Mental Health Awareness Week: Paul’s story

Posted: 14/05/19

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 is Body Image – how we think and feel about our bodies.

In our first Peer Support Worker guest blog of the week, Paul Sams, the Service User Project Coordinator with our Positive and Safe Care Team, shares his story. 

“I was a mental health service user for 15 years beginning in my teenage years and continuing until I was in my early thirties. During the early years of my battle with psychosis and depression, amongst other things I found myself in a battle with atypical anorexia nervosa.

In fact it was this struggle with anorexia that saw me admitted to Cherry Knowle Hospital in the 1990s. At the time I was 5’10’’ and had a BMI of around 17.

I remember this as a very dark and difficult time. Every bit of me wanted to be strong and healthy but I couldn’t eat no matter what it was or how hard I tried.

I was dealing with this eating disorder as part of a complex set of mental health problems that had become the legacy of a childhood of abuse, neglect and negotiating the local authority care system. I was desperate for help but also already quite jaded by the mess that those supposedly responsible for my care had made to this point.

The approach taken to address atypical anorexia nervosa for me was to supplement my lack of eating with high calorie drinks while exploring my difficult past in psychotherapy sessions. This was a difficult process but supported me to move on.

With the support of my then girlfriend, now wife, I battled hard to try and beat this illness. It wasn’t easy, there were many difficult months and years of medication changes, false dawns and mental health professionals that let me down along the way.

The biggest single factor during this period was the unwavering support of my wife and her family, and in my current role I speak of the importance of supporting our service users’ families to take an active role in the recovery of their loved ones where possible.

Eventually things changed with the input of clinical psychology, and I started to learn that I could be the keeper of my own wellness.

I developed a personal toolkit which included DBT, mindfulness and my own continually developing Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP plan). I use my WRAP plan every day as well as mindfulness: this has supported me to recognise when things are becoming difficult and allows me to address difficulties before they become a problem.

As the years have gone on I have moved from being agoraphobic, depressed and extremely psychotic, unable to hold down a job and continually breaking down, to being a Durham University postgraduate with a career in the NHS, an individual who generally has a smile on my face and is healthy in both body and mind.

The biggest thing I have learned is that the individual is the key to the recovery, I promote co-production of care in my role now as well as my role as a Peer Support Worker. I believe that each individual should take part in their own formulation when possible, and I believe this is a fundamental building block of recovery.

I can say this because it is the truth of my own experience. My life was very different when I was reliant on others for my care, but when I was supported to lead in my own care I made rapid progress.

I can’t turn back time for myself but hopefully I can save others time as they look to break free of the constraints placed on them by their battle with poor mental health.”

You can follow Paul on Twitter @Psamsy.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can find information on the help available at

Specific information on the help available in the North East is available on our website at https://www.cntw.nhs.ukneed-help-now/