Using digital technology to manage mental health.

A woman from Edlington in Doncaster is using technology to help manage her mental health, and as a result has started to sort through her debts, organise her appointments, reconnect with health and social services, and rebuild her life.

Sarah (not her real name) is in her mid forties, and was referred to the Edlington Hilltop UK online centre by her GP, as part of a ‘social prescribing’ partnership where Doctors can send patients for further support beyond the medical – and beyond the normal ten minute appointment times.

Sarah explains: “My relationship with the GP practice was not good. I wasn’t coping with a lot of medical and non-medical issues, and all they could offer were anti-depressants. Everything was out of control. The Doctor asked Leigh, from Edlington Hilltop, to get in touch with me.

“At first I didn’t feel like Leigh could help me because everyone had let me down in the past, so I was very apprehensive. But Leigh soon set me at ease, and she’s helped me so, so much.”

Having struggled to form relationships throughout her life, Sarah had ended up in an abusive relationship with a chaotic home life, and suffers from anxiety and depression. With the police and the courts involved, as well the GP and adult social services, Sarah continued to find it hard to make herself understood and to get the help she needed. That’s when she was diagnosed with Autism and ADHD. As an adult, the diagnosis explained a lot about her life growing up, but also left Sarah adrift – with no idea what to do next.

Sarah continues: “When I was first diagnosed I was actually relieved. I had known all my life that something was not right, so it was nice to have an answer instead of being told I was stupid, or emotional, or needed to pull myself together. But at the same time I didn’t really know what it meant. Or what it would mean for the future. Leigh helped me with that.”

When Leigh Callendine first met Sarah she was very defensive and often hard to get hold of, and it took time to build trust. Researching Autism and ADHD on the computer gave them a starting point. Leigh says: “I think Sarah thought the Doctor was trying to fob her off by passing her over to me and the Edlington Hilltop centre, but actually she’s exactly the sort of patient we should be seeing as part of our partnership, because we can fill in the gaps and help people find the information and services they need to get on – or get better.

“When you think of ADHD or even autism you tend to think of young children and boys – so it’s a very confusing diagnosis to receive. Together Sarah and I went online to find out more information, and try and understand what that looked like for an adult woman. Sarah soon recognised some of the symptoms described, and how they affected her life. We also found out about tricks to cope when you’re overwhelmed, and possible medicines and treatments that she could talk to the GP about.”

“I would not understand my condition at all if it wasn’t for online information,” says Sarah. “I’d never used the internet before, so it was all a bit new. And it’s been a long time since I learned anything new because I’ve always been treated like I was thick. Then my partner didn’t want me online, because he couldn’t control me there. Now I’m sorting bills online, making appointments and keeping in touch with Leigh online too. And if I want to find out about something, like my condition, I can look it up.

“It meant a lot to me to find out that I’m not so unusual, and that I’m not alone. I feel like I’m at peace with myself – like I have hope and light at the end of the tunnel, at long last.

Leigh was able to mediate with the GP to help Sarah improve her relationship with them, and her treatment. Sarah continues: “Leigh has put a support plan in place and has referred me to the adult contact team and I now have a social worker and a mental health nurse who is in regular contact with me to support my ADHD, Autism, depression and other mental health problems.”

And Leigh hasn’t stopped there. She says: “Like many of the people we see, Sarah’s problems weren’t just medical – they were also financial and legal – but all wrapped up with her mental health and home circumstances. A Doctor can only unravel the medical bit – here we can step in and help unpick some of the other challenges people face, too. And the internet can help in all sorts of situations. People are amazed when the see how much information is online. For any problem or challenge you face, you can find a solution, a pathway, or at least someone else who’s been in the same situation.”

Sarah continues: “Leigh attended court with me for my Personal Independence Payment appeal, dealt with police issues from a violent ex-partner, and sorted out my benefits. I hadn’t opened a bill for over 18 months, but Leigh helped me contact the people I owed money to, and get everything back on track.

“At first I found it very difficult to open up about my mental health and my life – like I was exposing myself emotionally. I’ve never had anyone in my life I could do that with. Now I know Leigh I actually feel a lot better about new experiences and approaches. It’s such a relief to have everything sorted out. I feel back in control, like I can lead a full and independent life.

“Without Leigh and the Edlington Hilltop Centre I don’t know where I’d be. Things were pretty bad. I was thinking about how I could kill myself. Now for the first time I feel like I can settle and look forward and make plans. I just needed that support, and for someone to listen and not judge. I can’t thank Leigh enough.”