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‘Nothing seemed to ever change until I came to Changes’ - Sarah’s journey from patient to mentor for mental health charity Changes

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: March 15, 2014

  • 13/03/14 Changes feature Sarah Burton-York - mental illness..

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SARAH Burton-York has battled against her mental demons of depression, anxiety and bi-polar disorder since her early teenage years.

But since 2011, the 31-year-old has turned her life around after she became involved with the mental health charity Changes - first as a patient and then as a mentor.

Changes, in Burton’s Branston road, is a community-based and user-led service which supports more and more people beset with mental health problems, who struggle to find help elsewhere.

Though Sarah’s own fight against crippling mental illness is unique, her story of life before Changes is one that would ring true with many others who have similar experiences.

“I have had long-term mental health problems since I was 14 and I never really knew what was wrong with me,” she said.

“I would have a crisis, I would be unwell, community psychiatric nurses, community health teams and psychiatrists would come and support me, but when I was stable and well I would be left to my own devices - nothing seemed to ever really change.”

That is until she walked through the door at Changes where she took part in the mutual support meetings.

These are user-led group counselling sessions where patients offer coping techniques and follow the charity’s 12-step programme.

“I think Changes was suggested by the community psychiatric nurse because it was new to the area then so I didn’t know much about it,” she said.

“I came to a meeting and I used to sit and stare at the floor and cry when I first came to a meeting.

“Walking through the front door was the hardest step because I was meeting people I had never seen before.

“Sometimes I would just sit and not want to say anything, but the more I came the more I got a feel about the place.

“Everyone is in the same boat. You all have some type of mental distress and it’s a safe environment to sit and talk which with like-minded people.

“It’s really about helping out one another. The experiences we have been through might be the same as someone else’s.”

In July 2012, a year after her first session with Changes, Sarah started the charity’s Wellness Programme, an eight-week course on behaviours, feelings and thought processes which set the foundations for her taking on a more prominent role with the group.

From here, Sarah then studied on the more in-depth 17-week Open College Network course, which allowed her to lead the charity’s support meetings, which she completed last autumn.

“I get a real buzz from this place,” she said.

“It has helped me to see things from a different perspective and it gave me opportunities and self-belief and confidence.

“You meet some really lovely people and everybody has something to offer. There is advice, support and a real sense of belonging.”

There has been increased media attention on the plight of those who struggle with their mental health in Burton since psychiatric services at the Margaret Stanhope Centre closed in 2012.

But Sarah said she felt there are many in the town who are not receiving the help they need, and urged anyone who is struggling to give Changes a chance.

“This place could be packed out because there are a lot of people in need, especially since the Margaret Stanhope Centre closed last year,” she said.

“With the waiting times what they are and the number of referrals there could be a lot more people using this service.

“We help a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds.

“So I would encourage anybody to walk through the door and give it a go, if they preserver they will find that it works.”

For anyone who would like to find out more about the help which Changes can offer, they can visit the centre based on the corner of Branston Road and All Saints Road.

They can also visit www.changes.org.uk

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