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Stuart’s story of regaining control of his mental health

Read Stuart’s inspiring story about how, with Foothold’s support, he was able to come back from a really dark place in his life and regain control of his mental health.

I’m Stuart from Wilmslow. I began my career as an electrical engineer and joined the Institution of Electrical Engineers (now the IET) as a student 35 years ago. As my career progressed, work pressures and life events mounted up and I began to suffer from depression. But thanks to a supportive manager, a number of adjustments were made to help me get better, and things improved.

However, I’ve always had a rocky relationship with my mental health, and it was affecting me more than I’d realised. So in 2005, I decided to take a year out to travel, thinking a change of scenery might do me some good.

But just 5 weeks into my break, it became clear that I was not in a good place and my mental health started taking a rapid downward spiral. I knew that I had to come back to the UK, fast. Once I was back home I descended into a full-on breakdown and eventually it affected me so bad that I could no longer work. I was forced to cancel my IET membership as I couldn’t afford to keep paying for it, but thankfully the IET referred me to Foothold who kindly offered to fund my subscription for the next year.

Foothold’s support didn’t stop there though. They also did a full review of my circumstances, and helped me apply for benefits to keep things ticking over. This helped to take some of the pressure off, but it’s been a case of constantly trying to keep my head above water since then. It’s only thanks to Foothold’s continued support that I’ve been able to get by financially.

With my immediate crisis behind me, I had started living a relatively normal life again. My GP and clinical psychologist supported me, and I’d managed to land a couple of part-time jobs alongside volunteering in my spare time. There were still some struggles, but I was able to cope.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic

And then, the Covid-19 pandemic struck. And my life changed overnight. Nothing could have prepared me for the impact that lockdown would have on my health. I live alone and so didn’t have anything to fill my days with. Time started to move really slowly and I could feel myself slipping into another downward spiral.

Then one night in September 2020, I reached breaking point. I had a huge panic attack, and started harming myself. I still struggle to understand what happened that night, but I managed to call my best friends who arranged for me to come to their house. As soon as they saw me they knew I needed urgent help and took me to A&E to be assessed. I was admitted to a mental health unit for a month before finally returning home in October.

I wasn’t in a good place at all. Everything was overwhelming. Just the thought of having to do something as simple as writing a shopping list felt like too much. I spent 9 months hiding away from the world, feeling unable to engage with anyone. Over this summer I started feeling a little stronger and began to make small trips outside again. Around the same time, I was contacted by my caseworker at Foothold who recommended I take part in telephone befriending.

Initially, I wasn’t so sure. I’m not the sort of person who enjoys small talk and was worried it might be really awkward and uncomfortable. But I decided to give it a try anyway, and I definitely made the right choice.

I was matched with Tania, who was like a breath of fresh air. We chat about everything. From the start it was really easy to talk to her. She’s so supportive – she understands if I’m getting tired or want to go and do something else, without me having to tell her. There’s no pressure on me to talk if I don’t want to, and it’s been a really positive experience for me. I always look forward to our calls.

Looking to the future

Thanks to Foothold’s incredible support I’m now living a relatively normal life again. I’m so grateful for everything they’ve done for me. I remember thinking early on in my career: ‘why should I donate to the IET benevolent fund?’. It turns out I had to find out the hard way.

My advice for anyone who is feeling isolated or lonely would be: don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Take that risk; if you don’t, you’ll never know if it might have made things better. I was hugely sceptical at first – and I’ve never looked back.

If you’re struggling for any reason and could use some support, you’re not alone. Our team is ready to listen and help. Get in touch with us now. 


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