Sharon became homeless after dropping out of university due to poor mental health. Six years later, she is in her third year of a new degree, working as a supported housing officer and volunteering for Centrepoint!
Deteriorating mental health
Sharon struggled with her mental health growing up, but her condition worsened when she went away to university. She was feeling anxious and depressed to the extent that she felt she had no choice but to drop out, but her depression was further impacted.
“I felt disappointed with myself, like I had failed and that made me feel worse,” she remembers.
Sharon’s relationship with her mum was strained at the time so when she left university, she wasn’t able to move back in. She ended up sofa surfing between her sister and friends until she ended up going to the local council who referred her to Centrepoint.
Shortly after she moved into one of Centrepoint’s hostels, she admitted herself to hospital and was sectioned for one month under the mental health act. This was following advice from her care coordinator, sister and Centrepoint key worker who could all see how she was suffering.
Sharon remembers this time as being quite traumatic.
“It was difficult seeing so many people who were struggling with their mental health to a much greater extent than I was. Although it helped me to have that time out, I needed time to heal afterwards,” she reflects.
Support from Centrepoint
When Sharon moved back into the hostel, her key worker James was able to refer her to one of Centrepoint’s dedicated psychotherapists. Sharon says this support was so helpful, albeit painful as she was able to explore her past in depth and talk through some of her difficult relationships.
Sharon was also also referred to one of Centrepoint’s dieticians who helped her to learn how to cook healthier meals and eat less processed food. Her improved diet had a positive impact on how she was feeling.
“The things I learnt from the dietician really stuck with me. I know how to cook well on a budget and to plan my meals in advance. I really needed the routine and structure after coming out of hospital and having the psychotherapy and the dietetics really helped give my week some structure.”
Sharon’s key worker James also regularly checked in on her and encouraged her to socialise. He also gave her advise on how to reconnect with her family and to repair her relationships.
“I really remember James saying to me one day that I looked healthy. It gave me a real boost. He encouraged me to reconnect with my family and I took his advice and it really helped me move forward.”
Not only that, but Sharon was also able to access support from the Jobs and Education team at Centrepoint.
“They really supported me in applying to university again. They offered to write me a reference and James wrote a letter to student finance with me to get a year’s funding back which I was really grateful for.”
Sharon was nominated for social housing and was able to move out of Centrepoint after nine months. She is now living in her own flat and studying Sociology and Politics at the University of Kent and her relationship with her mum is much better.
“Having that time on my own helped me to be independent. I grew into a woman and developed my own mindset which strengthened myself as a person. Centrepoint gave me a foundation to help me move successfully into adulthood. My mum was so proud of how I had developed and grown,” she reflects.
During her most difficult time when she was homeless, Sharon found solace in the church; she was able to connect to a community and says this was pivotal in her healing and understanding what she wanted to do.
“I felt like it helped me to know what I wanted to do and that my calling was to help other people in need,” she reflects.
Even though it was difficult at the time, Sharon feels like her journey has been necessary. She knows now that is was the right decision to leave university where she was studying nursing and she is now really enjoying her degree.
“It’s based around social policy which is what I want to go into. I am passionate about social justice and challenging the system so that people can live better lives. I want to help give people the tools to help themselves,” she enthuses. “People need to feel empowered to care for themselves especially when it comes to mental health. People have to want to change. You can guide them, but they need to change themselves.”
Whilst at university, Sharon does agency work as a key worker.
“My personal struggles made me more motivated to improve other people’s lives so I can now support people through my own lens and lived experience.”
Working with Centrepoint
More recently, Sharon has started volunteering with Centrepoint’s policy and research team through joining our Alumni Network.
“Working with the policy team and seeing the great work they do to influence government is amazing. I feel like I’m getting great hands-on experience. I’ve also done loads of reading and feel really informed. I find the work the policy team is doing around youth homelessness so interesting. I’ve had the opportunity to write a blog which was a great experience and I just feel really invested in the material and the work that CP are doing. As someone with lived experience , I also feel it’s really helpful that I can feed into their policy work.”
On top of that, Sharon has also secured a job as a locum supported housing officer for Centrepoint which she will be able to work around her studies.
We are so impressed with how far Sharon has come and so excited to have her working at Centrepoint. Well done!