A mother of two from Carlisle has spoken about her experiences of mental health to encourage others to get the help they need.
Lisa Brown, 40, contacted First Step earlier this year after she reached her lowest point while pregnant with her youngest child. Now she is sharing her story to show that there is help available for people who are feeling depressed, anxious or worried, and in particular for new mums or mums to be who may be feeling overwhelmed at such an important – yet vulnerable – time in their lives.
“First Step is totally different to the counselling I’ve tried in the past. It wasn’t intrusive, it was very relaxed – I just talked and talked for the whole session and as I started saying everything out loud I started answering my own questions, and coming up with my own solutions. I really felt like I’d achieved something and that feeling stayed with me until the next appointment. After that first session I walked away feeling so much lighter, and I really looked forward to going back.”
“I think I’ve always suffered with depression, but I didn’t realise that’s what it was. Growing up I thought that is was just normal to feel that way. If something didn’t go right I’d panic and I would convince myself that the worst would happen.
“Things started to get worse when I was pregnant with my son. We had some personal setbacks and everything just felt really overwhelming. I felt like I had ruined everything, like I’d wasted my life – I was approaching 40 and just thought that it was all over. Not being here anymore seemed like the best option, although I would never have acted on those thoughts.”
Lisa believes more could be done to help women at one of the most vulnerable times of their lives. “I was terrified that someone would take my child away from me, that they would think I was a bad mother. It’s hard to speak up and admit you are struggling when that thought is hanging over you. When you are pregnant or have a new baby everyone wants to give you advice and tell you what to do, and the last thing you want is for people to think you can’t cope.”
The turning point for Lisa came when she spoke to her GP and they suggested trying First Step, an NHS service that provides talking therapies for adults in Cumbria. “First Step made me see that it’s perfectly normal. Lots of people experience the same thoughts and feelings as I do, so I’m not alone.”
Lisa tried therapy and counselling in the past, but found it didn’t work for her. “I was cynical – I couldn’t see how it would help me. I had a therapy session about 11 years ago, and another 8 years ago, but it wasn’t what I thought it would be and I never went back. First Step was different – from that very first session I noticed a big difference and I felt so much lighter. I only had four sessions before my son was born, but now he’s 6 months old I’m about to start a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy course to help me even more.”
Dr Richard Thwaites, Clinical Director for First Step reinforced Lisa comments “It’s not uncommon for both dads and mums to struggle following such a significant event as a new baby. We’re keen to provide evidence-based talking therapy to people during this crucial time, a time when they can be more vulnerable to common mental health problems such as depression, panic or obsessional thoughts”.
Leanne Huntley, First Step’s Perinatal Lead says mental illness in new parents is more common than we think. “Between 10 and 20% of women develop a mental illness during pregnancy or in the first year after birth. Around half of these cases of depression and anxiety go undetected, and many women fail to receive the right help. First step are working with midwives and health visitors to increase awareness of Perinatal mental illness in both women and men, and improve access to therapy in Cumbria. People like Lisa sharing their experiences can be very powerful in raising awareness and letting other parents know that they are not alone, there is help out there.”
Lisa now feels more confident dealing with everyday situations. “Now I try not to worry so much or think that the worse will happen. I feel so much better than I did – there are still some hard days but now I know that it’s okay to feel that way.
“I cannot stress enough that the midwives and health visitors who looked after me were fantastic – however, they only have so much time. When you are asked how you are feeling, it’s easier to say “I’m fine” – often people need a bit more of a push to open up. My advice to anyone who feels this way is to please tell somebody – there is help available and you are really not alone.”
First Step is part of Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and provides free, talking therapies to adults (18+) in Cumbria. First Step can help with a range of common mental health problems including mild to moderate depression, anxiety disorders (such as chronic worry, panic attacks, health anxiety and obsessions), anger or sleep problems. You can access First Step by speaking to your GP, or you can self-refer by calling 0300 123 9122 or online at www.cumbriapartnership.nhs.uk.