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St Dymphna Befriending Group: Nuneaton and District Mental Health Support Network
Joanne BirdJoanne Bird, a Mental Health nurse from Nuneaton, is leading the ‘St Dymphna Befriending Group’ – bringing together a group of volunteers from ‘Our Lady of the Angels’ in Nuneaton.
The project aims to support all those in the Rugby deanery who experience mental distress – anxiety, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress and personality disorders.  The group are now applying for charitable status; seeking further funding, joining together with the SVP, training more volunteers and hoping to collaborate with ecumenical mental health groups.

Initially the group aimed to support anyone who experiences “functional” mental illness (schizophrenia, bi-polar affective disorder, depression, or anxiety based illness) but it was soon agreed that the support would be for those who experience “organic” type mental illness too (dementia etc).

The group also welcomes those with mental health difficulties and recognise that they are sometimes more prone to mental health problems such as depression, due to the increased stress levels that they experience. Befriending, hospital in-reach visits and practical and some financial support where we are able to is offered.

Challenging the barriers that those with mental health difficulties often experience is key to this project and this is done by;
  • Offering befriending and a point of contact for our members within the parish
  • Offering educational sessions to whoever is interested within the parish in order to try   and increase understanding and reduce stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness
  • Facilitating specific social events for those that we support
  • Offering carers support
  • Organising fund raising events – with member involvement
We have spent a lot of time promoting the group – with talks at local Masses and have developed and distributed contact and prayer cards which have been disseminated to local parishes and also to all community mental health teams in the Deanery so as potential members can self-refer.

There are currently nine active volunteers with the group who have all been CRB checked (or are currently going through the process) and a Safeguarding Policy has been developed and implemented for the group to ensure volunteer and member safety. An official constitution has also been developed for the group and we aim to apply for Charity Status once we receive the required year donation amount to achieve this.

The next phase of the group will entail publicising the group more pro-actively in the other parishes in the deanery. The work we do with those that we support varies with each individual. For example, some will be seen in a befriending capacity on a fortnightly basis but there is one gentleman who due to the confusion associated with his Alzheimer’s, was unable to attend weekly Mass and therefore the group pick him up on a weekly basis and stay with him throughout Mass before dropping him back home. He is incredibly grateful for this support and we notice a very positive change in his demeanour and mood as he is supported to do something that he loves so much.

Which achievements are you most proud of?

The educational sessions that we held were a great success and a number of people from the Parish of Our Lady of the Angels were in attendance and learnt more about the struggles associated with mental illness for the service user themselves and also for those that care with them. The feedback we received from these sessions was very positive and we have been asked to repeat them on an annual basis.

The individual work we have done with our group members has also been a great benefit to them - Offering befriending to the lonely and often marginalised within our community and supporting the gentleman mentioned above to attend Mass have been particularly wonderful achievements.

We feel that we have done some very positive ground work in terms of establishing the group. The group will hopefully be in existence over the long term. As long as there are people in need because of mental distress, the St. Dymphna group will be there to support them.
To hear Joanne talk about ‘St Dymphna Befriending Group’ go to:

To hear Joanne’s talk at the ‘Exploring Pastoral Support for Mental Health’ Conference held at Hinsley Hall, Leeds in February 2012 click here: Joanne's  Talk

To view Joanne’s Conference PowerPoint click here

Contact: Joanne Bird,
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Department for Christian Responsibility and Citizenship
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
39 Eccleston Square
London SW1V 1BX
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The Catholic Bishops’ Conference Mental Health Project 2010 – 2012
Catholic Trust for England and Wales Company number 4734592 Registered charity number 1097482
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