When Fran Furniss experienced mental health crisis as a teenager she resisted the help of professionals, convinced no one could help.
Now, she is one of those professionals herself – bringing treatment and hope to others as a new apprentice Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner at Health Minds Buckinghamshire.
Ahead of World Mental Health Day on Sunday, October 10 she shares here experience and how becoming a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner with Healthy Minds in Buckinghamshire means she is now helping others – turning her own challenges into the opportunity of a lifetime.
From patient to clinician
“I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Depression when I was just 15. Anxiety is a very misunderstood mental illness, with so many differing ways people can experience it. For me, GAD is the constant, intense fear and worry in which you always expect the worst. It becomes obsessive, and almost all my time was spent anticipating everything to go catastrophically wrong. Everyone experiences anxieties in their day-to-day life, but GAD is exhausting and can make your life feel very small and a chore to live. It is relentless.
“I would convince myself every single morning before school the most ridiculous things, that I’d need the toilet on the bus and wet myself in front of everyone, that in class I’d be singled out and made fun of in front of everyone for something completely far-fetched that would never happen, that my friends would suddenly turn on me at lunch time and tell me they hated me.
“I would try each morning to get out of going to school, which would lead to explosive arguments with my mum. I would get a ridiculously early train to school so I didn’t have to see anyone on the bus, buy a hot chocolate and then sit thinking about suicide. Some mornings I’d call my mum in tears, overwhelmed by this thought, and she’d come and collect me – ready for me to go through it all the next morning. Even when I attended lessons, mentally I wasn’t there at all.
“I would lie in bed every night convinced I was having a stroke or a heart attack because I had no idea what panic attacks were. It felt like an endless loop that would never end.
“At the time, I knew nothing about anxiety, so it took a while before I started seeing a counsellor and my doctor. Thankfully mental health is much less of a taboo subject now, and it makes me so happy to see people openly discussing it much more, particularly at school.
“I started taking antidepressants and seeing a school counsellor, but I was so angry and convinced nobody could help me that I had a real resentment towards her. After a while, I began to see a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, but I went in with a very similar mindset.
“University was an awful time for my mental health, suicidal thoughts crept in in a big way, paired with drinking to excess constantly. Eventually, after an extension, I graduated.
“After leaving university, I started seeing a new therapist. He was incredible. He listened. I realised why these people are so important, and kicked myself for never giving them a proper chance. My family life went through some real turbulence, and my mental health continued to spiral, but this therapist saved my life.
“Three years later, and I am in the best place I have ever been. I no longer drink at all, I take medication which works for me, and whilst I no longer see my therapist, I continue to implement his advice daily. I have an incredible relationship with someone who cares for me and understands me, I have the cutest puppy that makes me happy every day, and I have the best friends and a thriving social life. I am also about to start my dream job.”
Why I wanted to work as a wellbeing practitioner
“During the initial Covid lockdown I was unable to continue my job and a local care home was desperate for help. As I’d had Covid very early in February 2020 I decided to work there on a temporary ‘COVID relief’ contract. I had never worked in social care, and had no experience of dementia, but spending every day helping these residents made me realise just how important it was to be helping others.
“I remember one man who wouldn’t speak to carers that had a room decorated with saxophones, old classic cars, and so many jazz CDs. I searched the home for a CD player to no avail, but found he had a selection of DVDs of musicals. He’d been watching TV all day, so I held up his DVDs one by one until I saw a smile beam across his face as I held up ‘Pretty Woman’. The change in him I saw that day was remarkable, and he even had a phone call with his wife and daughter. I wasn’t at the care home long, but my dad told me to ‘just make sure that when you leave, you leave having made a difference to at least one person, even if just for one day.’
“I went on to work as a Communications Manager for an online raffle company raising money for charity, and hearing all the good work these charities were doing made me think about whether I was really making a difference.
“I saw that Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust were taking applications for Trainee Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners, and that you didn’t need a psychology degree to apply. The post mentioned that lived experience would be of interest in this role too. ”
What drew me to Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust
“The work that Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust do is incredible. Mental health has never been so important, with such turbulence over the past few years due to the pandemic. The work Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners do is incomparable – providing psychological interventions and support to those suffering with anxiety, depression, and a whole range of other mental health issues.
“I have nothing but utmost respect for everyone working in the healthcare industry, from social workers, therapists, nurses, doctors, and everything in between. The fact that this role is giving me a chance to begin a lifelong career in the healthcare industry has given me so much hope and a new lease of life. I want to spend my life helping other people, and this role will be able to equip me with the knowledge and qualifications to do exactly that.
“I understand how important it is to reach out for professional help when you are struggling with your mental health. I want to raise as much awareness as possible for the trust, and all mental health services, because they truly do save lives. I know they certainly saved mine.
“Embarking on this role and being able to help others experiencing the darkness that mental health issues can bring about means the world to me. It’s given my nine-year battle a reason to have fought for. If I can help even one person, then I know that stopping myself from taking my own life for the past near-decade will have been worth it.”
What does a Psychological Wellbeing Practioner do?
Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners (PWPs) help people who are under stress, who may have anxiety and low mood or feel depressed. PWPs have a thorough training in how to provide effective, tried and tested NHS treatments to help people feel better and able to live a more fulfilled life.
PWPs help people who are experiencing a range of difficulties, including those related to relationships and employment. PWPs enjoy a wide variety in their role and there are opportunities to deliver treatment through:
- Digital platforms
- Face to face/in person work
- By telephone
PWPs have the opportunity to specialise in areas of interest and get involved in projects such as living with long term health conditions and our innovative weight management programme.
How do I become a PWP through Oxford Health Foundation Trust?
The Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner apprenticeship programme has been developed as an accessible route to train to be a PWP.
The idea behind the apprenticeship is that people from a variety of backgrounds can join the programme. You don’t have to have a degree in psychology. The programme welcomes applications from people with diverse life experience and a keen interest in making a difference to the lives of adults and older adults who face mental health challenges.
To be eligible for our apprenticeship programme, you will be required to evidence a Level 5 qualification (or have relevant skills and experience) as well as GCSE Level Maths and English.
(Grade C or above). If you don’t quite meet the GCSE level requirement, or your qualification is not equivalent, you will be required to undertake a Level 2 Functional Skills qualification alongside your apprenticeship.
You will be based at one of the Healthy Minds sites (Aylesbury or High Wycombe) for the duration of your apprenticeship, earning between £21,892 and £24,157 per year. The programme is full time, and after successful completion (between 12 – 15 months) you will receive a nationally recognised qualification.
If you are interested please look out for our next recruitment campaign due to start in December 2021 for our next intake in March/April 2022.
And you can find out more about Working With Us on our website.
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Published: 8 October 2021