Gemma experiences anxiety and depression and has previously referred herself to an NHS Wellbeing Service for her mental health. She also receives support when she needs it from Brighton Women’s Centre. She is talking about her experiences as part of Agenda’s Women in Mind mental health campaign.
Women with mental health issues already feel like they’re at the bottom of the pile, but personally, I don’t want sympathy. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me or anything like that. I’d just like some help. Because we’re most probably suffering mental illness from the abuse that we’ve suffered, or whatever else we’ve had to go through in our life. We just need to feel a sense of someone’s there for us.
I moved to Hove about seven years ago because of domestic violence, and I’ve just kind of come into another form of abuse. I had ‘n***** go home’ written on the walls of my block. I had my neighbour’s friends throwing stuff at my door.
I suffer from anxiety and depression. I was in my doctor’s surgery one day and I saw this poster on the wall, ‘Wellbeing’. I called up and made a referral myself.
I then went to go to see them at the surgery. I just had to explain what my issues were and stuff. I think I had a couple of sessions, but it was really just me talking. And then a referral was made for CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). She also mentioned going on antidepressants and anxiety tablets, which I went and spoke to my GP about.
I was on the waiting list for the CBT. So, that was a long waiting list! I managed to shake this dark thing off of me for a time and got into work. That built me up a bit more, so by the time the CBT came round, I said, ‘offer it to someone else who needs it’.
Later, the Wellbeing offered me a counselling service, but it’s about a year’s wait. There’s never anything right then and there. Those are all great things if you can access them, but you know, one year’s waiting list is not something you want to hear, because you’re in it here and now.
Being ‘signposted’ can be horrible because they just give you a bunch of leaflets. If you have mental health you may have learning difficulties, you may not be able to understand all the information. And some people look at you as though you’re asking for some expensive type of information, when this information is free to anybody.
When you’re suffering from mental health, you’re kind of a hypersensitive to people and expressions and tones and stuff. So sometimes because of a lack of funding, maybe the person that picks up the phone is under a lot of pressure. So if you’re then hypersensitive to that, you don’t want them to feel any extra pressure.
And a lot of these services that you try to get in contact with have some form of automated system. If you are feeling really anxious or low mood or whatever, you just want to hear a real person. You’ve got to go through all this stuff, and if you’re not able to focus on one thing you end up – I end up – giving up.
Also, there’s been other services that I’ve contacted that are no longer there. You can hire a room to use, but there’s no service there to support you, because there’s no funding.
People can either then tend to go and self-harm – not necessarily cutting themselves but doing something that is harmful to them. Drugs, alcohol, you know, the stuff that you’re used to, that you feel other times is a sense of release, but actually is putting you lower.
I used to self-harm, and that has reduced through just me doing my own research. Hairband pings, holding ice. Writing things down – a journal, poetry, sometimes just writing, getting it out and stuff. Something meaningful or spiritual you know, helps your mind. I try to do as much walking as I can, but my anxiety sometimes doesn’t allow me to get out of the house.
What else helps me? Helping other people. I’m a very non-judgemental person because I understand how it feels to have people judge you. I’m very open about my experiences, and not many people are. I find my being more open about it, if somebody else is listening that may feel uncomfortable to be open, they might get a bit of empowerment hearing me talk. I can get talking to anyone, anywhere, and people tend to tell me their problems. So what empowers me is being able to help and signpost them to certain areas.
Services need to be advertised better, not just in the place that you would be going to access the service. That doesn’t make any sense. It needs to be on the shop counter, in the taxi office, or in places that people frequent. The corner shops, or whatever, because some people don’t go to the doctors. Having a free phone number or something is important, because not everybody has a mobile, or has credit. And the job centre doesn’t even have phones anymore.
I’m quite a positive thinker which I think is a major key in helping me get through all this negative stuff. I always try to see the good. This year I was hoping to start a youth work course. Now, I feel like it would be better for me to be patient for another year and get all of this horrible stuff out of the way. Next September I will go and start that youth work course, and then I hope to go on to uni to be some form of mentor or advocate, to support voices that aren’t being heard.
My greatest achievement is my daughter. Although she’s seen so much of the abuse in the past, she’s dealt really well with all of that. She’s a confident, bright young girl and she’s very open. She’s just great, she motivates me to continue.
As told to Milla Gregor. Picture by Tom Stallard.
Agenda’s Women in Mind campaign is calling for women’s mental health to be a priority and for women to get the support they need, when they need it. Support the campaign
For more than 40 years, Brighton Women’s Centre has been helping women from all backgrounds, facing all kinds of issues, to live happier lives, including women dealing with bereavement or trauma, women who have been through homelessness or the criminal justice system, and survivors of abuse or discrimination.