Mental health charity Take Off is growing its presence in Kent, thanks to its popular people-focused approach. We paid a visit to Take Off’s Dover group to find out more.

Mental health is not an easy thing to talk about – whoever you are and whatever your background. Sometimes bottling things up and not wanting to talk about it (whether that be to family, friends or a doctor) can sometimes feel easier.

For some, the most useful thing is to be around people who are going through a similar thing.

One programme set up to do just this is called Take Off, with headquarters in Canterbury and other groups in Dover, Herne Bay, Ashford and surrounding areas.

What is Take Off?

Formed in 2014, Take Off is a charity offering support in East Kent – in collaboration with Live Well Kent and other sponsors (including Town & Country) – which actively promotes and focuses on the linked benefit that working on your mental health can have on your overall physical health.

“Everything we do is geared up primarily for people with mental health conditions – so, that could be a diagnosed issue, or they could just be experiencing a blip in their life (like anxiety and depression),” explains Wayne, Vice Chair and Coordinator of the Dover group. “We cover the mental health spectrum – from eating disorders through to schizophrenia, bipolar, people with personality disorders.”

take off open plan main room with computers, dover

take off dover kitchen area

Take Off Dover’s main space, featuring a kitchen area installed in September 2018 by TCH contractor, Countrywise, as part of its community fund.

“Some people come here purely because they’ve been stuck in a rut with depression, or they’ve not left their home in a long time and they don’t know how to form relationships again,” and “some people come to maintain their health,” he continues.

If a need for a particular group is identified, Take Off are happy to set one up if enough people will attend. Wayne adds: “What we try to do if we have enough interest is run a diagnosis-specific group (e.g. if we have quite a few people going through the same thing they can form their own small group and support each other).”

How is it different from some other mental health-related groups?

Take Off operate on a user-led basis – simply meaning everyone working there has or has had some mental health issues to work through, rather than being specifically mental health professionals (other than art therapists).

 “…it was an eye-opener to sit with other people that had similar life experience to myself and see how they’d managed to cope with it.”

This ‘peer support’ method means you meet people going through similar things when you go to a group, whether it be ‘doing’ (e.g. crafts/art group) or a talking-based meet-up specifically for people who are experiencing or have experienced a particular mental health condition.

Wayne is just one example of how the team can often relate to the struggles of what someone who may be coming through the Take Off doors may be going through.

“I was a troubled child and at 11 was removed from mainstream education,” recalls Wayne. He had a successful career in IT, but would experience extreme highs and lows (and later be diagnosed as bipolar). “In my worst lows I would end up isolated, homeless and sometimes vagrant. In my extreme highs I would be overly productive – studying, running many businesses or holding down a full-time job, and having many fruitful relationships, children and even marriage.”

Like many Take Off staff, Wayne is a perfect example of how it can get better once you do the challenging first step. He has been with Take Off since 2017 after lots of experiences in different types of therapy; “When I went to my first meeting with Take Off, it was quite an eye-opener to sit with other people that had similar life experience to myself and see how they’d managed to cope with it – it all started to make sense. You realise it isn’t as bad as you thought.”

How do I find out more?

You can find more information on the variety of free groups – including photography, film, cooking/baking, outdoors and diagnosis-specific meetings (e.g. Depression, Bipolar, Borderline Personality Disorder & Healthy Eating – for Eating Disorders) below. Ages range in different groups from 14 onwards up to people in their 50s.

Canterbury Groups

Herne Bay Groups

Thanet Groups

South Kent Coast Groups

Ashford & Faversham Groups

IT groups are set up to suit different skill levels, whether learning how to use a computer or getting involved with programming. Some will also come along and update their CV, manage their Universal Credit journal or gas and/or electricity account online.

A relatively new activity taking place at some groups is gaming, attended by a mixture of people. “On Saturday we hold a team gaming session (in Dover) and all of the computers are linked together and people play together (e.g. Call of Duty) as a team and have to talk each other through it as everyone plays a role.” He adds: “It’s bringing what some people may like to do at home into Take Off.”

Wayne stresses people don’t just come to a group and “go into a room of 20 people”; but they will have a chat and slowly be introduced to the group. There are also volunteering opportunities at most Take Off groups if someone wants to get involved in that way.

“Take Off has worked with TCH for five years now. The support we have received from them has been very important to our development and clients,” adds Mark, Director at Take Off. “We have recently had an amazing kitchen fitted in our Dover building which was totally funded by TCH. We would not have been able to do this at this stage. Our clients would, therefore, not be getting the great benefit of learning to cook on a tight budget and eat healthy food and we believe good food is extremely important to recovery.”

He concludes: “These groups also help reduce the loneliness and isolation suffered by so many people with a mental health issue.”

To find out more, visit the Take Off website (below), or contact Sophie Locke (email: sophie.locke@tchg.org.uk phone: 01892 501472).