In the aftermath of Blue Monday, which is claimed to be the most depressing day of the year, reporter GEMMA SHERLOCK speaks to groups who are making a difference to people with mental health problems in the community.
Depression has no face.
It has no time limit, no word of warning and no concrete cause – it can happen to anybody.
This is the message from a group of women who are hoping to raise awareness of mental health problems and support within our community.
It is estimated that one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, according to mental health charity, Mind.
In England, one in six people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week.
Mind say the method of how people cope with mental health problems is getting worse.
However, a former nurse, teacher, and hotel worker, who all have mental health problems, have set up volunteer groups across the district to help people cope.
The friends have also organised a variety show for mental health awareness at the Lancaster Grand Theatre this month.
Attracting 10 local acts, the trio hope that by bringing people together they can break the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
“We want to get the message out there that is no face to mental health, it is not one job, it is not one lifestyle, it can happen to anybody at any time, it can be young people as well,” said Karen Wheeler, a former teacher, who has depression and anxiety.
“One of the biggest things that people don’t understand is just because you are good one day doesn’t mean you will be the next day.
“The stigma surrounding the illness infuriates me.
“You only have to listen to the news to an opposed terrorist attack and the first thing they say is it wasn’t a terrorist attack they had mental health problems, I am sorry but we all have mental health problems.
“The advice I got with depression and anxiety is ‘go out’, ‘keep active’, ‘enjoy the outdoors’, you can’t do that when you are depressed or anxious, you can’t just go to a cafe on your own.”
The mum-of-one felt there was a gap in provision for mental health services in the area so she set up Socialease in cafes across Morecambe and Lancaster.
Karen, along with three volunteers, reserve spaces at existing cafes where people can come and have a chat and get information about different ways of support.
Table cards are present at the cafes, one side yellow, the other green, to signal whether you are comfortable talking and interacting with the group that day.
Karen, who lives on Scale Hall in Lancaster, began the group shortly after she was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“I felt completely lost, worthless, I found myself unable to function day to day, it got worse, I couldn’t do anything,” said Karen.
“It affects the way we react to things.
“For example if I had a brown envelope come through the door I will immediately go and cry without knowing what it is.
“I think something awful has happened or I have done something wrong, even though I know I haven’t.
“It can lead to things like self-harm, you feel like you don’t belong to society, you are just this person on the outside who doesn’t connect with anything.”
For Jayne Collins, mental health problems have affected her for nearly her entire life.
Jayne left school at 15 and began a career in the hotel industry until she was 35.
She was a senior sales coordinator for De Vere Hotels in Blackpool.
She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2002 and then again later in 2005 after being moved from hospitals in Blackpool to Lancaster.
“Having bipolar is like living on a tight rope not knowing whether you are going to jump down,” said Jayne.
“Your mood fluctuates on a daily, weekly or even hourly basis.
“The intensity of feeling is so strong.”
Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression, affects your mood where you experience manic or hypomanic episodes (feeling high), depressive episodes (feeling low) and potentially some psychotic symptoms during episodes.
Jayne has been through electric shock treatment, has been sectioned, stayed in various psychiatric wards and is currently on medication.
“It was the stress of the job and family situations, the depression made me very ill,” said Jayne.
Jayne wanted to use her experiences to help others and 18 months ago she volunteered to open up a cafe to help people with mental health problems. In association with Bay Health and Care Partners delivering Better Care Together, Serenity Community Cafe, was born.
Jayne and five other volunteers, including Cath Mason-Milward, run the cafe every Wednesday in Carnforth.
“It’s like an extended family,” said Cath.
Cath has a become a key member to the group since she began going as a member.
The mum-of-two is a former nurse who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1993.
“I have always known there was something wrong, I had depression as a teenager,” said Cath.
“It became increasingly difficult for me to do my job after my diagnosis.
“I had a lot of hospital admissions, my two children have had to be so understanding, when they are young it is hard.
“So I cut my hours down and eventually left.”
The friends would all love to return to work when they’re ready but at the moment they are continuing to run the groups and are preparing for the variety show at the Grand on Sunday January 28.
The evening will include bands, singers, comedians, dancers, performance poetry, a didgeridoo and more.
The evening will raise money for local mental health support groups and projects.
The line-up includes, Danny Matthews as the host, Lancaster singer Holly Lovelady, Cumbrian singer, David Kay, Lancaster band, Greenheart, comedian Steph Todd, who will be running to the Grand after her set at The Borough’s comedy club, poet, Mazza Vee, Jennifer’s Dancers, Voce Chamber Choir, Sheelagh Houlihan, a performing poet and comedian and a choir featuring Karen, Jayne and Cath and, local GPs, police officers, students and nurses.
The local choir will be singing Love My Life by Robbie Williams. Sarah Baines, project manager for Lancaster & Queen Square ICC’s, said: “Meeting Karen from Socialease and Jayne from the Serenity Cafe and learning about what they do and the positive effect they are having on people in our community has been inspirational.
“The mental health variety show, with a fantastic line-up, has been pulled together in a remarkably short space of time and the sheer amount of hard work put in by Karen, together with the support she is receiving from members of the community is testament and acknowledgement to just how important maintaining good mental health is to so many.”
Tickets for the variety show cost £10 and for children and unwaged £7.50 on 01524 64695 or at lancastergrand.co.uk.
* The Serenity Community Cafe is open every Wednesday, 1pm-3pm, at the Free Methodist Church, Hunter Street, Carnforth. It offers friendship and support for mental health needs, a chance to get together and have a coffee and a chat.
*Socialease takes place every Tuesday at Brew Me Sunshine on Victoria Street, Morecambe from 10am-noon, and every Thursday at Sunbury Coffee House, Sun Street, Lancaster, from 9.30am-11.30am.
Socialease describes itself as a safe place to get out from four walls to sit with refreshments and meet others in similar situations.
*Lancaster and District Samaritans deal with around 40,000 contacts per year, and relies entirely on donations from the public and other sources.
They offer a safe place for you to talk any time you like, in your own way – about whatever’s getting to you.
The charity changed Blue Monday into “Brew Monday” on January 15, asking friends, neighbours and work colleagues to help Samaritans of Lancaster and District simply by taking time out for a cup of tea and a chat with someone who might appreciate it.
Whatever you’re going through, you can call Samaritans for free any time from any phone on 116 123 (this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill), or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch.
*Lancashire Mind campaign to make your mental wellbeing a local priority. They work across Lancashire for people at every level of mental health. Visit www.lancashiremind.org.uk/ for more.