A former Merseyside estate agent credits his best friend with helping him to turn his life around and start a rewarding new career in social care.
Steven Smith, from St Helens, worked in high pressure property sales for over a decade. Now earning a living as a recovery worker for people with mental health conditions, the 41-year-old says he has never looked back.
When Steven was made redundant after the 2008 financial crash, he lost his footing and suffered a breakdown. Debilitated by depression and social anxiety, he stopped leaving the house or properly looking after himself.
“After my redundancy and being unable to find alternative employment, I also encountered a number of other setbacks in my life in a relatively short space in time,” he says.
“This resulted in a downwards spiral with regards to my own mental health, leading to me having a breakdown. I developed both depression and social anxiety disorder as a result of this, which absolutely crippled me.
“At my lowest I shut myself away from all my friends and most of my family, basically not moving from my room all day for many months unless I really needed to.”
His best friend Andrew was becoming increasingly concerned about Steven’s wellbeing and suggested he contact a local employment service for people with mental health conditions. Steven later said that the support he received helped him to start living again and to consider his future.
“After referring myself to the service, I attended an appointment with an amazing advisor, who after speaking to me felt I would benefit from attending some self help courses being run by an amazing local charity,” he says.
“I was extremely cautious attending my first session but after the completion of my course I really felt like a changed man. I’d grown confident from interacting with people again from being in a group and had learned some great coping strategies in regards to my anxiety issues.”
After much soul searching, and another heart-to-heart with his friend, himself a support worker, Steven decided to leave behind the stressful sales environment and find a job where he could give something back.
His first role in social care was at a residential care home for older people, run by national adult health and social care charity Making Space. Initially nervous, Steven found he took to the part time job quickly, enjoying listening to residents’ life stories and helping them to get the most out of their days.
But Steven knew he really wanted to work in mental health, and kept in regular contact with the Making Space HR department. After four months, he was found a full time position at a supported housing service for people with mental health conditions run by the charity.
Three years later, a full time permanent position came up at a residential home for people with mental health conditions called Greengate House, which was within walking distance of Steven’s home.
He has been employed as the home’s STaR worker (Support Time and Recovery) since 2015, a role which involves supporting people to access services, organisations and activities in their local community. Steven helps residents with shopping and cooking, with their finances, benefits, shopping, days out and holidays. He is also the volunteer coordinator at Greengate House as well as the unofficial IT helpdesk.
He is open with residents about his own mental health and he says it helps to break down barriers.
“I just want to help others with mental health issues lead a better quality of life,” he says.
“Mine haven’t gone away, but I do manage them better. I like it though when someone thanks me for my help, it gives me a sense of satisfaction that I’ve made a difference to their life, however minor.
“The people who use the service say they see me as someone on their wavelength rather than an authority figure because I am open about my own mental health issues with them.”
But one of the main pieces of feedback he receives from residents is why is he the only male worker?
“They would prefer more male staff as they don’t feel confident telling female staff about personal problems, especially “men’s problems,” he says.
“This causes an issue on my days off as sometimes residents wait until I’m next in and they may be sitting on a serious health problem.
“We currently have 12 male and only one female resident, but apart from myself and the cook, all the other staff are female. I do think we need at least another member of staff who is male, but I understand recruitment is very hard.
“I didn’t think I was qualified, but you’ll be surprised how much you can contribute.
“We desperately need more men in social care.”