Volunteers from Betsi Health Board’s newly introduced I CAN Mental Health Urgent Care Centres have been sharing their inspiring reasons for gifting their time to support others as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.

The dedicated volunteers have been supporting the new service which helps people in crisis at North Wales’ Emergency Departments.

The three I CAN Centres at Ysbyty Gwynedd, Glan Clwyd Hospital and Wrexham Maelor Hospital support people who present at an Emergency Department between the hours of 7pm and 2am, but don’t require medical treatment or admission to a mental health facility.

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

Just as the people who benefit from I CAN Centres come from all walks of life, so too do the 50+ volunteers who support the service. Many of them have special reasons for gifting their time to support others in their hour of need.

Darren Nesbitt from Wrexham says he became a volunteer to give something back to staff at the Emergency Department at the Maelor Hospital who supported him when he was in the grip of drug and alcohol addiction.

Now in recovery, Darren’s using his own experiences to support others during their darkest days. He said: “I became an I CAN volunteer to give something back to my local community. I also wanted to repay a debt to the Emergency Department as a year ago I was a frequent visitor to the Department. At the time I was in active addiction for alcohol and drugs. I felt so lonely and lost and I was in desperate need to talk to someone as I lived alone.

“The I CAN Centre would have been a great help to myself in those dark days.

“Volunteering has given me the chance to show that I am a useful contributor to society and I’m able to put my skills and experience to good use. It also offers me training, social opportunities and the chance to make new friends.”

Carrie Hargreaves from Cefn Meiriadog near St Asaph says she was inspired to volunteer at her local I CAN Centre after struggling with grief after losing her Mum to cancer last year.

“I lost my mum last year to cancer after fighting in for six years” she explained. “We are a close family and my mum was always at the centre of everything. When she passed away it devastated us and left broken.

“There wasn’t really anyone to talk to and we didn’t really know where to turn. I CAN gives people a place to go when they need someone to talk to and I wish we had somewhere like that when we needed it.

“Helping others is such a rewarding feeling. When people come to talk to us they can be anxious and extremely upset. It’s lovely to watch the difference between them coming in and going out.

“Sometimes people just need a chat and a brew to make that difference in their lives and the fact I have a part in that makes a big difference to me too. It’s rewarding on so many levels and I absolutely love it.

“I meet new people all the time and all the staff at the I CAN Centre are so friendly and welcoming. It’s a great thing to be a part of.”

Jack Lowe from Meliden near Prestatyn has first-hand experience of what it’s like to live with mental health problems, having struggled with social anxiety, depression and self-harm. He became a volunteer in order to help others in their hour of need.

He said: “Last year I hit a real low point. I was self-harming and wanted to put myself into hospital. I feel with my experience I can add to ICAN and it may help resonate with clients better.

“Knowing you can make a difference to someone’s life and give them someone to turn too in their hour of need is rewarding.”

Psychology graduate Chelsea Leanne Barton from Anglesey says that volunteering at her local I CAN Centre at Ysbyty Gwynedd has provided an opportunity to apply and enhance her knowledge and skills to support others.

She said: “The I CAN Centre thrives in supporting individuals, providing an ear to listen and emotional support. We give individuals the ability and confidence to confidentially share their distress, and give advice and signpost individuals in the right direction.

“The most enjoyable part of my role is hearing the words ‘thank you’ and knowing that you have made a difference.

“If I was to advise someone considering becoming an I CAN Centre volunteer I would say go for it and jump at the opportunity to make a difference. It’s vital that we encourage open conversations about mental health and raise awareness that ‘it’s ok not to be ok’.”

I CAN Centres are supported by a network of more than 50 volunteers and paid staff from mental health charities. Since being established in January, they have provided emotional support to more than 400 people, while reducing pressures on busy Emergency Departments.

The service has recently been extended to include support for patients and carers on hospital wards. It is hoped that I CAN Centres will be established in communities across North Wales in future.

Lesley Singleton, Director of Partnerships at BCUHB said: “I CAN Centres are having a huge impact on people who find themselves in crisis and don’t know who to turn to during the evening hours when traditional services are not open.

“Their introduction is part of our wider efforts to improve the community support available to people in a mental health crisis so they can receive the timely help they need.

“We’re so grateful to the many people who gift their time to support the service and we’d love to hear from anybody who has an interest in volunteering at their local I CAN Centre.”

If you’re interested in becoming an I CAN Centre volunteer, please visit: http://www.wales.nhs.uk/sitesplus/861/page/97914 or contact ican@mantellgwynedd.com or Elaine.ginnelly@mantellgwynedd.com

Photos: I CAN Centre volunteers with Health Secretary Vaughan Gething and Ann Jones AM & Chelsea Barton I CAN Centre volunteer at Ysbyty Gwynedd