demotivating enough for anyone but if you have mental health problems, getting back to work must sometimes feel like a mountain you will never be able to climb.

A SPELL of unemployment can be demotivating enough for anyone but if you have mental health problems, getting back to work must sometimes feel like a mountain you will never be able to climb.

But there is hope and the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, which sadly not enough people seem to be aware of.

This week Bridge House Clubhouse in Lower Brook Street is celebrating ten years of helping people who have mental health problems.

From depression to phobic disorders to schizophrenia most people can be helped in some way - including boosting their confidence and skills to get back to work.

Bridge House is part of an international organisation of clubhouses, which provide community based rehabilitation day services.

There are 400 clubhouses worldwide and it is known as the world's biggest mental health project.

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Part of the work done at Bridge House is to provide return to work and return to studying courses.

It is all about building confidence and skills to give people a stepping stone to get back into work and start living their life again.

Marion Sharpe is acting manager at Bridge House. She said: "It increases people's confidence and gives them self worth again.

"We have one member here who now goes home thinking about other things. (rather than their problems)

"He has learned to feel valued again and know that people are praising him because they want to because they like what he has done.

"If people are feeling more self confident and valued they learn to feel that they have lots to offer and have lots of skills that may have lain dormant for a while - they are coming out of their courses smiling."

The return to study is a relatively new course and started in September. Tutors from Suffolk College go to Bridge House to teach small groups of people core subjects such as Maths and English. Some are now going on to do AS levels in Maths.

A Cybercafe has also just opened up for the members to help them with computer courses.

As well as learning how to study again another important aspect of the work at Bridge House is the Transitional Employment Placement scheme.

Members get to do six month placements at businesses in the town to help them build confidence to return to work.

They receive the going wage for the position and if they are ill then a member of staff from the clubhouse will fill in for them so the company they are working for does not lose out.

Each member of staff is trained to do the jobs that the members are sent to.

Marion said that staff keep in constant contact with the members while they are on their placement and are also on hand if they need them once they have gone solo.

Some of the companies involved in the scheme are TKMaxx, the Inland Revenue and Willis.

The jobs range from sales assistants to mail sorters to cleaners and each job gives that person a reason for being and a reason to get up in the morning.

Some may have had problems with alcohol or anxiety or depression but having a routine like this can help stabilise them and build their confidence.

But the Clubhouse is not just about getting people on track to go back to work or study. Members are members for life if they want to be, even when they have their lives back under control.

Every member is involved in how the centre runs and can voice their opinion over changes and what they want to see happening.

An outreach service is also in operation so if someone has not been to the house for a while staff will give them a call to see if they OK.

There are also different ways members can help in the house as well, such as dealing with finances and also gardening.

Anyone who feels they need the support of Bridge House can self-refer or be referred by their GP or social worker.

For further information contact the clubhouse on 01473 230115.


John's story

JOHN Gray has bi-polar disorder (manic depression) and for 15 years worked for P&O Ferries as an assistant transport manager.

At 23 he had a nervous breakdown but worked for 17 years without any problems.

Then one day his stressful job coincided with personal problems at home and his mental health suffered.

He said: "I cracked up.

"I could not even tell you what time of day it was for three weeks, it was very frightening.

"You don't have a clue what is going on."

Some people at that stage may fear they will never get back to work but it was the only thing John wanted to do.

He said: "I never thought that I would never go back, it was always my aim to go back to work.

Thanks to Bridge House he did get back to work through the Transitional Employment Programme and has just won sales associate of the month and was given £150 of vouchers.

John is now hoping to eventually find a full time job.


Suffering from a mental health problem can be an incredibly frightening time both for those with the illness and family and friends around them.

Clubhouses like Bridge House are so important to help people rehabilitate - not matter how long it takes or if they relapse, they are welcome there for as long as they please.

Staff are cheerful and friendly and it is particularly good that all members have a say on how they house is run, giving them back a sense of responsibility and control over what is happening to them.

Let's hope that the good work continues for another ten years and beyond - there are thousands of people suffering with mental health problems in the county and it is great to know that these places exist to give people the support they need to get back on track.

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