By Allie Carr, Modern Matron Adolescent Service
Leaving your friends and family behind and moving to a new town so you can receive treatment in the right facility is hard and can be quite scary.
One thing that can make it much better is knowing that someone is there to welcome you, someone who can show you around, introduce you to people and tell you what it’s actually like to be there. This is what we had in mind when we created our Buddy Scheme.
A buddy is a person who is already receiving treatment at St Andrew's, on the same ward. It’s their role to make sure you have a friendly face waiting for you when you first come in, with some information and their knowledge of the ward, the other young people, the staff and a little bag of treats! They will have had some training to help them carry out their role as well as they can, and to make sure they don’t miss anything.
Lucy, a service user at St Andrew's, benefited greatly from having a buddy. This is Lucy’s story in her own words:
“When I came to St Andrew's I was frightened. I had been unwell for what felt like a long time, hearing voices, wanting to hurt myself and not trusting anyone around me. I was being moved to St Andrews, which was about 60 miles away from my family and friends and I didn’t know anybody. Everything inside me was telling me to fight against it, but I didn’t have the strength to do that. My mum and dad took me and the nurse met us in reception and led us to a small room on the ward, to ask some questions and get to know us a bit better. They took my bags and put them somewhere else, saying that they needed to check what was in them. Before they started asking questions, they made us a drink and brought Gemma into the room. Gemma was a girl who was at the ward already. She came and said hi and that she was going to be my buddy. I didn’t know what this meant, but she told me she would tell me all about it later, but for that moment, she just wanted to introduce herself and give me a little gift. It was a lovely little package of sweets and some toiletries that smelt really nice! Gemma went back onto the ward then, but said she would be there for me when we were finished with the nurses.
“After going through the admission questions and saying goodbye to my mum and dad, the nurse took me onto the ward and Gemma was waiting for me. I remember she had a really friendly face with a big smile and warm eyes. Gemma took me around the ward, telling me where everything was and introducing me to people. She said it was her job to make sure I settled in and had someone to go to with questions. She explained to me that the staff would have checked my bags to make sure I didn’t have anything in them that was against the rules, and when we went into my bedroom, my bags were there ready for me. Gemma helped me unpack and we talked about what it was like to stay here. She told me she had been very frightened too when she first arrived and that her buddy had really helped her. She told me all about the food, the activities, the other patients, the staff, what we could do and what wasn’t allowed. The nurses had already told me a lot of this but it didn’t sink in, hearing it from Gemma helped it to make sense.
“Having Gemma on my side over the first few weeks really helped. Whenever I was unsure of something but didn’t want to ask staff, or felt it was something silly, I asked Gemma. If she didn’t know the answer she would come with me to talk to staff and find the answer out. As I got to know everyone and slowly began to trust people, I needed Gemma less and less, but she was still there, just in case.
“Gemma was discharged after a while and as she gave me a hug, I thanked her and told her just how important she had been to me. She thanked me, wished me luck and said that I should be a buddy too. I thought about it for a bit and then spoke to my care coordinator, to say that I wanted to try it. She thought it was a great idea and she arranged for me to have some training. I’ve just finished my training now and am ready to be a buddy for the next girl who is admitted. It’s a strange feeling and a bit scary having this responsibility, but also really exciting that I’m going to be helping someone like Gemma helped me.
“I’ve learnt a lot in my time here, I’m feeling better and much more confident, I want to help someone else to feel this way too!"
Lucy’s story shows us how important the buddy role is. Staff can tell you so much and try so hard to make you feel welcome, but sometimes you just need to hear things from someone who has lived through it, someone who has the experience and inside knowledge of being a young person in a mental healthcare service and can answer those awkward questions, help you to get to know people and feel safe.