A new mental health support group in Derry has called for the establishment of a 24 hour safe space in the city where people who find themselves in distress can reach out.
‘ME4MENTAL’ was established a few months ago by a group of likeminded people who had, in one way or another, coped with mental health issues and come out the other side.
The group, which hopes to be officially registered as a charity soon, was born out a desire by its founder members - some of whom have been to those dark places and back - to reach out a helping hand to those going through torment now.
Lee Sellers, one of the core members, explains: “A few months ago we set up a page. That page now has almost 1,400 people from the local community.
“It was set up to provide support for people who were suffering from mental health issues, anything from low mood, to severe anxiety, to depression, but it’s for anybody who needs help. Things sort of just went boom, basically.
“And we’re based in Derry, we’re all from Derry, we have all suffered mental health issues and we’ve all had experience first hand in that area.
“I can speak personally from my own experience that it wasn’t the system that actually helped me. It was my friends, people that I could relate to, in a one on one way.”
Beyond the ‘ME4Mental’ Facebook page, which is manned 24 hours a day and the members see as a way of reaching out to people directly, the group runs informal coffee mornings every Monday (10.30am to lunch) and Wednesday (12noon to 1pm) in The Gate café in the Craft Village.
Stephanie Nicholl, another core member, says the coffee and conversation, which ‘ME4MENTAL’ hopes to supplement with standalone arts and craft workshops in the months ahead, is a great outlet.
“I wouldn’t have come out of the house very much before this group was set up and now I’m out every Monday and Wednesday on the tea mornings,” says Stephanie.
Lee adds: “Usually we find the group seems to expand on a Wednesday and it’s great because it gets people out of the house, it gets people talking, it’s a nice wee break.”
Among the strengths of the group is its relatability to those suffering from whatever form of mental health issue: that is, those at the other end of the Facebook profile or coffee cup, have been there and done that.
“The things that drove me deeper into depression were financial and other issues,” says Lee.
“There are things that can happen in life that push you down further but for me, personally, if it hadn’t been for two very close friends following me I wouldn’t be here today.
“I know other members of the group have had similar exeriences and, for us, it’s that sort of realisation that there were people who actually cared and that without them I wouldn’t be here,” he adds.
Lee says all of the ‘ME4MENTAL’ advocates are totally committed to helping others and that’s reward enough in itself.
“It feels like you’re constantly doing something worthwhile. Two weeks ago we were out handing out leaflets and we came across a young man in his twenties and we were able to help him and see him get the help he needed, that was what reinforced it for me, that we’re doing the right thing. It’s rewarding. A lot of people come to the group and they know it’s a safe area, it’s a private group, they can comment and they can post and people can actually correspond and the amount of support from other members: it’s like one huge big hug, that’s what we call it.”
Stephanie says that while the next milestone will be official charitable status the group is also campaigning for better mental health provision in Derry.
It’s launched a petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/en-gb/148/072/019/demand-better-mental-care-now/ that has already attracted over 19,000 signatures demanding “a drop-in centre run”.
“The reason we got together was that we felt there needed to be a place where people can come no matter what time it is and no matter what the circumstances,” concludes Stephanie.
The group can be reached at https://www.facebook.com/Me4Mental; and via email: ME4MENTAL2017@gmail.com