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Mind Your Mental Health: How Tony took steps to better mental wellbeing

PUBLISHED: 15:00 25 January 2016

Service users on a park walk

Service users on a park walk

Archant

The Recorder has launched a major mental health awareness campaign with charity Havering Mind, which will run throughout 2016. Through Mind Your Mental Health we aim to break down the stigma that persists and share advice for analysing and improving the wellbeing of our community. This week we're looking at anxiety - Emma Lake speaks to Tony Willis and Sharon Metcalfe about the condition.

Tony Willis describes his anxiety as having “a mind of its own”. His fear of large groups and unkind people has long prevented him from leaving his home or taking part in social activity.

But, despite having suffered symptoms such as panic attacks and heart palpitations for more than 30 years, Havering Mind’s Live a Better Life programme was his first interaction with mental health services.

Tony has credited it with changing his life.

The 12-week programme, led by Sharon Metcalfe, encourages people with mental health issues to enjoy social and sporting activities, with the charity also sharing tips on how to live a healthier life to improve wellbeing.

Sharon said: “We have always included some sort of physical activity with programmes. We used to take clients out on country walks and saw how happy it made them.

“When at home mental health problems can become ingrained, but having a structure and knowing you have this programme can be really helpful.”

The scheme offers activities, including walking, yoga, zumba, meditation and swimming, five days a week.

Clients are able to pick and choose which sessions they attend.

When Tony began the programme he was worried about joining large groups so Sharon suggested meditation or yoga.

He was soon attending larger sessions and even enjoyed a trip to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.

Having completed the course he continues to take part in group activities and has undergone training to become a peer supporter in a new group which will allow clients to continue to help one another after finishing the programme.

For Tony, who was bullied when younger, the programme offered a safe environment to confront the triggers for his anxiety.

His symptoms were debilitating – he experienced heart palpitations, sweating, shaking and an inability to direct his thoughts away from the source of his panic.

He said: “I was isolated because I cannot talk to other people unless I know them and know they will be positive and kind.

“When I first came to Havering Mind I was very anxious and worried about communicating with people.

“I gave it a try and when I got going it was really good. When I met people here I felt safer and better in myself.”

The Live a Better Life programme is available by self referral to anyone experiencing mental health problems who is over the age of 18 and living in either Havering or Barking and Dagenham.

Sharon said: “Most people are accessing mental health services for the first time. It could be someone suffering with mild depression or anxiety who had never needed support before.

“If people do need other services as well we will signpost them.”

A peer support group for those who have been through the programme will be launched next month.

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