Chris had not worked since being medically discharged from the Royal Navy with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He had been a helicopter engineer, but by 2002, in the grip of severe depression, panic attacks and anxiety, the idea of holding down a full-time job was unthinkable.
“I felt like my whole life had crumbled. I was in a dark place, with very bad depression,” said Chris, recalling his lowest point, “I dropped so much weight I was a bag of bones, and claustrophobic. I couldn’t even stand in the bathroom with water running, or use public transport and because I wasn’t well enough to attend medical appointments, my benefit stopped for six months and I had nothing. I lost my home because I couldn’t pay the rent, and it was only my friends who helped me through.”
However, a year after joining the Work Programme in our Newcastle branch, Chris is almost unrecognisable from his old self. For the first time in 13 years, Chris found the support he needed to deal with his illness, and has reached the stage where he wants to explore another career.
His employment advisor Kirsty Hunn has sourced a fully funded Level 2 Diploma in Safe Working Practices in the Wind Turbine Industry (Onshore and Offshore) course for Chris, and he is also considering pursuing an idea to set up a small home and garden maintenance business. All this would have been unthinkable a short while ago.
“I feel that something has changed in me,” said Chris, “I can look at myself and realise that I am a somebody, that I have got a lot to contribute – and I owe that to the help I received on the Work Programme.”
As an Employment and Support Allowance claimant, the support Chris was given on the Work Programme focussed on the challenges he was facing, recognising that he was some distance from being ready for work.
Describing his initial reaction to being referred to the Work Programme, Chris said: “I thought why do I have to go on the programme when I’m not well enough to attend, let alone return to work. My view was that a lot of employers are going to look at me, and think he’s got mental health problems and there’s a big gap in employment there, and keep their distance. What can I do? I can’t even concentrate on a computer screen.”
However, Kirsty slowly built Chris’s trust until he felt he was ready to attend a course in Newcastle with our partner organisation, Capital Training Services (North East) Limited. With a duration of seven weeks, split into half days, the Emotional Resilience for Employment course aims to help people who are in crisis and struggling to cope to consider their situation through new lenses.
I was nervous about the course, but as soon as I met Rae, the tutor, and we talked, I felt she was a person I could trust,” Chris said, “The courses looks at breaking down the meaning of mental health, starting with an evaluation of how you feel now and your self-confidence. Step by step, it goes into your core beliefs, the kind of person you are and the skills and qualities you have. I never felt pressurised. It was just a really good group of people and felt very free. I got lots of encouragement, not just from Rae, but from the whole group. We talked and threw ideas at each other.
“I would recommend this course to others because it gives people on Employment Support Allowance a real chance to see themselves for who they really are, and that they do have many skills and qualities and are equal to others.”
Kirsty, Chris’s PeoplePlus advisor, is thrilled with the progress Chris has made.
She added: “Chris and I had a catch up after he completed the course and he said it made him realise that he would like to return to a career where he could use his engineering background and maybe even his experience off-shore. He was still very concerned about his health issues but, for the first time in a long time, it made him feel like he could contribute his skills to an employer. This is amazing progress for Chris, and we’re all really proud of him.”