Our Expert by Experience (EbE) representatives play a unique and important role within the programme. They offer real time feedback and suggestions on mental health service provision; a key part of helping to make improvements that count.

In this newsletter, we had the pleasure of talking to Anthony Andrew EbE for Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health Trust (BEHMHT). An active representative, who is passionate about transforming mental health services across the board for the whole the community – and through adversity, found his passion for running long distances, which in the end, turned his own mental health around.

“It took me five years to run my first ultra-marathon and I’ve now completed three in total. Running has been a major and important part of my life for a long time. I started running after a traumatic personal event. At four months, my son became seriously ill and ended up at Great Ormond Street Hospital, where he was diagnosed with meningitis. As a result, he has profound special needs. It was a really stressful and difficult time for myself and my wife, hoping that he would pull through. I have relied heavily on my faith. My son is now 19 and doing well. The end of the matter is better than it's beginning.

“What I went through took its toll and affected my mental health and I was diagnosed with Bipolar, manic depression and acute extreme anxiety disorder, though this didn’t show instantly. I was contracting for a period of time at work and when this came to an end, I felt I had no schedule in my life. My mental health plummeted badly into severe depression and anxiety and I was prescribed medication.

“Not long after this, I saw a private counsellor who after some sessions, highlighted the domino effect of personal tragedy I had suffered over many years; many years even before my son’s illness such as my dad passing away just before I turned 17 then my mum having a heart transplant. It was like a series of pain and I had come to a breaking point of having to cope with it all.

“For five years I remained on heavy medication as well as being treated at Chase Farm. During that time, I got to 16 stone with a 40 inch waist, mainly through the meds I had to take but I didn’t feel I was getting any better. On Wednesday 5 June 2013 I said to my wife, I’m not doing these meds anymore and took my first steps on the road to running.”

“Of course, I wasn’t able to just stop my meds straight away, it took around six to eight weeks but in that time, my gentle ease into running was the starting point of a whole new change of mindset. I started off running just around my local area and within three months, was running 5k every morning. Even though it’s a short distance, it has such a positive impact on the mind and body once you start - this is known as 'runners high'.

“As well as my running, I also stay closely linked to work at the trust and as an EbE rep, I’ve presented to the community rehab team, completed courses such as Talk Health and taken part in Chair and Share sessions in Camden. I’m working with the Recovery college too which is really rewarding and going well. At one of the medium secure units at Chase Farm, I help facilitate a men’s bible study group for young men in their early twenties to thirties.

“In 2014 I also joined the MET Police Volunteers programme assisting in Faith and Community work, public relations and also in the custody suite as a custody intervention mentor; something else I’m passionate about. But my biggest driver and passion, ever since those early days of starting slowly with 5k’s and getting to the level I am now, is running. It’s had the most positive impact on my mental health and sustaining good wellbeing for the body, mind and spirit – I’ve never looked back.”