As part of our Let’s Talk About It Campaign, substance misuse doctor Harry Walters talks about how Rise in Barnstaple works with mental health services.

A Devon-wide organisation is working closely with the region's mental health services to support people with substance misuse problems.

Dr Harry Waters, a specialist substance misuse doctor at the Rise office in Barnstaple, says the charity has around 220 people locally on prescribed medication for substance misuse.

Dr Waters said people with mental health issues were more likely to take substances to deal with their negative feelings - and the two issues ran in parallel.

"People often use drugs and alcohol to cope with how they are feeling, and can do this to the extent of obliterating all feelings" he said.

The Gazette has launched a Lets Talk About It campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues and those campaigning for change.The Gazette has launched a Lets Talk About It campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues and those campaigning for change.

"But longer-term this causes more problems with how it affects their health and relationships and work; they are actually making things worse."

At Rise, the doctors, nurses, recovery workers and others help to educate people about the risks they could be taking, as well as providing support and services such as clean needles.

Their onus is on empowering people to make the decision to change their lives.

"We're trying to be better at working together with mental health services, and them working better with us," said Dr Waters.

"We have regular meetings together so we try and understand patients' substance misuse and mental health and support each other."

Dr Waters said Rise works with 'some of the most excluded and vulnerable parts of society'.

He said: "It's important those people in contact with substance misusers are as supportive and encouraging and non-judgemental as possible; it's a disease that is littered with judgement.

"Substance misusers are a group that are judged and it makes getting better a lot more difficult, not easier. People can be ashamed to ask for help."

Dr Waters said the charity never underestimated the importance of small changes.

He added: "Let's say someone is using heroin and they're street homeless.

"If you expect that person to get off drugs, get a home, get a family; that's a huge change to ask someone to make and we all know from our everyday lives how hard change can be.

"But if that person makes small changes it can have a positive impact on themselves, their physical and their mental health; it can affect all parts of their life, including all the people they are connected to."

"We try to empower people to make that change; we're all adults and need to take responsibility, to be able to make changes; it's not as simple as saying 'I would like you to stop using drugs'."

Anyone who would like to find out more about Rise, which is run by Addaction and EDP Drug and Alcohol Services, or would like advice on substance misuse, can call 01271 859044.