Facing Blue Monday head on - Stephen's Ucan story

Blue Monday returns on 21 January – the day deemed to be the most depressing of 2019.

Better mental health is an outcome for many participants in Livability’s UCan programme, as they gain skills and confidence which can help them beat isolation and connect with their community. Poole resident Stephen Merrett tells us why he’s not afraid to face Blue Monday this year.

Stephen, why did you get involved with Livability UCan?

I’m a full-time carer for my mother and was suffering with anxiety and depression, mainly because I was feeling extremely isolated by my caring role. My GP put me in touch with the Poole Social Prescription Service, and I knew I wanted to be in a social environment, ideally outdoors. I began volunteering at the Flourish horticultural programme at Livability Holton Lee – which is also where Livability UCan is based.

What did you think of Flourish?

I was incredibly anxious when I arrived but was immediately taken by the surroundings and peacefulness and knew quickly it would be a good place for me. I met Vicky Ashley, a Livability UCan Personal Champion, there and immediately found her easy to talk to. After nine months of Flourish, I was ready for a new challenge and started volunteering at an animal rescue centre but stayed in touch with Vicky. She suggested I try the programme and, looking back, this was the best thing I could have done.

What did UCan offer you?

Well, Vicky helped me with so many things I was struggling to cope with, such as ongoing battles to get the right benefits and services, as well as supporting me through medical appointments and just being someone to talk to. One of Livability UCan’s strengths is preparing people for employment, but at the moment, my role is caring for my mum so Vicky put me in touch with REACH, a local organisation that organises social and sporting events.

How did that go?

This was life-changing for me – I’d been keen to get involved in sport but was never confident to go along. I didn’t really know how to access it. When my mum had respite care, I threw myself into REACH and did badminton, football and boxing in the first week. I absolutely loved it and got so much out of it, physically and mentally.

Unfortunately, I broke my ankle quite badly playing football but I don’t regret it at all, and my goal is to get back to REACH activities. Livability UCan continued to support me in many areas of my life, in a way that has helped me to be empowered and self-reliant. I’ve been given valuable advice about managing my mental health and as a result, I’m no longer suicidal.

Do you feel Livability UCan has helped you beat social isolation?

Yes! UCan has built my confidence and so much of the work we have done will help me when I’m in a position to be able to work, as well as with life in general – relationships, communicating, getting the most out of life whatever the circumstances. My most recent highlight was hosting a charity quiz night for Holton Lee. Vicky asked me if I’d be interested in doing it. I jumped at the chance and whilst I was anxious, I was determined to do it. As it turned out, I really enjoyed it. This would have been impossible for me to do a short time ago but it’s a sign of how far I’ve come over the past few months.

How about your mental health?

‘I can’t speak highly enough of my experience Livability with UCan – it’s helped me on so many different levels with so many different things. I’m not sure I would still be here at all without that help.  I am now in a completely different place mentally and feel positive about the future for the first time. It’s an incredible project and I hope others benefit as much as I have.’

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About Ucan

Livability UCan is helping people to pursue vocational paths, enjoy new skills and access new employment opportunities.

WISE Ability and Livability are delivering UCan, a project which is part funded by the European Social Fund and the Big Lottery Fund through Building Better Opportunities in Dorset.

Read more about Livability Holton Lee

Watch a film about Ucan