Pathfinder West Sussex is an alliance of organisations working together to empower people to improve their mental health and wellbeing. BHT Sussex is part of this alliance. Pathfinder prides itself on its volunteer Peer Mentors, who use their lived experiences of mental health challenges to create a supportive environment where their clients can discuss their needs, as well as work towards achieving their goals and aspirations.
Harsha first came to Pathfinder in 2014. This is her story.

“In 2011, I was at my lowest in my life. I was alone, lonely and felt isolated from everyone and everything around me. I came as client to Pathfinder in 2014.

My journey started with talking sessions with my support worker, where I worked on myself and slowly started to build my confidence. I joined support groups where I made friends, and I enjoyed crafts and sewing which I already had an interest in. It was here that I learnt that I had a talent to share with others.

I made one special friend who encouraged me throughout and was part of my life’s journey. She met me in coffee shops and the library to encourage me to get out and about. During this time in my  recovery, I did many short courses. I learnt through this that I wanted to give back and help my peers who were going through similar difficult challenges. To my surprise, an opportunity came up to do a peer mentoring course with Pathfinder. I accepted and completed the training.

Soon, I started using my peer mentoring skills and with two other peer mentors, I helped created a the Chat and Craft group, not knowing what to expect. Today, 7 years later, it’s still a very popular group. I also help at an Open Access group, offering a variety of craft skills: sewing, knitting, crochet, diamond art, cross-stitch, colouring and many more activities. Things made by clients have been sold at craft fairs and given to local charities such as people experiencing homelessness, premature babies, the Crawley free shop, Langley Green hospital and refugees.

I do one to one peer support, signpost clients, and assist clients to learn new skills such as using a sewing machine to help with their mental health. I have helped with craft fairs as a group to raise funds for BHT Sussex.

During the covid-19 pandemic, I was in isolation and needed to keep busy and recognised the need for masks. I started making masks and sending them to care homes, hospitals, and adult learnings centres. To my surprise, my friend called me to say I am getting a Queen’s Award in recognition of my contributions and she had nominated me. This was the best I have achieved and I feel proud.

Throughout this period, we contacted clients via phone calls each week and soon I learnt a new skill with Zoom and figured out a way to host our group there. During these online sessions, myself and other peer mentors managed to do crafts, and used YouTube to go on craft trips in other countries to make the groups fun and engaging.

I am also currently working one morning a week at Olive Tree cancer support centre doing reception work. I have been lucky to have received another Queen’s Award in recognition of my volunteering services. Whilst here, I have helped plan some fundraising events.

This was the short version of my journey in the past 10 years. I have come a long way, which I once thought not achievable for me. I recently received a certificate of appreciation called the Pathfinder’s Platinum Award from BHT Sussex. To anyone reading this, I hope it will inspire you to keep working towards your goals. Please keep going and never give up.

I just want to end on this message: There is something uniquely beautiful about a person that grows from their struggles and uses the lessons from experiences to spread wisdom. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or how far you fell. Be an example to show others that they can overcome the mountains too.”

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