Catherine Eadie knows first-hand that the social stigma of her condition can add self-loathing to the burden already shouldered by sufferers of poor mental health
when Catherine Eadie ran away from home without a word of explanation, all she wanted was to escape from her life.
She had suffered from depression since she was just 14, and by the age of 27 felt an urgent need to disappear.
But running away had the opposite effect.
Her distraught husband Glen called the police, and the alert was raised.
Police divers and an RAF helicopter were called, appeals appeared in the papers and on television, and suddenly everybody knew who she was.
Fortunately, Catherine, now 41, had not taken her life as had been feared, but had fled to Glasgow, trying to escape the pressure she felt just coping from day to day.
Her struggle with mental illness had gone on for years, and a change of medication had brought her to breaking point.
But since then she has found her way back to better health, and works full-time helping others to cope with their mental health issues. She is also giving her backing to a new report on “self-stigma”, called Pushing Back, published by mental health organisations See Me and the Scottish Recovery Network.
Catherine’s depression first surfaced in her teens, while she was at a boarding school in England.
She says: “I had a disruptive family background with parental divorce and moving around a lot.
“The first signs were physical symptoms – tiredness, lethargy, lack of concentration, and lack of willingness to get down and study, because I couldn’t read the exam material very well.
“There was a sense of basic unhappiness, and I didn’t know what depression was then, so I didn’t know what was going on.”
Some of her family, including her mother, were based in Edinburgh, so she pleaded successfully to be allowed to relocate here, and became a boarder at St George’s School for Girls, hoping the change would prove a turning point.
Catherine, who lives in Clermiston, says: “It was a great school and a great environment, had I not already been experiencing the difficulties I already had.
“I think probably things are different now in schools but the experience of depression and mental ill health then was a lack of knowledge, a lack of understanding and a lack of knowing how to support somebody like myself.”
Still struggling to fit in, taking extra lessons to catch up with her schoolmates, and feeling terribly unhappy, she also began to feel disappointed in herself.
She began self-harming, and then made two suicide attempts. She recalls the circumstances surrounding the first: “I’d been away on weekend leave, I was staying with my mum, who was still up here, and stayed over the weekend with her.
“I’d gone out for some drinks with some friends as you do as a teenager, and I think things just came to a head really at that point, and the realisation of the situation I’d put myself in.”
After the second suicide attempt, at just 17 years old, she was admitted to an adult ward in the Capital’s psychiatric hospital, the Royal Edinburgh.
“There were a few 17, 18 and 19-year-olds, right through to people in their 80s, but also a fair mix of conditions. I was enlightened to a lot of very different situations and exposed to people who kicked off.”
Self-stigma – feeling bad about her mental health – only exacerbated her symptoms, she says: “It started off with the family and their shame and embarrassment. The first time I was in hospital they told people I was having my appendix out. That’s where it starts and the longer it goes on, you feel like you’re not intelligent and like you can’t be taken seriously.”
After six weeks on the hospital’s adult ward, she moved to its Young People’s Unit (YPU), where she stayed for seven months.
“It was certainly helpful being with other young people,” she says.
“You have the identification of speaking to other young people, but you’re there for quite a long time, so it can become almost a way of life. I think with hindsight it was helpful to be told ‘You have clinical depression and have probably have had it for a while’.”
She was prescribed anti- depressants, and after leaving continued with weekly therapy sessions. But within a short period of time, she was readmitted to the YPU and diagnosed with psychosis.
“I’d been dealing with quite high anxiety and become really paranoid with people, and with my self-image about what I’d developed, I had a paranoia of people thinking I was a bad person, which fed my feeling that I was a failure. I wanted to hide away, and not wanting to speak to people, I withdrew a lot.”
She was eventually discharged at the age of 19 to supported accommodation in Newington, where staff lived on-site and seven adult residents shared the cooking and other duties.
It encouraged her to socialise, and it was during a visit to the pub that she met Glen, who was to become her husband. With his love and support, her life stabilised – but there were still troubles ahead.
She says: “I was trying to get back on my feet – but had a lot of lethargy and tiredness and was experiencing quite low mood at times. I went to the day hospital and had an assessment there, and they felt that a change in my medication might bring about an improvement.
“I felt it had the opposite effect to what it was meant to achieve, and became quite unwell, and physically unwell.
“I had a [hospital] admission over the Christmas period, which wasn’t ideal.”
And so, on January 15 1998, she left home late one afternoon and went to Glasgow, desperate to loosen the grip of what felt like insurmountable problems.
“I don’t think the hospital understood what I was experiencing,” she said.
“I ran away to Glasgow and it was the day before my birthday and I just couldn’t cope, I was so distressed I couldn’t think about continuing to carry on.
“It ended up in the papers and on the news and that was a very difficult period.”
Three more months in the Royal Edinburgh followed, where her treatment was overhauled again, and this time things started to improve.
It was when the Albion Road-based mental health charity Penumbra stepped in to offer her practical help that things really started to take off.
“I started to really look at the situation I was in, knowing that it just couldn’t continue. They’re a charitable organisation and the idea is to get people out and about socialising.
“I thought I needed to start using some brain cells that had been degenerating, there was something in there – there had to be – although I’d felt I was stupid at times.”
She started an entry-level course in computing and loved it, following up with more, and others in health and social care.
Now she works full time as an e-health officer with Action on Depression, using the internet to help support people with mental health problems.
It’s a job that shows her every day how important it is to challenge the stigma that surrounds mental health, to stop sufferers from adding self-hatred and low self-esteem to their other problems as they pick up on others’ negative feelings about mental illness.
“The longer you’re unwell, the more ingrained it becomes,” she says. “I think you feel that you’re not the same person as other people in society.
“I think that’s why the recovery for me has been as long as it has, as well as overcoming mental health problems, I’ve been trying to shake off that self-stigma and say ‘I’m just like anyone else’.
“I suppose the biggest compliment was when my husband said he never ever thought he would see me where I am today, and we’ve been together 21 years. For him to say that to me is huge.”