Mental Health Awareness Week – a personal story

Our founder, Ruth Steggles, shares her story about the encounter with mental illness that led to awareness and, eventually, the creation of Fresh Air Fridays.

On Easter morning 2010, our beautiful daughter broke off one small square of Easter egg, ate it and declared she was full!

That was the moment our lives changed.

Up to that moment I had an awareness that people suffered all sorts of mental illness but am ashamed to say that I thought it didn’t happen to ‘people like us’.

People with problems might suffer but not us.

If you’re reading this, the likelihood is that you’re already aware that mental ill health indiscriminately impacts one in four of us, so even if you’re not suffering, you’ll know someone who is.

Getting a diagnosis for Katharine seemed to take forever – to be diagnosed with anorexia at that time you had to lose a certain amount of weight over a certain amount of time. I assumed that a diagnosis would lead to a course of treatment and things would get better. I was wrong.

We had some great support from a community nursing team but Katharine refused to speak to any of the professionals. At a Compassionate Mental Health Conference recently, Katharine was part of a workshop that involved patients in their own outcomes and recovery and was blown away by it. This kind of approach would have made such a difference to her.

Without this kind of support available at the time, and having no idea what to do to help, I scoured the internet for ideas and, eventually, she began to make some small steps toward recovery.

The most interesting thing I discovered along the way was that it was the simplest things that made the biggest difference. Here are some of the things that helped:

  • We needed to be in nature. Having our conversations out walking in green spaces was a massive help.
  • Katharine needed a reason to live. She had to imagine a future for herself in order to want to get there.
  • We had to find things that were going well, things to be grateful for. Now I recognise this as a gratitude practice. We also tried to find things to laugh about.
  • I had to learn to really listen.
  • We needed to be kind to ourselves and accept ourselves just as we were.
  • Relaxation, mindfulness and meditation were all very helpful.
  • It’s impossible to walk a path like this alone – connection was crucial.

We learnt and shared so much through this journey, neither of us regret it happening, which is a great way to be. Stuff happens to all of us, life is about finding strategies to cope with whatever comes up and, if you can come out smiling, even better.

After her recovery, I was frustrated that these simple (not easy) things could make such a difference but were difficult to find in one place. And so Fresh Air Fridays was born.

We are on a mission to share a set of simple tools and techniques to help you stay mentally resilient, suffer less if you have a mental episode and support you if you are caring for someone who is struggling.

We have a desire for everyone to have the skills to create the best life they can and are working with individuals and businesses to share our thinking and experience.

To find out more, talk to us. You can email: or call 029 2089 2783.

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