A Flintshire mum who attempted suicide after struggling with the trauma of sexual abuse has paid tribute to a ‘life-saving’ mental health support service.
Natalie Johnson, from Holywell, is among thousands of people across North Wales who have received support from iCAN in recent years.
The initiative, delivered as a partnership between Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and mental health charities, aims to make it easier for people to access the help they need, without needing a GP referral.
Support is delivered online, over the telephone and at 12 iCAN Community Hubs across the region.
Mum-of-two Natalie, 39, says she was in a ‘very dark place’ in 2016, after leaving her job due to ill health and struggling to cope with memories of the abuse she’d endured during her younger years.
“By 2019 it got to the point where I didn’t want to be on this earth anymore,” she explained.
“I couldn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel and it felt like I had the devil on my shoulder telling me to end my own life. One night I tried to in the woods near my home.
“I was admitted to Glan Clwyd Hospital and before being discharged I was assessed by a mental health nurse who referred me to the iCAN service, and for talking therapies.
“I didn’t think it was going to work, or that they would call me so soon. But soon after getting home from hospital I had a phone call from the iCAN team. I was amazed that they had got in touch so quickly!
“I received support twice a week over many months and it made such a huge difference. iCAN has given me so much motivation to do different things and keep myself on track. It’s been life-saving and I don’t know where I’d be without it.
“It also helped to prepare me really well for talking therapy, which has been a big help.
“Over time, as I began to feel better, we gradually reduced the frequency of calls. Although I’m no longer receiving support from iCAN, it’s comforting to know that they’re only an email or phone call away.
“I’ve worked hard to make things right with people I upset during my dark times. The support I’ve received has also helped me to talk more openly with my children (aged 20 and 16) about mental health and to make sure that they are ok too.”
Natalie has shared her story in a bid to encourage others who are struggling to reach out for support.
She said: “I feel so much better in myself now and if I can help just one person by sharing my story then it will be worth it.
“I have multiple personal illnesses that set me back at times, but iCAN has helped me to separate my mental health feelings from my illnesses.
“My message to anyone who is struggling is don't struggle and stay in the dark like I did. Get in touch with iCAN because it really does work.”
Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Alberto Salmoiraghi, BCUHB’s Medical Director for Mental Health and Learning Disabilities services, is urging more people to take advantage of the easy to access early support provided at iCAN Hubs.
He said: “Everyone can struggle from time to time and it’s important to know that you’re not alone. Whatever it is that is troubling you – there is always support available to help you get back on track.
“I’d encourage people to visit their local iCAN Community Hub and give it a try. The kettle is always on and you’ll receive a warm welcome from the friendly and experienced team of staff and volunteers.”
To find out more about the support available through iCAN, please visit: bcuhb.nhs.wales/health-advice/mental-health-hub/i-can/