'I never realised losing weight would improve my mental well-being too'

Today is World Mental Health Day which aims to raise awareness of mental health issues.AASMA DAY talks to Donna Brookes who suffered a nervous breakdown last year who reveals how joining a slimming club improved her mental wellbeing by building her confidence and self esteem - and cured her migraines.

Tuesday, 10th October 2017, 11:08 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 4:02 am
Donna Brookes

Donna Brookes always thought of herself as a resilient person and people used to go to her with their stresses and problems.

So when she suffered a complete nervous breakdown last year, it caught her unawares and she felt as though the rug had been pulled from under her feet.

She wants to share her story to show people how mental health issues can affect anyone at any time.

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Donna Brookes

Donna, 49, who lives in Ashton, Preston, recalls: “Due to stress, I was unable to leave my flat and I cried constantly for three weeks solid.

“I went from being someone who was out four or five times a week to a person who was afraid to converse with anyone other than my husband and close friend.

“On top of this, I continued to have debilitating, chronic migraines that gave me an excuse - albeit a horrible one - to stay in bed.”

Donna, who is married to Dave and has two sons, was working as a civil servant at the time of the breakdown.

Donna Brookes

She believes her breakdown was caused by a combination of a constant build-up of stress, suffering from migraines and being pre-menopausal.

Donna says: “I first started suffering migraines at the age of 26 and was on medication for them for about 20 years.

“When I had my breakdown, I comfort ate and I was also no longer playing tennis twice a week or golfing. I just couldn’t face it.

“I jumped when the phone rang and only ever answered if I knew it was my husband or friend. The rest of the time I fielded calls.”

Through her GP, Donna began having counselling in September last year and her counsellor helped her identify me identify the issues that had got her to where she was.

Donna was put on anti-depressants last December. She wasn’t put on them straight after her breakdown as they were not compatible with her migraine medication but her consultant found some she was able to take.

Donna says: “All this time I was signed off work sick. I eventually lost my job in March this year as I was unable to say when I would be able to work again.

“As I wasn’t exercising or running around and was comfort eating, I put on about a stone-and-a-half in weight.”

The anti-depressants and counselling helped Donna and she got a dog and began going out walking. It was while she was out walking her dog that she saw an advertisement for Slimming World and decided to join to lose the extra weight she had put on.

Donna says: “I was very nervous but everyone was so nice and welcoming.

“Being in a supportive group built up my confidence. It was almost like group counselling. Hearing other people’s stories inspired me.

“Talking about things really helped.

“I only went to Slimming World to lose weight. I did not think it would improve my mental well-being as well.

“There was a massive improvement in my mental health and well-being. I found my confidence and self-esteem were raised.

“I felt so confident I went to my GP and was able to come off the daily medicine I was taking: anti-depressants and the migraine preventative medicine.

“I was on migraine medication for more than 20 years but now all the stress has gone, I am no longer on any preventative medicine.”

Donna lost a stone in weight through Slimming World which renewed her confidence, but it was the group sessions that helped her most.

Donna says: “What isn’t discussed as prevalently or seen is the impact going to groups like this has on peoples’ mental well-being, self-esteem and confidence.

When Donna started feeling stronger and in a better place, she decided to become a Slimming World leader and will be re-launching Slimming World groups at St Margaret’s Church hall in Ingol, Preston.

She says: “In these hectic times adults need to take some time out to think about their own health and wellbeing.

“Taking the time to pause and reflect and spend a little ‘me time’ is good for you. There is only one you and it’s never too late to start making minor changes.

“A few healthy habits and choices could be all it takes to live a longer, healthier and happier life.

“As well as the serious physical health conditions obesity can lead to from diabetes and raised blood pressure to the increased risk of heart disease and cancer, people who struggle with their weight often experience a lack of confidence, motivation, low self-esteem and poor mental health.

“We know that making healthy lifestyle changes such as improving diet and becoming more active can have a significant impact on health.

“It also helps raise self-esteem and self-confidence by helping people to feel more in control of their own lives.

“World Mental Health Day is a good time to reflect on the fact that one in four adults and one in 10 children are likely to have a mental health problem in any given year.

“This can have a profound impact on the lives of tens of millions of people in the UK and can affect their ability to sustain relationships, work, or even just get through the day.”

• To join the Ingol Slimming World group, go along to one of the meetings which are held every Monday at 5:30pm or 7:30pm at St Margaret’s Church Hall, Ingol or call Donna on 07931 691623. For more information about Slimming World, visit: www.slimmingworld.co.uk