Story: Vaz & Abdul

28 year old Vaz is a student living in Greenwich. He has been mentoring Abdul, 22, who lives in East London, since February 2007. Abdul has a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia and was referred to the Back to Life scheme by one of his mental health workers.

Vaz found out about the scheme through the internet. After suffering from depression himself, he was keen to use his experiences to help somebody else. He says:

I developed depression when I was nine years old and by the age of 17, I had tried to take my life more than once.

In the Asian community, mental health problems are taboo and it is considered shameful to have any form of emotional weakness. I couldn't tell anyone in my family what I was going through. I think it is especially difficult if you are male - you have to put up a front because it's not masculine to discuss your emotions.

Because I didn't want to appear weak, the only people I could talk to when I was ill were female friends. Although this was comforting in some ways, I would have liked to have spoken to another man who could empathise with my situation. I understand how important it is for Abdul to have another male to talk with. I think I can relate to what he's going through.

At the beginning of our mentoring, I had to build Abdul's trust in me. He would ask questions such as 'why are you doing this?' and 'how long do you have to do this for?' It took some time, but I think it made a difference that I was a volunteer and not a professional. I'm here because I want to be and he appreciates that I truly listen to him and don't try to tell him how he should be feeling, or judge him. This encouraged him to open up to me. He has now even introduced me to his dad and some of his friends.

I've helped Abdul to fill in job applications, and we have been making plans for him to move into his own flat so he can become more independent. Sometimes we just socialise, we've been go-karting, to the IMAX cinema and we'll often pop out for a coffee.

Mentoring Abdul has been harder than I expected, I've learnt to truly listen, which is a lot harder than it sounds.

I get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing Abdul progress and being able to help him from my own experiences. I think it's sometimes just a relief for him to get things off his chest and out into the open. He realises now that there is a route out - a route to recovery - and our relationship seems to have awakened his interests. He now wants to get involved with producing his own rap music and organising music events.