'He saved my life that night'

A man on a bench with his head in hands

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The small gestures of help and support can make a huge difference to someone with mental health problems. It can be the difference between life and death. Here, some of those who have been helped describe their own personal turning points.

Mike Henderson was first arrested at the age of 12. By 14 he had had his first stint in prison, and two years later he was addicted to hard drugs, including cocaine.

A life of petty crime followed to fuel his addiction. He was described by the police as "a one-man crime wave".

But he says: "I didn't know I'd been battling with anxiety and depression. I didn't know I would now suffer a dual diagnosis with the onset of drug induced psychosis."

Start Quote

I was locked out of hope, and she opened a door”

End Quote Mike Henderson

He was labelled a trouble-maker early on and when he did begin to seek help, he felt treated like "a threat that needed sedation".

"I didn't understand addiction. I just smoked drugs like my peers... I just did what I needed to do to survive."

'Acceptance'

Then almost two decades ago he met mental health worker Pat Rose at the charity Nilaari, which offers support and counselling to ethnic minority adults who experience mental health problems.

She worked with him for 15 years, while he progressed and relapsed and sent him poems and cards of encouragement when he was in prison.

Mike and Pat Pat helped Mike for over 15 years

"She accepted me. I had never had a relationship that was not undermined by my race, their fear or the perceived threat of violence.

"I was the big, dangerous, drug-using, mentally-unwell, aggressive black man. But Pat did not fear me.

"I was locked out of hope, and she opened a door," says Mike.

Without her, there would have been one of three outcomes, he says: "Jail, institution or death".

All in the Mind awards

  • The awards were set up to recognise an individual, professional or group who went over and above to help
  • The winner of each category will be announced on Tuesday 24 June on All in the Mind on BBC Radio 4 at 21:00

Mike was one of over 700 people who wrote in with their nomination to the BBC's All in the Mind awards.

Now three years clean - and out of prison - he wants others to recognise the important part she played, going above and beyond her job, in turning his life around. He now works with young people who are in a similar situation to the one he was in.

'He saved my life'

Another charity put forward was Maytree, which offers a four-day stay for those who feel suicidal.

James was a resident there and says Maytree is a place where suicide is not a taboo or a dirty word.

"My essential needs were catered for so that I could concentrate on trying to live. One night I felt very suicidal and wanted to leave, a volunteer sat with me for hours.

"Sometimes we talked, sometimes we didn't, but he saved my life that night. I've never met him since, I can't remember what his name was but the belief in me and the quiet but persistent trust that I could survive this experience, was magical."

A false accusation had resulted in his breakdown and he felt like his "soul had been obliterated" by depression.

But the stay gave him hope and helped him get his life back. He's now working again and says he is much better at asking for support.

It was completely different from any stay in a psychiatric hospital, he says. And, crucially, talking about suicide was the norm, which he felt unable to do with friends and family.

model of head Mental health issues affect one in four people at some time in their life

But unlike professionals or charities who deal with difficult issues on a daily basis, friends and families of those with mental health issues often find it difficult to know how to respond.

'A bag of bones'

Getting this balance right was the key for Maya's survival. She battled with anorexia nervosa which she says "invaded every single aspect of my life".

It was, she says "a monstrous creature" but her mum helped fight her demons. She now wants her mum to be recognised for going over and above her role as a parent.

"She has sat with me as I sobbed over a small piece of dry toast, encouraged and supported me for the hour it took for it all to be eaten.

"She always made it clear that she was frustrated with anorexia and not me, which is really important because otherwise you can end up feeling more awful about yourself," she told the BBC's All in the Mind programme.

But most important of all, she says, her mum never stopped cuddling her even when she was little more than a bag of bones "all pointy edges and cold".

It was her mother's belief in her ability to recover that was crucial, even during intense arguments.

"Without this faith, I'm pretty sure I would not have made it so far. But she has dragged me through, even when I was kicking and screaming. She carried me on her shoulders when it seemed anorexia would drown me. She continues to do this all everyday, with unwavering faith."

Listen to more stories of those nominated for the All in the Mind awards and hear the winners on 24 June at 21:00 on BBC Radio 4.

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