I first started going to Branches support group in around 2016 during a period of acute depression and anxiety.
The support group sessions helped me feel less alone and less ashamed of the way I felt as I realised I was not the only one out there with such problems and being able to just 'be myself' without having to constantly wear a 'mask' and hide my mental health problem was very liberating as the effort of constantly pretending to be alright to everyone was exhausting and draining and took all of my energy. They also gave me something to do and a way in which to be around others when my social life had shrunk considerably due to lowered confidence and self esteem.
After a few weeks I went on my first Branches social trip to the local cinema. Due to my anxiety and depression I had not been out much socially for a long time and had forgotten what it felt like. This first social outing with Branches was very good for me as it brought me back out of my shell and also made me remember going to the cinema with old friends before I was unwell and I was given a glimpse again of the person I had been and hoped could be again. I have since been on many of the outings and trips and the first one I went on to London was really good for me as it had been a favourite place of mine to go and practice my hobby of photography but I had become anxious of walking over the bridges as I felt I had thoughts (but not intention) that I might jump off and going there again with others in a supportive group helped me get over these fears and start going to London on my own again to do photography.
I also enjoyed the activity groups, mostly art, drama and the walking group but sometimes also just the games session or supported evening meet-ups. The walking group is just good exercise and I find it refreshes my mind and also helps me to appreciate the outdoors again, and helps one get out of their comfort zone if they are not exercising much and only use a vehicle or public transport or are in a phase of not going out much at all. The art and drama groups gave me a chance to forget my mental health problems and focus on engaging, creative and fun activities and not have to talk about my problems all the time, whilst still being in a supportive environment with people - coordinator and facilitators who were aware and considerate of those issues.
All in all Branches provides a safe place to be yourself without having to hide your problems whilst not only being all about your problems and perceived or felt limitations if you don't want to talk about them and feel like putting them on the back burner for a while. Branches also provides new social opportunities through the trips and outings for people who feel isolated as do the activity groups which also give you new potential hobbies or interests to enjoy and express yourself creatively or even rekindle old ones. Branches can also provide a structure to those who feel like they need more structure and activity during their week.
Branches is also good in that the coordinator and facilitators are knowledgeable about other mental health providers, support groups and things such as how to access help with benefits, accomodation, and other types of statutory and voluntary support.
Special events such as annual Christmas meals and summer trips etc also give one a sense of membership of a group of likeminded and supportive people.