Denise Hough from Tameside talks about how a volunteering role, she got through a social prescription, has helped her regain her confidence after years of abuse

Physically I have back problems, bowel issues and an over-active thyroid. However, it is mentally that I have really struggled over the years. I have suffered from depression for a long time and have been on the maximum dose of anti-depressants for 20 years. Things got so bad that I took an overdose.

I don’t want to focus on the past but it may help you understand when I tell you that I was abused as a child, and also suffered at the hands of a domestic abuser as an adult.

Three years ago, I was moved to a refuge in Tameside from a refuge in another local authority. I didn’t know anyone or have any local connections. I was going to my local shop and occasionally to the library to research my health conditions – that was it. I was also self-harming. I was referred for mental health support, but it didn’t work for me because they kept changing my worker.

The turning point in my recovery came when the pharmacist told me about social prescribing. I thought it sounded different, so I thought ‘why not?’. Sue, my link worker from Action Together, asked me about the best time in my life. It was when I was volunteering and I then got a part time cleaning job, but I had to stop work due to back pain. Having not worked for a few years, I decided I wanted to make a change, I told Sue “I don’t want to live like this any more”.

We decided that getting out and meeting people would be my first step. I also wanted to learn to use computers.

Sue booked an assessment at Tameside Adult Education Centre and went with me as I was too nervous to go by myself. I felt good but then had a blip and stopped replying to Sue’s calls and messages. She never gave up on me though, even writing me a letter just saying she wanted to chat.

I kept trying because Sue kept trying. She didn’t give up on me.

We met up again and Sue took me to Infinity Initiatives to volunteer as you only have to commit to two hours per week and they are very supportive and informal. At the café I got chatting to another social prescribing client who was already volunteering there and I started two days later. I have now increased my volunteering from two hours a week to two days a week. It is my motivation to get dressed and get out of the house – I feel needed.

I love where I volunteer because they have all been through something and if I ring up on a bad day, they completely understand. Volunteering has made such a diffrence to my life. I have reduced my anti-depressant dose by half, to the lowest dose I have been on for 20 years. I have got back my sense of humour and am sleeping more regular hours, rather than all day. I am also starting a computer course in January.

For the first time in years I am living. I am excited for the future.

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