Victims of crime from North Wales suffering from mental health issues now have a friend to turn to at a pioneering centre.
The Victim Help Centre is the first of its kind in the UK and thousands of people have already received vital assistance since it opened last year.
The project to create a one-stop-shop for victims was masterminded by Julian Sandham, the Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales.
Now, thanks to the appointment of a new mental health well-being caseworker, even more vulnerable victims of crime are able to access the support and services they need.
Rhian Jones, 25, knows exactly how many victims of crime with mental health issues feel, having suffered from depression herself in her teenage years.
She said: “I was lucky as I had a strong network of family and friends to turn to for help. And I was able to see an understanding GP who took my condition seriously. That isn’t the case for everyone of course.
“That episode in my life heightened my awareness of mental health and helped to educate me about mental health issues, it really broadened my mind. I probably learned more during that year of my life than any other.
“It taught me that some people struggle every day to get through life.”
According to Julian Sandham, Rhian’s appointment was “the final piece in the jigsaw” at the bilingual centre base in St Asaph.
He said: “The role of a mental health well-being caseworker was always a big part of the design the centre.
“It’s vital victims who have mental health issues or problems and who come into contact with the centre have someone here of ability and experience to provide effective help.
“That help may be either direct help or by being able to signpost people toward the help they need while putting in place a tailored support network.
“Rhian is here for victims of crime who have reported incidents to the police as well as victims who self-refer to the Victim Help Centre but have chosen not to have the police investigate their crime.
“It’s vital, as a society, we properly address mental health issues if we are going to help the significant number of people that need that help and support.”
Ms Jones studied English and Journalism at Bangor University and had ambitions on becoming a journalist with a career in media beckoning.
She said: “However that changed when I saw an internship at a mental health resource centre in Blaenau. I managed to get it and really enjoyed it, it was only supposed to be for a month but I was there five.
“I then managed to get a job with Wales’ leading mental health charity working as a family support worker.
“It was there I learnt how mental health issues can affect a family, carers and how mental health can really be the spark that causes stress within a family.
“I worked there for a year and really enjoyed it. I then saw the role advertised at the North Wales Victim Help Centre.
“The opportunity was exactly what I was looking for. It means I can work at ground level, face-to-face with people who really need help. I see it as a massive opportunity to improve the quality of people’s lives.
“It may be the victim needs advocacy, emotional support, help with a criminal injuries compensation claim, it doesn’t matter, and it’s such a broad canvas. I will try and put in place whatever that person needs.
North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Winston Roddick CB QC added: “It is evident and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Rhian is already making a big difference. It’s important we have someone who understands mental health.
“The fact there is a network now in place means people needing help have been put on the right path and are receiving the help they so desperately need.”
It was a message echoed by Julie Elliot, manager of the North Wales Victim Help Centre.
She said: “Having Rhian here is an added bonus especially as we have someone who has an insight into mental health issues.
“People can find information from our website and we have issued leaflets to our partners and of course word of mouth also helps.
“I want to ensure victims who need help, whatever their personal issues or circumstances, get the help and support they require.”
For more information visit the Victim Support Centre’s website at www.victimhelpcentrenorthwales.org.uk or call 0300 30 30 159