16 July 2015

About this time last summer, 21 year old Annabel was released from hospital. She had been admitted to the psychiatric ward two months earlier, due to severe mental health issues including anxiety and depression. 

Get on Track

Upon being discharged, Annabel found herself homeless with nowhere to go. She ended up in a homeless shelter, where she heard about Get on Track; a six week programme run by YMCA St Paul’s Group for young people aged 16-25 who were not in training, education or employment (NEET).

Get on Track was just the right for me at that time in my life,” Annabel tells me when we meet in Wimbledon on a sunny afternoon, one year after.

The staff and volunteers were really nice and supportive, and being surrounded by some kind people restored my faith in humanity. Also just making it to Wimbledon by myself was a big achievement for me, as before this, I had been scared to even leave the house. My mum was a bit worried I was doing too much by joining the programme, but I’m really glad I did”.

The Get on Track programme was developed by the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust. By partnering a group of young people with athletes that are among the best in the world in their field, the young people grow in confidence, develop their team building and communication skills and get support in getting their lives “on track”.

At the end of the Get on Track programme, the young people received a bursary to be spent on something related to their skills or talent that could help build their futures. Annabel spent hers on a silver jewellery making course, where she made a beautiful silver heart pendant.

Building her arts and craft skills

Following last year’s Get on Track programme, Annabel has been doing courses in mosaics, garment making, stained glass making and upholstery, to mention a few.

I do most courses through Surrey Adult Learning as they give you a discount if you are unemployed,” she explains. “I’ve always been creative, but before I wouldn’t really know how to start or see a project through”.

In the future, Annabel hopes to sell her arts and crafts for profit. She also dreams of becoming an art therapist, helping people deal with mental health issues through arts.

I’d like to support others in giving them an outlet for their emotions with arts, the same way it does for me,” she says. “The courses I’ve been doing this last year build my skills and help me achieve all this”.

Volunteering and keeping active

From barely being able to leave her house one year ago, Annabel is now leading an active life doing courses, being creative and volunteering on an arts course for adults with learning difficulties.

I really like the volunteering” she says. “We do different themes and projects. A while back the theme was Alice in Wonderland and with the decorations we made, we threw a Mad Hatter’s tea party. This month, the theme is ‘What makes you happy?’ For me, I guess it is arts and to be creative”.

Also, fortnightly she does a course for people who, like her, have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

It’s good to be around others and learn how to cope, as when you have a personality disorder you can easily draw a lot of attention to yourself”.

Admitted to hospital three times

Annabel’s history of mental health issues goes back to her childhood. At first, it was depression, anxiety and anorexia.

When I was younger I never told anyone about how I felt,” Annabel says. “I had no idea about how to cope with these issues”.

Last year was the third time Annabel had been admitted to a psychiatric ward. “The first time was when I was 17. I think for me, it got worse when turned 16 and went to college. It was very busy and I felt very alone, and things took a turn for the worse when I initially got rejected from child services because they didn’t think my case was serious,” she says.

The first few times in a psychiatric ward, Annabel struggled to talk about how she felt. The last time was better, as “I realised it was ok to talk about my feelings,” she says.

Now, she lives in supported accommodation for people with mental health issues in Farnham, where support workers come around weekly.

Young people and mental health

Today, Annabel is more open about her mental health issues, and realises that she isn’t the only one going through this.

After I started talking more openly about my issues, so many people have reached out to me”, she says.

However, there is still a lot of stigma related to mental health issues and speaking about one’s feelings and emotions is not always easy.

Some people think I behave the way I do for attention. They don’t understand or don’t want to understand. When I try talking to them about how I feel, they say I’m bringing them down,” Annabel says.

Although she has lost some friends, Annabel says she feels better now. “I realise now that when I have bad feelings it is because I haven’t figured out how to deal with them, and not just because of comments people make or things they say”.

All in all, even if life isn’t perfect, she is in a better place than before she came to the Get on Track programme last summer.

The arts courses helped me find my passion. Although I’m not feeling super happy I have found a journey, it’s like I have had an epiphany. Right now, I’m creating the right kind of life for me so that I can reach happiness.”