On Dog Walking and Talking about Mental Health

Time to Change Champion, and recently appointed chair of TTC York, Rhys Harrison writes about how his faithful canine companion helps to open up important conversations about Mental Health.

“Having living experience of Mental Health issues and been on the receiving end of Metal Health discrimination in the workplace (historical employer) I became a Workplace Time to Change Champion when temporarily working for the DWP as a Mental Health Community Partner.

On leaving the DWP I wanted to continue to champion Mental Health in the community:  becoming a Community Time to Change Champion and a Pets As Therapy volunteer was a way to achieve this.

While the current COVID-19 restrictions mean I can’t get out and about as I usually would to encourage people to have more open conversations about Mental Health, I know that a small ‘hello’ and a nod of the head when I am out walking Lucy, our cocker spaniel, has the power to make a difference. When the restrictions are lifted I will be out and about with Lucy to help start up conversations once again.

Lucy, our now two-year-old spayed working cocker spaniel came into our lives just as I left the DWP. Lucy is so gentle and friendly and just makes people smile; she seems to want to say hello, so people are drawn to her.

Following months of puppy training, Lucy passed her Pets As Therapy Assessment, opening opportunities for Lucy to safely visit Universities, Charities, Hospices, and participate in community activities.

When Lucy is out in the community with me, especially when we are supporting Time to Change events such as Time to Talk Day, Mental Health Week, or attending the York Healthwatch stall in the local market promoting Time to Change, Lucy draws people initially to have a conversation around her. This then opens up the conversation around Mental Health. 

Having Lucy by my side, I am able to be open about my own Mental Health journey and share my experiences, enabling individuals to feel comfortable to talk about their Mental Health experiences.

When supporting the stall in York Market, I’ve found that if Lucy is not with me, we may have just 3 or 4 conversations. However when Lucy is there, we will have 20 plus Mental Health conversations; it does really make such a difference.

On Time To Talk Day 2020 Lucy met more than 40 Jobcentre Customers and Work-Coaches. To see the smiles on people’s faces as they said hello to Lucy (who would roll over and let people stroke her) was brilliant, really beneficial to individual well-being, and a great way to start Mental Health conversations.

A conversation that stands out for me was with a person who found themselves unemployed the previous Monday.

The customer visited the Time to Change stall to initially say hello to Lucy, and then we had a conversation regarding their Mental Health.

Through listening to this person’s situation, sharing my own lived Mental Health experiences, I was able to empathise and share the importance of looking after their own Mental Health in what is a very stressful situation.

Based upon my positive experiences of working with DWP work-coaches I was able to describe the importance of discussing their situation with their work-coach, overcoming the stigma and discrimination so often associated with Mental Health.

Following the work-coach interview, this person came to see us and emotionally thanked us for the conversation. Our small chat made such a big difference, helping them to realise it is okay and beneficial to talk about Mental Health.

To make a positive difference to one person’s life is why I am a Time to Change Community Champion, and I am honoured and proud to have been appointed as Chair of Time To Change York.”

You can read more about Rhys’ story here: https://www.tewv.nhs.uk/time-to-change-champion-praises-iapt-service/

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