Lora Coyle came to West Lothian College in 2009 to study an Intermediate 2 in care. She would often miss classes, sometimes several in a row. But this wasn’t simply a lack of commitment to the course or lack of desire to be at college, Lora was struggling with so much under the surface.
“I got kicked out of school at 15 and suffered really bad mental health problems and was in the psychiatric ward and had loads of workers working with me. I ended up on a course where it felt like they were holding me back so I got rid of them and kept two. They helped me build the confidence to actually come to college because I did have reading and writing difficulties so that had been putting me off.
“When I eventually came to the college, within two weeks of being here they found out I was dyslexic and got things put into place for me to help. They also got counselling in place for me a well because obviously it was quite a big thing to deal with. It actually worked really well for me because I had been in counselling before and it didn’t work for me but that did.”
Lora took nearly daily visits to the Student Support team who were trying to help her stay on track and complete her course. Lora had experienced some real trauma in her life and struggled with things like self-harm and depression. This meant that it took real effort to get herself to class and work hard enough to complete her course.
Lora did complete her course in 2010. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Lora went through another rough patch after her first year at college and decided not to return the following year.
“I finished college the first time around with top marks. I was class rep which was a big thing for me but when college ended I didn’t have anything in place and because of my mental health. I need routine and structure and because I didn’t have anything place for the summer I ended up having a breakdown. I just decided it wasn’t the right time to come back at that time.
“I met up with one of my old workers, Maria, who used to be my Penumbra worker. She had started this new thing called Mind’s Well and asked me if I wanted to be part of it. So, I started volunteering with her and just going around telling my story and letting people ask me questions, I even made a DVD. I became a mental health peer support worker and built the confidence to then come back to the college eight years later.”
Though it took some time for Lora to be ready to return to college she didn’t waste the time between, dedicating herself to helping others through Mind’s Well. When she did return to college it was with greater confidence and security. She even found herself studying at a higher level than she had anticipated.
“That was the crazy thing, when I came back I applied for level 6 and in the interview I actually knew the woman taking it and she said “I’m not going to lie to you Lora we’ve got no spaces, if something changes I’ll let you know.” Then we got talking about what I’d been up to and told her I had the PDA Mental Health Support and she said I could be going into the HNC which was higher than what I was applying for.
“I got some help form Claire in the Support for Learning team and they got all my support in place before I even came back which for me was a big thing because in school I kind of just slipped through the system. Here I feel like everybody really recognised what was wrong pretty quick and bent over backwards to support me the best they could.
“Once you get over that hurdle of not wanting to ask for help and struggling like I did all the way though school and you ask the staff at the college really bend over backwards and set times around you, giving you any spare time they have. They care, but you have to ask for the help because they don’t know if you don’t ask.”
Looking to the future Lora has big plans for Mind’s Well and hopes she can continue helping others closer to home in Livingston, where she sees the strong possibility of a partnership with West Lothian College.
“I’m going for a meeting on 29 October with someone form the Big Lottery Fund which is amazing. This is our second interview, so she must have seen something in the business plan to actually want to come and meet us. She’s going to come along to one of our training days to help get funding for me to get some office space.
“Mind’s Well focuses a lot more on delivering training because we’re a social enterprise. We need to generate funds but still need to give 30% of our earnings back out to the community. In Edinburgh we go into schools as part of our give back. When I move out to Livingston that 30% will go back into Livingston which is good for me because this is my hometown.”
“I hope Mind’s Well will have a really good working partnership with the college when we get set up in Livingston.”
As she takes the reins for Mind’s Well Lora always has her plans geared towards helping and empowering people struggling with mental health issues.
“I’m going to have people coming in and volunteering with me and working towards us getting them through their PDA Mental Health Peer Support qualification.
“They can stay with us and join our peer support system. I’m all about trying to get people with mental health problems to see that you can still have a normal life and you can use what could be a bad experience or has been a bad experience for you and make it into something good and help other people.”