'Life changing' I CAN mental health support service to be extended

Shannon Doherty.JPG

A Wrexham woman has paid tribute to the “life changing” impact of a new mental health service which helped her through her darkest hours.

Shannon Doherty says the support received through the I CAN Centre at Wrexham Maelor Hospital has helped to turn her life around, after she was hospitalised having taken an overdose in March this year.

The service is set to be extended to GP surgeries and community hubs across North Wales, in order to ensure that more people receive timely mental health support.

Shannon, 23, from Wrexham, is one of more than 2,500 people who have been helped at I CAN Centres since they were introduced in early 2019.

I CAN Centres support people in crisis who attend the Emergency Departments of Ysbyty Gwynedd, Ysbyty Glan Clwyd and Wrexham Maelor Hospital.

This includes people in crisis as a result of mental health problems, drug or alcohol abuse, relationship breakdowns, debt problems and loneliness.

The centres are supported by a mix of paid staff and volunteers, who often have first-hand experience of what it’s like to live with mental health problems. Further I CAN support is set to be rolled out in communities and GP surgeries across the region in the coming months.

I CAN Shannon’s struggles started at the age of 12 and led to her self-harming on a regular basis. During her darkest hours she considered drinking bleach, and attempted to end her life on a number of occasions, leading to frequent contact with the Maelor Hospital’s Emergency Department and Heddfan Psychiatric Unit.

But the turning point in her life came in March this year, when she was introduced to the I CAN service after taking an overdose of medication.

“All the thoughts going through my head were that I was in every month last year for doing it and as soon as I got out I was going to stock up on medication and do it again” explained Shannon.

“But I was introduced to the I CAN team and I was taken away from the hospital ward environment. It was just a chance to be real and open rather than looked down on and judged.

“After a few hours there I went through every emotion and when I got back to the ward I felt like I’d really been listened to and my problems seem to have been washed away.”

Determined to give something back, Shannon soon became a regular volunteer and recently found paid employment as an I CAN Centre Supervisor.

She said: “It’s nice that the staff and volunteers have lived experience because they see it first hand and know what it’s like. From my experience of volunteering at the I CAN Centre, a lot of the clients we support don’t have a sense of community or belonging anymore, and I think that’s quite common.

“People who come into the I CAN Centre are often very anxious and distressed. We can make a real difference by really listening and giving them time to get everything off their chest. To see that change in people from being at their lowest, to at a point where they are stable and they have got a plan to go forward is amazing.

Shannon says that her new role as an I CAN Centre Supervisor has given her a sense of self-worth which is helping her to better manage her mental health difficulties.

“It’s been really life changing and it feels amazing to be appreciated for the lived experience I have. It’s given me that drive to strive for better, to work my way up, and to make sure that others don’t go through what I went through.

“Loneliness is a big killer in mental health so providing that sense of community can really work wonders.”

I CAN Centres have been introduced by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board to improve the support available to people experiencing a mental health crisis.

Like other Health Boards across Wales, BCUHB is currently looking at how it can deliver services differently in order to meet a growing demand for mental health support.

Following the successful introduction of I CAN Centres at North Wales’ three main hospitals, further I CAN support is set to be rolled out in community settings and in GP surgeries across the region.

Lesley Singleton, BCUHB’s Director of Partnerships, said:

“Shannon is an inspiration to us all and her story shows what a huge impact the I CAN Centres are having for people when they need it the most.

“While the I CAN Centres in our Emergency Departments aim to help people in crisis, the I CAN Community Hubs and I CAN Primary Care services we will be rolling out in the coming months will be focused on making it easier for people to access the early need without a referral or an appointment.

“We’d love to hear from anybody who has an interest in volunteering to support this hugely important work.”

Dr Helen Alefounder, a GP Rysseldene Surgery in Colwyn Bay, Conwy, said: "I think as it grows and as we educate patients and staff as to the other services that are available, this is absolutely going to take off, and it's completely the right way forward.

"Everything lands in the medical sector, when it really doesn't need to.

She added: "If we can put these services in to support the front door of primary care, to support the front door of A&E systems, then we can direct these patients to where they really need to be to get the support and treatment that they require."

Please click here to find out more about volunteering opportunities with I CAN