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Why I volunteered as an Echo Peer Coach

It's Volunteers' Week! We're extremely grateful to those who are so generous with their time and knowledge – read about the amazing work Sue is doing as an Echo peer support coach below!

Caring for my daughter who suffered from anorexia was the most stressful experience of my life, with little guidance or support for me and my husband who constantly disagreed about how to handle the horrendous situation that we were in. Accessing help for my daughter was frustrating and we did not get the specialist help we required until she was extremely ill and needed to be tube fed. 

At times I just couldn’t take any more and just had to leave the house and get some space. I now know that I did not look after myself and it took its toll. I took six months off work to concentrate on helping our daughter get better but spent hardly any time with friends and when I did, I just talked about the terrible situation we were in. Obviously, it’s difficult for people to understand and I often got given bad advice from friends who thought that an eating disorder was more of a lifestyle choice than a mental illness. Over the time she took to recover, which was approximately two years, I read books and got guidance from different mental health professionals and the dietician, which helped me to try different approaches to caring for my daughter and also got me and my husband to agree together how we were going to deal with the challenges we faced. Some of the things we had to try were scary, and I often thought I was doing the wrong thing and would have welcomed an opportunity to talk to someone who had been through this and come out the other side.

Her recovery was slow but steady, and although it took a long time, I can say that each week things got a little better and even when she had bad days, I knew we weren’t back at square one. Four years after her recovery I felt ready to offer my support. I think you need time to enable you to reflect and acknowledge the massive mountain that you climbed and conquered. It is also important to have time to heal so that supporting others in a similar situation doesn’t have a negative affect on you.

I saw the advert for the Echo peer support service and thought that my experience might help another carer. I wanted something positive to come out of the years of stress and struggle that we had and hoped that I could give hope and encouragement to another carer, which is what would have helped me when I was going through the worst times. At first, I lacked confidence and wondered if I would actually be able to help anyone; however, the training was excellent and interesting and clarified that the role was not about giving advice but about providing support and encouragement to help the Carer cope and look after themselves. I read the book provided, Skills-based Caring for a Loved One with an Eating Disorder, and although this did bring back memories, it also helped me reflect on the type of carer that I was and things I could have tried to make our lives easier. The volunteer training was accessed via an online group with four other volunteers and delivered by the volunteer co-ordinator, so no need to travel as you access the training at home. Everyone encouraged each other and we were all fully prepared for our volunteer role.

Soon after completing the training I was allocated a carer. I support a lovely lady who tells me how much she appreciates my support and how much it has helped her, especially in looking at her own approach in dealing with her daughter. I look forward to my weekly calls and each week hope that our conversations and small steps forward make a long-term difference.

I find that volunteering for Beat helps me because I get great satisfaction out of helping another carer.  The support offered to volunteers by Beat is amazing, with a follow up support call from the helpline after every telephone support call with your carer. We also get regular online supervision sessions.

I really hope that more people come forward and join the team so that more carers can access this service. It is also imperative that funding be provided in all parts of the UK so that it isn’t a postcode lottery to access this service. I am convinced that supporting carers through Echo peer coaching will reduce carer stress and result in family members working together to achieve a positive outcome more quickly, which in turn will reduce some of the current strain on the NHS mental health services.

Contributed by Sue