When you experience a mental health crisis, it can feel like your world has been turned upside down.
You feel alone. You feel scared. You feel like life will never be quite the same again.
When Charlotte* first started to experience symptoms of depression, she had no idea what was happening to her and felt completely isolated.
For #WorldMentalHealthDay we are focusing on our partner Mid & North East Essex Mind. A mental health charity who works with young people and adults living with mental health problems in Essex. To commemorate this day, we are sharing Charlotte’s* story to raise awareness on the importance of speaking up and asking for help if you are struggling.
Charlotte* uses the STaR service at Mid and North East Essex Mind. Below She gives her honest account of her experiences with depression, and how the STaR service helped her to find new ways to cope.
“The first time I ever experienced symptoms of depression I had no idea what it was or what was going on.
I was 27 and I started feeling extremely low straight after the birth of my first child. I was on my own most of the time; my then-husband was always at work, and I felt I had to deal with motherhood completely by myself.
Initially, I found it hard to sleep and I was exhausted. I also couldn’t leave the house for the first two weeks after my daughter’s birth because we hadn’t yet bought a pram, so this made the feeling of isolation worse.
The anti-natal nurses would visit me and check that everything was ok with the baby, but they never once mentioned anything about post-natal depression, so I had no idea that was what I was experiencing. They never spoke about mental health or gave me any advice, so I didn’t even realise what I was feeling could be treated.
My daughter was quite poorly in those first few months, and I felt that this was partly down to me, because I wasn’t well.
If I’d had have some form of help then, I don’t believe my depression would have continued to be so bad or carried on for the next twenty something years and I would have found ways to deal with it.
I first tried to seek help as soon as I experienced low mood and depression when I had my daughter, but I didn’t get the help I needed.
I then waited until I was in my 40s to speak to my GP about how I felt, and I told them my problems and they diagnosed me with depression.
They offered me anti-depressants, but I declined in the hope that I could find other ways to deal with it. I also sought help from a mental health organisation where I received 1 to 1 counselling sessions over the phone which I found quite helpful. It was here where I was encouraged to write things down, my feelings, what was good that day and I also would write down how I would want to feel. Some days I would be quite stubborn with myself, but other days I would try to listen to my internal voice and make sense of how I was feeling.
The first time I came across the STaR service at Mid and North East Essex Mind, it was a leaflet in a doctor’s surgery. I didn’t’ know anything about the service and hadn’t heard of it before so asked my GP about it and later asked for a referral.
The first day I met my STaR worker, Jenny, was really reassuring, she instantly understood how bad I was at that point, and she knows how far I’ve come now and I’m so very grateful for her support.
The sessions initially would be us talking things through, but she would offer me some helpful advice and signposting. She also gave me some ideas and tools on ways I could cope with my depression on a daily basis. How I could maybe do things differently or look at things in another way.
I started volunteering at a cattery for a short while and now I find getting outside and going for walks or doing some gardening really therapeutic. I’ve become an active volunteer in the Memorial Gardens Group in Clacton which has been fantastic in lifting my mood.
My granddaughter is currently undergoing treatment for leukaemia, and I keep strong for her. She has been a huge reason for me to keep going, and in some ways, I live for her.
It’s nice to know that with the STaR service you have a set appointment, and you know who you are going to see and that you will be given different advice on how to cope.
It really does give you an extra boost and you know that someone is there armed with information. Sometimes I even hear Jenny’s voice in my head, reinforcing what I’ve learnt in order to get me to keep going.
My advice to anyone who is experiencing depression or low mood and if you are already in therapy or have sought support, you’ve already got the confidence to make that initial step in reaching out, so make the most of the help. Be open and honest and don’t be embarrassed to explain how you are feeling. The more you talk, the more you will de-stress. Be open minded as well, as you never know what you might find useful.
Please look out for each other, lean on others when you feel you can’t cope and speak about it. I worry for those who don’t open up and isolate themselves. So please encourage those around you to talk if you feel they are not coping or perhaps acting differently.
If you are feeling alone and haven’t yet sought out support, please talk to someone.
For me, the ‘mental health journey’ is never ending and sometimes I feel the road is getting more difficult to tread, but I have my tools to keep me going and to help me keep focus. I’m even planning to do more volunteering in the near future.
Everyone is different and different things help different people. My advice is to find those tools, like I did, to help keep you on track and help keep yourself on the road to recovery.
I have bad days still, but something is keeping me here. My life has improved immensely because I allowed it to and because I was open and honest.”
Charlotte’s* story is testament to the importance of seeking help when it is needed. So many of us choose to hide up our issues rather than talk about them in the open. But when you speak up you are giving yourself the opportunity to overcome your struggles and move forward.
Everything becomes that little bit easier when you have a hand to hold.
If you have been affected by the content of this article, visit Mid & North East Essex Mind’s website to find out more information on the services they offer in your local area.
Always remember, you are not alone.
*name used to protect identity.