Visitors to the event on 31 March will be among the first to see the new Sir Henry Wellcome Building for Mood Disorders Research. Photo by Tim Pestridge.

Local people share experiences of depression at University launch event

Local people will share their experiences of depression when the University of Exeter’s Mood Disorders Centre opens its doors to the public on Saturday 31 March.

The event, which is free and open to all, provides an opportunity to gather information on support services, share experiences with others and get advice on mental health and wellbeing.

It is being held to celebrate the launch of the Sir Henry Wellcome Building for Mood Disorders Research. Visitors will be among the first to see this state-of-the-art building, which will facilitate ongoing world-class research in depression and other mood disorders.

The event is being led by the Mood Disorders Centre’s Lived Experience Group. This is a group of people who have either experienced mental health problems, such as depression and bipolar disorder, or who support people with these conditions. The group brings first-hand experience to enhance the Centre’s work, from helping to devise research programmes to recruiting students. Their presentations will focus on living with depression, recovery and the perspective of spouses or carers.

Co-Chair of the Exeter Lived Experience Group Jo Welsman said: “The Lived Experience Group really wants to break down the stigma around depression and use our voices to speak to other people who can’t. It is important that we recognise depression as an illness that affects people’s lives in a very real way so we’re very keen to engage more with the community through events like this.”

Stephanie Jibson, Co-Chair added: “Unfortunately the stigma of mental illness still exists and we’ve all encountered it. I firmly believe the only way to overcome the stigma is to talk about it. By being involved in the Mood Disorders Centre, I feel as if I’m giving something back, which is important because I’ve had a lot given to me.”

Representatives from charities such as Mind and Be Involved Devon and healthcare professionals, including GPs, psychiatrists and therapists, will explain the support they offer to people who are suffering from mental illnesses and provide an opportunity for members of the public to ask questions. Mood Disorders Centre staff will lead Mindfulness and Behavioural Activation exercises, which have been shown to treat depression and stress, as well as being beneficial to anyone’s mental wellbeing.

The Mood Disorders Centre is a partnership between the NHS and the University of Exeter. Its mission is to bring together world-class clinical training and research to develop understanding into mood disorders, translate that understanding into new approaches to treatment and make  these new treatments widely accessible and available to patients in a cost-effective way.

The new £3.6 million Sir Henry Wellcome Building for Mood Disorders Research will provide state-of-the-art facilities to carry out experimental and applied clinical research into mood disorders. Funded by the Wellcome Trust Capital Awards in Biomedical Science initiative, the new development sits behind the Washington Singer building on the University’s Streatham Campus.

Research at the Mood Disorders Centre has provided significant contribution to national guidelines on the treatment of depression, including the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme implemented by the government in 2008.  Under this programme waiting times for treatment have reduced from 18 months to a few weeks and 900,000 more people have been treated for depression and anxiety nationwide.

The event will run from 10am to 5pm on Saturday 31 March at the Mood Disorders Centre, Streatham Campus, University of Exeter. Visitors are welcome to attend for all or any part of the day.

Case studies

Jo Welsman

Jo Welsman was first diagnosed with, and treated for, depression in 1995, but she feels she has always struggled with a mental health problem. She explains: “I was an incredibly anxious child and had anorexia in my teens. I think that morphed into depression. I’ve had four or five distinct bouts when I’ve been very ill and had treatment, but it’s been a continual part of my life.”

She has tried a number of different medication and therapy treatments, but says “I now accept that I have depression and it isn’t going to go away with a snap of the fingers or a quick pill. It’s about finding ways to deal with it.”

Jo took part in one of the first mindfulness trials at the Mood Disorders Centre (MDC) in 2006 and also participated in MDC couples’ therapy with her husband. She says: “The therapy here is very proactive, it’s not just sitting and talking. It’s very much about giving you the skills to move forward, teaching you how to meditate, getting you to recognise triggers, getting you to recognise where you are in your life. It’s much more practical, it’s about doing something positive to move forward. I'm not sure I’ll ever be completely free of depression but these therapies have really helped me to manage my life around it.”

An ex-University academic with a young family, Jo joined the Lived Experience Group, which she now co-Chairs, so that she could continue to use her academic skills. She says: “I still feel I have lots to offer. I’ve met a great bunch of like-minded people and the support has been brilliant.  We really want to break down the stigma associated with mental illness and use our voices to speak on behalf of other people who can’t.”

 Stephanie Jibson

Stephanie was diagnosed with depression in 2003, after experiencing a complete mental breakdown. She was working long hours in a very stressful job in Central London and had several problems in her life, which she felt unable to cope with. “I decided one day that the only way out was to kill myself. Somehow, it seemed logical”. Over a two-week period she made three unsuccessful suicide attempts, reinforcing her feelings that she was no good at anything.  Eventually, she made contact with a friend who took her to hospital, where she received treatment for the physical effects of her suicide attempts. She was referred to a psychiatrist, who suggested she go into a psychiatric hospital, where she spent the next two months. She describes her time there as initially “very strange and very frightening” but she was treated with kindness and helped to face her demons and get her life in order.

Now retired and living in Devon, Stephanie is Co-Chair of the Lived Experience Group in the Mood Disorders Centre. She explains: “We are a group of people who have experience of what it is like to have depression or bi-polar disorder or to be a family member of someone with these difficulties. We work with Faculty members on a whole range of activities, from interviewing potential students to advising on research projects and taking part in training sessions.

“I feel as if I’m giving something back because I’ve had a lot given to me.”

Speaking of her life now, Stephanie says: “I get down sometimes and there are times when I want to shut myself away but by and large I lead a normal life. Sadly, there is still a stigma attached to mental illness and I’ve come across this myself on several occasions. I firmly believe the only way to overcome the stigma of mental illness is to talk about it and if anyone is willing to listen to me, I’ll tell them: I have depression. People also need to be made aware that having depression isn’t the same as having an ‘off day’.  One of the things we are aiming to do as members of the Lived Experience Group is to get out into the community and tell people what it really feels like to have depression and what help is out there.  Living with depression isn’t easy, but it can still be good.” 

Date: 12 March 2012