At 37, Emma Doolin has come through a lot. The Waterside woman has, in recent years, come through two bouts of surgery, watched her parents deal with serious illness and in 2010, the breakdown of her marriage. All the while she has continued to work and raise her two children and all of this while fighting depression.
Emma first experienced depression nine years ago after the birth of her son. She had just started to recover when her second child was born 21 months later, and the depression hit again. For years afterwards, the local mother moved in and out of depressive states, until the illness gradually began to take over her life.
Then, last year, she sought the help which she says has changed her life. After experiencing suicidal thoughts Emma says she knew the time had come to get help. Now, she wants to encourage others to do the same and has set up a Facebook Page encouraging people to come forward.
Emma has set up a Facebook Page, ‘Speak Loud and be Proud’ advising and supporting people who are experiencing mental health issues.
“It’s had a great response given the fact that it was only set up a few weeks ago,” she explains.
“On New Year’s Day I had a message from a girl who said she’d wanted to come forward because my story struck a chord with her. I received another message from a girl in Antrim who’d been waiting on counselling since last February and hadn’t spoken to anyone about how she felt. I was able to contact a local community service in her area who she was then able to reach out to so I was just glad I could help.
“People still don’t talk about depression enough. They’re still embarrassed. I know from experience that you feel as if you’re letting everyone down. It’s so hard to talk about it but the message I want to get out there is ‘What’s wrong with being depressed?’
“A doctor can diagnose someone with Depression. That same doctor can prescribe medication. We’re talking about an illness here, but it’s an illness nobody wants to talk about. I can understand that, but the one thing I’ve realised is that the only way to tackle depression long term is to talk about it. People should be talking about what’s going on their heads, that’s so, so important.”
In encouraging others to seek help, Emma refers back to her own low points, when every day life became a struggle.
“I’m usually a very sociable person, as most of my friends would know,” she smiles.
“But I got to a point where I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to go anywhere. Every part of your life is affected, I just wasn’t interacting with anyone. My sleep pattern was all over the place and most days I just didn’t feel like getting out of bed at all. You just let yourself go, I wasn’t looking after myself at all or my home and my whole family life was suffering. I was comfort eating too, life was just all over the place.”
Despite all these symptoms, Emma says there was still a reluctance to talk about her illness.
“When I had a bad back, you could see how much it was hurting. You could tell to look at my face and the pain I felt when I tried to move, but depression was different. I didn’t want anybody to know, I was the only person who really knew what was going on.”
When she eventually did visit her GP, Emma was pointed in the direction of Old Bridge House, where the Waterside Mental Health Team are based.
From there, she was referred to Zest, the mental health support charity. Both those visits, she says, have changed her life.
“The team at Zest were just absolutely fantastic, I can’t thank them enough,” she says.
“I always had this notion that counselling was two strangers sitting on hard chairs staring at one another and I know that image puts a lot of people off, but it was anything but that. It was just like home. It was the most chilled out atmosphere - and no hard seats! The people there made me feel so comfortable. I got to see the same counsellor all the time. It helped so much.
“I know that the tablets can be really helpful at the beginning, but talking is the only way to make sure things improve long term. I was referred to Zest but there are so many organisations out there who can help. Doctors will usually refer people to the place most suitable for them. People can also self refer to most of these places but I know the hardest thing can be taking that first step and getting the assessment that you need.
“I went, I talked and I took that first step, and it was the best thing I ever did.”
Emma says she has no regrets about going public with her battle.
“I’m so pleased that I spoke out. It was the best thing I ever did and it proves that there are so many people out there who need to feel as if they can come forward. That’s why I’ve given the page the name, ‘Speak Loud and be Proud.’ Until people can talk about depression, it will still be a major struggle.
“I’m going back to college next year to study counselling and I’m hoping to start a blog very soon and my message will always be the same. The only way back from depression, is to talk about it. That way, we can all help each other.”