MANY people battle with their mental health issues their whole lives.
But, as North End mum-of-two Lousie Lee can testify, it is possible to find ways of managing your mental wellbeing.
The 36-year-old has lived with anxiety and an eating disorder since she was a teenager but now she has found a new way to channel her experiences into something positive, and is hoping to help others along the way.
Louise will hold the first ever rehearsal for her choir, the Broken Down Choral Society, on May 28 at the John Pounds Centre in Portsea. The singing group will be open to all ages and all abilities to act as a way of boosting mental wellbeing and raising awareness of its importance.
Louise was inspired to create a choir dedicated to mental wellbeing following her work with people with dementia.
‘There’s something about the act of singing together that is really healing’, she said.
‘It has so many benefits such as improving confidence and memory. Even just breathing as a group improves your heart rate.
‘Music, singing in particular, is one of the only activities that uses every area of your brain. So it’s very unique.’
The society will meet fortnightly at no cost to members as Louise is hopeful to attract as many people as possible. As part of the group there will be designated ‘anxiety buddies’ that will be there to listen or chat to individuals if they have something they want to share.
Louise said: ‘Everyone is impacted by mental health issues at some point, whether themselves or they have a friend or relative experiencing them. This group is not just for people with mental health problems but more as a safe space.
‘We will meet every two weeks to sing together and I’m hopeful in the future we could perform in public although there will be no pressure to do so.’
So far 20 people have signed up to the group.
‘It’s great that so many people have shown an interest and they all seem really committed,’ she said.
‘But we don’t have any men yet. That’s something that’s so important to me because I feel like for men it is so much harder to talk about how they are doing.
‘I do believe that toxic masculinity exists and that men are taught their whole lives not to cry or show emotion. It’s not healthy. Hopefully we will see men join in with the society.’
Louise’s journey with mental health has been a challenging one.
She said: ‘When I was around 14 years of age I got diagnosed with anorexia and was very unwell. It got to the point where my parents were told that I had the same chance of surviving as a teenager with Leukemia which was very hard for us as a family.
‘I did recover from the anorexia physically but I think mentally it stays with you your whole life.
‘Then around 12 years ago I had a breakdown and ended up in QA Hospital. I think I weighed less than eight stone at that time. I wouldn’t say I had a relapse of anorexia but my anxiety was so bad that it affected my body and I was going to the toilet 10 to 20 times a day. After lots of tests the doctor basically said it’s your brain doing it to you.
‘There was nothing physically wrong with me, it was my mind. And that was really frightening because I was unaware it was happening.’
For Louise singing is a way to tackle her anxieties but she does have another method.
’I’ve given it a name - Madge,’ she said.
‘She is the voice that tells me I am not good enough or not thin enough. Whatever she talks to me about losing weight or not eating I just tell her to be quiet. I’ve really found that that’s helped me, giving her a name.’
She added: ‘It’s a brave thing to admit there’s something wrong but once you do there are ways of helping it.’
The Broken Down Choral Society will meet at the John Pounds Centre from 6pm-7.30pm. To find out more visit facebook.com/brokendownchoral.
READ MORE: Why we are highlighting mental health issues
‘How I manage my anxiety’
SOUTHSEA resident and Portsmouth city councillor Claire Udy has signed up to the Broken Down Choral Society as an anxiety buddy.
The 31-year-old is diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, a long-term condition that can cause you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues.
But Claire explained that there are ways of coping with her anxiety. ‘It’s quite well managed at the moment,’ she said.
‘I have been talking to therapists at the university and I don’t need to take any medication for it now.
‘I manage my symptoms through mindfulness, exercise and eating well. I suffer with really bad health anxiety. Whenever my body thinks something is wrong or off kilter I feel really upset or angry.’
As a friend of Louise, Claire was looking forward to being a part of the society.
She said: ‘I think it would be great for as many people as possible to come along to the choir. As Louise said there are studies about how it singing together can help with things like memory - especially for older people.
‘What I think is great about it is that people do love singing but they are always scared about doing it in front of other people. But hopefully this will encourage people to sing in front of each other and friendships will be formed. I also hope we can help each other just by being there to listen and talk about things if needed.
‘We’re going to have an anxiety buddy scheme that I will be involved in. If someone is feeling a bit overwhelmed we can take them into another room to chill out. Sometimes people just need five minutes.’