A Mental health group that organises walks for people with mental illness has expanded its support to Newcastle.
Founded by journalist and author of ‘Mad Girl’ Bryony Gordon, the voluntary group organises walks once a month in Exhibition park, where people affected by mental illness can come together to walk and share their experiences.
The first Mental Health Mates meet up took place on Valentines Day last year in London, when Bryony Gordon, who has written about her own experiences of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) “set out to find her ‘we.’”
It began with one tweet from Bryony, saying that she will be in a cafe in Hyde park at 11 o’clock, and has since grown nationally and internationally.
The group aims to provide a regular opportunity for people with mental health issues to “walk and talk without fear of judgement.”
On the Mental Health Mates website Bryony said: “Remember: you are part of the we, and having met a fair few of them, I can tell you now that the we are pretty awesome.”
The group in Newcastle was set up by Natalie Hall from North shields. On the first meeting in September 2016, six people turned up and it has since grown considerably.
Natalie has anxiety, depression and panic disorder and following from her own experiences of mental health, she developed a passion to help others. She said: “My motivation behind it was that I was in a really bad place last year and struggling to stay alive. I wanted to help others like me.”
As a teenager she started being sick to get through the day, a strategy that wasn’t picked up on as part of her anxiety until later in life. Throughout her twenties Natalie’s’ experience of mental health eventually led to her using shopping as a way to lift her mood.
Natalie said “I’d spend money on things I didn’t need, this was my trigger in 2015. Financially I was so out of control. Eventually I developed the courage to go to my GP, I just wanted to end everything.”
Whilst away on holiday during her recovery, Natalie read Bryony Gordon’s ‘Mad Girl.’ She said: “I was absolutely blown away by it, and really related to lots in the book”
On returning from her holiday Natalie contacted Bryony, to talk about setting up a Mental Health Mates in Newcastle.
Natalie said: “There’s such a stigma attached to mental health. If you break your leg, people send you messages asking how you are, but if you’re off work for depression, no one says anything.”
This growing movement has brought people together who often feel marginalised or disconnected.
She said: “After the first Newcastle walk, I cried for about an hour – it was so overwhelming.”
According to mental health charity Mind one in four of us will experience mental illness at some point in our lives, a statistic that has empowered many people to work towards changing the stigma.
Realising that they are not alone, and that there is a support group where they can talk about how they are feeling or what they are going through has been a powerful mechanism for many.
Bryony wrote: “Only through writing extensively about mental health have I realised that actually, it’s completely normal to feel weird.”
“One in four of us will experience mental illness this year. That means four in four of us will know someone who will experience mental illness this year, and yet very few of us feel able to talk about it.”
Organising the Mental Health Mates walks in Newcastle has given Natalie a sense of empowerment and ability to help others.
She explained: “Getting involved has become a passion for me, I care and want to help others but lost that for a while.
“I had to go to the dark place to rediscover myself and find the real me. Through organising the walks in Newcastle I know that I am reaching people. If I can do my little bit to get people to open up and talk about it – it’s worthwhile.”
She added “I’ve met some interesting people and I absolutely love it. This time last year I couldn’t say hello to people, but now I’m comfortable talking about the deepest darkest thoughts you’ll ever have.”