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Mental health Trust staff open up to encourage others to seek help

Posted on the 8th October 2020

Health workers from Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust have opened up about their own mental health to highlight how issues can strike anyone at any time.

Health workers from Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust have opened up about their own mental health to highlight how issues can strike anyone at any time.

The volunteers spoke as part of World Mental Health Day on Saturday 10th October, to highlight how hope and recovery are possible.

The theme of the day is ‘mental health for all’ and staff from the Trust, which is the leading provider for secure adult services and child and adolescent mental health including eating disorders, want you to know that they have been there and to encourage those struggling to come forward and seek help – from the health and care sector and the public alike.

Chris Oliver, Chief Operating Officer for the Trust said “It’s essential that as a Trust we understand the needs of our service users and sometimes a part of that understanding comes from our own experiences. Any one of us can need care in this way. The care we give comes from our hearts and minds, the places we find strength and resilience and I’m proud of our staff for being so open on World Mental Health Day to encourage others to seek help if they need to.”

"The signs and symptoms of depression were so subtle and crept up on me, stealing the joy from my life."

Maggie May is an Approved Mental Health Professional and Team Lead in Carlisle.

“Initially I didn’t think I was suffering with depression. I carried on my daily routines and continue to go to work. My relationship had broken down and I’d had major surgery. All I could think about was getting back to work, keeping a smile on my face and pushing on as normal.”

However Maggie soon found herself falling deeper and deeper into depression.

“Before I knew it I was driving home one night and found myself parked at the side of the road looking over a cliff edge and wondering how fast I would need to be going to end my life by driving off the edge, all the time trying to rationalise how this wouldn’t cause damage to my family.”

Thankfully Maggie’s children saw the change in her and intervened, encouraging her to seek help.

“Under the supervision of my GP I was treated with antidepressants and talking therapy, alongside being closely monitored by my GP and of course, my children. The signs and symptoms of depression were so subtle and crept up on me, stealing the joy from my life. I speak with conviction to people I support that no matter how bad things are and however dark things seem there is always hope and recovery with support.”

“I continue to grieve of course, I always will, but my life with my other children is no longer dominated by fear.”

In 2011, while training to be a Clinical Psychologist Anna Clancy lost her baby daughter Erin following a three week stay in hospital.

“I was completely devastated and the next few years were a real struggle. I took time off from the course and grieved. After some time, however, I had to return to work and this was hard. Alongside my grief and sadness I now experienced a lot of anxiety, which was something I had never struggled with previously.”

Over the next few years Anna qualified and began working as a Clinical Psychologist for the Trust, however, she continued to struggle.

“I had more children, which brought great joy, but also increased anxiety and fear about their safety and wellbeing.”

Having dived deeper into her work and a revelation that she wasn’t able to properly grieve, a supportive line manager helped her self-refer for trauma therapy via MindsMatter, a Lancashire-based mental health service while helped a lot with her anxiety and helped her better deal with the loss of her daughter.

“I continue to grieve for Erin of course, I always will, but my life with my other children is no longer dominated by fear.”

"As time progressed my mental health seemed to be deteriorating but I tried to maintain my happy smiling face as men tend to do."

Stuart Kirk, who has been a Support, Time and Recovery Worker for 30 years shares Anna’s grief after he lost his wife Elaine to cancer a decade ago.

“In January 2008 we got the news that my partner had breast cancer. She and I had our occasional arguments, who doesn’t? But we loved each other so much.”

Stuart, his wife and son continued with their lives as best they could until she was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer.

“On the morning of 7th July 2010, whilst we were all sat having breakfast, she took her final breath and sadly passed away in front of us, aged 38. Our son was 11 years old when he saw his mum pass away. Between us finding out and her passing away, we had her for 7 weeks.”

As much as Staurt shares that pain, he is equally grateful for the help he received to help him get back on his feet.

“A year later I took a trip to Morecambe promenade. I sat there for a while with all sorts of thoughts going through my mind. I had an exceptionally strong urge to walk into the sea and take my own life. I was listening to the radio on my phone as I was sat there when a song came on. Thoughts of our son, and that song, prevented me from doing it. That song was Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s “Don’t Give Up.” The song still holds a special place in my heart and reminds me of how I nearly ended it all. I don’t try to avoid the song, I love to listen to it, but it always makes me cry. I immediately made an appointment to see my GP who was exceptionally supportive and prescribed me antidepressants which I took for 6 months and made a huge difference. I feel honoured to have shared 16 loving years with this amazing lady. It was our son, that song and my friends who helped me through it all and I will be forever grateful.”

"I wished I could just go to sleep and never wake up.  I suppose that thought terrified me enough to finally seek help"

Sharon Myers, Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAHMS) Cumbria’s Business Support Team Lead was raised in a place and time whe mental health simply wasn’t spoken of.

“I was brought up in the North-East in the 80s, nwhere mental health was basically a taboo subject and anyone with psychological issues was thought to be ‘namby-pamby’ as my grandfather put it. I was rudely awakened to the tragedy of mental illness with the suicide of my best friend’s mother when I was 12, but even then she was referred to in hushed tones as having been ‘not right in the head’ – it was as if her mental illness was something shameful and shocking that we shouldn’t talk about.”

Sharon came to rely on self-harm as a way to cope.

“Back then, I thought I was a certified lunatic; I had never heard of self-harm as it just wasn’t talked about - there weren’t any sympathetically handled storylines on the soaps and the internet didn’t exist. I did not – could not - understand the bizarre compulsion that made me reach for the razor when I was angry, upset, frustrated and sad… It was like a physical need.”

Then one day in her twenties, Sharon was lying on her bed at her lowest ebb when she knew she needed to seek help.

“I wished I could just go to sleep and never wake up.  I suppose that thought terrified me enough to finally seek help; I went to the GP surgery and literally broke down on him for about an hour.  Luckily, he was absolutely fantastic and he assured me that I wasn’t a freak.  He started me on medication and encouraged me to speak to people, which I did - eventually.”

Sharon knew she needed the understanding of those closest to her but found it hard to come by at first.

“That was the worst of my experience, I think. It wasn’t the bizarre ritual of cutting, or the self-loathing, heartache, shame or anger that cost me the most sleep at night.  It was the complete lack of understanding from the people I loved.”

Eventually that understanding came in the shape of soap storylines and more awareness thanks to the internet. Often the Trust’s service users won’t realise how much the people who help can relate to them. Sharon now sees a lot of her past self in in the children her service strives to help and still feels that as people there’s more we can do to be open and honest.

“I read about young people daily whose experiences are so similar to my own.  I am so relieved for these young people that attitudes towards, and understanding of mental health issues have improved significantly over recent years. I still feel there is a long way to go before mental health and emotional wellbeing is talked about openly and without prejudice, but I think the steps we are now taking are very encouraging.”

Are you struggling?

If you are struggling with your mental health in Lancashire or South Cumbria, please get in touch with Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust’s Mental Health Crisis Line, which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 0800 953 0110.

Are you a member of staff who has struggled to cope through the Covid-19 pandemic?

There is also a new resource launched for public sector workers and volunteers who have been struggling to cope during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Lancashire and South Cumbria Resilience Hub is a resource for those who are in need of extra help and guidance on their wellness, to those who feel they need urgent psychological help to those who simply aren’t sure. Whatever you need to help you get back on track is okay; you’ve been through an incredibly difficult time and though you are the carer, sometimes we need to care for the carers.

Find out more about the Resilience Hub here.

The team at the Lancashire and South Cumbria Resilience Hub can be reached on 01772 520228 or lschub@lscft.nhs.uk