A woman who overcame a series of traumas including being diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer has become a mental health champion at the housing association where she works.
Along with 13 other colleagues, Ceri Twist, 46, has been named as a mental health Champion at Cartrefi Conwy where she is the Independent Living Manager.
Ceri was speaking at a special ceremony where the organisation’s Chief Executive, Andrew Bowden, signed Time to Change Wales Pledge aimed at ending the stigma and discrimination around mental health issues.
The Time to Change Wales campaign is a joint partnership with two leading mental health charities in Wales, Hafal and Mind Cymru.
Ceri explained how she has been living with mental health after a number of traumas in her personal life.
She said: “The aim of the scheme is to help reach out to other colleagues and let them know the champions are there to listen. We want to help colleagues feel at ease to talk about issues that might be affecting their mental health.
“My traumas started following the birth of my daughter 23 years ago when I suffered with severe post-natal depression.
“However, thankfully with the right medical help and family support I was able to return to work after two and half years.
Ceri began work at Cartrefi Conwy in 2014 and was diagnosed as suffering from breast cancer just 24 days later.
She added: “I had chemotherapy and radio therapy but continued working throughout my treatment.
“That was important to me because in work I was just Ceri. Away from work I was Ceri who is fighting cancer. Cartrefi Conwy gave me such incredible support and that helped me keep going.
“Being in work meant I was in control. But the support I had was so important at what was a difficult time for my mental health and wellbeing
“I’ve also had to deal with two other recent near fatal incidents with my own family. All these traumas in my life led to me being diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in January of this year.
“I’m on medication and receive counselling and support. I engage with a Mindfulness programme which involves meditation while listening to music or while concentrating on something positive. That really helps.
“Cartrefi Conwy is absolutely committed to making changes and ensuring everyone takes mental health issues seriously. Being a mental health Champion means I will be there to support anyone who needs help or who just wants to talk.”
Assistant HR advisor Phil Jackson, 29, only joined Cartrefi Conwy a couple of months ago but says his mental health is improving thanks to support he receives both at home and at work.
He said: “I suffered anxiety, depression and my self-confidence was destroyed. My issues stem from my previous employment which was in the banking sector.
“The future seems so much better with Cartrefi Conwy and I now feel I’m supported. My family have been very supportive and I’m getting married next year.”
During the presentation Hafal’s Time to Change Wales Champion, Lotte, 31, from Deganwy spoke movingly to explain to Cartrefi Conwy staff how she had dealt with severe mental health issues throughout her life.
She said: “I am now married, have a degree and work in creative arts but mental health issues have always been a part of my life.
“It really is time to change how we all view mental health issues and reach out to those who are struggling.”
Andrew Bowden says he’s delighted that Cartrefi Conwy is the first housing association in North Wales to sign the Time to Change Wales Pledge.
He said: “What we have heard is inspirational and thought-provoking. I want to encourage all our employees to take time out to talk and just importantly listen to their colleagues.
“I’m immensely proud to have signed the Time to Change Wales Pledge and we will work hard to ensure any member of staff that needs help and support gets it.
“Mental health issues are not so obvious and maybe not so easy to spot. I hope every Cartrefi Conwy employee will now have the confidence to talk and seek any additional support they may need.”
Russell Workman, Community Engagement Officer for Time to Change Wales said: “Mental health is a taboo subject which people tend to be afraid to talk about. People think it will mean colleagues will think less of them, or that it will impact on their careers and lose friends, which isn’t the case at all.
“We need more Employee Champions like Ceri to show their remarkable resilience towards their mental health and to encourage colleagues to seek help in order to avoid reaching points of crisis.”