Gateshead woman says Girlguiding saved her during the depths of depression and anxiety

Catherine Marsh said volunteering with Girlguiding had been integral to helping her through severe mental health difficulties
-Credit: (Image: Girlguiding UK)

A Guide leader from Chopwell has spoken about how volunteering with Girlguiding helped her through her darkest times living with severe depression and anxiety.

Catherine Marsh, 40, a health care support worker, was diagnosed with the illnesses in 2017 and said when she was signed off sick from work and barely able to leave the house, volunteering with the guides was one thing that kept her going. She spoke of how vital speaking up about mental health illnesses was - as she seeks to banish stigma and help the next generation..

Catherine told ChronicleLive: "I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety in 2017. I was signed off work for six months. It was the worst thing and there were a lot of days where I didn't get out of bed, but when I had Guides or Rangers I was dragging myself out of bed. You can't be depressed in a Guide meeting - and I always felt that I had that responsibility to step up.

"Since diagnosis I have always seen it as something it is my responsibility to try to talk about. Everyone has mental health - it's like physical health - and it can be good or bad!

"I don't understand why people should be embarrassed to admit to it, and it's something I will shout about. People ask about medication, and I'm not going to hide that. If I had a headache I would take something - why is this any different?"

She added: "During my hardest times, when I was first diagnosed, it felt like there was a heavy fog in my head. Going to Guides or Rangers was the only thing that made me feel like myself, because it gave me a bit of routine back.

"It made a big difference and was an important part of my recovery. I’ve learnt to manage my condition now, but that two hours of fun a week was invaluable and remains a very important part of my life.”

Mental health is something important to the Guiding movement, she said, both in terms of training for leaders and support and education for the youngsters who attend each week. Catherine said that things like exam stress could prove really tough for youngsters to manage, so she always made sessions an "exam-free zone"; and sought to ensure Guiding was a comfortable and comforting environment for the young people - in the same way it was for her.