Independent living

02 October 2019 | North West England

Margaret Hanson

Charity gives people with complex mental health issues a home and a brighter future.

At Imagine Independence, a team of dedicated staff is determined to help people with complex mental health issues take control of their lives.

They work with people who may have spent long periods in hospital, in medium secure units, and support them to live independently in the community.

And their women’s service has had a particularly positive impact.

Margaret Hanson, the charity’s CEO, explains: “Many of the women have been given a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, and still today, have faced spending much of their teens and early adult years in locked environments whether that is in NHS or private units.

“But we just see the individual and their potential to live in the community, with access to the same opportunities, goods and services that other people take for granted. Most importantly, we encourage them to take back control of their lives, becoming part of the community again, coming and going as they wish, enjoying everyday experiences that most of us never think twice about.”

There are two community-based schemes, in Crosby and Eccles, where staff work with women from the North-West region.

Margaret adds: “We assess and get to know each woman before they come to live in one of our self-contained flats, and once we can offer them a space, we will help them move in. We have six units in Crosby and eight in Eccles. As well as their own flat, each woman is able to use the communal areas where they can meet, chat and take part in activities together like art therapy. We also have outside partner agencies come in to work with the women.

“When the women are ready to move on, we help them do that too. Many go on to lead independent lives, get married, have children, volunteer to help others and get jobs.”

Imagine Independence has its roots in the 1970s, when people suffering from serious mental illness would often be locked away, out of view of the public.

Back then a group of concerned citizens decided to take action and strive to help provide safe but independent living opportunities for those who might otherwise have had to remain in a mental health hospital.

The charity grew from that group action and today continues to offer housing to people who still need support to live well in the community.

“In the past, people were detained in mental health and learning disability hospitals for reasons that wouldn’t stand up today. And whilst it is nothing like as bad as it was, there are still people being detained who we know can live well with meaning in the community if they are given the chance. Women who have a mental illness still find themselves getting involved in the criminal justice system,  ending up for too long in medium secure units in hospital, when they could actually be rehabilitated much better in the community once they are well enough.

“We offer a safe place for women to move from permanent care to a more independent life. Our staff offer 24-hour on-site support. With our partners in the NHS, we can offer a range of help so the women can maximise their health and wellbeing. We encourage the development of self-esteem and social interaction.

“As my 16-year-old son likes to say, we offer the women a chance to lead their ‘best’ lives. They learn to live independently and the staff from Imagine Independence have the privilege of walking alongside them whilst they do so.”

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