Helen’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) had left her feeling desperate, alone and unable to have a relationship. She was in a state of extreme nervous tension and lost all confidence in herself as someone who could have friends. Find out how she turned her life around.

Thursady 5th February is Time to Talk Day. Helen, aged 47, wants to help break down the stigma attached to people who are living with mental health problems, as opening up has transformed her life.

Intrusive thoughts and her OCD plagued Helen’s life. She was chronically depressed, isolated and drinking to try and cope. Helen explains: “I think too much about things. I worry about people I know being killed in car crashes and in fires. I have to sleep on the ground floor as I worry I might get trapped in a fire sleeping on the first floor. It would be impossible for me to have a boyfriend as I would be thinking they might be killed in a car crash.”

Helen turned to alcohol in a bid to try and ease her negative thoughts that controlled her day-to-day, but it only made them worse. She lost her confidence in herself and her ability to form relationships with people for fear they wouldn’t understand her problems. She says it is that lack of understanding about mental health problems that make it a difficult subject to broach.

Helen says she was in a desperate state when joined Abbey Physic Community Garden, which uses Red Nose Day cash to help run a horticultural programme offering support to 75 adults with mental health and physical disabilities. The project, in Faversham, Kent, offers members, like Helen, the chance to learn new skills alongside others who really understand the problems they face.

The non-judgmental, supportive attitude of fellow members and staff at the garden helped Helen begin to open up about her painful struggle and the gardening and craftwork took her mind away from the intrusive thoughts that dominated her life.

“All the garden members have mental health problems or other health problems. Everyone is really interesting and there’s always a lot of laughter, and people enjoy themselves. I think a lot of prejudice surrounding mental health illnesses is due to a lack of understanding. It’s like a fear of the unknown – if people knew more about it, they wouldn’t be so frightened.”

Comic Relief has a long history of supporting people living with mental health problems, helping them speak out on decisions affecting them, getting advice and the care they need to reclaim their lives and reducing the stigma and discrimination they face.

Time to Change, supported by money raised through Red Nose Day, wants to help end that stigma and discrimination with Time to Talk Day. The aim is to get millions of people discussing mental health today for five minutes, to help break the silence that leaves people living with mental health problems, like Helen, feeling frightened and alone.

Since joining Abbey Physic Community Garden, Helen has learned much about the power of speaking out. She says: “Sometimes if I’m having a crisis, if I can talk to someone about it then it helps me to get through the worst of it. It’s always best to talk about things rather than bottle things up and not talk to anybody.”

Helen now helps welcome new members to the garden. She is determined to speak out to end the misunderstandings that can build barriers between those living with mental health problems and their friends, colleagues and wider society.

“As a result of my work at the garden, I know that I have a valued role in society and can make a positive contribution to it,” she says. “This has improved my self-esteem and confidence. When I am out and about in town, people recognise me from the garden and say hello. I no longer feel socially isolated.”

Helen adds: “I definitely think it’s good to talk. I talk to friends, members of my family and people at the garden. It really helps to hear another person’s perspective and it gives you ideas from another point of view. Once problems are out in the open they aren’t so overwhelming.”

Money raised by Red Nose Day (back this year on Friday 13th March) is helping to support the Time to Change campaign which is asking the nation to take 5 minutes to have a conversation about mental health in a bid to break down barriers for those suffering in silence. Find out more at rednoseday.com or time-to-change.org.uk/timetotalkday

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