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Mental Health Awareness Week: Interview With Ben Powell

Ben Powell has been working for n-compass’ The Butterfly and Phoenix for 10 years and he is currently the Counselling Services Lead. The Butterfly and Phoenix Project is a counselling service for young people aged 11-18 in Lancashire, providing them with a safe space to talk about any problems they may be having with one of our professionals.

As this week is Mental Health Awareness Week, we spoke to Ben to find out more about why raising awareness of mental health issues is so important, what can be done in society to help those struggling with mental health conditions, and more.

Why is Mental Health Awareness Week important?

If you've broken your leg, you can go to hospital and get treatment. With mental health, it’s hidden so you need to talk about it. If Mental Health Awareness Week helps people to tell someone how they are feeling, it's worth it. It is especially important for young people as growing up is a confusing time. I think everyone who comes through our door is massively brave.

What experience has led you to become Counselling Services Lead at The Butterfly and Phoenix Project? 

Originally, I wanted to be a grief counsellor - I fell into working with young people as my college tutor said I'd be good, so I started volunteering. I did my student placement at Butterfly and Phoenix, then when I qualified, I took a part time role with the service and loved working with young people. It is so rewarding. You can give them skills that can positively impact on the rest of their lives. 

How long has the service been running?

The Butterfly and Phoenix Project has been running for over 10 years now and I've been with the service for 10 years.

With what sort of problems do people come to the service? 

There are a whole range of things that young people accessing the service present with. We used to be specifically for people who self-harm, but now we are a more generic service for low to moderate mental health issues for young people aged 11 - 18. It could be anything from bullying and the pressures and stresses of school to family dynamics and peer pressure. A lot of young people come to us with anxiety.

What is the process of being referred?

We get referrals from a variety of different sources including the young people themselves, schools, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), and doctors. We follow up all referrals.

Once a referral has been made, the service access team will contact them within 3 days. We will set up an initial meeting. This used to be called an assessment, but I changed it because it sounded too clinical and actually put some young people off from accessing the service. At the initial meeting, we listen to the young person and assess their individual needs and their level of risk. If we are not the right service for them, we will ensure that they are sign posted to a service which can help them. 

We offer 6-8 one-to-one sessions to help the young people with their overall health and wellbeing, including self-esteem, self-harm, and coping strategies. A lot of the young people already know coping strategies, but they don’t know that they are coping strategies. If they are self-harming and having panic attacks, often they will say that they watch something on YouTube or go for a walk to calm down. That’s a coping strategy but they don't know it. So, a lot of the young people we see are doing well but and they just need that extra support, guidance, and reassurance. Others are more complex.

Some of the young people are surprised when they come to see us. They think there will be an old man with glasses asking them how they feel. That’s not the case. Our therapists use a range of techniques ranging from art and to making playlists. 

Does work ever keep you awake at night?

No. As counsellors, when you train, you are taught how to switch off, like nurses and doctors. I trust my team for a start; they always go above and beyond. There are times when I think about the young people and think 'I hope they're ok this week'. 

Have you noticed a change in people's mental health since the COVID-19 outbreak?

It depends who you are. Some people’s mental health has improved because they are closer to family and making more of an effort to make connections with people. 

I worry about what is going to happen to those who feel OK now but then have to go back to school where they experience bullying, stress, and pressure. Plus, there are those young people who are vulnerable at home due to things like domestic abuse. I worry about that. 

What changes can the general public make to support people with mental health problems?

Genuinely ask people how they are. A lot of times, people will say “You alright?”, but not really give people the opportunity to answer the question. It does not take long to pick up the phone, and ask “How are you?”, and listen. I know it's a cliché, but it is about being kind and genuinely looking out for people.

How have The Butterfly and Phoenix’s services changed since the COVID-19 outbreak?

While we can’t meet with the young people who use our service face-to-face at the moment, we are still doing one-to-one support using things like Zoom, Teams, and Whatsapp calls. This is something the young people we work with have really embraced and, in many cases, welcomed.

With the really young children, we can’t support them with play therapy at the moment, so instead we have weekly welfare checks with the parents to help them support their children through play and other means.

We have also put a lot of resources on our website for young people about lockdown providing them with factual, reliable information that they can trust and understand. 

To find out more about The Butterfly and Phoenix Project and how it can help you or a young person you know, visit the website.

The service is funded by the Clinical Commissioning Groups in Fylde and Wyre and Preston, Chorley, and South Ribble.

Children in Need funding also helps with additional capacity in Fylde & Wyre.

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