Charlotte* uses the STaR service at Mid and North East Essex Mind and here 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 as well as giving me some ideas and tools on ways I could cope with my depression on a daily basis, and 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 ways 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 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, but 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 – and my life has improved immensely because I allowed it to and because I was open and honest.
*Name has been changed
About the STaR service: If you are an adult living with a mild to moderate mental health problem and need information, advice and practical support to get help from other local services and organisations our free Support Time and Recovery Service (STaRS) is here to help.
STaR workers work with you and other local organisations to make sure you can get the help you need with things like housing, debt and finance problems, how to job seek and where you can go to volunteer. They can also introduce you to groups and activities local to you if you are feeling lonely and isolated.
They are there to help you for a short period of time and will get an action plan in place with you as soon as you meet them. They will arrange to visit you to meet you in the community if needed and can also support you on the phone. To find out more about the STaR service, click here.