Opinion: How a user group allowed Julie White to consign depression to the past

Julie White is consigning the dark days of depression to the past through work with a user group

I suffer from reactive depression and this has affected my life. On a positive note I have met some fantastic individuals who live with a wide range of mental health issues.

As a child my experiences of mental illness were negative and steeped with myths about madness and asylums. During my life I became aware I was unwell. I went to my GP and was offered a community psychiatric nurse. Despite this I ended up in hospital. This was my worst fear, that I was “a mad woman in an asylum”. However, I found the hospital to be full of caring and supportive staff and patients, and from that point my recovery began.

Hospital helped me realise other sufferers of mental illnesses are in fact amazing people from different backgrounds who happen to live with their condition. I began to recognise mental health affects everyone. Sometimes people may need support and that is all right. This attitude helped me come to terms with the fact it was also all right for me to have support, and for me to admit this was a difficult but massive step towards my recovery.

This helped me develop my own support networks, which sometimes involves receiving advice and support from people who have been there and can empathise with what I am going through. With the support of my nurse, I developed a depression support group and was introduced to Headlight, a user-led mental health organisation.

After I became involved in Headlight I realised its staff and members were part of my support network. As a volunteer, I became part of a team and part of the organisation’s listening ear service and developed my listening skills. I discovered I had something to offer others and people found me easy to talk to and wanted to hear about my experiences. At this point I began to put my bad experiences into positive use by helping others to become aware that if I got through it they could too; that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

A huge achievement was when I joined Headlight’s management committee. I built up the confidence to put myself forward to become secretary. Since then I have come on in leaps and bounds. I have won two volunteer awards having never imagined I would have the confidence to volunteer, let alone win awards.

It’s amazing how my life has turned around for the better. I am not going to pretend it’s a bowl of cherries all of the time, it’s not. But it is a lot more fun because of all the caring people I have met. My life is full and I have made some wonderful friends, no longer am I isolated and alone. I feel I am of worth, not worthless. Helping people has given me strength and the will to go on.
I do still have dark days but I have my support networks and these help me cope. Instead of looking at the negatives I try to see the positives. My wonderful children are my world and I count my blessings a lot more than I did before.

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