local people who change the world
A quarter of us will suffer mental health problems at some point in our lives, but won't feel able to admit it.
Hull in print meets a local woman who almost left it too late in asking for help with depression and who now helps others.
It was just days before Christmas when Judith took an overdose. She just grabbed whatever pills and tablets were in her cupboard, then went to sleep, not knowing whether she would ever wake up.
"I was supposed to be enjoying life and putting on a show for everyone - and it all got too much," she says.
"I didn't want to live anymore - but at the same time I was worrying about what it would be like for my family with me not around. To have destroyed my family would have been the worst thing I could possibly have done."
Fortunately, what she had taken wasn't enough to kill her - but her suicide attempt revealed exactly how low she had sunk inside herself. She was diagnosed with clinical depression and spent the next three months in hospital.
A married mother of two teenage boys, then aged 16 and 18, Judith worked, at the time, as a teaching assistant with traveller children at schools throughout the East Yorkshire region. It was a job she found stressful, especially since she was often caught in the middle of conflict between pupils and teachers. She also felt aggrieved that her post had recently been downgraded. On top of that, she was doing a university degree in Social and Behavioural Studies.
Approaching Christmas was a difficult time because, she says, she was supposed to be happy. But the strain had already begun to show over the past year through constant headaches, loss of appetite and weight, and being unable to sleep. There were also feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness, coupled with the feeling of not being able to do anything right or make decisions. Judith was 41 years old and constantly crying.
Judith was surprised to wake up on the morning after the overdose feeling reasonably well and even went to work as normal.
But it was around lunchtime that she began feeling really ill. She told a colleague what she had done and was taken for medical attention.
"I honestly can't remember what I took - it was just different types of painkillers I had in the cupboard. It's a good job there wasn't an awful lot in there!"
It was then that her doctor suggested she be admitted voluntarily into hospital for psychiatric treatment under the care of the Humber Mental Health Teaching NHS Trust. The date was December 20, 2001.
But time is a healer, says Judith, and it was on that exact date three years later that she began a job helping others with mental health problems - as part of the same team at the trust which had helped her.
She is still taking anti-depressants and admits she still has "weepy days." She is also aware that she could relapse under stressful situations.
But she strongly believes that she has a lot to offer society and is keen to dispel the taboos surrounding mental illness.
"If you are suffering, you should never be afraid to come forward," she says. "Don't be afraid to say 'Wait a minute - I'm feeling suicidal here!' With me, I didn't want to bother anybody. I thought my condition would pass. I saw myself as being a nuisance and a burden to the health service.
"But instead of trying to hide your problems you've got to be honest and open about them."
Judith now believes more people should come forward and talk about their mental health problems, in order to reduce the stigma and improve understanding about conditions such as depression.
She is happy that she is coping with her problems. while at the same time living a productive life - and she is pleased to be putting something back into the service which helped her.
Judith is now an STR worker. It's a newly-invented job role which, you could say, involves being a cross between a good friend and a personal assistant to mental health patievents.
The Humber Mental Health NHS Trust, in partnership with Hull City Council, is one of the pioneers of the role, which employs, in many cases, ex-service users themselves to provide support, give time and aid recovery of patievents (hence the title STR).
The job could involve anything from watching a film to spending a couple of hours doing the shopping with a patient - or even just having a coffee. An STR could also spend, say, the whole day going to college with someone - until they feel well enough to go alone.
It's purely about getting people back into doing normal everyday things and making life feel bearable again.
Meanwhile, doing the job is also aiding Judith's recovery - and that's part of the idea!
"But I think I needed to go through what I went through to be able to do my job - I have a lot of understanding of what patievents are going through," she says.
"Making a recovery is about realising that you actually have to put some effort in yourself. You can keep taking the medication and talking to people - but the effort must come from you."
"I've become a far stronger person now. They say life begins at 40, but for me it was 43 - just as I started getting better!"
People who think they are suffering from mental health problems should, in the first instance, contact their GP.
|More information can be found at the following websites:
Mental health problems are more common than you think.
They can affect you, your family, friends or anyone you know.
> One in four people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year
> The most common conditions include depression, anxiety, phobias, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and dementia
> Approximately 1 in 100 people have schizophrenia during their lifetime
> Major depression is expected to be the world's second most debilitating disease by 2020, according to the World Health Organisation
> There is 1 case of self-harm in Britain every 3 minutes. 10% of people still think it is just attention seeking
> More of us will die from suicide than from road accidevents
> 40% of the general public associate mental illness with violence and say that this belief is based on media coverage. The truth is that people with a mental health problem are more likely to be attacked than to attack others
> 51% of people with mental health problems experience discrimination from friends, 47% experience discrimination at work
Source: The Humber Mental Health NHS Trust
Hats off for mental health in Hull
A campaign to bring mental health issues into the open has been joined by celebrities including Kate Winslet, Ewan McGregor and the pop group Coldplay.
The celebrities have been photographed wearing unusual hats to challenge discrimination and promote the human rights of people with mental health problems - instead of "keeping it under our hats."
An exhibition of the photographs will be on display as part of the University of Hull Art Collection, in Middleton Hall, from the 6th - 27th October between 10am and 4pm weekdays.