Mel is an active campaigner reducing the stigma around mental health and autism. She’s also an NCMH Research Champion, helping to spread the word about our research. This is her story:
Hello. I am Melanie or Mel. Gemini Sun, Capricorn Moon, a 1966 Fire Horse. As a research nerd, I currently refer to my self as a Spiritual Catholic. I am first generation English with a Welsh father and a Maltese mother.
My partner, David, and I married some years back and, with love, we made a kind and more talented 16-year-old, Lydia. We three are a super busy, super close family unit with similar and different interests. We chat in the kitchen daily, share a love for musicals, cinema, and pizza.
I am the main carer of our 7-year-old dog Percy and a variety of small to medium size parakeets and canaries in our indoor aviary. Most of these birds I adopted are from charities. I fostered Percy with his litter pups at their wobbly, bottle feeding stage – very cute. All the pups were adopted out except for our Percy simply because there was “something special” about Percy. He is with me almost always, and currently going through his registration to be a therapy dog.
I began working at age 15, then continued predominantly in IT support. Recently I was successful with my PIP application, which is a huge emotional and financial relief.
I made a promise if I were to be successful with the PIP award, I was going to take on every opportunity the universe presented to me, taking into consideration my well being, my innate/learned skills, and my GCal obligations.
For well over five years I have been a part-time volunteer for causes that I regard highly, particularly: mental wellbeing, companion animal care, and environmental care.
My earliest recorded diagnosis for depression was at 15 when I lived in Richmond Upon Thames with my family.
Looking back now at age 52, my mental health was poor long before then. As the youngest, I was born into a great deal of established trauma and insanity. Understandably self-defense and self-preservation grew dominant in me. I displayed as normal to school friends and adults outside of the home, but really I was experiencing major depression, social anxiety, autism, Aspergers and complex post-traumatic stress.
I discovered alcohol and recreational drugs in primary school, secretly increasing my risky behaviours and self-harming too. I knew there was something wrong, something very different to how I related to other people and to the world about me, but I did not have the esteem nor the skill to ask for help.
My first saviour came into my life as Janet Kingston, now a retired, dedicated social worker from the Richmond Royal Hospital (NHS). This was in the mid ’80s when I had walked into the hospital, asking for help. Janet had asked me “Will you try counselling?” I replied with a brave “yes”, and so began ‘Project Melanie’, to understand me, to learn self-care, to mend my mind, to mix with similar people and to aim for the hopes that I prayed for.
With the social services team supporting me, and the mental care institutions, therapies, books and further saviours I met with along my 32 years in recovery, I am proud to write that I have achieved more than I had hoped. Examples being I am a loving wife, a caring mother, a reasonable, responsible and dignified woman. I can still fall back to my old behaviours, go back to square one occasionally but now, at 52, I find it easier to ask for help because I cannot do this on my own.
I came across the NCMH from a leaflet at my GP surgery that pressed my “I’m curious” button, then simply went online to read more.
I think absolutely everyone should take part and I hope the research will make it possible to identify at-risk people as early as possible to help them make informed decisions, to offer them access to therapeutic support and medication or even preventing mental illnesses.
When I share my experience, I hope it helps towards understanding and healing mental illnesses. I hope it helps to guide people to accept the support available to manage their mental health, the aim being towards a productive, estimable life in society.
Volunteering also helps me understand the complexities of my mental health conditions along the way. Also to end discrimination, to increase awareness and compassion for people like me that will struggle even after 32 years in therapeutic care and treatments, when triggered.
I love to share my story of change to give back to others that want to change too. Give time its time, make the effort to reach out and have faith that the fear and the shame will dissipate. Above all, bring forward your courage and, simply remain honest with the appropriate person(s) about your mental health.
Organisations I volunteer with:
- Adult Mental Health Champion :
Hafal and Mind Cymru Speaker on their Time to Change Wales campaign.
- Adult with Autism and Aspergers Person :
The Autism Directory (TAD) Speaker.
- Committee Member :
Online Communications Co-ordinator for the Cardiff Spiritualist and Healing Centre (SNU).
- Discussion Forum Member :
Integrated Autism Service (IAS) in association with Cardiff and Vale (UHB) Adult Mental Health.
- Focus Group Member :
Litter Picker in association with Cardiff Council Environmental Scrutiny Committee.
- Focus Group Member :
The Cardiff University School of Psychology in association with the University of Bath.
- Litter Picker Member :
Onfoot and Online Communications for Pentwyn Pickers in association with Keep Wales Tidy.
- Online Research Participant :
The Autism Research Trust in the Department of Psychiatry, at the University of Cambridge.
- Online Research Participant :
Cambridge University Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry investigating individual differences.
- Scientific Research Participant :
The Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC).
- Service User Group Member :
New Pathways, Cardiff to improve services and develop a new counselling Diploma.
- Online Opinion Participant :
YouGov collects my opinions online on my beliefs, my behaviours towards brands and politics.