The first time Jay Blackford walked into the Anxiety Management Group he kept his head down. Worried others would judge him, Jay sat silently by himself for the first meeting.
Despite his mind going into overdrive Jay made it along to the next meeting and from there he showed up to every session.
For some, group situations might seem like a part of life but for Jay they trigger his anxiety.
Week-by-week Jay saw his confidence grow; first by simply showing up, then being able to share his own story and build connections with other people. But now Jay is somewhere he thought he would never be, co-facilitating the group with Mackay Hospital and Health Service clinicians.
Jay is the first official peer co-facilitator of the Anxiety Management Group after a successful trial in 2020. In his role, Jay will help with group planning, debrief and evaluation as well as co-facilitating the group.
“I came to the group for 12 weeks as an attendee and I think it taught me how to be social and how to talk to people in a group environment,” Jay said.
“It was hard the first time I went to the group. I kept my head down and didn’t want to talk. You have to learn to put your head up and open up a bit.
“I enjoy going to the anxiety group and just talking and getting things off my chest. I felt by doing that it was helping others do it too.”
When the Expression of Interest was put out for past group members to help co-facilitate the sessions, Jay jumped at the chance to help others.
“I applied because I wanted to talk to people about anxiety experiences and mental health problems,” he said.
“As a co-facilitator I can offer my experiences with anxiety by talking and give knowledge that I have taken on board from past anxiety classes.
“Being a co-facilitator will help me build my self-esteem and I’m sure I would get some self-satisfaction knowing I’m trying to help someone.”
Since Jay attended his first Anxiety Management Group, he has reached a number of other personal milestones worth celebrating. He joined a boxing gym, undertakes voluntary work at RSPCA and had his driver’s license renewed.
The Anxiety Management group uses Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to help people with anxiety understand their diagnosis and equip them with the tools to manage their anxious thoughts and feelings.
It aims to help participants to identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts and learn practical self-help strategies. These strategies are designed to bring about immediate positive changes in quality of life.
Psychologist and Clinical Lead for Mental Health Dr Tonya Plumb said using peer co-facilitators in the group is an exciting part of the program.
“Peer co-facilitators are previous participants of the group living with anxiety who are willing to share their own experiences to help others,” she said.
“As health professionals we know the theory and know what to do but having someone help facilitate the group who is living through it really shows others that they do matter and their experience matters.”
Launched in early 2018, the Anxiety Management group runs in 12-week blocks.
The group meets once a week over a cuppa which creates a relaxed atmosphere where everybody feels they can participate.