A piece of Mind
With prescriptions for anti-depressant medication 10 times higher in Alderney than in Guernsey, it is clear there are many people on the island struggling with their mental health, but providing the on-island support that is needed is not easy with such a tiny population. Now Guernsey Mind is hoping to fill that void by launching a base in Alderney. Emma Pinch looks at how it has come about...
FOR gardener Claire Cotton, 39, there’s no such thing as a typical day. She has battled bi-polar disorder for 20 years and it has impacted every area of her life.
‘I could wake up manic and hyper and running around the place or I could be severely depressed and not want to get out of bed for a week.
‘There are no guarantees with it. I can only eat at night. It’s one of the many obsessive compulsive disorder things that I have to do in order to keep myself comfortable. ‘I suffer from severe panic attacks and I hate going into places like pubs because I feel everyone is judging me and thinking I’m weird and strange. I spend a lot of time on my own because it’s such a hard way to live.’
She’s not alone in her struggle. The independent Wilson Report, released two years ago on the state of Alderney’s health care, reported that prescriptions for anti-depressant medication were 10 times higher on the island than in Guernsey and the rest of the UK.
Sally Simmons, Alderney Medical Centre’s clinical director, explained that while small island life surrounded by sea and sand can seem like an idyll, Alderney’s geographical isolation can exacerbate emotional problems.
‘We see quite a bit of depression, which is a common thing on remote islands. We’re distant from the mainland, we’re distant even from Guernsey and cut off by weather on many occasions. We see a lot of people who move to the island looking for a nice retirement and then unfortunately their partner has died and they are left here in relative isolation and that means it’s difficult for their families to come here and stay because it’s relatively expensive.
‘We also see quite a lot of alcohol and drug problems here, again no different to many other islands, but it is a concern.’
The tight bonds of the island’s community is mostly a blessing. But they can also be suffocating when it comes to seeking treatment for an emotional disorder.
‘I think stigma is a big issue,’ said Dr Simmons. ‘On a small island like this where everyone knows everybody, and knows everybody’s business, coming to the doctor and being seen sitting in the waiting room can be a big problem for them.’
The island’s tiny population also means – as for so many services – that it’s not viable to have full-time help on standby. Although a counsellor visits regularly and patients are sent for treatment in Guernsey, a couple of years ago Alderney lost the community psychiatric nurse who used to come to the island on a regular basis.
So last year community members, professionals, practitioners of various therapies and representatives from Mind in Guernsey got together to see what they could do to make Alderney feel better. They felt a facility dealing with mental health issues outside of contracted medical provision could form a good solution. Mind Guernsey, which strives to bring the services it offers in Guernsey to Alderney, applied for a grant from the Lloyds Bank Foundation for the Channel Islands. To their delight they were awarded £50,648 – two years of funding for setting up training and providing services.
Carey Group lent them their former Alderney headquarters at Millennium House on Ollivier Street in St Anne to create a meeting place, information hub and eventually a drop-in centre.
Guernsey Mind executive director Emily Litten said representatives from the organisation had been visiting the island for over a year to learn about mental health needs specific to Alderney.
‘It’s a different experience to Guernsey,’ she said. ‘I think a major concern is that people know everything that you are doing. So if you are struggling for a short period of time, which is a common experience for many people, in a bigger community you might struggle privately and possibly need time off work but when you go back to work, and are feeling better, it’s forgotten. In a smaller community it may continue to be talked about and you become labelled as the person who’s had this condition. Equally, it may dent your confidence and you will continue to view yourself this way. One of the most damaging things about mental health, which prevents people from recovering, is self stigma and the way you feel about yourself.
‘Our plans for Alderney are to look at the stigma around mental health and raise awareness about how mental health is viewed on Alderney.
‘The questions are what are we going to do about it, and how are we going to focus on recovery? We want to change the perception that poor mental health is something that impacts your entire life – people do get better and long-term conditions can be managed well.’
As well as the regular walk and chat session and a fortnightly book club, Mind also want to establish a Man Club – a space for men to talk and listen. They plan to train one in 10 people on Alderney to become mental health first aiders. When the wellbeing centre opens in May, it will offer advocacy and signposting services and peer support, as well as offering space for local community groups to use free of charge.
Ms Litten is optimistic for the future of mental health in Alderney.
‘I know there’s a real issue about having services delivered in a small community and there’s always going to be that,’ she said. ‘But potentially with our well being centre being freely available and us being focused here, maybe we can encourage other charities and services to join us.’
For Claire Cotton, Mind coming to Alderney is a dream come true. She has campaigned for years for better on-island support for people with mental health issues, particularly in periods of crisis. She has been recruited to lead on arts-related activities at the wellbeing centre.
‘I swore I would never let anyone feel as bad as I did and I’m happy to know that there is a place for people to go,’ she said.
‘It’s very, very useful for people like me to relate to other people and get information on what treatment I can try to make myself as healthy as possible. I’m very, very happy.’
- For more information, visit www.guernseymind.org.gg
- Guernsey Mind would love to hear from anyone who can offer some volunteering time or materials to help get the new Centre ready to open. Contact Jill Chadwick on 722959 or email@example.com