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Mental Health Awareness Week ’23: Theresa at Senior Management

For Mental Health Awareness Week 2023, we’re sharing thoughts, experiences, and strategies from the team across our different services on anxiety, the focus of MHAW this year.

Theresa at Senior Management

I started volunteering with the Connect Helpline for LSLCS in late 2007 and have had many roles within the organisation since then. My current role is Operations Director of our Helplines and Children and Young People’s Services. For this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week I wanted to share some of my own experiences with my mental health, as I feel that being a survivor-led organisation it is important for people like me to speak up. I think it’s really common to view people in senior management or anyone that’s in a “professional” role as being at a distance from what it feels like to be battling daily with emotional distress and crisis. Part of the reason I have been with LSLCS for so many years has been our ethos – it’s not only our visitors, callers and guests who can benefit from our person-centred approach and the value the organisation puts on lived experience.

Throughout my life and particularly in my childhood, I have experienced adverse events that have lead me to being the owner of labels such as PTSD and CPTSD. As a young child I was on the receiving end of discrimination for what we (people with my experience) call having a “visible difference”. There are many words used over the years to describe someone who does not look facially “regular” and this is the current phrase we prefer to use. Society can be very unforgiving of that which is not the norm, and when you leave the house every day and receive a barrage of abuse from strangers and uneducated comments from even those you are familiar with, it has an impact. The mind has many creative ways of trying to protect us (even though it can feel incredibly unhelpful) one of these is by putting us on high alert, so even when there is no logical threat present, we end up with an easily triggered “fight, flight, freeze” response. Anxiety is what I call this for ease of explaining it to others.

Being a volunteer and then an employee of LSLCS, I have experienced so much empathy, unconditional positive regard (respect and acceptance) and congruence (genuineness) from my peers and managers, that it has helped to alleviate some of my anxieties to enable me to feel safe and develop towards being my actual self. Anxiety still plays a large part in my everyday life, though I am a long way from the timid, fearful person I was before I found Dial House all those years ago. The beauty of the model we strive to offer at LSLCS is that it is all about being able to speak about whatever we as individuals need to speak about, without fear of judgement. For me and many others who have worked for or used the services here, that in turn can help us to feel held, validated and, in time, to process those feelings that lead us to having struggles, such as anxiety.

We receive a lot of lovely feedback from people using our services, that they experience some of the above. We are constantly reflecting on how we work and always welcome feedback to enable us to try harder, to be better and to grow. For this mental health week, my hope is that by sharing my own experience, it encourages people to continue to reach out in times of crisis knowing that they will be met not by a “professional” but by another human being. And that despite any differences, they can feel held, validated and accepted, knowing that we get it and we are all doing the best we can, with the resources we have, in the situations we find ourselves in.