ARTIST Stuart Davidson knows exactly what it means to be given a second chance in life.
The 56-year-old spent years bouncing from one job to another as he battled with undiagnosed conditions that were later revealed as bipolar disorder and Asperger syndrome.
Now the Dunbar resident has found his calling as a peer support worker with Scottish mental health charity Penumbra – a role that led to him being nominated for a prestigious national award.
Stuart attended the Health & Social Care Alliance Scotland self-management award ceremony at the Scottish Parliament this week after making the shortlist for the outstanding achievement of the year category.
The social worker missed out on the top honour, but is not short of admirers for his work which inspires others to overcome their mental health problems.
Stuart first joined Penumbra – a charity that promotes mental health and wellbeing while providing support – a year ago after his own positive experience of being assigned a peer support worker.
The former librarian had spent time in a series of psychiatric institutions until then, but said: “The worker helped with a lot of day-to-day issues of dealing with depression and bipolar, but he also introduced me to the recovery movement.
“He introduced me to the idea of recovering from mental health problems and in doing that I started taking up training in things like the Wellness Recovery Action Plan. From that I took it to a certain level that I felt confident in applying for the post of peer support worker.
“This feels like a vocation. It feels like everything I’ve gone through has been to get me to where I am.”
A keen painter, Stuart helps run art and craft classes for people suffering from similar mental health problems to himself.
One-on-one assessments are used to find issues such as housing or diet that affect particular individuals. The creation of a “Mood-opoly” board game has been one of Stuart’s ideas.
He said: “It’s about helping people to reclaim their responsibility for their mental illness and to take the reins themselves.
“In the case of someone who was overweight, we would encourage them to go to the gym and we would be there with them to get them over the stigma or fear that they have of engaging with society. It’s about being a bridge to existing facilities.”
Stuart once painted the portrait of East Lothian MSP Iain Gray for an exhibition at the Dunbar Library.
Mr Gray said: “He was shortlisted for this award because of his extraordinary willingness to share with others his personal experience of managing his own recovery. By speaking publicly about his own story, Stuart has been able to inspire others to believe that they can recover and manage their own conditions.”