In light of Caroline Flack’s recent tragic suicide, we spoke to health and wellbeing support worker Jess Bramhall about her work supporting vulnerable women and how we can bring hope to those struggling with their mental health.
Jess works for City Hearts, a Sheffield-founded national charity that works with women with life controlling issues and survivors of modern-day slavery. After experiencing abuse as a child, she became extremely depressed and suffered extreme anorexia. Her weight loss left her with severe osteoporosis at just 21.
Jess found out about the Restore programme run by City Hearts and lived at the programme's house for 14 months. The staff there helped Jess to break her controlling routines and loved her back to life. She became a volunteer after graduating the programme. When she was well enough she took on paid work at the charity and eventually became a full-time member of staff.
If you're struggling, ask for help. Find somebody who can support you. Never keep it all to yourself.
Jess spoke to Premier’s Northern correspondent Ian Britton.
What are some of the problems people are coming to you with at City Hearts?
One of the biggest things we see is a loss of hope. And I would say that's one of the biggest problems in today's society. People come and they just haven't got any vision for the future. Something's happened to them or they've been through a really horrific event perhaps and having a brighter future is really hard for them to see.
How can you go about helping people?
One of the biggest things we can do is give them ways of dealing with what's going on inside – the memories, emotions etc – because it can feel so overwhelming and they don't know how to deal with that. The outworking can look like eating disorders, self-harm, lack of self-care, angry outbursts, smoking, drugs, sexual promiscuity. But that's just the outworking of what's going on inside. And if we can help to find them more healthy ways of dealing with what's going on inside them, they don't need those crutches that are going to be harmful to them.
The other things we can help them do is get them someone to talk to. We have trained counsellors that work for our organisation, or we might refer them to another specialist service if we thought it was appropriate, because everything's inside and it needs to come out. Sometimes they need to tell you how they're feeling. They don't want to necessarily fix it, they just want somebody else to know and there’s healing in that act of sharing something with another human being.
Does your own experience help you to help people today?
I probably have an empathy. I don't know what it's like to go through what they’ve gone through, because everybody's story is different. But inside I know what it's like to feel so low that you've given up complete hope and have no motivation to get out of bed in the morning. Even to do small things like shower becomes a massive chore.
I see it as a privilege that I've been there and come out the other side, because I know that sometimes they just want to be listened to. They'll talk, and cry. And I'll say: “I know. And I can't make it better. I wish I could. But I can help you find a reason to get up today. And then tomorrow…”
Do you feel as if this is a job God has given you and is there on this journey with you?
Absolutely. This is not a job to me, it's my calling. This is where God's placed me. If someone had said this is what I’d be doing when I was older, I would have laughed and said: “No way. I do not want to deal with other people's problems. I've got enough of my own!” But now I can see all the way along how God's been putting things in my life and I'm absolutely certain this is where God wants me.
I guess people have certain gifts and I think God's given me the gift of helping others and being able to listen. Sometimes I'm sitting in a coffee shop and somebody will come and chat to me. And it's definitely it's from God, I've not manufactured this. I have lots of training but there's no amount of training that can give you the gift of just been able to show God's grace and love. I think back to when I was in that dark, dark place. People showed me God's grace and love. And who am I to keep that to myself and not share it with other people who are maybe struggling?
Is there any advice you’d offer someone who is struggling today?
I'd say never give up on yourself. You might not be able to see the future. But that doesn't mean there isn't a future. It just means that God's not revealed it to us yet. Whether you're of faith or no faith, never give up on yourself. Make sure you're placing people around you that are going to build you up, not push you down. If you're struggling, ask for help. God didn't put us on this earth to live life alone. He created us in families for a reason and whether your family is your blood family, your church family, your friendship circle, reach out, find somebody who can support you. Never keep it all to yourself.
If you or someone you know is struggling and needs help, here are some points of contact:
Premier Lifeline - call 0300 111 0101
Mind - call 0300 123 3393 or visit their website or urgent help.