Darren Waddell has been working with Depaul since 2018 and has taken up the role of Mental Health Support Worker since 2022. Darren works with Depaul’s Housing First Belfast Service. You can read more about Depaul’s Housing First Service here.  


Darren, a Mental Health Support Worker with Depaul


Day-to-day as a Mental Health Support Worker

I work with Depaul’s Housing First service, helping people with complex needs to keep their tenancy. Complex needs might look like mental illness, addiction – and often both.

I liaise with GP’s, Community Mental Health Teams and Mental Health Social Workers to get the best support for the service user. I’m advocating for them from a mental health point of view. This might not happen without our support, because I see a lot of stigma, and a lot of fear around seeking help.

I also work directly with the service user, looking at ways to reduce anxiety and isolation. This could mean taking them out for coffee, walks, things they would be interested in. I give them time – a chance for the person to talk over any issues or trauma they may have suffered, or just giving them the space to unload. Something as simple as a weekly check-in, even a phone call from the right service is life-changing. If we go for a walk and have a chat, later on in the afternoon, I’ll get a text to say, “Thanks for that. I really needed that”.


Homelessness, mental health and addiction

For people who are homeless, it can be difficult to get the right support if they suffer from both mental health issues, and live with an addiction. Often they are using their addiction to cope with their mental health difficulties. There’s also a tendency to want to treat the addiction, or the mental illness. Not both together. And of course, there’s a lot of stigma around addiction.

But for many of the people we work with, here in Depaul’s Housing First service, they would have trauma in their lives, coming from childhood. If not dealt with, this becomes mental illness, and people may fall into addiction to cope.


Trauma Informed Care

At Depaul, we use our values in our work to remain non-judgemental and to see the potential in people. If someone has an addiction, or an illness, they deserve our help.

Since 2021, all Depaul staff have been trained in Trauma Informed Care. It’s looking at each person through a particular lens, and understanding that there may be trauma there. Its building up a relationship with them, gaining their trust until they are ready to talk about it. Then it’s getting them the right help and support.

Doing this training has highlighted to all the Depaul team, that there is always a reason and a background as to why a service user may be living with an addiction or mental health difficulties. We look at the person above everything, and understand the particular place they are coming from.


Depaul’s Support

One service user, Trevor (35), has had severe past trauma and he’s coping with this through his addiction to alcohol. He’s a lovely guy, but he’s a different person when he’s under the influence. He may act more confident, be louder, and say things he doesn’t realise he’s saying. This has made keeping his tenancy really difficult. It can be difficult to get the help you need, and to be understood when you’re an addict.

I advocate for people like him from a mental health point of view, and get the appropriate supports to help him deal with his mental illness. We look to understand the issues behind the addiction and work to help at the root cause.

He is now linked in with a Community Mental Health Team, and he has a Mental Health Social worker. He still has our support in keeping his tenancy too, we still check in and make sure everything is going ok. We’re still here to call if he needs us. It’s been two years now, and this is the longest he has kept his tenancy.


Building Trust & Reducing Stigma

For men, it can be really, really difficult. With a single man, trying to get their trust can be really hard. And it’s really sad when they don’t want to open up. There’s a barrier, and trying to get that barrier down, it can take a long, long time. When you meet them, you can tell they need support.

There’s a lot that we need to do to break down the stigma of mental health. For people mental health issues, it can be really beneficial for them to know they are not the only one, that other people are going through the same. It takes a lot of weight off. I’ve seen that, where they can chat and help each other.