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We are needed - but we badly need more funds.

Byline: DAVE ROBSON dave.robson@trinitymirror.com @Daverobson_gaz

AT this time of year, mental health issues can suddenly surface.

Faced with a new year after the emotional pressures of the festive season, people with issues bubbling beneath the surface can quickly find themselves needing somewhere to turn.

One such place is STAMP Revisited - a Teesside charity which, since 1995, has stood "shoulder to shoulder" alongside people struggling with mental health issues (STAMP stands for South Tees Advocacy In Mental Health Project).

After winning X Factor, James Arthur - who has talked openly of his own mental health struggles - dropped by to see its base at Roseberry Park, Middlesbrough.

But as we enter 2018, STAMP is struggling.

A funding crisis means the service it offers is in real jeopardy at a time when demand for its service is higher than ever.

We talked to project manager Andrea Gent.

What is STAMP Revisited? We support adults suffering mental health issues, diagnosed illnesses or those suffering the symptoms of poor mental health.

We will give a practical approach to helping someone address their mental health issues.

That could be an issue their mental health is stopping them tackling on their own, or they could have an acceptance that they have an issue but don't know where to turn.

With our advocacy service, we advocate on a client's behalf. We fight for their rights to access the services they may require to help them through.

But while we are not therapeutic, we do offer that kind of listening ear people often need.

How many - and which sort of - people use the service? Last year we received over 500 referrals for advocacy support - a 56% increase on the previous year.

We help people aged 18 and over who can be suffering from low mood, anxiety, depression, personality disorders and struggling with addictions to people with significant diagnoses of things like schizophrenia. Most are self-referrals but they could be referred by other bodies too.

It could be someone new through word of mouth or a client who has used us previously and is struggling again.

What practical help can STAMP Revisited offer? We can accompany people to whatever appointment they have got. We don't escort them there, though - they get themselves there and when they do, we'll be there for them. We'll do something WITH you but not FOR you - we'll stand shoulder to shoulder. The uniqueness of our service is we can go to benefit medicals with you to help secure your benefits, for example. We've had a 56% increase in referrals with the NHS and benefits system - more and more people are being called back for more medicals. There's also a lot more challenges and appeals of benefits decisions.

But is it about more than practicalities? Some people recognise they need help but can't take that next step. With a phone call to us, you realise we are here, we know you have an issue and we want to help you. It's about small steps. It's not about jumping straight to the end of the road. Just them knowing there's someone at the end of the phone can help them tackle things. It's a reassurance someone is there who is interested in you, who understands what you're going through.

They are not always going to open up to a stranger straight away, of course. They are trusting you - they're saying "can you handle my story?" It's a bit of give and take and goes at the client's speed. We work with what they want to give us.

I don't think people realise the value of their mental health until they're on the edge. You don't realise how vulnerable we can become - then the smallest of problems can become a massive hurdle.

So why is STAMP struggling? Over the past three years, we've struggled to secure core funding. Austerity has meant funders and grant makers had to respond by changing their criteria for grant making - reducing the amount given, or the length of time it was given for. Also, they narrowed the pool of charities they would award to so competition is much greater.

Our current challenges are, of course, obtaining money, but also having the capacity to meet the ever-increasing service demand, with mental health professionals predicting that demand for services will continue to increase over the foreseeable future. Currently we are a small team of paid staff (a project manager, project support coordinator, one full-time advocate and one part-time).

But our staff numbers over the past three years have slowly decreased and we have not been able to find funding to replace the lost roles.

To secure the organisation as we are now, we need to find PS125,000 per year.

This will secure posts to support the people of Middlesbrough, Redcar and Stockton but will not enable us to meet any future increase on service demand.

Is the New Year a particularly tough time? A lot of people around this time of year feel a sense of loneliness. The messages about being with your family and friends keeps coming out through the TV and are everywhere you look, but it's not always that simple - and sometimes, with mental health issues, connecting with people is very hard. It can highlight that you're struggling, or that you don't feel you belong. It re-emphasises the feeling you can't connect and heightens that sense of loneliness - and you don't want to burden others with your problems. You can feel lonely in a room full of people. There's an inability to connect or be understood which makes it hard for you to engage.

The 'shame' factor The more an area's in decline, the more people losing their jobs, that can bring extra strain.

But there's a "shame" aspect attached too. People struggle to put it out there and own up that they are struggling. I don't know if it's the "stiff upper lip" thing when inside you're falling apart, but a lot of men in particular find it difficult to own up that they have a difficulty. It's the "shame" element - you think people are judging you. And it can take courage to get in touch with us. People might be living in a lot of chaos before they realise they have to do something about it.

How do people contact you - whether to help or be helped? Call 01642 837555 or email info@stamprevisited.org.uk And to volunteer, email amandagent@stamprevisited.org.uk

CAPTION(S):

Mental health advocacy service STAMP Revisited is fighting to survive through a funding crisis. Supporters are pictured at an outdoor event. Below, singer James Arthur visits the group as part of Comic Relief
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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Jan 2, 2018
Words:1113
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