Howard worked at the Wedgwood Visitor Centre for 40 years, meeting visitors and making jewellery. He needed to be confident, but that wasn’t always the case.
He experienced poor mental health off and on for 20 years and was initially diagnosed with depression and sectioned under the Mental Health Act in 2011, when he was admitted to Harplands Hospital for six weeks.
He said: “At the time I went in kicking and screaming; I didn’t want to go in, but then I had a breakthrough and realised people were taking things seriously and something could be done to help me.”
Two years later Howard’s friends and family noticed he was experiencing extreme high mood. He knew he was feeling on ‘a high’ but thought he was okay, he did however agree to go to the Harplands where he was readmitted and diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. “It was a relief to finally have a diagnosis of Bipolar, it meant I could start to get the right treatment I needed and the medication helped me be stable.”
Howard now volunteers at several foodbanks and runs activities at The American Clubhouse.
“When I went back to work, I just didn’t want to talk about it, when I was off work I just wanted to hide.
“I still think there is a stigma around Mental Health, it’s getting better and famous people talking about it, such as Frank Bruno, helps. If talking about mental health helps one person on the street relate to their life and reach out for help it’s worth it. It needs more people to be talking about it, getting into schools early, so that people know it’s not wrong.
“Going to The American helps because I feel good helping other people; there are people who sometimes have much worse problems and I can help.”
Howard says that if anyone is struggling with their mental health they should tell their GP. “Your GP can often signpost you to services. We also produce newsletters for The American Clubhouse telling people what support is available here. In the past people only went to the doctors’ for tablets, but there are other things available.
“Don’t suffer in silence, tell someone, a friend or family, your doctor, speak to someone, it can help to speak to someone who has been through the same thing. A conversation can be life-saving. You do have to recognise that everyone is different, I don’t want to be interrogated about my mental health, sometimes talking to a complete stranger can be better.”
He said that in the Clubhouse Network everyone has some kind of mental health issue but everyone is in the same boat. “You’ll always see a nice smiling face. You can just visit, have a little look around, there is no pressure. If you’re worried, it’s never as bad as you think.”
Looking back, Howard added: “I do believe things happen for a reason. Going through what I went through has made me a better person. I’m stronger. I’m still here. I have purpose – helping others. I feel positive, even though I was in a bad place. At my lowest point I had attempted suicide, but the only way is up.
“You’re not alone. No matter what, you’re never alone. You might feel no one understands, but it will get better. You might have times when your mental illness comes back but you learn how to manage it. You learn what works for you and how to help yourself.”