One in 5 suffer from depression – here are the heroes trying to help

CHARITIES have warned that Britain is in the grip of a “mental health emergency” as we emerge from the pandemic.

Monthly mental health referrals across the UK hit their highest point in two years in August, with one in five suffering from depression at some point last year.

But there are incredible people who aim to make a difference in their communities – providing solace and a safe space for those who need to talk.

For this year’s Who Cares Wins awards we are honouring the late TV presenter Caroline Flack by naming a gong in her honour with her family’s support.

The winner will be celebrated in a star-studded ceremony later this month.

Here we meet the amazing finalists for the Caroline Flack Mental Health Hero award.

Charmaine George

A MUM whose teenage son died during lockdown has been nominated for a Who Cares Wins award after setting up pop-up cafes to help others who are bereaved.

Charmaine George, 47, was left devastated after her son Ewan, 18, was found at the bottom of cliffs in May 2020 after a night out camping with friends.

She said: "I got that dreaded knock at the door, the knock you never expect to get. It threw us into real turmoil and it was very unexpected."

Ewan had driven to Lighthouse Hill, in Portreath, Cornwall, and his body was discovered by walkers around 7am.

"Lighthouse Hill was his happy place," Charmaine recalls. "He used to go there a lot with his girlfriend to watch the sunset as it's very beautiful.”

Ewan’s body was found on the beach at the bottom of a cliff and his loved ones still don’t know if he jumped or if he fell.

Charmaine admits: “That is something we will never know. At his inquest, the coroner recorded an open verdict so we will never know whether or not it was suicide."

Losing her son in lockdown, Charmaine struggled to find any face to face support.

She said: “I had telephone counselling. Most of the bereaved parent groups were very sad and I didn't want to be wallowing. Yes it is sad and yes it is heart-breaking. But I wanted to find a way to move forward.

"I searched 'good grief' online and came across a Facebook page for The Good Grief Trust. They were advertising for volunteers to run cafes and there were none in Cornwall.”

Who cares wins awards

The Who Cares Wins awards honour those who have helped take care of the nation.

Here are the categories:

  • 999 Hero
  • Best Charity
  • Best Doctor
  • Best Midwife
  • Best Nurse
  • Groundbreaking Pioneer
  • Mental Health Hero
  • National Lottery Award
  • Unsung Hero
  • Young Hero

Charmaine spoke to the charity’s founder Linda Magistris, 57, and quickly set up her own cafe. She has since had dozens of people dealing with bereavement through her doors.

Charmaine – who also has a 13-year-old daughter called Libby – now runs fortnightly grief cafes at Amy's Kitchen and Bar in Treviskey, Cornwall.

He said: “People don't relate fun or enjoyment with grief but to move on, you have to find a way to carry on living. When people come to this cafe that is what you have chosen to do – live."

Charmaine – who now works for the Good Grief Trust as a cafe coordinator – was nominated for the Caroline Flack Mental Health Hero award by the charity’s founder Linda.

Linda, from Bournemouth, said: "Charmaine has offered people help and hope, a way to move forward with their lives. To do what she has done three months' after her sons' death is incredible. She is so deserving of this award."

Joe Plumb

AFTER suffering bullying throughout his school years, Joe Plumb set up a charity to help others going through similar at the tender age of 13.

A decade on and Joe has dedicated his life to raising awareness of mental health issues and during lockdown helped those in need through his social media pages.

Campaigner Joe, 23, from Northumberland, said: "I was always different. I was diagnosed with autism at seven and that was enough to make me stand out. I didn't have any friends, teachers didn't know how to deal with me.

"At school I was physically and verbally abused, I was spat at. Aged 13, I launched a campaign called Stand Out, Seek Help and very quickly it went global. I went from being this kid that everyone hated to someone people were listening to."

Joe's mental health deteriorated through his teenage years leading to various diagnoses including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and mixed personality disorder. He self-harmed and made several attempts to take his own life. 

Aged 16 he was admitted to a psychiatric unit and later was taken into care.

"I told myself that it would be better for everyone if I was gone," he said.

"Me being in the world was still causing other people misery. I still suffer PTSD because of what I've been through.

“I still feel the bruises every day. I look at my arm and see the scars. They might have faded but they are a sign of my strength."

Joe still suffers relapses with mental health but has turned his life around by campaigning to raise awareness for mental health. 

He was recently made ambassador of the charity Kidscape and is campaigning to get mental health support available in schools from an early age.

One of his biggest successes is the support he offers on social media, where he has over a million followers across different platforms.

Joe was nominated by mum-of-two Caroline Cook, 35, who claims Joe was a huge support during lockdown after she lost her job as a supermarket manager and struggled to escape an abusive relationship.

"I came across one of Joe's posts on Facebook during lockdown and it really resonated with me," she said.

 "I felt I could relate to him. There were a lot of uplifting posts too and I found myself searching for Joe when I felt low."

Luke Wilkinson

WHEN it comes to getting men to talk about mental health, Luke Wilkinson knows how to get the ball rolling.

The 35-year-old founded Team Talk – a project where men can play footie, have a cuppa and discuss their worries and concerns.

Luke, from Derby, said: “Sometimes men just need somewhere to go and blow off steam for an hour.

"We set up a hub in Derby and it's gone from strength to strength. Now, three years down the line, we have five hubs and we've gone from four blokes coming in for a cuppa every week to having 120 members who do everything from walking football and table tennis and cards.

"Everyone who comes in knows they're not judged. If they need reassurance or help, they know they can pick the phone up and call me. I'm always there to help."

Dad-of-one Luke has joined forces with East Midlands Ambulance Service so that paramedics can hand out cards to people they think would benefit from a visit to Team Talk.

The health team leader said: “Doing this has fitted with my life as well. While I'm not actively struggling with mental health, I've had times where it was a nice place for me to go. 

“For one night a week I had somewhere I could go and get stuff off my chest. The lads involved make it so enjoyable. It's a team effort. I'm over the moon to have been nominated, chuffed to bits. To have this recognition is amazing."

Members are also in a What's App group, which Luke says provided vital mental health support since Covid. It enabled men to meet up if they felt isolated and reach out for help. Luke also arranged Zoom quiz nights and meet-ups during lockdown.

He was nominated by Harley Hollinshead, who met Luke two years ago when life was “heading down the wrong path”.

Dad-of-two Harley, 30, from Derby, says he was drinking heavily and taking drugs and felt as if his life had “no purpose”.

Harley said: “I wasn’t making the right decisions. I was drinking and doing stuff I shouldn’t be doing. A friend told me about Team Talk so I went along to the Trust and met Luke.

“From the moment I met him, he was welcoming. He didn’t sit there telling me I should do this or that or barking out orders. He didn’t judge. He just listened.”

Luke has inspired Harley to volunteer for community projects which have given his life “new purpose”.

Harley said: “Everything he does is for people in his community. I really do appreciate what he has done for me. Luke is a phenomenal guy.”

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