The Confident Connections Pilot Programme, evolved out of a discussion held in Connect’s very first client forum meeting where a client spoke about the difficulty faced by many adults living with long term mental health difficulties, in forming and sustaining new relationships.
She spoke eloquently about the need people have for social interaction, to connect with each other, and how many of our own members struggled to form lasting relationships with other people because mental ill-health has led to them becoming isolated. Consequently, they found it difficult to express and interpret emotions, and were unable to understand the social cues and signals that so many of us take for granted.
Through Legal & General and Arts & Business Cymru, Connect was put in touch with Adrienne O’Sullivan of Act Now, who worked with staff on a pilot programme that would look at how we could help people living with mental health difficulties to move on from dependent relationships with support staff, mental health professionals and associated services. The aim was to equip our clients with the skills and confidence to be able to form and sustain independent friendships and relationships.
Connect staff and volunteers worked alongside clients throughout the three half day sessions of the pilot programme, under the guidance of Adrienne. Through a range of approaches and methods utilising drama, music, games and discussion, participants learned and were able to practice the communication skills many of us take for granted: how to start a conversation and how to keep it going; recognising at a social gathering who to approach, and knowing when and how to move on from one conversation to another; being able to pick up on body language and social cues; being able to ask open questions, and knowing what topics might be appropriate in particular situations; how to be a good listener, able to pick up on areas of shared interest; being confident and self-aware in what you are willing to share about yourself, and who you are willing to share things with.
Through the practice and acquisition of these skills, participants expressed the belief that they were more confident in being able to meet new people and to begin to develop friendships outside the sphere of medical and social support. Connect staff hope to be able to develop the pilot and roll it out as part of our regular timetable of services.