PEOPLE WITH EXPERIENCE of mental health and substance misuse issues have spread their wings with the help of a "life-changing" peer-to-peer training course offered by Caniad.
The nine-week programme enabled participants to tackle their fears, enhance their quality of life, and reject the stigma associated with the conditions.
Both organisers and members of the group say it has made an enormous contribution to their health and sense of wellbeing.
It's hoped beneficiaries will now help others seek support – and make their own contribution to the delivery of mental health and substance misuse services across north Wales.
Group member Laura has been diagnosed with PTSD and borderline personality disorder, but was able to take her first shopping trip in over a year thanks to the course.
The 29-year-old said she wanted to help influence and improve the support available for others in her position, and plans to start volunteering as a peer mentor at the Heddfan Unit at Wrexham Maelor Hospital early next year.
"I have been under the mental health team and I really wanted to have a say in how services are run," she said. "To actually have your thoughts and feelings put forward and listened to is important.
"The course really tapped into some personal stuff for me, and some things about my own recovery. I've learnt that you have to be kind to yourself, and realised that things are never as bad as they seem if you work through problems step by step."
The sessions, which were delivered by training provider Helping Groups to Grow, focussed on aspects of wellbeing, including anxiety, mood, compassion and empathy, and setting appropriate boundaries.
Ruby (not her real name) said the course, accredited by Agored, had helped her to tackle obsessive compulsive behaviours which limit her independence
"I wanted to get out of the house more – and Caniad was there to help," the 24-year-old, from Wrexham, said.
"It's just been the best thing. I came here because of my OCD – I have a fear of germs and of contamination. But this has been a great way for me to grow and to gain that confidence, and have more independence.
"The people who have been in the group with me have been so supportive, so understanding and so caring. You don't feel like you are being judged - they completely understand and completely sympathise."
Caniad involvement coordinator Tony Ormond joined the group as they took part in the course at AVOW in Wrexham. He said it had been uplifting to see participants learn some of the skills and coping techniques many people are able to take for granted.
"Some people have struggled, because this course has brought out some uncomfortable things in the way we can think and act," he said.
"But it's been really amazing to see our participants stick with it – because there are uncomfortable things we all have to deal with from time to time, and what is more important is how we respond."
The training was supported by funding from Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and the North Wales Area Planning Board for Substance Misuse. Certificates were presented by APB regional manager Vicky Jones.
BCUHB service manager for adult mental health Sean Clarke said: "We're pleased to support people who have been through adversity, but have come through that and want to use their experiences to help others.
“Participants have told me they found the course empowering, that they felt like they were in a non-judgemental environment, and that taking part has directly raised their confidence.
“The stories they have shared with me show this has been a truly life-changing, liberating and transformational experience – and we should all congratulate them on their efforts.”
Caniad supports people who want to have their voices heard, influence decisions, and help to shape mental health and substance misuse services, is commissioned by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and the North Wales Area Planning Board, and is led by CAIS and Hafal.