A patient safety and experience coordinator who struggled with all-consuming depression during COVID-19 has hailed the support she received from a mental health first aider which she credits with saving her life.

Former nurse Laura Hall became unwell after shielding during the pandemic and experiencing severe guilt at being unable to help her clinical colleagues. Her condition spiralled following a relationship breakdown, leaving Laura contemplating self-harm to stop the feelings she was experiencing.

She arrived for work at Ipswich Hospital the following day and decided to contact a mental health first aider. The support she received was so life-changing that Laura has since gone onto complete the training herself so that she can help others facing similar challenges.

“Having previously been a nurse, I struggled with a huge feeling of guilt that nursing friends and colleagues were working under such immense strain and danger during the pandemic, while I was shielding at home,” said Laura, who has worked for ESNEFT for nearly 14 years. “I spiralled and found myself in an incredibly dark place. Everything I thought I had coped with suddenly came crashing around me and I didn’t know which way to turn.

“I wanted to stop feeling everything that I was being forced to feel – it was consuming every part of me and I felt helpless. At that point I realised I may not want to talk about it, but I needed to talk about it.

“I spoke to a mental health first aider and simply said that I needed help – and that is exactly what I got. I poured my heart out to her and she listened. No judgement – just a caring person willing to let me cry and tell me its ok. I will always be indebted for the kindness and compassion she showed me – she quite literally saved my life.”

Laura’s first aider advised her to contact her GP and start anti-depressants, and also helped her to access counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy. Laura has since made a good recovery, has come off her medication and is now giving back to others after being inspired to complete her own mental health first aider training thanks to funding from Colchester & Ipswich Hospitals Charity.

“I now feel that I am equipped to deal with the challenges that life is going to throw at me,” added Laura. “I realise that its ok to feel overwhelmed and lost at times. That doesn’t mean you are weak – it means you are human.

“I was inspired to become a mental health first aider after seeing the benefits it can bring and am finding it really rewarding. I honestly think it’s the best thing our Trust has ever done for its staff.”