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As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we are sharing stories of how people have benefited from ²gether services.

Dorothy Runnicles, 93, from Gloucester is a public member of ²gether NHS Foundation Trust.  She’s keen to help ensure that the stigma associated with mental health troubles is overcome.

She explains: “I didn’t recognise mental health difficulties in myself until I had a trauma at the age of 66 – the sudden death of my husband.  After a long relationship it’s common for people to swallow their grief and trauma.  I was angry, but also in denial. I thought I was getting over it but I wasn’t.  I didn’t recognise it, but those around me did.  When I did face up to it, it changed my life.”

“It was helpful for me to recognise my own condition and the clues, such as intermittent periods of weeping and not being able to talk about the trauma as well as finding decision making difficult.  It took me three years to acknowledge what had happened. If you bottle things up they don’t go away.  I’m grateful that my clinical depression was diagnosed and I got through it.”

Dorothy believes that speaking up and seeking help is the first step to feeling better. She said: “If we bottle things up we can’t express our true selves to others in order to live a better life.  The work that takes place to help people see this is so valuable because without the help I had when I was in my 60s I wouldn’t be as happy as I am now.  Periodically we have ups and downs in our physical health and we also have them in our mental health.”

As a child growing up in the shadow of World War 2, Dorothy was evacuated from London’s East End.  From the age of 18 she served with the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS).

She said: “My first experience of grief was at the age of 14 when I experienced the loss of neighbours and friends in the London bombing. I was aware that I might lose my parents and I would cycle home from school to see if they were still alive. Perhaps more personal to me at 19 was the loss my boyfriend in an air crash whilst I was working in the Fleet Air Arm Services.”

After going to university, Dorothy was one of the first wave of social workers to qualify in 1948 at the age of 23. She returned to university in her 40s to study social policy.

As a community activist she is an advocate for life-long learning and is passionate about addressing the mental health issues faced by older people.

“People find old age difficult”, she said. “We’re not really trained for it, we can read about it but it’s like parenthood – a life changing event.  We often have less sight, less hearing, and often your medication clashes.  Long term conditions manifest themselves in irritating ways. You can’t deny the reality of ageing. Older people are still able to contribute in this life stage.  Older people feel ignored so we need to accept diversity.”

Dorothy has two children and eight grandchildren and is also aware of some of the issues affecting the younger generation.  She said: “Stress can be life-changing.  There are stresses at school with some difficult years and stresses in young adulthood so it’s not just older people who have periods of mental health stress.

“The uncertainty of life can lead to anxiety which is also a big mental health issue and can affect us in different ways whether it’s drinking more, gambling or various addiction.”

If you are experiencing issues with your mental health or wellbeing, you should speak to your GP or, if you live in Herefordshire or Gloucestershire, contact Let’s Talk on 0800 073 2200. You can also visit www.talkghc.nhs.uk.