Suffering grief, anxiety and isolation, Kate Brown discusses the support she found in a Link Up-funded community group in Leith, as part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2016.
When Kate Brown lost her father in September 2015 it had a shattering effect on her life.
Kate had returned from working and living overseas with three children following her father’s stroke in 2005. She had helped care for her father in his final years but living in Leith in Edinburgh while her father lived in the south of England had made this very difficult. Kate herself was recovering from a nervous breakdown and when her dad passed away, her anxiety returned, along with guilt for having been so far away. A single mother with three children, Kate lived alone and a feeling of utter loneliness stole over her.
“I felt isolated and like I was a recluse, unable to reach out to people,” she says.
Through a friend, Kate found out about Feel Fresh Fridays – a community conversation group for people experiencing mental health issues run by and for Leith locals. She describes it as a “safe, friendly and non-judgemental” place to go and talk and connect with others in the community.
“For me,” she says, “it’s a real positive end to the week – no matter what I am doing the rest of the week, it is something I can look forward to and I take that positivity away with me.”
The Feel Fresh Fridays group is one of several projects funded by Link Up – an Inspiring Scotland fund building community connections in Scotland’s most deprived areas. Each week people meet for coffee to discuss their issues or simply interact in a supportive environment and once a month the group holds a community breakfast. Feel Fresh Fridays is attended by people recovering from alcohol or drug addiction, people experiencing loss or anxiety and people who feel isolated and lack the community connections to find support.
Since joining the group, Kate has found it much easier to deal with her own issues; she has reconnected with her mum after finding it difficult to speak with her following her father’s death, and is studying to become a qualified peer support worker.
“If I didn’t have the support of the group I wouldn’t be able to these things now,” she says. “It is hugely important to be able to make new connections in the community.”
Kate now takes a leading role in the Feel Fresh Fridays group and sees the benefit an open community environment is having on people who are dealing with a wide variety of issues.
Kate believes attitudes to mental health hold a lot of people back from recovery – especially those of her own generation.
“I had the attitude that I had to deal with it all myself and didn’t want to ask for help – there is a stigma attached to mental health and discussing mental health issues.”
She says there is still an old-fashioned view of mental health – one which is permeated with the outdated notion of psychiatric wards and being locked up.
“People are scared to go to the doctor and say ‘I am depressed’ or ‘I have anxiety problems’ because they think of the old image of mental patients in wards.
“But mental health issues are part of life’s experiences – everyone who has experienced loss, dealt with addiction, had anxiety, felt isolated has experienced mental health issues.”
Kate thinks a lack of adequate mental health facilities available to people is part of the problem but also feels community groups like Feel Fresh Fridays can be a positive complimentary solution.
She says Feel Fresh Fridays and other groups being run in Leith can inspire people to get involved in activities, to engage and make connections in the community, and help each other to face problems. “And it is working,” she adds.
For simple things like having people you know and trust nearby or having someone to go to a hospital appointment with you, community involvement can help people address their own issues and relate to others, she says.
“It is easy to say ‘I just want to stay at home’ but being able to work and talk together and having a community network has made a huge difference to me and so many others.”
Kate Brown told her story to Grant Collinson
Read our series of blogs celebrating Mental Health Awareness Week 2016:
#MHAW | The Role of Play on Mental Health
#MHAW | SDS Supporting Independent Living
#MHAW| Young people are more than their mental health difficulties