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'I've come so far': the scheme helping people with mental health issues into work | Society

“I’ve so much to look forward to in 2020,” says 27-year-old Asiimwe as she thinks of the holidays and trips to festivals she has planned. “It is exciting and I can’t wait for it all to happen.”

After years of poor physical and mental health – including clinical depression, psychosis, suicidal thoughts, cirrhosis and a liver transplant – the north Londoner says she is “in such a good place” and the healthiest she has ever been. She also recently started work as a student funding officer at a London university.

Instrumental in this transformation has been the support she has received from a pioneering programme, launched in spring 2018, that helps people with mental health issues to find, and stay in, work.

Run by charity Hillside Clubhouse and funded by Camden council and the Cabinet Office, Camden Work and Wellbeing (CWAW) uses a scheme called individual placement and support (IPS). This involves employment specialists working alongside clinical teams, providing one-to-one support, including helping with writing CVs and applications, and liaising with employers.

IPS has changed the way health professionals in the area work with clients, says Louise Cantrell, service manager for the NHS’s south Camden rehabilitation and recovery team.

“We often talk about people’s problems. We might focus on their diagnosis, medication or symptoms,” she says. “But thinking about employment has had a beneficial influence on the team and the kind of conversations we are having with people. We are not just focusing on negative, problematic things.

“We can also focus on the future and hopefully have a role in helping people achieve what they want to in life.”

Graeme Jones, director of Hillside Clubhouse, says the programme involves asking clients about the type of job they want, the environment they want to work in and the support they need to maintain employment. “Once people start in work,” he says, “the employment specialist will provide that support to make sure they continue and sustain in that job.”

Since its launch in spring 2018, CWAW has helped 228 mental health service users into employment. It has also supported 162 other people to return to or retain their jobs. It is recognised as a centre of excellence for IPS, which being rolled out across England.

Three-quarters of the people supported by CWAW, some of whom had not worked for decades, were still in their jobs after six weeks. IPS has a higher success rate than other models and the NHS is putting in extra funding to increase access to the programme, with the aim of helping 55,000 people each year to find and retain employment by 2023-24. A pilot study is also looking at whether the scheme can be used to support people with physical ill health.

“People are going into real, mainstream jobs,” adds Jones. One CWAW client has taken a role as a government communications assistant, while others are working as administrators, care assistants, waiters and teachers. Some have gone on to work for the local NHS trust.

Asiimwe, a hospitality and tourism management graduate, first received support from the CWAW pilot in 2017. Employment specialist Leah Kraithman helped her look for and apply for jobs, and she secured a nine-month contract with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts as a registry officer. Her health then deteriorated again and in the summer of 2018, she had a liver transplant.

After a year recovering, Asiimwe again worked with Kraithman and, after two short-term contracts with different employers, found her present position. “The support I’ve had from Leah has been so helpful,” she says. “If it wasn’t there, I don’t know how I would have coped with finding work. When you’re not at work it can be so depressing and demoralising and you feel like you are worthless, not contributing to society.

“Working has really boosted my confidence and self-esteem. It has really helped me get into a routine. I feel like I am doing something good; I have achieved a lot, considering what I have been through over the past couple of years.”

Kraithman, who is now IPS operations manager with CWAW, says clients receive “time unlimited support”.

She adds: “It is not about getting them into a job, ticking a box, and leaving them. It is about working with them as long as they need us, but the aim is to increase their independence and their confidence and we slowly back away.”

Asiimwe says the support she has received has also helped her to focus on her priorities beyond work. “Now my health is so important to me and I take time out just for me; to chill, to relax,” she says.

“I think back to 2015, 2016, when I was in such a bad place and when my health deteriorated, I couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. For me it was just darkness. So now I can’t believe how far I’ve come and how strong I’ve been, and how I have held it all together.”

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