Focus on Mental Health, Time To Talk

February 4, 2019

‘Together We’ is a small fitness & wellbeing centre for women on an industrial Estate in Workington. Behind the reins of this small but fantastic organisation are two strong, empowered and courageous women who have battled with many challenges to become the women they are today.

Together sisters Sam and Janine are brimming with passion, dedication and commitment to help women in the area - ‘Empowering people to take control over their physical health, mental health and wellbeing’. Together We is a Community Interest Company (CIC) and not for profit organisation providing a range of services to women in Allerdale and Copeland. There are three parts of the service - talk, fitness and carry, which aim to combine mental and physical health interventions; they work from the centre, but also do a lot of community projects. Together We works with Active Cumbria and Cumbria Youth Alliance on an Emotional Resilience programme bringing physical activity and mental wellbeing together.

Ahead of Time to Talk Day, we caught up with Sam and Janine to find out what makes the girls so passionate about what they do - together they exemplify all of the behaviours and attitudes we outline in the workforce principles, so what makes them this way? The answer is lived experience.

Both Janine and Sam have a wealth of lived experiences to draw from, some of the issues remain really raw, but they recognise that in opening up, through telling their stories, they can help others. Time to Talk Day 2019 is taking place on Thursday 7 February is all about bringing together the right ingredients, to have a conversation about mental health.

Having conversations about mental health helps break down stereotypes, improve relationships, aid recovery and take the stigma out of something that affects us all. There are lots of different ways to have a conversation about mental health. And you don’t have to be an expert to talk.

Janine a highly qualified Mental Health professional and Sam a qualified fitness teacher told us of their lived experiences of depression and the heartache they both still suffer three years after losing their brother through suicide.

Janine’s depression started early in life, she moved away from West Cumbria to escape what she believed to be the triggers to her depression and was doing exceptionally well. She became accredited as a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner and a qualified Mental Health Practitioner and was at the height of her career as a Team Leader in Psychological Wellbeing Services whilst Lecturing at a number of Universities across the Country when things became too much, depression kicked in and her life started to spiral. Janine says “I had significant problems both physically and mentally, I couldn’t carry out duties at work any longer due to my physical health (fibromyalgia), I was at the top of my career, looking forward to settling down and getting married and things all changed, I found out my partner was cheating on me and it went downhill from there, I started drinking and suicidal thoughts kicked in, I was on a mission to die”.

Sam on the other hand didn’t suffer with depression until later in life following physical ill-health. The youngest of three, Sam left school with no qualifications, like many young people she hated PE at school and didn’t do anything for a year once school finished and she piled on weight – at her heaviest she weighed 18 stones. Sam eventually decided to go to college and studied Public Services where she found a passion for fitness - using it as a coping mechanism. She started volunteering, became a coach and got a job at Curves Gym, working through the ranks to become a regional manager running both Carlisle and Workington gyms. Later on an opportunity came to buy the franchise and so Sam against the odds at just 21 years old bought a business and found her career in fitness management.

When Sam had her children Curves took a bit of a back seat, there was lots happening in their personal lives and so the two sisters talked about creating something new (Sam) “We really wanted to help others, I’d got physical problems and wanted to work in rehabilitation, but I was struggling with depression too and we talked about it and thought we’d love to see somewhere that brought fitness and mental health together”

Sam’s depression heightened after they lost their brother Craig to suicide, a tragic event which has changed them both forever. Still very raw for them, Sam said “I didn’t really understand mental health issues until I got depression myself, after Craig died I couldn’t control it anymore, I had to get help for myself”. Sam referred herself to First Steps where she got CBT and she re-trained to be a personal trainer with a view to starting something else, she focussed her studies on diabetes and obesity and believes in a person-centred approach giving choice and education. She furthered her education learning about pre and post-natal exercise, diabetes and obesity exercise, and nutritional intervention. Sam is now studying a BSc in Sports Exercise and fitness through the Open University.

In early 2017 Together We was formed, it’s not just a fitness & wellbeing centre, it’s a MOVEment to help others with their health, lifestyle and fitness, the concept is called Together We to embrace collaboration, foster relationships and let people know they’re not on their own. The organisation is wholly shaped around their life experiences, using those experiences and the training they have received to help others. The earlier members have supported them throughout, some of them have come on board as Directors and the team they have there are passionate experienced and motivated to help others. “We’re now doing something we love, it’s not just a job!”

 Photo with thanks to the Times & Star