When Charlotte Illingworth unveiled an incredible work of art on World Mental Health Day, bringing two years of hard work to a conclusion, she quite poignantly proved she had turned her life around.

The 18-year-old, from Uttoxeter, is now enjoying a university education and exploring her burning passion for creativity.

But Charlotte may not have got there if she had not won a battle with depression that once threatened her future.

"When I was in year nine at high school, I found myself in a really bad frame of mind," the former Thomas Alleyne's High School pupil says. I'd always had anxiety, but it was starting to get worse and develop into depression."

Charlotte was given flowers to thank her for her artwork
Charlotte was given flowers to thank her for her artwork

Charlotte's art depicts her struggle with mental health problems - so what better place for it to hang proudly than in the building where she learned the coping mechanisms that still serve her so well?

Counsellors at Youth Educational Support Services (YESS) have helped countless children and teenagers thrive by conquering their psychological problems.

And World Mental Health Day, which took place on Tuesday, October 10, was a very special day for the charity. YESS, which takes referrals from schools and the NHS in Burton, Uttoxeter, Cannock and Rugeley, was also marking its sixth anniversary.

Charlotte's amazing work was unveiled as part of a special day of celebration at its HQ, in Carter Street, Uttoxeter.

"I've certainly gone through my ups and downs, to say the least, and this piece depicts my own experiences," she says.

"A teacher at Alleyne's, Simon Wright, approached me to encourage me to do it and I'm so glad he did. I wanted to give something back to YESS, because they have been so important in helping me cope. I'd talk through my problems and they gave me a voice and somewhere I felt comfortable to talk about them.

"Now I'm studying concept art for games and film at Staffordshire University and am able to dream about an art career. I honestly don't think I'd be in this position if it wasn't for YESS and my teachers at Alleyne's."

World Mental Health Day was also a big day for Julie Bird, the service lead in charge of YESS.

She has been a huge driving force in growing the charity from its early days helping young people in Uttoxeter to expanding across the borough and beyond.

Charlotte's amazing artwork was unveiled at YESS
Charlotte's amazing artwork was unveiled at YESS

"This amazing picture took two years to come to fruition," Julie says, "and we felt it would be perfect to show everyone how talented Charlotte is on World Mental Health Day and our sixth anniversary.

"We all have mental health and any given thing can affect it, from bereavement, to the breakdown of a relationship, to substance misuse. A lot of people find ways to cope with these things and are able to move on, but a large proportion don't have that skill and need to be taught coping strategies.

"That's the main thing we focus on and, although we usually only offer a short intervention, those strategies can last a lifetime."

Staffordshire County Council making positive progress to support people with mental health issues

YESS focuses on those aged five to 19 who are suffering from issues including anger, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and even suicidal thoughts.

Julie often sees problems related to bullying and issues at home, including domestic abuse and parents who are drug-dependant or seriously ill.

"They feel they can't talk to their parents directly about what they're going through," Julie says, "but because we're not their teachers or friends, we aren't involved in their lives in any other way and that definitely helps them open up."

Julie Bird outside YESS in Uttoxeter
Julie Bird outside YESS in Uttoxeter

While visiting YESS on its big day, I spoke to a sixth-former whose issues once meant she did not feel able to go to school.

However, she excelled in her GCSEs, which she still had to take away from her fellow-students, and is soon set to take her A-levels.

"I'd developed a problem with panic attacks and they got more severe when I started high school," said the girl, who asked not to be named.

"I felt I couldn't even go to school or even eat - and that's when I was referred here for weekly counselling sessions.

"They were really tough, but it really helped me get stuff off my chest and find out what was triggering my attacks. I had a fixation on illness and the feeling of being even slightly ill - or any suspicion others were ill - would be almost unbearable.

"It got to the point where if anyone put their hand up in class, I'd instantly assume they were asking to leave to be sick. But Julie went through a lot of techniques, including breathing techniques, and reassured me it was ok and I wasn't going crazy.

"I don't think I'd have even taken my GCSEs if it weren't for those sessions and my coping mechanisms. I even managed to do my mock A-levels in normal exam conditions."

Julie with Ian Cruddas (left) and Rupert Hill, of Uttoxeter Knights, which donated a laptop to the charity
Julie with Ian Cruddas (left) and Rupert Hill, of Uttoxeter Knights, which donated a laptop to the charity

As YESS has grown, Julie has been grateful for the immense support the community in Uttoxeter provides.

For example, Uttoxeter Knights donated a much-needed laptop to help administration at the charity run smoothly.

"We're only too pleased to give to a service that is clearly needed so desperately throughout the area," says the Knights' Rupert Hill.

Another keen supporter of YESS is Alison Trenery, the mayor of Uttoxeter.

Julie with town mayor Alison Trenery
Julie with town mayor Alison Trenery

As chairman of governors at Alleyne's, she has seen scores of pupils referred there from Uttoxeter's only high school.

"I'm fully aware of what a really important role YESS has in supporting students at Alleyne's and those who are younger," says Alison.

"If it wasn't there, there wouldn't be that provision in the town for early intervention. I think that's the key point - there's something there at the point when things begin to be overwhelming. If not for YESS, who tackle the problems early, they could develop into something much worse."

Now Julie is calling for that community support to continue with the appointment of new board members.

Anyone interested in getting involved with the charity should call 01889 567756 or email enquiries@yes-s.org.uk

How to help someone struggling with anxiety and panic attacks

Anxiety is a common mental health problem experienced by millions of people across the UK at some point in their lives.

Mental Health charity MIND has provided some useful tips on how to help someone suffering with such issues.

A MIND spokesman said: "Try not to put pressure on your friend or family member to do more than they feel comfortable with.

"It's really important to be patient, listen to their wishes and take things at a pace that feels ok for them.

"It's understandable to want to help them face their fears or find practical solutions, but it can be very distressing for someone to feel they're being forced into situations before they feel ready.

"This could even make their anxiety worse. Try to remember that being unable to control their worries is part of having anxiety, and they aren't choosing how they feel."

"It's understandable to feel frightened if someone you care about experiences a panic attack – especially if it seems to happen without warning. But it can help if you:

  • try to stay calm
  • gently let them know that you think they might be having a panic attack and that you are there for them
  • encourage them to breathe slowly and deeply – it can help to count out loud, or ask them to watch while you gently raise your arm up and down
  • encourage them to stamp their feet on the spot
  • encourage them to sit somewhere quietly until they feel better.

"You should never encourage someone to breathe into a paper bag during a panic attack. This isn't recommended and it might not be safe."

How to get help if you have mental health problems

According to NHS advise, your GP is responsible for assessing your circumstances and decide on appropriate advice or treatment.

They can refer you to a psychological therapy service or a specialist mental health service for further advice or treatment.

An NHS spokesman said: 2These services may be provided by your GP surgery, a large local health centre, a specialist mental health clinic, or a hospital.

"The treatment may be provided on a one-to-one basis or in a group with others with similar difficulties, and therapy sometimes also involves partners and families.

"You have the legal right to choose which provider and clinical team you're referred to by your GP for your first outpatient appointment.

"In most cases you have a right to choose which mental health service provider you go to in England.

"You don't have a legal right to choice when you need urgent or emergency treatment or already receive care and treatment for the condition you are being referred for.

"This also applies when the organisation or clinical team does not provide clinically appropriate care for your condition; you are a prisoner, on temporary release from prison, or detained in other prescribed accommodation; you are detained in a secure hospital setting; you are a serving member of the armed forces; or you are detained under the Mental Health Act."