A YOUNG man who was plagued by anxiety has spoken of his personal battle and of the importance of talking about mental health, as a new campaign launches in the county.

The Worcester News and Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust have united for the Now We're Talking campaign, to raise awareness of the county's Healthy Minds service.

Healthy Minds aims to help people aged 16 and over who are experiencing common mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety, low mood or depression – issues which affect around 50,000 people in Worcestershire alone.

Steve Winstanley, from Worcester, has spoken out about his own battle with mental health to support the new campaign.

The 26-year-old was initially prescribed antidepressants but, as part of Healthy Minds, stopped taking medication and started attending group counselling sessions run by Worcestershire Healthy Minds which really made a difference.

In 2016, when Steve returned to work after his Christmas break, he felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety.

“I started having panic attacks," he said. "I knew in my mind something wasn't right. It was awful. I just felt miserable. I was really erratic. I would get angry about nothing.

“To the outside world, I am a guy who has a lot of friends and likes to socialise. You wouldn’t think I would have experienced depression as I’m not the stereotypical image you associate it with.”

Steve was well-liked at his previous job but always felt he should be doing something more personally fulfilling. When he left without anything else lined up, he realised he needed help.

In February 2017, Steve visited his GP and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and was prescribed with the antidepressant, Fluoxetine.

He said: “They always tell you it will get worse before it gets better, which is really scary. When you first tell someone that they have depression it is a huge step and they will feel very vulnerable.

“I was going through all this, but I felt alone.

“The pills worked at first – it made me feel emotions again. Taking pills is like taking paracetamol to ease the pain of a bump: it’s great pain relief, but it is not addressing the issue.”

The doctors doubled his dosage in October 2017 as he was feeling increasingly depressed and anxious.

“That was the worst thing I could have done," Steve said. "I felt detached from reality.

“I had gone through a year of my life where I had sad and happy moments, but I hadn’t felt any emotion at all. It was like being on autopilot and just going through life without feeling anything.”

Steve got offered a job at Worcestershire County Council in December 2017, and this led to him seeking alternative help to medication and he began attending group counselling under the Mood Master programme.

“When you’re talking out loud, sometimes it helps you realise how the problem isn’t really there," he said. "Other times it’s the positive affirmation from talking to a group of people or listening to others and thinking my problems are much less than theirs.

“The coping strategies the NHS provide are fantastic. I finished the Mood Master programme three weeks ago. It is a series of workshops which tackle a variety of problems.

“Each week you work on a different aspect. Some of the stuff I learnt is brilliant.

“In the group everyone shared their experience and you got to learn a lot about others. The shared experience aspect helped as everyone came together and could share their individual ideas.”

“On the surface everyone seems fine. It is only when you open up and realise that everyone has their own problems and you're not the only one.”

Steve is now a champion for the campaign, Time to Change. His role is to spark conversation and help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, particularly targeting men as they are less likely to get the support they need.

Sarah Dugan, chief executive at Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust, said; “It is really important that people feel comfortable to talk if they or a friend or family member are experiencing mental health difficulties.

"We want to get the message out that your mental health and wellbeing is just as important as your physical health. There are things you can do to maintain your mental wellbeing and, crucially, there is support available if you need it.

"Talking to someone can really help. If you need more support then self-help guides and literature are available, we can signpost you to support available in your local area, we can offer group support, help you access online courses and if necessary provide more traditional one-to-one therapy.

"A lot of local organisations are showing an interest in supporting this campaign and we’re really grateful for the support we have received so far.”

For more information, visit nowweretalking.nhs.uk or call the team on 01905 766124.

You can follow the campaign on Twitter @NowWereTalking and on Facebook @NowWereTalkingWorcs