Karen Elliott is a Peer Educator from Derry whose experience with poor mental health led her down a path of securing her dream job at Interreg VA CAWT Innovation Recovery Project in 2019.
From a young age, Karen experienced issues with her mental health, particularly after the death of her mother at just 15-years-old. Grief has been a major part of Karen’s life, and it took years of hard work and additional support for her to get through her darkest days. This journey sparked Karen’s passion for mental health and helping others on their path to wellness.
“When my mother died, I felt very low and didn’t know how to get over her loss, life was so hard. I was diagnosed with depression at 15 and I continued to have ups and downs over the years.
“It has taken lots of hard work, determination and belief that things will get better to get to where I am today. I was fortunate to have help from my best friend, my family and health professionals. I managed to fight through with lots of support and self-determination, I learnt how to manage my mental health better, but I know it isn’t the same for everyone.”
Karen has had various roles from dentistry to sales but her experience with mental health led to securing her dream job as a Peer Educator with the Interreg VA CAWT Innovation Recovery Project, where she helps people on their journey to wellness through her own lived experience.
“I absolutely love my job! I work alongside health professionals from the Western Health and Social Care Trust, HSE Donegal and other Peer Educators to co-design and deliver mental health and well-being courses. Through sharing experiences and knowledge on mental health, I support people to gain skills and develop tools to help them self-manage their own well-being. It is also important to give hope and optimism to others and the belief that life will get better with the correct support, as it has for me.”
“I am so passionate about what I do because I have lived my whole life with a mental health condition and I’m now thriving rather than surviving. I want to change people’s attitudes towards mental health and love that I have the opportunity to do just that in my job.
“To improve my own wellness, I enjoy listening to music and spending time with my fiancé, friends and family. I’d also highly recommend completing the Online Recovery College’s well-being modules at www.mymentalhealthrecovery.com, my favourite courses include Practicing Self-Care and Mindfulness, they really helped me on my journey. It’s so easy to register and the courses are completely free and can be completed anytime!”
A Q&A with Karen Elliott, Peer Educator at CAWT Innovation Recovery Project
Name: Karen Elliott
1. Job Title:
I am a Peer Educator based in Derry / Londonderry, within the Western Health and Social Care Trust.
CAWT (‘Cooperation and Working Together’)
3. Give a brief outline of your career to date.
In 2019, I started working with the cross-border health and social care partnership, CAWT within the Western Health and Social Care Trust, delivering on the EU INTERREG VA funded mental health project called ‘Innovation Recovery.’
I help people on their journey to wellness by using my own lived experience. From a young age, I experienced issues with my own mental health, particularly after the death of my mother when I was just 15 years of age. Grief has been a major part of my life, and it took years of hard work and additional support to get through the darkest days. This journey sparked my passion for mental health and helping others on their path to wellness.
4. What was your favourite subject at school?
I enjoyed French as I studied GCSE and A Level French.
5. Did you go on to further/higher education, if so, what did you study and where?
When I completed my studies at school, I went on to study Dental Nursing and practiced for a few years before finding my true passion of helping others on their journey to wellness. I went on to secure my NVQ level 2 in health and social care as well as becoming a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) facilitator to gain the necessary qualifications that got me to where I am today.
6. How did you get into your area of work?
My personal experience with mental health led to securing my dream job as a Peer Educator with the EU funded Interreg Va CAWT Innovation Recovery Project. I now work alongside health professionals from the Western Health and Social Care Trust, HSE Donegal and other Peer Educators to co-design and deliver mental health and well-being courses. Through sharing experiences and knowledge on mental health, I support people to gain skills and develop tools to help them self-manage their own well-being.
7. Is this what you always wanted to do?
I absolutely love my job! I have had various job roles from dentistry to sales, but I knew this is where I needed to be. I am so passionate about what I do because I have lived my whole life with a mental health condition and I’m now thriving rather than surviving. I want to change people’s attitudes towards mental health and love that I have the opportunity to do just that in my job.
8. Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?
I needed to have experience of having a mental health condition, a training qualification, IT skills and good communication.
9. What are the main personal skills your job requires?
Positivity, organisational skills and a friendly manner.
10. What does a typical day entail?
I would co-produce and write the courses as well as delivering courses online via zoom or face to face training. I regularly work with health professionals to enhance students learning and source new groups to work with. I would also ensure I have my paperwork completed to meet the beneficiary targets of the West Hub.
11. What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?
The best part of my job is getting great feedback from students who have attended my courses. I have connected with them, and they have taken on board what I’ve said and made the first step to improve their lives. They have taken the opportunity given to them and have started to take control. To be able to help change people’s lives is an honour of mine. The most challenging aspect would be ensuring I have all of the correct paperwork from students.
12. Why is what you do important?
Getting to empower and educate people is so important and that’s exactly what we do, we empower people so they can get the right information and ideas. We also give hope and optimism to others when they need it most and they can use all of this to strengthen their mental health and wellbeing.
13. What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?
I would say to do it as it may be the best decision you make. I would also suggest volunteering in this area first before deciding as this is what I did. I gained so much knowledge and was able to find out if I liked this type of work by volunteering first. I have no regrets and it was the best decision I have made.
14. If you weren’t doing this what would you like to do?
I would like to be Veterinarian as I love animals, especially cats!
15. If you could go back, what is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?
Believe that anything is possible. There are no limits to your success. I have exceeded my limits and it is the best feeling ever.
16. Describe your ideal day off.
Relaxing with my fiancé by the fire watching Netflix or visiting somewhere new and making some great memories!