A “life-changing” mental health service at three hospitals in north Wales is to be expanded to GP surgeries.
More than 2,500 people have used I Can centres at Glan Clwyd, Gwynedd and Wrexham Maelor hospitals since the trial was launched earlier this year.
The centres offer support to patients at A&E departments who may not require medical treatment or a bed.
They employ both volunteers and paid staff, many of whom have experienced mental health issues themselves.
Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board said the service allowed people to talk about mental health issues away from wards.
It hopes extending the scheme to GP surgeries and community hubs will allow people to get support close to home if they do not need medical treatment.
Shannon Doherty, 23, was helped by I Can staff after being taken to Wrexham Maelor Hospital in March, and now works as a paid supervisor there.
She said: “I was introduced to the I Can team and I was taken away from the hospital ward environment.
“It was just a chance to be real and open rather than looked down on and judged.
“It’s nice that the staff and volunteers have lived experience because they see it first hand and know what it’s like.
“From my experience of volunteering at the I Can centre, a lot of the clients we support don’t have a sense of community or belonging any more, and I think that’s quite common.
“It’s been really life changing and it feels amazing to be appreciated for the lived experience I have. It’s given me that drive to strive for better, to work my way up, and to make sure that others don’t go through what I went through.”
Lesley Singleton from the health board said: “I think we’re encouraging people to talk about their mental health much more.
“What we’re seeing then, is more people presenting with those problems and inevitably they’re going to turn up at night time, to A&E, where the lights are on, to get some help.
“That doesn’t mean that we’re seeing an increase in diagnosable mental illness, but it’s usually a crisis that affects their emotional health and I Can can provide that support.”
The scheme will now be rolled out in GP surgeries and community centres over the coming months.
Helen Alefounder, of the Rysseldene Surgery in Colwyn Bay, Conwy, said: “I think as it grows and as we educate patients and staff as to the other services that are available, this is absolutely going to take off, and it’s completely the right way forward.
“Everything lands in the medical sector, when it really doesn’t need to.
She added: “If we can put these services in to support the front door of primary care, to support the front door of A&E systems, then we can direct these patients to where they really need to be to get the support and treatment that they require.”
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