A mum-of-two has set herself a gruelling challenge after battling her way back from the depths of depression.
Natalie Atherton is to undertake a ‘year of events’ - starting with the Manchester Marathon in April - to raise money for the Samaritans.
Natalie, from Storrington, said: “I want to raise awareness of mental health.”
Natalie, 41, first fell ill in 2012 but did not realise what was wrong. “I became very withdrawn,” she said. “Even at the school gates, I wouldn’t talk to other people.
“I didn’t want to go out and it was very difficult to even get out of bed. It went on for probably a good six or seven months before I thought ‘this isn’t how I should be living’.”
She saw her GP who gave her medication and put her in touch with the talking therapies service Time To Talk and she went on to have cognitive behavioural therapy.
“It was a long road before I felt anywhere near ‘normal’ again. I was embarrassed that I had ‘mental health problems’ and didn’t want to admit it to people.
“I didn’t want them to either look down on me or treat me like I might break.
“I heard that exercise was supposed to help your mind, so one, unremarkable day, I downloaded a couch-to-5k app and laced up my trainers. I won’t lie, it was hard going, but every time I got home I felt liberated.
“I suddenly realised that I was ill and I shouldn’t be ashamed of that fact, so I started talking about it. I had no idea the effect that would have on me and others.
“I felt like a weight was off my shoulders and people starting admitting to me that they had/did feel in that position and it started conversations that people hadn’t had before.
“Some people even started to recognise symptoms in themselves that they hadn’t realised they had, like me at the beginning of it all.
“I became passionate about getting this taboo out in the open and helping those that needed it as I had such an amazing support network around me.”
Natalie, who works for the Civil Aviation Authority, said she still has ‘down times’ but “now I know myself so well and I’m very open about it. I can say to my boss ‘I’m not having a good time’ - the CAA are very good, they’ve won an award for their mental health and wellbeing strategy.”
Now Natalie hopes that her ‘year of events’ fundraiser for the Samaritans will raise awareness of mental health issues. “If I can help one person I’ll be happy.”