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An Essex woman who used a service set up to reduce reoffending by tackling their mental health problems says it “gave her life meaning” for the first time.

Tricia* – which is not her real name – says the Criminal Sentence Treatment Requirements (CSTR) service, delivered by staff at St Andrew’s Healthcare in Basildon, gave her hope and a reason to live.

The 49-year-old said: “I did something which I regret and I ended up in court. Basically, the magistrate and probation service recognised that more than anything else, I needed help because of my mental health so I was referred to the Essex CSTR Service.

“I was very dubious at first because I’ve had counselling before and it just didn’t work. But, after a few months I noticed I had changed my mind set. I was feeling positive about my future and for the first time ever I felt my life had meaning.”

Tricia had chronic anxiety and depression which started as a child due to the abuse she endured from her mother. The pattern carried on into adulthood as she ended up marrying twice, both times to men who were also physically abusive towards her. This led to a breakdown where she eventually tried to take her own life.

Tricia said: “I hit rock bottom. I hated myself. I didn’t think I was worthy of being loved or having friends. I pushed everyone away because I felt that if my own mum couldn’t love me then why would anyone else.

“But then I started the therapy with St Andrew’s. It was a slow process, quite hard at times and I would say it was a good four months before I had my lightbulb moment. But, Carolina my therapist opened my eyes. She made me challenge my negative thoughts and turn things around. She made me feel safe and comfortable and all of a sudden I felt there was purpose to my life.”

The service is a national initiative delivered to people regionally who are given a Mental Health Treatment Requirement instead of a community order. The treatment – psychological therapy – is delivered by St Andrew’s staff and it was originally commissioned to increase the use of Mental Health Treatment Requirements and to reduce the number of short-term custodial sentences.

The Essex service, which has significantly grown since its inception in March 2020, has already overtaken other parts of the country with referral numbers making it the most successful service in the UK.

Since then, funding has been ploughed into the initiative and the team has grown from two Assistant Psychologists and a Clinical Lead to five Assistant Psychologists and a regional manager.  

Trainee Forensic Psychologist Carolina Antonini, who is Lead for the Essex CSTR service, said: “We launched at the height of the pandemic, which initially made things more challenging, but we soon found our feet.

“What we’re finding is that people with significant mental health conditions, who have never been offered treatment before, follow a pattern of behaviour. This behaviour is very often destructive and in these cases can lead to unlawful activities. So we’re working with these people to help them understand where they’re going wrong and to break the cycle which would probably never end without some form of intervention.

“The results we’re achieving are phenomenal and even more impressively the service users themselves leave us with a renewed sense of hope for their future where previously everything had looked bleak for them.”

The Essex CSTR is part of the wider offender rehabilitation agenda set by the Ministry of Justice, Department of Health, NHS England, and Public Health England.

Dr James Fowler, Consultant Forensic Psychologist and Clinical Lead for South East Services, said: “To hear Tricia’s story is inspiring, heart-warming and just goes to show that people should be given a second chance. We know mental health treatment resources are sparse, which is why so many people do not get the help when they need it. But this service is turning things around for those people.”