With World Mental Health Day tomorrow, 10th October, we highlight a story that shows how those who are struggling with their mental health and their families can benefit from the services our specialist support provides.

This is Tina's story, mum of Anna, who is 16 years old and has Autistic Spectrum Condition; and how she and her family have been supported as Anna battled with extreme levels of anxiety and depression.

We also hear from Aspens Family Specialist Support team member Kelsey Hutchinson about how the team which included Penny Piggott, Lucy Russell, Tasha Brabon, Katya Henry, Kelsey Hutchinson, Olivia Taylor and Dee Staplehurst,  have supported Anna and her family.

Tina's Story:

“When Anna was 12 she began to really struggle with her mental health, suffering with anxiety, and skipping meals and she had started self-harming. Her mental health continued to plummet further and she began severely restricting what she ate and drank and became very underweight and dehydrated. The NHS Family Eating Disorder Service became involved and Anna stayed at Chalkhill, a centre for young people suffering with mental health problems.

Whilst there Anna was officially diagnosed as having Autistic Spectrum Condition. She eventually came home but her anxiety levels were still extremely high and we felt completely alone. Her self-harming was at extreme levels and on several occasions we resorted to calling 999 out of sheer desperation. In December 2019 we were told that Anna was too vulnerable to be able to live at home and that she would have to go into the care system. 

It was at this point West Sussex Council became involved and put us in touch with the Family Specialist Support team at Aspens. At first it was very difficult for Anna to be able to trust the team and she found it hard to engage with them. The team persevered and gradually began to make a connection with Anna, showing up to see her every day – sometimes even twice a day, taking her for lunch and on outings.

As the relationship between Anna and the Aspens team strengthened the rest of our family was also given support, with Anna’s dad and I doing a course to find out more about autism and Anna’s younger sister had regular one-to-one contact and support from the team.The Aspens team supported Anna to understand that being different is ok and encouraged her to discover new interests and passions. They set up sessions in equine therapy for her, where she’d spend time with horses and help with stable management.  This sparked an interest in Anna to work with animals and she began volunteering regularly at a doggy day care centre.

Before Aspens came along we felt so alone and that we were having to deal with everything by ourselves. Aspens have been our spokespeople and have attended all meetings with us, asking all the right questions.  They gave us guidelines on how to deal with Anna’s condition and equipped us with the skills to understand and manage it – for example we now know what triggers an episode with her.

Before Aspens became involved she was having an episode at least once a day – now I have to think to remember when the last one was! We’ve just celebrated Anna’s 16th birthday in the garden with her friends – it’s the first birthday we’ve been able to celebrate in three years as she’s spent them all in hospital – we never could have imagined she’d come so far in such a short space of time. 

We can’t thank Aspens enough, they have absolutely saved us and we would have been lost without them. I’d like to say to other families who may be in the same situation as we were, there is a light at the end of the tunnel – you feel like you’re in this hole and you don’t ever see yourself getting out of it – but with the right support you can.”

Kelsey's Story:

"I’ve been working for Aspens as a Specialist Intervention Advisor for two years, having started out working in outreach. I now specialise in supporting those with autism, looking at how they may need support in areas such as behaviour, home life, routine and structure. I love the job because every day is different and all the people I support are so unique with their own needs.
The Aspens team started working with Anna just over a year ago. It was challenging at first as Anna struggled to engage with us - she’d never been offered the type of support we were giving, so it took a while to build up her trust. We had to make sure we showed consistency to show her we were committed. Even if she said she didn’t want to see us, we would still turn up every day.
Gradually, she began to engage with us and we started taking her out on trips such as shopping, horse riding, to air-hop or for a trip to Costa, or sometimes we’d do baking, which she loves. Having these positive experiences were so important and really helped our engagement with her grow.
Over the past months the key factor was making sure we always turned up for Anna. Even on days when she was feeling tired and not wanting to get out of bed I would still gently knock on her door and sit at the foot of her bed and ask how she was doing. We also provided support to Anna’s family, which was so important as they were experiencing an extremely challenging situation.
I am amazed by the transformation in Anna from when we first started working with her! She is like a totally different person – when we first met her it was as though she was just surviving – now she’s come out of herself and is her own person. She’s grown in confidence and expresses herself articulately, she’s finding out who she is and is making plans for her future – she wants to go to college and study Health and Social Care and then go on to study Psychology. Anna has worked very hard to help herself along with support from her family and our team. It’s so wonderful to see.
We continue to give her support and I check in with texts and go out with her once a week, often for a dog walk. Today Anna texted me for the first time to ask if we could meet in a different place – I was so proud of her for doing this as it showed she’s starting to take responsibility and shows just how far she has come."

If you are affected by any of the issues covered in this story and would like to find out about further support and information contact 01243 214120 or email [email protected]

You can also talk to one of our experienced specialists via Live ChatOur specialists are available at the following times:

MONDAY - 9:30-11:30am/  7:00-9:00pm

TUESDAY - 6:30-7:30pm

WEDNESDAY - 9:00-11:00am/ 7:00-9:00pm

THURSDAY - 10:00am-12:00pm/ 3:30-5:00pm

FRIDAY - 12:00-2:00pm

Read more about Aspens' Family Specialist Support here