Hi, I’m Sophie, I previously volunteered with of Hope At Hand. Here’s a bit about my story and where this all began.
The idea of ‘Hope at Hand’ begun as a very small dream based on some unpleasant personal experiences with mental health. Now, with the help of some of my closest friends, this dream is finally becoming a reality. Here is the story of how it started, where the dream came from and how it is now developing.
I have struggled with my mental health for a very long time, making an attempt at my life aged just 11 years old. I was in services (CAMHS) until I was 15 years old and I began to think that maybe the dark days of depression were behind me. I had relapses after leaving CAMHS but luckily only for short periods of time and I managed to come out the other side each time. At 18 years old I got the desired A-level results and went to study Psychology at the University of Cardiff. It was during my first year that I was first exposed to the gaps in Mental Health services for students.
During my struggles with my mental health over the years, I had strayed in an out of disordered eating habits that seemed to coincide with horrendous self-esteem that eventually developed into an Eating Disorder. I spent many months in denial, but thanks to my very supportive friends and family, I began to accept that I might have a problem. Unfortunately, this realisation came in at the end of the academic year.
After seeing my GP I referred myself to the student support service. My assessment showed that I was likely suffering from Anorexia Nervosa Binge Purge subtype. This assessment was around a month before my final exam and the day I would be going home for 4 months of summer holidays. I ended up moving back home for what looked to the outside to be a very enjoyable extended summer on the back of an assessment and one appointment without any kind of plan in place. Luckily, I had an excellent support network in place and I was able to gain enough to reach a healthy weight and began to work on my disordered eating habits over the summer months.
Fast-forward 3 years, to my fourth and final year of university. I’m not saying I managed to magically cure myself of my eating disorder, but I managed to ease it back to its pre-university stage, which was far from easy and there were of course waves of severity. However it was the ‘Black Dog’ of depression, which had begun to really rear its head.
Ultimately it was my fight with depression, desperate times in which I thought were impossible to get through and the sheer lack of continuity of care, which sparked my passion for this campaign.
In November 2013 I was diagnosed with depression by my GP, started on medication and once again told to refer myself to the student counselling service, which at the time was under an enormous amount of pressure. Therefore, I had to wait quite a while for my referral to go through, which was a struggle. So by the time I was seen, my willingness to engage had dwindled.
The Christmas holidays then came and being at home meant my sessions in Cardiff came to a halt. In April, with the pressures of the final year of university, my mental health had deteriorated. I was forced back into student support but I wasn’t at a point where I could gain much from it. My GP was desperately worried and referred me to the local Community Mental Health Team. The referral came through whilst I was on Easter holidays and so I missed the initial assessment being back at home. The next appointment came through for a month or so later but my condition had deteriorated to a point that my GP referred it as an emergency. I went to the assessment yearning for change and help. I did get a letter giving the CMHT’s verdict on the assessment but this was only a matter of weeks before I was due to leave University for good. Therefore, they felt that I wouldn’t benefit from their services and any referrals would be pointless. All my hope came crashing down around me. The next few weeks were a blur of self-destruct, my friends never leaving my side and emergency appointments with the crisis team and other mental health professionals. On the 5th June 2014 I moved back to Norfolk. I was told by a psychiatrist that I was to register with a GP when I returned home, explain what was going on and just go from there. That was it, no support arranged for when I returned, I was to sort it out myself like I had every other time before.
I still have no idea how I made it through my degree, but the important fact is I did. Luckily I had good friends and family around. Not everyone is so lucky. This is why this campaign has begun. My heart breaks that my situation is not unique, that mental health is not recognised as being important and that students often have sub standard care in what is some of the most stressful years of their lives.