Northern Ireland woman's event aims to show help is out there for sufferers
A Co Down woman who has battled mental and physical health issues for much of her life is using World Mental Health Day to reach out to help others who might find themselves in difficult situations. Rebecca Browne (26) has put all her efforts into organising a 'Black Dog' event, which will take place at The Lamppost Cafe on the Newtownards Road in east Belfast tonight.
And while Rebecca admitted she finds herself in a much better place mentally, her battle with fibromyalgia has seen her deteriorate physically over the past year and she now needs a wheelchair to be able to get out of the house.
"I won't let it get me down," she said ahead of hosting her event. "I've come too far for that."
Since her early teens, Rebecca, originally from Londonderry, but now living in Bangor, has fought against anxiety, depression, anorexia and body dysmorphic disorder.
But she hasn't let that stop her from graduating from Queen's University, signing for a Belfast modelling agency, taking on a Masters degree and now targeting a career which will allow her to help others.
While her personal journey has been a successful one, Rebecca says she is determined to use her experiences to set people who may be struggling on the right path towards recovery.
"Mental health issues are at epidemic levels," she said.
"People feel they can't speak up, but that's not the case. I always had really bad anxiety. I was around 16 when I developed body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and then anorexia. I hated myself and I hated my body and I became dangerously thin.
"It became a real issue when I turned 18. I was prescribed anti-depressants at 19, but I fought for help and things got better. I was lucky because by the point I was at, it's often too late," she said.
Now, though, fibromyalgia is her main concern.
"That's been gradually getting worse. I pushed myself as far as I could with modelling and taking on a Masters in Psychology and I've been finding that I can't stand for longer than a couple of minutes before my legs go numb or turn to jelly. It's been giving me pain in my back and I broke my foot a couple of months ago when I fell over.
"I decided the best way of getting out of the house was to go with the wheelchair rather than try to plan going somewhere that I knew a seat was available."
Now she wants to use her personal journey to inspire others who may be in need of help.
"Now I've decided a practical career is for me. One where I can help others through workshops, tutoring and encouragement. I thought I'd be nervous ahead of this event, but I'm actually excited," she said. "I've 'met' a lot of people on social media who I'll be meeting in person for the first time.
"It's good to share stories and journeys, but this night is about much more than that. This is about giving people as many avenues as possible to try to heal themselves, be it through a life coach, getting fit, speaking to a psychiatrist, using reflexology or hypnotism, or even getting a dog.
"There's no one size fits all when dealing with your mental health. What works for one won't for someone else, so I wanted to pack in as much information as possible.
"I've been there and I'm still managing it every day."
The event is free for everyone and takes place in The Lamppost Cafe tonight from 7-9.30pm.