Before I was diagnosed, I worked as a hairdresser, and I was very successful. I was featured in magazines, TV and working in 5-star salons. My future was looking great for me. I felt my life was brilliant, I was travelling, going out and being a happy person.

Being unwell meant I couldn’t work, and my career fell to the wayside. Since my diagnosis, I have been in and out of hospital many times over the last 25 years.

At my worst I couldn’t see a way out, it was a very dark place for me to be in.

I wouldn’t listen to music or communicate with people. I wanted to die and attempted suicide via an overdose.

I was accessing treatment through different hospitals. On 2 occasions I stayed in the hospital for over a year. I was also addicted to drugs and my daughter had to be looked after by my mother.

In between hospital admissions, I would often get arrested for my behaviour ‘running my mouth’. I would also take drugs and be involved in unhealthy relationships. After leaving the hospital my care coordinator referred me to an Employment Specialist (ES) based at the South Westminster Community Mental Health Team. I wanted to go back to work as a hairdresser teacher. My ES worked with me to build my CV, develop my interview skills, and look for jobs. I was also interested in being self-employed andmy ES helped me to explore this option as well. However, I didn’t manage to start work, I was still using drugs and was in an unhealthy relationship. As much as I wanted to work, my mind was not right.

I stopped engaging with the CMHT due to moving houses. When things settled down for me and I was in a healthy place again, this led me to I moved back to Westminster, and I was allocated back to the same care coordinator. I also started seeing the same ES again which meant we were able to pick up right where we left off. She understood all my needs, my personality and what I was looking for.

My ES immediately got me ready for an interview with Toni and Guy hair salon. We worked on interview skills and my outfit. I was referred to Smart Works who were amazing, I was able to go twice, and I got some amazing clothes.  Toni & Guy really liked me in the interview and invited to work the next Saturday 9 am – 5 pm. Although the shift was long, I felt ready and excited to work there. I felt like I did well, however, I was not invited back for any further work, and they gave me feedback that I needed more training. My ES and I stayed positive; we were not going to let this set us back. We worked together to update my CV and then we sent it to local hair salons.

I was delighted when Rush invited me for an interview. With all the prep I felt ready, and I got the job!!

My hours were perfect 3 days a week, 4-hour shifts. It means I can start doing permitted work and then can build more hours when I feel ready.

I love the salon, the work, and the people. It is also close to my house.

My ES has helped me in work by seeing me every week, making sure I am ok. She helped me understand my contract and payslips as well as complete and send my PW1 form for me. I feel so happy to be working after so many years of not being well. I see myself in this job for a long time.

Being in work means so much to me, it has built my self-worth and I feel great being able to mix with society and have a normal life. It is motivating me to do more with my life too.

I describe my job as fabulous and rewarding. I didn’t want to disclose my mental health condition to my employer, but I feel that if I needed to my ES would help me through that and I am sure my manager will be supportive.

Being in work has really improved my mental health and I look forward to the future.

My dream in the future is to open my own small hairdressing academy and teach people and mentor people in hairdressing.

Hear from Debrah’s clinician

The Employment Specialist (ES) recognised that Debrah required a tailored approach to make the most of her considerable skills. She took time to build rapport and give her achievable goals in her job search. She made her feel valued and respected which my client had not felt for a long time. Historically, my client has been taken advantage of and the ES gave her the confidence to speak up for her rights at work which is something I never thought I would see.

With the Employment Specialist’s support, in less than a year my client has transformed. Since starting her job, I have seen her blossom. She is always laughing; her posture has improved and she dresses stylishly. I can see that she has regained her self-respect. Without the ES’s help, I do not believe that my client would have solidified her recovery.