After suffering depression, Sue Murphy has regained her self-worth as a volunteer and

In 1985, I was diagnosed with manic depression while I was working. In 1988, after having my daughter, I had mild post-natal depression and, after my son was born in 1991, I had it again but badly. My marriage broke up because of my illness and the children went to live with my sister. I became involved in another relationship and he moved in. But he started to run up debts, causing me to worry.

Due to my medication changing in December 1999 I didn’t sleep for five days and became psychotic. I was admitted into hospital and sectioned. When I came home after three weeks I decided to change my life. I asked my partner to move out and consulted a solicitor to help me to arrange to pay off the debts. I felt more in control. With the help and support of my sisters, I continued to see my children regularly.

I was given a social worker who suggested I do a bit of volunteering. The local volunteers centre employed a support worker to help people with mental health difficulties into voluntary work. Although unsure about this, I gave it a try. I attended a preparation course to help with my confidence and self-esteem and to look at the skills I could contribute. After five weeks, we volunteered at a local playschool where we washed the dollies and other toys.

I started volunteering regularly with an activity scheme for children with special needs. My confidence grew and during this time I was invited to become a “buddy” for the centre as a helping hand for people just starting out in volunteering. There are five buddies on the scheme and our main role is to take clients out for a coffee. We talk to them about our volunteering and take them to their voluntary work if they wish.

Through being a buddy I have been asked to speak about the project at conferences. I have also been involved with workshops and am on several committees representing service users. I am still on medication and have a good psychiatrist to whom I can talk and I no longer need the help of the social worker.

I live alone with my cat and dog and I see my children often. Although they have been unable to live with me we have a close and loving relationship. I feel that I am more the person I used to be. I still have mood swings but have good insight and can usually work through them.

As a volunteer I also liaise with North Essex Stronger Together, a self-help group of service users. They hold a mental health forum every couple of months. Most of the topics they discuss are relevant to mental health issues, such as direct payments. I am also on the project advisory group at Anglia Ruskin University and help to advise about social workers and their courses.
Being a volunteer is a way of giving something back. It gives me a feeling of self-worth and I’ve made some nice friends out it.

Sue Murphy is a volunteer and uses mental health services

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