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We took that first step to access mental health support - here’s how it helped

When you're struggling with your mental health, all you want is for someone to help you. All you want is for someone to tell you things are going to be okay and to give you the answers you need to get back to feeling more like yourself - or at least give you tips for coping with what you're going through.

But reaching out for support can often be one of the hardest things to do, despite how much we know we might need to. I know because I've been there, and so have the people who bravely agreed to contribute to this post.

Alice, Lakota, Matt, Aisha, Sally and Andy have each had their own unique mental health challenges, but they all have one thing in common: reaching out for support changed their life for the better.

I hope by reading their stories and their journeys to accessing support, you feel inspired to do the same.

Alice, 29, first accessed mental health support when she was diagnosed with depression in 2017. 

"I first reached out to my doctors after feeling that something wasn't quite ‘right’ for a while. It was at this point they diagnosed me with depression, and recommended joining the CBT waiting list and taking citalopram at the same time as the two, from their perspective, worked well together.

I was initially reluctant to take antidepressants, however I’m really glad I did. I stopped taking these with the advice of my doctor in 2020. However, like many people I really struggled through the lockdowns and ended up back on them to help me cope with anxiety I was struggling with too. I didn’t see going back on antidepressants again as a bad thing at all.

It did take a lot to reach out for help as I have a grumpy internal monologue which makes me question if it’s just ‘me’ or if there’s something wrong. I felt like I was wasting the doctor's time. However, I’m fortunate to have never been made to feel this way by my GP themselves.

Accessing support has helped me understand a bit more how my brain works.

I’ve now recieved two courses of CBT and these have helped me shape some coping mechanisms and to identify potential triggers for me."

Lakota, 26, was diagnosed with anxiety, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2020 and ADHD in 2021. She is currently waiting for an autism assessment, too. 

"When the world changed because of the pandemic and a new job role meant I was suddenly spending a lot more time on my own, I realised I wasn't managing as well as I thought. That's when I decided to reach out for support.

I first accessed self-help therapy through Talking Changes in 2020 after being referred by my GP. I didn't get along with the self-led program and advocated for a talking provision instead with a real person. This led to me talking with a counsellor within the community mental health team who validated my thoughts and confirmed that it wasn't just depression and anxiety. I was then put forward for ADHD and autism assessment. Through further sessions, it was also discovered I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and I was pre-assessed for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.

At first I didn't seek help because I didn't think my problems were as bad as other people's and didn't want to take up space and resources in a struggling system. I now realise I deserve as much support as everyone else.

Accessing support can feel like hard work sometimes because of how much the NHS and mental health services are struggling and how much you have to keep advocating for yourself to get the right support - but it's all absolutely worth it. 

It's worth it to look back and see the improvement, learn how to better understand yourself, and those around you, and go through life feeling that bit lighter.

Since 2020, I've sought support from my GP, local community mental health team, NHS Risk & Response Psychologists and Occupational therapists. I was lucky enough to get in with an ADHD assessment & diagnosis in 2021. EMDR therapy kicks off in August, and due to my place on the waiting list it's predicted I'll get my autism assessment before the end of the year. 

Life is hard, please don't fool yourself into thinking you have to do it all on your own."

Matt, 28, struggled with Bulimia Nervosa from the age of 14 through to his early twenties.

"I kept my eating disorder hidden for a long time but my behaviour was discovered by my mother who took me to an eating disorder treatment centre so it could be discussed and addressed. This consisted of just one short conversation with a doctor and little to no follow up. 

I didn't understand the seriousness and implications of my behavior until I went to the treatment centre. As someone who struggled with my weight growing up, the results of purging were actually seen as a positive for me, from losing weight to liking my appearance more, I saw Bulimia as something not necessarily positive, but something I needed. I didn't want to lose the positives so I kept this hidden. 

In addition to this, I feel that eating disorders, especially back when I was in my teens, was not something that was taught in the education system or even society in general. I found this silence amplified from a male perspective also, therefore I potentially chose to distance myself from researching or looking into support as this was almost certainly taboo in my mindset. 

Although I felt the support via the treatment centre did not help me as much as you might expect because I was easily able to pretend I had stopped the behaviour and no follow up was taken, it did shift my mindset to the fact. It showed me that my behaviour was not a positive thing, even though I had enjoyed the 'positive effects' of it. 

Over the next few years, even into my life at university, the behaviour continued but certainly became less aggressive.

I frequently researched Bulimia and its long term health implications online, visited community forums on the condition, and consciously took time to remove negativity from my social media feeds that glorified having that ‘perfect’ body, weight, and image.

The more I opened up the conversation to myself and normalised things, I understood that a change needed to be made. 

After finishing university the act of purging ceased entirely and I have taken up running and started to enjoy cooking proper meals for myself, both of which have contributed to a healthier body and mindset, eliminating any desire to return to my previous state."

Aisha, 22, was diagnosed with anxiety in 2021.

