Jenny Jean-Paul is a mental health advocate at Stonewall Housing, a homelessness charity for the LGBTQ+ community. She lives in London with her family.  

 

My alarm goes off…

At 7.30, usually. But lately, since the pandemic, I’ve been getting up at 8.30am because I no longer have an hour commute into work. I’m not a morning person. It takes me a while to get myself together. I’ll have a cup of herbal tea and some cereal or peanut butter on toast for breakfast while I think about the day ahead. I start work at 10.00am. 

 

I’m responsible for…

Advocating on behalf of our clients who are experiencing mental health issues at Stonewall Housing, which is a homelessness charity for the LGBTQ+ community. Some of the people we work with might have unstable housing, while others are living on the street or in a shelter. A big part of my job is addressing that mental health, housing, debt, domestic and sexual violence are often linked and liaising with services to get them help. 

 

I got the job…

By being persuaded to apply for it. I had been working in marketing, which wasn’t fulfilling – but I also had to pay the rent. Eventually, I decided I needed something more me, where I felt like I was doing something meaningful, and started volunteering with LGBTQ+ groups. It was during this time that many people said to me: <Have you thought about being a mental health advocate? This is what you should be doing>. As a gay woman, I’d played that role with friends in my own community for many years, but I’d never considered it as a job. I went on to train in mental health advocacy with PACE, an LGBTQ+ charity that no longer exists, and got a job with them in 2014. When they closed in 2016, I moved over to Stonewall Housing to do the same role.

 

My typical day…

Begins at my desk in my spare bedroom at 10am. Half of the room still very much looks like a bedroom, while the other half has turned into an office with a notice board and my laptop. My day is really varied. In the morning, I might attend an NHS appointment with a client. I work with predominantly young LBGTQ people under the age of 25 who are experiencing mental health issues or who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition. 

 

Before the pandemic, I would have attended things like a doctor’s appointment with them in person, now we do a three way Zoom call. Before those appointments, I will have chatted with them about what they want to get out of that meeting. Do they want to change their medication? Do they want talking therapy? Some of my clients are trans and find it difficult to ask for a referral to a gender identity clinic. Often, it’s not that they can’t articulate what they want, it’s that they just need someone in their corner. My presence gives them the confidence to speak up for themselves. Since the pandemic, however, accessing some services has been hard. Drugs and alcohol services, for instance, are not currently offering drop in appointments and keeping an appointment in advance, when you don’t have a stable home, is often difficult for them.

 

It’s also had a big impact on how my clients are feeling. Many have said they are very isolated and cut off from people right now. Lately, our one-on-one calls – I’ll have a few a day with clients to talk through their issues options, which hasn’t changed since the pandemic – have become an opportunity to talk that through with someone they trust, without feeling judged. After a particularly hard call, I usually would have talked to someone in the office about it. We’re all there for each other in that sense – it’s important one person isn’t carrying all of that emotion alone. Now we’ll chat on the phone about it.

 

The most challenging part of the job is when you see someone whose mental health is deteriorating, you bring it to the attention of clinicians, and the client doesn’t get the help they want. You feel helpless at times like that. You have to find other avenues to go down and services which might be helpfulI’ll usually stop for lunch at around 2pm and have leftovers. In the afternoon, I’ll work through paperwork, which is also a big part of the job as oftentimes certain services you would like your client to access requires lots of forms. I’ll finish around 6.00pm, but sometimes it ends up being 7.00pm.

 

Right now, I’m feeling…

More hopeful than I did in the depths of lockdown. I try to live in the moment, with this job anything can happen. 

 

When I’m tired or stressed I…

Go for a walk and listen to some music. ACDC tends to get me feeling motivated again. 

 

My go-to work snack is…

Hummus and carrots, if I’m being healthy. If I’m not, chocolate. 

 

My most memorable moment…

Was a case I worked on a few years ago. The client was facing deportation and returning to their home country which would have been a death sentence for them. I attended the tribunal hearing as an advocate and was with them when they heard the news that they could stay. It felt incredible and reminded me of why I do what I do.

 

My worst work habit is…

Is telling colleagues to get offline after 6pm, and yet I’m still working myself! 

 

My email inbox…

Is organised chaos. I get too many emails to sort through, so I flag the ones that are urgent. It looks stressful but I know exactly what I need to deal with.

 

After work…

I cook. Cooking is like therapy for me. I’m vegan, so I’m always searching for ways to get protein into my diet that isn’t just tofu. Right now, I’m eating lots of Indian and Korean food. After dinner, I will watch something calming. It could literally be a show about recycling or some kind of quiz. Anything where there is no drama! I’ve always been a night owl, so I likely won’t fall asleep until 12pm, sometimes 1am.  

 

My Plan B… counsellor

This is something I’m already working towards. Over the years, I watched the effect it has had on some of our clients and realised I really wanted to do that. It can help them get to the root of their problems, which often begin in childhood. I passed my exams to be a counsellor last year, which felt really good.