8 October 2018

In our second case study to mark World Mental Health Day, we focus on Alan’s journey of wellbeing. Alan’s story shows how happy childhood memories can benefit one’s mental health in adult life. Though his mental health declined, it was going back to what he enjoyed doing as a child that has helped him recover.

A Journey of Wellbeing

Alan's story: Going back to my roots

Quite often what the Wellbeing Programme achieves is so much more than its primary aim of improving people's mental health, as is the case with Alan.

For Alan, the programme has not only helped him with his mental wellbeing but has also given him a sense of peace and belonging by taking him back to doing the things he enjoyed when he was a child, mainly being out in the countryside.

However, his life has not always been like this. He is a man who has lived life to the extreme – from living and working in far-flung exotic places to excessively indulging in drink, drugs and women; to say he has led an eventful and colourful life would be an understatement.

Gradually over time his 'work hard, play hard' lifestyle took a toll on him, though it wasn't till after he backed out of what would have been his second marriage that his mental health started to decline.

Recalling those days, he says he was borderline suicidal. The break-up was not an amicable one, and his fiancé took his money and tools which deprived him of his livelihood. Being in the building trade, his tools were not only a vital part of his work but also an integral part of his identity.

It was during this time, that his GP referred him to a psychologist who recommended he consider getting involved in various activities to keep busy. The Wellbeing Programme was one of the things suggested to him.

For someone who has almost done and seen it all, the Wellbeing Programme may seem a little tame, with its mix of conservation work, wildlife walks and nature-based crafts, but through the programme, Alan has rediscovered what it is that he loves doing.

His love for the outdoors stems from when he was a little boy when his mum would take him out on country walks. She had an immense knowledge of the local plants and would readily share this information with him. Today, if you ask Alan a question about a particular flower or vegetable, he will invariably know the answer.

His parents owned a smallholding in Cornwall and the family had to produce everything themselves. All the children – Alan is one of seven – had specific chores; the boys would do all the outside work, such as collecting the firewood, whilst the girls would help with the housework. It's because of this that he has a very strong work ethic as well as such a vast knowledge of the countryside.

He might not agree with all the conservation work or the methods employed by the Wellbeing Programme, as he has his own first-hand experience of working outdoors and has a different view and approach to things. But he couldn't agree more with what the programme aims to achieve, which he describes as "improving people's mental wellbeing and making the world a better place for everybody and our children."

"We are preserving the natural woodland for the next generation," he says. "Being outside helps a lot – the quietness, the flowers, the trees, the smells… People don’t realise how fortunate we are."

Alan has progressed from being a participant on the programme to become a Volunteer Support Assistant on the Swindon Wellbeing project, which started in January 2017 thanks to funding from the Big Lottery Fund. In this role, he now helps others who are struggling with mental health issues and says, "I found that being out with the group really helped me so I would recommend it to others. If you're struggling with mental health issues, you have to get the help you need and have the mindset that you can get over it and recover," which is exactly what he did. He adds, "I know I'm not young anymore, I've had my life… but I'm in a happy place now. I'm a survivor."

Get in touch

If you feel you would benefit from joining the programme, or know someone who might benefit, please get in touch with us. We run groups in Wiltshire and Swindon. Call the office on 01380 736 098 or email us for more information.