Althea’s story: Battling depression, caring and building a new life
After surviving a history of abuse and challenges, Althea reached a point of crisis and attempted suicide. With the support of Change Mental Health’s Carers Support service, led by Sheila, Althea found the strength to confront her past, manage her mental health and look forward to a brighter future.
Althea is a carer to her disabled son, Marlon. Accessing a range of Change Mental Health services in Tayside completely changed her future and gave her the strength to live her life to the fullest.
Before she was referred to our Carer Support service by her GP, she reached a point where all the traumatic experiences from her past took over and she tried to take her own life. She told her husband about her plans and she received medical help.
“If it weren’t for Sheila and everyone else in Change Mental Health in Perth, I wouldn’t have been sitting here.
“I didn’t want to die. I asked myself, ‘what’s going on in my head?’ I’ve been like this now for 20-30 years. Why am I like this? No one else is the way I am. Why do I want to kill myself? I’ve got four kids who need me, especially my son Marlon. He needs me more than my girls because he is disabled. “
Althea was born in Jamaica. She endured a tough upbringing that saw her physically and sexually abused in her youth. In 1992, at 16, as an undocumented immigrant in the UK, her family left her when she was pregnant with her first daughter. Her daughter Fiona was placed in foster care. After her mother left the UK, Althea lacked a support network in London. Without education and benefits, she struggled to sustain herself, leading to poor choices that resulted in her imprisonment while pregnant with her second child.
“I’ve spent two years in jail and gave birth to my second daughter Crystal, who stayed with me in prison. At the same time, I’ve kept fighting for Fiona. I can’t write or read, so I found someone to help me write a letter to newspapers, begging for a flat I could rent as that was the only way to keep my children. Luckily, someone replied and offered me a two-bedroom flat in Crieff near Perth. After two years in Crieff, I moved to Perth, where I still live.”
In 2008, after many years of fighting the custody battle and her right to stay in the country, she received an indefinite stay status. Her disabled son was two then and her youngest daughter was six weeks old. After 16 years in the UK, she was allowed to claim benefits for the first time. She describes her past as a chain of problematic and difficult events.
Althea has worked with Sheila from Carer Support in Tayside since December 2022. During the first meeting, Sheila found that Althea had previously contacted her children through voice messages. They agreed that it would be the easiest way to communicate. They have been working on a one-to-one basis and doing a lot of work around various areas to strengthen Althea, build her confidence and help her move forward.
“The thought of killing myself, I don’t think it will ever go away and I’m always honest about that with anyone. It is still there, but it’s not as bad as before. I just needed to get all of this out of my head.
“I am a lot better. I’m better because I know if I’m in crisis and see that my anxiety and depression are hitting the roof, I can voice note Sheila and ask her to see her. She would voice note me back and arrange a meeting. Knowing I can get support from Sheila and Mind Space is changing a lot. I always feel welcomed here.”
Sheila connected Althea with Jenna from the Advice and Support Service to look into the welfare support she is currently receiving and ensure that she has access to all the help she can get as a carer, a member of a Caribbean minority and an HIV-positive person. She has been working on her finances and her ability to manage and save money.
Althea has been attending groups in the Perth area, including PKAVS and the local choir. She loves social interactions and trying new things, but many groups were closed and she now feels very isolated. With all her children becoming independent, Althea feels lonely and she knows it has negative effects on her mental health.
“By staying here, I know I will go back to my old ways and that’s not what I want. I’ve been in Perth for 29 years but living here makes me feel isolated. I don’t have any friends. My children support my decision to move away. They know I would be happier. There are not many Caribbean people in Perth and I spend time in front of the telly. It’s not good for me.”
In the past months, Althea, with Sheila’s help, has been building her confidence around moving to a bigger city. She has been more comfortable talking about living in cities like Edinburgh or Glasgow. The next step is to check what are the differences between living in Perth and Edinburgh, or Glasgow and what she wants from the place she will be living in. She needs to check housing costs and what she likes about each city. She is already looking forward to the visits to those cities and exploring them, finding local groups and finally being among some Caribbean people and cooking Caribbean food.
“I like a busy life and busy cities like London but now I know how to keep myself to myself and how to stay out of trouble. Years ago, I didn’t have anyone. I was abandoned pregnant. I’ve managed to live. I didn’t go right about my life.
“Now it’s quite different. I have support, I have benefits and I’m continuing my work with Sheila and Jenna [from the Advice and Support Service] about my finances. I have more work to do but all people over here have been a great help. In the last few months, I’ve grown up a lot as well. I’m now 48 years old. I’m not a child anymore. I’ve got four children to live for. I definitely won’t be going back to the old life which was holding me back.”
If you need support, our Advice and Support Service is open Monday to Friday, 10 am to 4 pm, where advisers can signpost you to local support that most fits your needs, including our own Change Mental Health services. We offer initial advice on money worries and help to deal with emergencies.
Contact 0808 8010 515, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the enquiry form on the Advice and Support Service page.