"I originally accessed support because I felt like I couldn't cope with how I was feeling. It was difficult for me as I always viewed vulnerability as a strength in others but a weakness in myself. So I wouldn’t allow myself to talk about how I was feeling or speak to others about what was going on inside my mind without thinking I was weak for doing so.

Additionally, as someone who is from the South Asian community, there is a large stigma around accessing help and mental health is a large taboo topic.

Therefore, when something is ingrained into a culture, it is really hard to see beyond this and access the help that you need without feeling like you are going against what others in your community would do, which is to stay silent and keep it to themselves. 

Additionally, a lot of the support that I required was to do with the anticipatory lack of support from my family regarding my sexuality. As someone who comes from a Muslim household, being anything other than straight is heavily looked down upon and I feared coming out so much to the point that it really had a detrimental effect on my mental health.

I accessed support when I felt like I could no longer hide the pain I was feeling. I spoke to my GP and let them know what was going on - they didn’t officially diagnose me with depression but I received medication for how low I was feeling when I was struggling with suicidal thoughts and extreme loss of pleasure in everyday life. Whilst on these, I also accessed psychosocial counselling from 42nd Street.

The psychosocial therapy really helped because my therapist was incredibly supportive and a really amazing listener. Psychosocial was the perfect balance of support and talking where I was able to lead the sessions and come with a talking point for each session.

It also massively helped me to voice what was going on in my head in a safe environment where I know that people are on my side and can understand me. 

Over the 16 sessions, there was a gradual shift in the way I was thinking. I ultimately learnt that being vulnerable is not at all a weakness and so I should never hide away my emotions from anyone, especially those that are the closest to me.

Despite not being able to tell them what exactly was going on, I did end up telling my mum that I was struggling with my mental health as she noticed me sleeping in more and staying in my room for a large portion of the day. It was important that I was able to let her know this as I feel like it helped her understand me more when I finally came out to her."

Sally, 44, has struggled with her mental health from a young age after finding out she was adopted. She has also struggled with Postnatal Depression following the birth of her son. 

"When I hit the last year of primary school my world was turned upside down when I learned I was adopted and that my birth mother had died of breast cancer when I was a baby.

As you can imagine, this news caused my world to fall apart. But because this was back in the 80’s, things were different. I wasn’t able to ask questions or show any emotions etc and so I struggled. Things like this were not discussed back then. I wasn’t able to process the emotions or information and this was very hard for me. 

When I was around 14/15 I found alcohol. It became something exciting. Something that I could drink that would take away all the pain, hate and emotions I had inside. I could block everything away. So I drank my way through school when I could. 

Fast forward many years and I finally became a Mum. I was only 20 and had a very traumatic birth which made me very ill. I developed postnatal depression and struggled a lot. I refused help for a long time but eventually I did and was given medication.This helped a little but I refused counselling as just couldn’t talk about what I was feeling at the time. I finally had counselling when I was 38. After a mental health breakdown and suicide attempt when I was 37, I had to seek urgent help so finally knew I had to talk. 

I couldn’t wait for the NHS waiting time of 20 weeks as I knew I didn’t have that long so I went private and had therapy. It was one of the best things I have ever done and had Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for around 3 months.

All the emotions and feelings I had kept inside for all those years I was able to let out,process and talk through.

It was extremely tough but one I am very grateful for and wish I had done it sooner. 

Now through all of this I still drank . My drinking got worse and worse and there wasn’t a day I didn’t drink. Each day was all about when I could have a drink. In 2019 my drinking was at its worst point and I knew I had to stop. I knew it was killing me and if I didn’t stop I wouldn’t be here for much longer. So on 11th November I went sober. I didn’t think I would last a day let alone a week. But each day passed and I did. We got through the tough days one day at a time and slowly they got better. I’m now 4 years and 6 months sober."

Sally is very open about her dependency on alcohol and her new sober life via her Instagram page.

Andy, 48, was diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder (FND) and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) in 2018.

"My diagnoses came with a heavy emotional burden. Dealing with suicidal thoughts, disappointment, hate, regret, shame, and feeling completely alone was a tremendous struggle for me.

Despite these challenges, accessing support through FND Hope UK and Rock 2 Recovery was a turning point. Through the resilience I found within myself and with the help of a compassionate community, I gradually learned to love myself again.

Facing my past traumas and taking charge of my well-being allowed me to let go of the burden of shame and regret and start on a path of healing and self-discovery.

By sharing my story as an ambassador for FND Hope, I've found meaning and purpose in helping others who may be experiencing similar feelings. Through the support of various organisations and connecting with individuals who understand my struggles, I've come to appreciate the strength that lies in community and the power of embracing your true self.

Andy's experience has helped him understand the importance of looking after his wellbeing and he wants to inspire others to do the same by hosting outdoor adventures which aim to boost people's wellness. You can find out about his community work here.

If you need to talk to someone, please call Samaritans on 116 123 or text SHOUT to 85258.

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