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April 30, 2019

Prescribing Friendship

Kieran is a Volunteer Befriender for Leeds Mind’s Older People’s Support service SELF. Here Kieran tells us about his volunteer journey and the huge impact befriending can have: a real life example of what a social prescription means to the people involved.

I have only recently joined the SELF befriending programme as a volunteer, but I thought it would be worth reflecting on my brief though eventful time in the role in light of national Social Prescribing Day.

I was introduced to the notion of ‘befriending’ by a schoolmate of mine studying medicine. He had originally sought out the role to gain some relevant experience before applying to his course, but continues to see his befriendee (just ‘friend’ now) to the present day. After graduating from Manchester University in Politics this past July, and moving back to my hometown of Leeds in September to start a Masters course in psychology, I found myself in a similar position. I wanted to support my studies with some hands on experience, and also gain some insight into what sort of role I would be good at within the mental health sector, the area I would like to move into after completing my Masters course. I took to the Leeds Mind website to see if there was anything available, and found the befriending role with SELF, which specialises in providing social support to older people experiencing mental health difficulties.

“A relationship of the mind emerged”

It has been over two months now that I have been seeing my befriendee (who I will refer to as K) on a regular basis and already there is much to reflect upon! It became apparent that a key aspect of the service is in the pairing of the befriender and befriendee, as the friendship has to be authentic for it to work – being matched with someone temperamentally dissimilar with no common interests, and having to force a friendship, could backfire. Luckily for me however, my supervisor at SELF, Emily, did a superb job in the matching process. Being perceptive to my talkative character and keen interest for politics and society, Emily paired me with K, who’s own history and clear breadth of knowledge made for a befitting choice. And from here, a relationship of the mind emerged. Whether we go out for a coffee or stay in, stimulating (and I would go as far to suggest, invigorating) conversation is central when we meet.

Unfortunately, K has spent a little time in hospital which has made K’s schedule a little unpredictable. However, I have been able to overcome this to some extent by paying visits to the hospital in place of our usual meetings. Times like these are when I can see the greatest value in befriending. In the most isolated moments of someone’s life a wholesome encounter with an enthusiastic befriender can make a real difference. I won’t forget K’s face lighting up upon my first unexpected visit at his hospital bed.

For some older people, often overwhelmed with a host of various support workers in their lives (who, of course, all play a crucial role in maintaining the welfare of the individual in their own right), simply meeting with a befriender who’s provision of company and conversation is of value in and of itself can be of immense help, especially if that person is experiencing mental health difficulties. As for myself, as well as extracting as much knowledge and wisdom from K as I possibly can, the role has also helped me find clarity in what I would like to do in my working life, and, given me some relaxing weekday mornings (when our meetings usually occur) amongst a very busy schedule. From here, I am looking forward to our awaited theatre trips together, which, I’m sure, will provide more fuel to our conversations!